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Friday, July 27, 2007
Storied programs dominate Ladder 119's top rungs

ESPN.com

What are the top programs of the past decade? That's the question ESPN.com has attempted to answer this week. Fifteen college football experts and analysts ranked all 119 Division I-A programs, taking into account record, traditions, recruiting, facilities, coaches, attendance and support, among other criteria.

Editor's note: Each day, one writer will attempt to explain why these teams were ranked in this order. The rankings reflect the average from the 15 ballots cast and are not the writer's individual ballot. Ivan Maisel breaks down Nos. 1 to 25 below.

Ladder 119: Nos. 1-25 (from 1997 to 2006)
RANK TEAM RECORD WIN % TITLES BOWL RECORD
1 USC 90-35 .720 2 national; 5 conf. 4-3
Tradition, a talent pool that is local and deep, a coach who is both football smart and people smart, and a national identity among recruits as the "it" school: The Trojans have it all.
2 Ohio State 97-28 .776 1 national; 4 conf. 5-4
There may be eight Division I-A schools in the state, but there's only one that rules it from Toledo to Cincinnati. Coach Jim Tressel has polished the Buckeyes program to a fine sheen.
3 Texas 98-28 .778 1 national; 1 conf. 6-4
Vast resources and vaster tradition. Coach Mack Brown has brought back the Darrell Royal touch with the common folk, and he wins like Royal, too.
4 Florida 94-32 .746 1 national; 2 conf. 5-5
Were it not for the three moderately successful Ron Zook years, the Gators would be ranked higher. Only a strong program could rebound as quickly as Florida did.
5 Oklahoma 95-33 .742 1 national; 4 conf. 4-4
The Sooners won one national championship and played for two others. Even after vacating eight victories at the NCAA's behest, coach Bob Stoops is averaging nearly 10 wins a year.
6 Michigan 96-28 .774 1 national; 5 conf. 5-5
The Wolverines have won a national championship and played in four Rose Bowls in the past decade. Now, if they can only figure out how to beat the Buckeyes again.
7 Florida State 96-31 .756 1 national; 7 conf. 5-5
They got to this ranking by traveling in the wrong direction. The Seminoles' 14-year streak of top-five finishes ended in 2000.
8 Miami 94-29 .764 1 national; 4 conf. 7-2
Like their archrivals at No. 7, the Hurricanes have fallen, although more gently. Since winning the 2001 title, Miami has won fewer games in each of the past five seasons than in the season before.
9 LSU 86-38 .694 1 national; 2 conf. 6-2
Les Miles has continued the winning begun by Nick Saban, but these 10 years began with mediocre teams under Gerry DiNardo.
10 Tennessee 94-32 .746 1 national; 2 conf. 3-6
The Volunteers won it all in 1998 and have won or tied for three SEC East titles since. Downside: They haven't played in a BCS game in eight years.
11 Georgia 96-30 .762 2 conf. 8-2
The Bulldogs won under Jim Donnan and have won more under Mark Richt. They have played in three of the past five SEC Championship Games.
12 Virginia Tech 95-31 .754 2 conf. 4-6
The Hokies have been consistent winners under Frank Beamer, yet with the big exception of 1999, they have consistently fallen just shy of greatness.
T-13 Nebraska 94-34 .734 1 national; 2 conf. 5-4
The Huskers shared the 1997 national championship with Michigan. Frank Solich maintained the success for four seasons, but they haven't been the Mighty Huskers since.
T-13 Wisconsin 89-38 .701 2 conf. 6-3
Barry Alvarez built something out of nothing at Madison. Nice bookends: After consecutive Rose Bowl victories in the 1998 and 1999 seasons, the Badgers went 12-1 last season under first-year coach Bret Bielema.
15 Auburn 84-40 .677 1 conf. 5-3
Auburn spotted the field a two-year head start in this decade, but after that, wow: undefeated in 2004, 33-5 over the last three seasons and a record-tying five straight victories over archrival Alabama.
16 Boise State 97-28 .776 7 conf. 5-2
Texas is the only team to win more games than the Broncos in the last 10 years. Boise State beat Oklahoma, the other Big 12 South power, in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. That game gave hope to have-nots everywhere. Boise State attempts to win its sixth straight WAC championship this season.
17 Oregon 82-40 .672 2 conf. 4-5
Mike Bellotti built upon the foundation that Rich Brooks set in Eugene, making the Ducks a perennial contender in the Pac-10. Add to that facilities the equal of any in the nation, and you have a top program.
18 Louisville 83-40 .675 4 conf. 3-6
No program has come further in this decade than the Cardinals, who began as a Division I-A have-not and finished as the champion and the anchor of the Big East.
19 West Virginia 76-45 .628 3 conf. 3-5
The Mountaineers tailed off at the end of the Don Nehlen Era, but former WVU player Rich Rodriguez quickly rebuilt the program. West Virginia always has been known for its devoted fans. Now it's known for its unique -- and explosive -- offense.
20 Kansas State 88-38 .698 1 conf. 4-4
Who could imagine Kansas State rebuilding? Bill Snyder turned the ne'er-do-wells into a Big 12 powerhouse, peaking with three North titles and the 2003 conference championship. Ron Prince is the rebuilder, but in facilities Snyder made possible before retiring in 2005.
21 Penn State 74-47 .612 1 conf. 4-2
Joe Paterno may be ancient, but the Nittany Lions have been as mercurial as a teenager. Plenty of downs and some big ups (the 2005 Big Ten conference championship). And the fans, all six figures worth, continue to fill Beaver Stadium.
22 Boston College 76-45 .628 1 conf. 7-1
Tom O'Brien turned the Eagles into a consistent winner, but they rank this high for what they did off the field. Moving from the Big East to the ACC solidified the program economically. The competitive consequences will be interesting to watch.
23 Notre Dame 75-47 .615 0 0-7
The Irish have endured their rockiest decade since the pre-Ara Parseghian years: two fired coaches, no national championship contenders, and who could believe they would go a decade without winning a bowl game? However, love or hate, the Irish remain America's Team.
24 TCU 80-40 .667 4 conf. 5-3
The Horned Frogs have come a long way: moving from the WAC to Conference USA to the Mountain West and thriving in all three. Despite playing in a league without a guaranteed BCS berth, Gary Patterson has turned TCU into a perennial threat to grab one.
25 Iowa 65-56 .537 2 conf. 3-4
Kirk Ferentz has molded the Hawkeyes into a reflection of their fans: hardworking and straightforward. From the depths of the end of the Hayden Fry Era, the Hawkeyes won a share of two Big Ten championships and have played in bowls for six consecutive seasons.