Colleges With the Best Football Teams

Published on January 4, 2021
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For many Americans, college football is not just a pastime but a way of life. More than 47.5 million fans flocked to stadiums to attend National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) games in 2019, and TV broadcasts draw even more viewers. The 65 major college football teams that compete in the elite Power 5 conferences generate billions of dollars in revenue each year.

People watch sports not only for the spectacle, but also to cheer on their favorite teams, players, and coaches. As a student, attending games is also a great way to make new friends and show off your school spirit. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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The following list contains 15 colleges with the best football teams. To qualify for this ranking, a team must have at least one national championship title, which can include titles obtained before the establishment of the modern NCAA era in 1955. We also consider factors like a team's overall win percentage.

Top Colleges With the Best Football Teams

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Colleges with the Best Football Teams

  1. University of Alabama

    Tuscaloosa, Alabama

    UA boasts one of the best college football teams in the Crimson Tide, who have won 17 national championship titles since first playing in 1892. The Crimson Tide also have an exceptional record on the field, winning about 73% of their games. Many former players now compete in the NFL.

    Students at UA celebrate this rich athletic tradition by singing the school's anthem, Yea Alabama, often to the beat of the 400-member Million Dollar Band — one of the most celebrated university marching bands in the country.

    Community members and visitors can learn about the history of the Crimson Tide by going to the Paul W. Bryant museum. Here, they can find multimedia displays of all 15 Heisman Trophy winners, including the 2018 recipient Tua Tagovailoa.

    National Championships: 17
    Win Percentage: 72%
    AP Ranking: 2

  2. University of Michigan

    Ann Arbor , Michigan

    The U-M Wolverines are one of the best college football teams in the U.S., boasting one of the highest overall win percentages in the NCAA. In addition to 11 national championship titles, the Wolverines have 42 conference titles. The university is also home to a host of individual award recipients, including tight end Jake Butt, who won the Big Ten Medal of Honor in 2017.

    Built in 1927 for $950,000, Michigan Stadium often fills all 107,901 seats, placing the Wolverines at the top of the NCAA's list for largest single-game, regular season crowds. Students with career goals in intercollegiate athletics can apply for the Victors Internship Program to develop event planning, fundraising, and communications skills.

    National Championships: 11
    Win Percentage: 72%
    AP Ranking: 4

  3. University of Notre Dame

    Notre Dame, Indiana

    The Fighting Irish football team has won 11 national championship titles and maintains one of the best historic win percentages in college football. The team also boasts seven Heisman Trophy winners, including Tim Brown in 1997 and John Huarte in 1964.

    Students at ND proudly display their school spirit by wearing gold and blue — the university's official colors. The Band of the Fighting Irish was founded in 1887, making them the oldest continually operating university marching band in the United States.

    Fans can walk in the footsteps of their favorite players by requesting a stadium tour. They may download the Fighting Irish app to access a personalized news feed, view behind-the-scenes videos, and manage tickets.

    National Championships: 11
    Win Percentage: 72%
    AP Ranking: 5

  4. University of Southern California

    Los Angeles, California

    USC athletes have won 130 national titles, including 11 in football. The Trojans have competed in the Rose Bowl 33 times, winning 25 of those games. Seven Heisman Trophy recipients have played for the Trojans, including Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush — the winners in 2004 and 2005.

    USC's mascot is not a costumed performer but a regal white horse named Traveler. The Trojans play home games at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a 77,500-seat stadium that was built in 1923 and hosted the Olympics nine years later. Fans can stay current with USC athletics by downloading the Trojan Fever mobile app and tuning into Trojans Live.

    National Championships: 11
    Win Percentage: 69%
    AP Ranking: 6

  5. University of Oklahoma

    Norman, Oklahoma

    The OU Sooners are a member of the Big 12 Conference. OU's football team boasts seven national championships, 49 conference titles, and seven Heisman Trophy winners. They also take the number one spot on the AP Poll's ranking of greatest football programs of all time.

