The term blue blood gets thrown out quite often in the college football world. But, what exactly is a blue blood? Simply put, a blue blood is a membership in a noble or prominent family. To belong in this college football family, the program has to meet certain criteria. Such as national championships, all-time wins, bowl appearances, All-Americans, and the number of players drafted to play at the next level. However, there are many immeasurable factors as well. Now, we’ll unveil the family members in our top 25 college football blue bloods.
We travel to sunny California to find the first member of the family. The Bruins have one national championship to their credit in 1954 under Henry Russell Sanders. They also bolster 17 conference championships with the last coming in 1998. Terry Donahue is the winningest coach in UCLA history with 151 career victories. And, the Bruins play their home games in the Rose Bowl which is one of the most iconic venues in the game today.
The Spartans are the next inductee into our fraternity. Michigan State garners three consensus national championships in 1952, 1965, and 1966. They have also added 11 conference championships to the record books. Clarence Munn was the most successful coach in Spartan history with a 54-9-2 record as the head man. Finally, Michigan State has also had its share of great players with 31 consensus All-Americans.
Now, we’ll stay in the Big 10 with the Wisconsin Badgers. First, the Badgers are one of only 26 programs that have won over 700 games in program history. And, in terms of college football traditions, the “jump around” segment at the end of the fourth quarter at Camp Randall is one of the best scenes you’ll see from a fan’s perspective. Wisconsin also has one national championship, two Heisman Trophy winners and 14 conference championships.
Admittedly, this selection may raise some eyebrows. When you say Minnesota, most don’t think blue-blood. However, the Golden Gophers certainly belong here. First, the Golden Gophers are one of the oldest around having been founded in 1882. Aside from that, Minnesota has 18 conference championships and one consensus national championship. Also, Bronco Nagurski had his number retired at Minnesota as one of the best players that the sport has seen.
The Yellow Jackets have a special coaching fraternity. Specifically with John Heisman and Bobby Dodd as they had 104 and 165 wins respectively. Most remember Heisman as being named after the most prestigious award in college football. However, one of the most memorable games in program history was the 1916 tilt with Cumberland College. Cumberland attempted to cancel the game and Heisman refused which resulted in a 222-0 Tech win. It’s safe to say that point margin will never be touched again.
The Huskies rank 19th in the country in total wins with 743. Washington also has one national championship to its credit in 1991. Throughout their rich history, Washington has 17 conference championships. In terms of coaches, Don James is the most successful with 153 wins. This also includes an impressive 10-4 bowl record. Interestingly, Husky Stadium has been the home for Washington home games since 1920.
The Aggies have one of the most unique college gameday experiences. From the 12th man to the midnight yell practice, and the swaying fans that would swear they make the stadium move it’s hard to discount the traditions that live here. Texas A&M claims the 1939 national championship as well as some tremendous coaches that include Paul “Bear” Bryant, Jackie Sherrill, and R.C. Slocum.
The Gators could be named “new money” because even though they have over 700 wins in program history, much of their success has come over the last 30 years. Florida has three national championships in 1996, 2006, and 2008. They also have eight conference championships to their credit. Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer were the most successful coaches in program history and account for all-conference and national championships. Florida also has three Heisman Trophy winners to their credit as well.
The conversation around Pittsburgh could be seen as the conversation around Minnesota. Especially given the fact that the Panthers haven’t been relevant nationally in quite some time. However, history is much too rich to ignore. The Panthers have two national championships. Also, they have an incredible coaching fraternity with Pop Warner and Johnny Majors. When you look at players such as Tony Dorsett, Mike Ditka, and Dan Marino it’s hard to ignore the history of this school.
Auburn is one of the most successful programs of the last 25 years with a 77% winning percentage. However, the history is just as rich with two national championships and 12 conference championships. Ralph Jordan, Pat Dye, and Terry Bowden are just a few of the great coaches over the years. In terms of great players, it’s hard to get bigger and better than Bo Jackson. Jackson is in the Hall of Fame, has had his jersey retired, and has a statue on campus.
Dabo Swinney has turned the Tigers into a modern-day dynasty. But, it’s important to remember that Clemson football is not just something that has come out of nowhere in the last 10 years. Aside from Swinney’s championships in 2016 and 2018, the Tigers also have one from 1981. Clemson has 25 conference titles spanning both the SEC and the ACC conferences. Danny Ford and Frank Howard are credited for sustaining the success over the years for Clemson football.
The Seminoles don’t have the same rich history as many of the teams before them in terms of decades of winning football. However, in the 1970s Bobby Bowden made the program a blue-blood. Bowden orchestrated two of three national titles in 1993 and 1999 and Jimbo Fisher won the third in 2013. The Seminoles also have 18 conference championships in program history including nine consecutive from 1992 to 2000. Florida State also has three Heisman Trophy winners with Charlie Ward, Chris Weinke, and Jameis Winston.
It’s fitting that Miami and Florida State are right next to each other with the great games they played against each other in the 1990s. But, it’s hard to argue that Miami Hurricanes football was the biggest dynasty in the 1980s and early 1990s. In fact, Miami is in rare company with five national championships. The great coaches go on and on from Howard Schnellenberger to Jimmy Johnson to Dennis Erickson and Butch Davis. The Hurricanes could lay claim to the original Quarterback U with greats such as Vinny Testaverde, Steve Walsh, Gino Toretta, and Ken Dorsey.
