ESPN ranked all major football teams in terms of prestige in January, 2009. The rankings were a numerical method of ranking the best college football programs since the 1936 season. ESPN’s research department ran all the numbers through the computer to come up with the No. 1 program of the past 73 seasons.
“When you look at the big picture of college football since 1936, no program has achieved greatness as consistently as Oklahoma. We didn’t even count the fact that Oklahoma owns the longest win streak in FBS history (47) or leads the nation with a .765 winning percentage since World War II.
“The 1956 Oklahoma team catapulted the Sooners past Notre Dame to the top of the Prestige Rankings, and it’s been in the top spot ever since. OU’s seven national titles have spanned four decades. The Sooners have finished in the final poll’s top 5 an astounding 29 times.
“But the real fuel for OU’s rise to the top of our rankings has been its conference dominance. The Sooners finished the regular season with at least a share of their conference’s best record a stunning 39 times, seven more than any other program in the country.”
A national title earns the biggest point value, but berths in major bowls, Heisman winners, bowl wins, conference record and top-5 finishes in the AP poll all were big point-getters, too. Conversely, postseason bans, probation and television bans are assigned negative point values. Here’s a complete breakdown of the scoring system:
National title: 25 points
The full 25 points were awarded to any team that won one of the two major poll titles (AP, UPI or coaches) that season. No season had more than two title winners.
Berth in one of the major bowls: 10
Major bowls were defined as every Rose, Orange and Sugar bowl since ’36; every Cotton Bowl from 1940 to ’94 (i.e., from when it started taking the SWC champ until the Cotton was booted from the Bowl Alliance); and every Fiesta Bowl since the ’86 season when the historic No. 1 Miami-vs.-No. 2 Penn State game changed the landscape of college football.
Major bowl win: 10
Best win/loss record in conference regular season: 10
These points were awarded to every team that had at least a share of the best overall record in a major football conference, regardless of divisional alignment. Independent schools were awarded the bonus if they were ranked ahead of at least three of the big six conference champions in a final regular-season poll that season.
Final AP top-5 finish: 10
All final poll points were awarded for the final poll put out by the AP that season.
Heisman winner: 8
Final AP top 6-10 finish: 6
Conference title championship-game bonus: 5
This bonus was given to a school only if it hadn’t already gotten credit for having the best record in its conference’s regular season.
Final AP top 11-25 finish: 4
Bowl appearance: 3
This was awarded for any NCAA-sanctioned bowl, and would be added to the previously mentioned major bowl points.
Bowl win: 3
10-win season: 2
Week as AP No. 1: 2
Win over AP No. 1: 1
Each consensus All-American: 1
First-round NFL draft pick (since ’70): 1
Losing season: minus-2
There were lots of variables for when a school was handed penalties by the NCAA for infractions. Those penalties were graded as such:
Each year of television ban: minus-1
Each year of postseason ban: minus-2
Each year of overall probation: minus-1
Each year of financial-aid penalty: minus-1
Each year of recruiting penalties: minus-1
Each penalty of “show cause action:” minus-2
Why start with the 1936 season?
The AP poll was introduced that season, making it the first time the longest-standing news organization in the United States began ranking teams and crowning a national champion. Starting in 1937, the NCAA began recognizing “major college programs” (now known as the FBS). To accrue points, a program had to be recognized as one of these major programs by the NCAA. Those years are listed on pages 426 and 427 of this year’s NCAA Football Record Book.