Commentary

Prestige Rankings: Nos. 11-15

Originally Published: January 21, 2009
By Chris Fallica, Nick Loucks and Harold Shelton | ESPN Research

Who is No. 1? That debate rages weekly during each college football season, and often long after the season is over and the trophies have been handed out. The debate is as much a part of the annual ritual as the touchdowns, fight songs and bowl games.

If you think that process can spark a debate, try ranking each Football Bowl Subdivision team's all-time position in college football history.

But the ESPN Research Department devised a plan to settle the argument. Its system lets the numbers do the talking.

ESPN's Prestige Rankings are a numerical method of ranking the best FBS college football programs since the 1936 season. Point values were assigned for certain successes (win a national title, earn 25 points) and failures (get your program banned from the postseason, lose two points). The research department ran all the numbers through the computer to come up with the No. 1 program (and Nos. 2 to 119) of the past 73 seasons.

ESPN.com will be rolling out the rankings all week. Third stop: teams 11 to 15. Take a look:

11. Penn State Nittany Lions
Total points: 1,088
Positives: Penn State's two national championships were won in the 1980s ('82, '86). The Nittany Lions' 26 bowl wins are tied with USC for the second most overall, trailing only Alabama (31). RB John Cappelletti won the Heisman Trophy in 1973. The program has never been put on probation by the NCAA. Going 11-2 while claiming its third Big Ten title in 2008 catapulted PSU past Tennessee into 11th in our rankings.
Negatives: When you consider that Penn State has had six undefeated seasons, it's hard to believe the Nittany Lions have won it all only twice. Although Penn State was a highly regarded independent program in the early years of our study, it found itself ranked only 51st as of 1958. Four losing seasons between 2000 and 2004 also helped hold the Nittany Lions back some. They rank 18th in the BCS era.
Through the decades: Through 1958: 51st | 1968: 31st | 1978: 11th | 1988: 9th | 1998: 9th
Did you know? Among the cities where the top 20 schools in the Prestige Rankings are located, State College receives the most annual average snowfall (46 inches).

12. Tennessee Volunteers
Total points: 1,072
Positives: Tennessee has won two national championships, including the first title of the BCS era (1998). The Vols were the third-best program for the first 23 seasons of our study, trailing only heavyweights Oklahoma and Notre Dame. The Vols' 25 bowl wins are tied for the fourth most, trailing only Alabama, Penn State and USC. Tennessee also has 33 first-round draft picks, just one behind the rival Florida Gators for the most in the SEC since 1970.
Negatives: Tennessee has gone an entire decade without a major bowl appearance. Even though some people feel Peyton Manning (1997) or Johnny Majors (1956) should have won it, no Volunteer has ever won the Heisman. It's hard to believe, but the Vols went 15 seasons without having the best record in their conference (1970-84). Tennessee was on probation for a couple of seasons as well, costing it six points.
Through the decades: Through 1958: 3rd | 1968: 7th | 1978: 9th | 1988: 10th | 1998: 10th
Did you know? Tennessee's 47 bowl appearances is the third most of any program, trailing only Alabama (56) and Texas (48).

13. LSU Tigers
Total points: 926
Positives: LSU gets credit for three national titles, including two in the past six seasons. Only seven programs have won more overall. If you look at these standings since 1998, the Bayou Bengals move up to seventh. They've appeared in four major bowl games in the BCS era and won them all.
Negatives: The 1980s were easily LSU's weakest era, a decade when the Tigers finished 23rd. The beginning of the '90s wasn't much better as the Tigers had six straight losing seasons between 1989 and '94. From 1972 to '94, they went to 11 bowl games but won only twice. Between 1971 and 2002, they had the conference's best record only twice.
Through the decades: Through 1958: 16th | 1968: 9th | 1978: 10th | 1988: 12th | 1998: 15th
Did you know? LSU was tied with Mississippi State for the seventh best SEC program in the 1990s (21 points).

14. Georgia Bulldogs
Total points: 888
Positives: The Bulldogs won the national championship in the 1980 season, Herschel Walker's freshman year. Walker is one of two Heisman winners in Bulldogs history, joining RB Frank Sinkwich (1942). Georgia football is timeless. It was the sixth-best program in the 1960s. And recent history also has been good to Georgia, as it ranks ninth in the BCS era.
Negatives: The Bulldogs struggled in the 1970s, winning only two bowl games in that stretch. The Dawgs had a 15-year span from 1973 to '88 in which they had only one first-round pick. The Dawgs also went 19 years without having the best record in the SEC (1983 through 2001).
Through the decades: Through 1958: 21st | 1968: 16th | 1978: 15th | 1988: 11th | 1998: 14th
Did you know? Georgia has six 10-win seasons in the past seven seasons. Only Texas and USC have had more.

15. Florida Gators
Total points: 834
Positives: Florida has won two of the past three national championships (and three in the past 13 years). It is ahead of in-state rival Miami in fourth place in the BCS era. The Gators have chomped their way to 10 major bowls since 1991, winning six of them. A Gator has won the Heisman Trophy three times -- only four programs can claim more. Their 34 first-round draft picks are the fourth most of any program. They also haven't had a losing season since 1979.
Negatives: Most of Florida's success has come in the past 20 years. When using the eras before the BCS was created, Florida never finished higher than 27th in any of them. Through 1958, Florida was buried in the bottom half of the nation, behind schools such as Indiana, Vanderbilt and Rutgers. The Gators didn't win a bowl game in the '70s at all. They also have been on probation three times, costing them 22 points in our formula.
Through the decades: Through 1958: T-80th | 1968: 51st | 1978: 44th | 1988: 43rd | 1998: 20th
Did you know? Florida has six top-5 finishes in the past 25 seasons, which is tied with the rest of the SEC East combined.

Chris Fallica, Nick Loucks and Harold Shelton are researchers at ESPN.