Skip to main content

Here's A Definitive List Of College Football's 8 "Blue Blood" Programs

College football has been around since the late 1800s, and there have certainly been a number of programs that - in different eras - have taken turns dominating the sport. But there actually aren't that many that have been consistently great over time. In fact, it's a very short list.

College football fans love debating which programs should be considered "blue bloods" - which, essentially means the sport's royalty. There's also some debate regarding which criteria should be used for such a distinction.

We're going to attempt to both define the term and list the programs that we believe belong in the group.

In essence, we're looking at college football programs with a winning percentage around 70 percent or better, multiple national titles, sustained success over time, iconic coaches, longstanding tradition and rabid fan bases. Pretty simple, really.

We believe that there are eight programs that should be considered "blue bloods." We also believe that there is second tier of programs that just miss the cut. Keep in mind, none of these are in order. Let's get started:

Close But No Cigar: The Second Tier >>>

The Second Tier: 

Penn State: The Nittany Lions claim four national titles, have one of the best winning percentages of all-time, boast a passionate fan base and once had an iconic coach, but just missed out on being defined as a true blue blood. Why? They haven't won a national title in 30 years, and they haven't exactly dominated the Big Ten for any real extended period of time.

Florida: If you were to make a list of the top programs in the past 20 years, Florida would be in the top five. But the Gators didn't win their first national title until 1996, and they don't boast the historical dominance to be considered for the top eight. They actually have the fifth-best winning percentage all-time in the SEC. Few programs had a better 2000s, too.

Auburn: Auburn and Florida have very similar overall records, including virtually an identical winning percentage. The Tigers claim two national titles, including one in 2010, along with three Heisman Trophy winners. They're one of the 10-15 best college football programs of all time, but they haven't done enough to crack the top tier.

LSU: LSU claims three national titles, including two in the 21st century. The Tigers have the third-best winning percentage among SEC schools, at 65%. They've also posted a winning record every season since 2000. LSU has perhaps the most intimidating home atmosphere in college football, too. But a few programs have been more consistently dominant.

Tennessee: Tennessee is probably the ninth or tenth best program of all-time, and if this list had been created at the close of the 20th century, perhaps they'd be higher. The Vols claim a 68% winning percentage, six national titles, an insane fan base and one of the sport's most traditional atmospheres. But they've fallen off a bit the past decade, and it's hurt their overall statistics.

Georgia: Georgia claims two national titles, a 65% winning percentage and two Heisman Trophy winners. The Bulldogs are third all-time in winning percentage in the SEC, and boast 14 conference titles. But UGA, at least during the Mark Richt era, developed a reputation for not being able to get over the hump. They're actually somewhat of a sleeping giant, at the moment. 

Miami (FL): The Hurricanes do not have the longstanding historical dominance of many of the other teams on this list, but man did they make their mark between 1980 and 2005. In that 25-year period, the Hurricanes won five national titles and won at least nine games 22 times. They aren't a blue blood by definition, but they deserve recognition in the second tier for sure.

Florida State: Florida State is one of the big boys in college football now, but the Seminoles, who started play in 1947, have actually only been around about half as long as most of the programs on the list. In that time, however, FSU has posted a 68% winning percentage and won three national titles. They're going to be a force in the sport for years to come, but for the purposes of this list, they just don't have the history.

The 8 Blue Bloods: Nebraska >>>

Nebraska 

The Huskers haven't been all that great over the last 10 years or so, but the Lincoln, Neb. program remains one of the sport's most-storied. Nebraska's fan support is matched by no one - the Huskers have sold out every home game since the 1960s - and its tradition is about as good as there is. 

Nebraska ranks in the top-five all-time in wins and in the top 10 all-time in winning percentage. 

National titles: 5

Wins: 880

Winning percentage: .699

Heisman Trophy winners: Three (Johnny Rodgers, Mike Rozier, Eric Crouch)

Conference Titles46

Nebraska also boasts one of the greatest coaches of all-time in Tom Osborne. The Huskers' 1995 team, which won the national championship game, 62-24, is thought of by many to be the best team in the history of the sport. 

