Top 50 College Football Teams: Why Alabama Should Be No. 1


Recently FanSided’s Dan Zillmer ranked the top 50 college football programs of all time, using a point-based system. Points are given for national championships, conference championships, Heisman winners, and the like.

The Alabama Crimson Tide was ranked No. 4, which I think many Tide faithful would agree is too low. Alabama has consistently been a top program in every era of football. While there have been down years (the few years before Bear Bryant returned to Alabama and Mike Shula era stand out), eventually the Tide always rises.

What matters more to a program? Wins and championships or individual awards?

In the Fansided ranking, weight was given to some dubious statistics. Winning percentage wasn’t taken into account, and total wins was only given a quarter point, while Heisman winners were given 12 points. And despite all of the greats in Alabama history – names like Kenny Stabler, Joe Namath, Shaun Alexander, Bobby Humphrey, Lee Roy Jordan, Derrick Thomas and so on – there has only been one Heisman Trophy winner. So automatically Alabama is in a hole.

But what matters more to a program? Wins and championships or individual awards? Why not Coach of the Year Awards or Outland Trophies or any other awards? The National Coach of the Year Award is named after an Alabama coach for heaven’s sake!

Alabama also has a record 110 First-Team All-Americans, and that’s not even including the hundreds of second- and third-team All-Americans. Twenty players and four head coaches have been named to the College Football Hall of Fame, and seven players named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  Alabama counts among its individual awards the Maxwell, Butkus, Thorpe and Outland trophy, to name but a few. If there’s an individual award for college football play, an Alabama player has won it.

If we talk total wins in school history, Alabama ranks eighth in college football history, with 839 wins and ranks seventh with a winning percentage of over 70 percent!

National championships? Alabama has the most in college football history with 15, and even if you just count the “poll era” championships like ESPN and others, Alabama still tops the list with ten. The national championship is the ultimate goal in college football. There has no other singular accomplishment a program can reach that can top that.

Alabama has 27 conference championships from both the defunct Southern Conference and the SEC. No other SEC team has more than 13 conference titles. Alabama has also a record 60 bowl appearances and a record 35 bowl wins.

There are three eras, in my opinion, that separate Alabama from every other program in the country: The Wallace Wade-Frank Thomas era, The Bear Bryant era, and the current Nick Saban era.

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Under Wallace Wade and Frank Thomas Alabama (1923-1946) amassed a record of 176-37-10 with eight conference championships and five national championships. During Wade’s tenure Alabama went from a program relatively unknown and disrespected nationally, to a powerhouse. It was at Alabama’s Rose Bowl victory over Washington that Alabama became a household name in college football.

Picking up right where Wallace left off, Frank Thomas led Alabama to the first-ever SEC Championship. Thomas’ dominating defenses would win two national titles, and he coached legendary players including Bear Bryant, Don Hutson, Harry Gilmer, and Riley Smith (the first Alabama player ever drafted in the NFL Draft).

After the mediocrity and then into a downright bad football team under JB “Ears” Whitworth. Then, along came Paul “Bear” Bryant. He took an undisciplined and mediocre group of players and in four years led Alabama back to the national championship. Bryant’s stats are the stuff of legend, with a record of 232-46-9 with six national championships, 13 SEC titles, and 24 bowl appearances (out of 25 total seasons with Alabama). Hiss tenure with Alabama is possibly the greatest two and a half decades in the history of college football.

Following Bryant’s career coaches like Bill Curry, Ray Perkins, Mike DuBose, and others attempted to escape the massive shadow of Bryant to lead Alabama to prominence once again. Gene Stallings, a former Bryant protégé, was the closest in doing so, leading Alabama to its only post-Bryant title, until Nick Saban came to town.

In just his third season with Alabama, Saban’s 2009 Alabama Crimson Tide won the SEC and BCS National Championship, and Mark Ingram won Alabama’s first Heisman Trophy. The 2011 and 2012 teams added to the championship haul. Alabama has a record of 80-15 under Saban.

The Heisman is certainly one measure of success in college football. But when talking about the most successful programs in history, Alabama’s national championships and time at the top of the most dominant eras in the history of college football can’t be overlooked.