Now, we head southeast for one of the most winningest programs in history. The Bulldogs are one of the most consistent programs with 831 wins in program history. Georgia only has one national title from 1980. However, they don’t tell the story of their legitimacy. They have 15 conference titles to their credit won by Vince Dooley, Mark Richt, and Kirby Smart among others. Georgia’s favorite son might be Herschel Walker who was the recipient of the 1982 Heisman Trophy.
Tiger Stadium or Death Valley, however you want to phrase it, it’s one of the most intimidating places to play a college football game. Perhaps that’s one of the big reasons that LSU has won 812 games. It was razor-thin between LSU and Georgia. But, the four national championships that the Tigers have taken them over the edge. The Tigers have also earned the right to be called “DBU.” LSU has had 18 defensive backs drafted into the NFL since 2005. In fact, LSU leads the country with 40 former players currently on active NFL rosters.
As we move into the top 10, we begin with Penn State. From a traditional perspective, there might not be another scene that grasps the essence of traditional college football than a white-out at Beaver Stadium. Penn State is one of the most successful programs with 898 total wins in program history. The Nittany Lions have two national championships in 1982 and 1986. And, you can’t think of Penn State football without thinking of Joe Paterno who is one of the best coaches that the sport has seen with 409 career wins.
Tennessee comes in as the second-winningest program in the SEC. The Volunteers come into the top 10 sporting six national championships in their program history. The coaching tree is prolific for Tennessee as well with Robert Neyland, Johnny Majors, and Phillip Fulmer as just a few of the greats. From a traditionalist perspective, a Saturday afternoon in Knoxville, Tennessee is about as good as it gets with over 100,000 screaming Rocky Top fans playing havoc on the visiting team. Tennessee’s favorite son would have to be Peyton Manning which is one of the best collegiate and NFL quarterback to ever play the game.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers may very well have a collection of the most passionate and loyal fanbases in all of college football. Even with the recent lack of success, the Cornhuskers have 375 consecutive sellouts. But, from a historical perspective, Nebraska lays claim to 902 wins in program history and five national titles. In fact, the 1997 team has an argument for the greatest football team ever assembled. Heisman Trophy winners Johnny Rodgers, Mike Rozier, and Eric Crouch coupled with outstanding coaching of Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne make this one of the best programs in history.
Many call the Texas Longhorns the Dallas Cowboys of college football. Perhaps that’s due to the proximity or the abundant amount of resources that Texas football has. No matter what you call them, they are a powerhouse college football program. The Longhorns have 916 total wins, 56 bowl appearances, 32 conference championships, and five national championships. Darrell Royal and Mack Brown lead the way as the most successful Longhorn coaches. Their two Heisman winners, Ricky Williams and Earl Campbell were two of the most dominating players in their time in college football history.
Many may balk at the fact that Notre Dame is just outside of the top five of this poll. But, one of the criteria for this blue-blood list is conference championships and the fact that the Fighting Irish are an independent has penalized them. However, there’s no denying the great history of Notre Dame football. The Irish have eight national championships, 37 bowl game appearances, seven Heisman Trophy winners, and over 900 total wins. It’s hard to imagine a program with great coaches such as Knute Rockne, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine, and Lou Holtz at one school. And, if you add in some of the traditions such as the Notre Dame fight song, the golden dome, Touchdown Jesus, among others it’s easy to see why this is one of the most iconic programs in America.
The Wolverines are the most successful program in college football in terms of wins with 962. Additionally, they have 11 national championships that they bring to the table. With 48 bowl appearances and 42 conference championships, some might wonder why the Wolverines are only ranked fifth. The fact they have only one national championship (1997) in the last 72 years. However, it’s hard to argue the legitimacy of this spot with great coaches like Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr along with three Heisman Trophy award winners.
The Trojans lay claim to the fourth spot as one of the most consistent programs in the country over the last 100 years. Additionally, they have the best bowl game record of any team in our top 25 with a 34-19 overall record. Southern Cal is tied with Michigan with 11 national championships even though some may be considered tainted as of late. However, the Trojan teams of the mid-2000s were some of the best to ever play. USC is known as “tailback U” due to Heisman winners at the position that includes Mike Garrett, O.J. Simpson, Marcus Allen, Charles White, and Reggie Bush.
For a school that resides in such a small state relatively speaking, the Sooners have been one of the most polarizing programs in college football history. Oklahoma leads all teams with 49 conference championships. They are also in the 900-win club like many of our teams ranked in the top 10. Oklahoma also has seven national championships and Heisman Trophy winners alike. Great coaches such as Bud Wilkinson, Bennie Owen, Barry Switzer, and Bob Stoops provide the tradition that few schools can match. Unique players Brian Bosworth, Baker Mayfield, and Billy Sims further point to the polarizing influence around this time tested program.
Woody Hayes, Earle Bruce, John Cooper, Jim Tressel, and Urban Meyer all set the stage of one of the best-coached teams in the country. The Buckeyes also have 50 bowl appearances, 40 conference championships, and eight national championships to bring to the table. Additionally, the Buckeyes 924 wins only ranks second to Michigan in terms of total wins in program history. Ohio State has six Heisman Trophy winners and Archie Griffin is the only player that can lay claim to winning back to back trophies.
To the surprise of very few, the Crimson Tide rank number one in our blue-blood countdown. No matter what metric you want to use, Alabama is the clear number one here. They have six more national championships than their closest competitor with 17. With 916 wins, 71 bowl appearances, and 135 consensus All-Americans they have the consistency and longevity that no other program can match.