Next: Texas >>>

Texas 

The state of the Longhorns' program isn't what many in Austin, Texas would like it to be, but its ceiling is still as high as anyone's. Much of that can be attributed to the lengthy, consistent tradition the state's flagship program has. Football is bigger in Texas and no one has done it better over time than the Longhorns. 

National titles: 4

Wins: 886

Winning percentage: .709

Heisman Trophy winners: Two (Earl Campbell, Ricky Williams)

Conference Titles: 32

Like Nebraska, Texas has struggled in recent seasons - the Longhorns haven't won at least 10 games since Colt McCoy's senior season - but the Longhorns are bringing in a great recruiting class and should continue to recruit at a high level. Will Charlie Strong still be the man leading this program when it climbs back to the nationally elite level, though?

Next: Alabama >>>

Alabama

Alabama has been the most dominant college football program over the last 10 years and it's not even close. Reeling in more top recruiting classes than any other program, the Crimson Tide have used that talent to win four of the last seven national titles. But the program's success extends beyond the last decade.

National titles: 16

Wins: 864

Winning percentage: .718

Heisman Trophy winners: Two (Mark Ingram, Derrick Henry)

Conference titles: 29

The Crimson Tide have also been led by two of the greatest coaches in college football history in Paul "Bear" Bryant and Nick Saban. Bryant won six national titles in Tuscaloosa while Saban has already captured four.

Next: Michigan >>>

Michigan

When talking about "blue blood" college football programs, Michigan has to be one of the first that come to mind. The Wolverines have more wins than any other program in the history of the game. On top of a winning tradition, Michigan has one of the most historic college football stadiums in The Big House, which opened up in 1927. Michigan's football tradition is as strong as they come. The 38th President of the United States, Gerald Ford, even played football for UM.

National titles: 11

Wins: 925

Winning percentage: .730

Heisman Trophy winners: Three (Tom Harmon, Desmond Howard, Charles Woodson)

Conference titles: 42

Such a long-standing, rich history comes with legendary coaching. Michigan has seen 10 of its former coaches inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Langdon Lea, Fielding H. Yost, George Little, Elton Wieman, Harry Kipke, Fritz Crisler, Bennie Oosterbaan, Bump Elliott, Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr are all members. 

Next: USC >>>

USC

After 128 years of college football, USC's rich history stacks up against the best. The last 10 years may not have been the best for the Trojans, but the program can still boast about its dominance. The Trojans have more NFL Draft picks (493) than any other program in the history of the draft. They're also tied for the most Pro Football Hall of Fame members (12). Add seven Heisman Trophy winners to that list and it's clear what kind of pedigree comes through the program. 

National titles: 11

Wins: 813

Winning percentage: .700

Heisman Trophy winners: Seven (Marcus Allen, O.J. Simpson, Mike Garrett, Charles White, Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush*, Carson Palmer)

Conference titles: 38

While the Trojans have been winning football games for a long time, they wouldn't have been able to do so without some stellar coaching. Both Howard Jones and John McKay are members of the College Football Hall of Fame.

Next: Notre Dame >>>

Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish haven't won a national championship since 1988 or a January bowl game since 1994. Nevertheless, they remain one of the most beloved (and hated) programs in the country. Notre Dame's fan base is nationwide and ever-passionate, and the fact the Fighting Irish remain independent and play every week on national television only helps matters. 

Furthermore, few if any programs can match Notre Dame's long-standing tradition. The Irish are No. 2 all-time in wins.

National titles: 11

Wins: 892

Winning percentage: .732

Heisman Trophy winners: Seven (Angelo Bertelli, Johnny Lujack, Leon Hart, Johnny Lattner, Paul Hornung, John Huarte, Tim Brown)

Conference Titles: None (Notre Dame is an Independent)

When it comes to legendary head coaches, take your pick at Notre Dame. Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz stand out. Current coach Brian Kelly isn't too bad either. 

Next: Ohio State >>>

Ohio State 

The Buckeyes have been one of the most consistent programs in the country for a long time. Since 1970, they've only missed the postseason fives times. They've also won the national championship twice in the past 15 years. With Urban Meyer at the helm, they figure to be in contention for more national titles. 

Ohio State ranks sixth all-time in wins and win percentage. 

National titles: 8