    On game day, fans gather en masse to tailgate at the historic Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, one of the 20 largest college sports arenas in the nation. OU fosters community engagement through programs like the Sooner Club, which offers member benefits like VIP parking, club seats, and access to exclusive society events.

    The university also operates a Spanish-language Twitter account for its athletic teams called Los Sooners.

    National Championships: 7
    Win Percentage: 72%
    AP Ranking: 1

  6. Ohio State University

    Columbus, Ohio

    Since their first season in 1890, the Ohio State Buckeyes football team has won eight national championships and 40 conference titles. The team is also famous for its six undefeated seasons. Many players go on to play for the NFL, and several have also received official recognition as being among the best to ever play the sport. Ten former Buckeyes have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

    The Buckeyes are valued at $1.5 billion, according to a 2017 estimate from the Wall Street Journal, making them the most valuable college football team. The team plays its home games at Ohio Stadium. This famous arena can hold 102,780 people, making it the fourth-largest stadium in the United States.

    National Championships: 8
    Win Percentage: 72%
    AP Ranking: 3

  7. Pennsylvania State University

    University Park, Pennsylvania

    Uniformed in Penn State's official colors of blue and white, the Nittany Lions are among the best college football teams. They have completed 13 undefeated seasons, won seven national titles, and compiled a winning percentage near 70%. The team joined the Big Ten Conference in 1993. Since then, the Nittany Lions have won four conference championships.

    Current head coach James Franklin joined the Nittany Lions in 2014. Two years later, he helped the team recover from meandering performances in the first four games to a Big Ten championship win. For this achievement, Franklin was named Dave McClain Coach of the Year.

    Nittany Lions fans can download the Penn State Athletics mobile app to manage tickets, access breaking news, and watch live streams of games. They can help shape the gameday experience by joining the Fan Council.

    National Championships: 7
    Win Percentage: 6%
    AP Ranking: 9

  8. University of Tennessee

    Knoxville, Tenessee

    Taking their name from the state's official moniker, the Tenessee Volunteers football team has won six national championships and 16 conference titles. The Vols have appeared in 52 college bowls, winning 28 of those games. More than 350 former players have gone on to play in the NFL.

    The Vols play their home games at Neyland Stadium, which holds a maximum capacity of 102,455 fans. To foster school pride, the university rewards students for attending games and related events through the Rowdy Rewards program. By downloading the Tennessee Athletics Gameday App, fans can access play-by-play information and receive notification about pregame events.

    National Championships: 6
    Win Percentage: 67%
    AP Ranking: 10

  9. University of Nebraska

    Lincoln , Nebraska

    Founded in 1890, the Nebraska Huskers football team has won five national titles and 46 conference championships. The team boasts a 69% winning percentage, winning more than 900 games. The Huskers' dominance on the field is so great that ESPN lists the 1971 and 1995 rosters among the best college football teams of all time.

    In addition to their three Heisman Trophy winners, the Huskers are known for their coaching leadership. Between 1962 and 1972, head coach Bob Devaney led the team to 10 conference championships and two national championships. Successor Tom Osbourne revolutionized the sport with his I-Formation offense — now one of the most popular formations in American football.

    The Huskers play at Memorial Stadium, and the team has sold out every game at this 85,000-seat arena since 1962.

    National Championships: 5
    Win Percentage: 6%
    AP Ranking: 8

  10. Auburn University

    Auburn , Alabama

    The Auburn Tigers have won five national championships in football. The team also boasts 12 conference titles and 12 undefeated seasons. Even the team's mascot, Aubie the Tiger, is a record-holder, winning the UCA Mascot National Champion title nine times.

    While the Tigers play their home games at Jordan-Hare stadium, the team's most anticipated matchup is with long-time rivals the Alabama Crimson Tide at the annual Iron Bowl in Birmingham. Dozens of former Tigers currently play in the NFL. Fans can view live stats and enter exclusive contests through the Auburn Athletics mobile app.

    National Championships: 5
    Win Percentage: 63%
    AP Ranking: 13

How Many NCAA College Football Teams Are There?

The NCAA categorizes schools into three main divisions. Division I, Division II, and Division III contain 350, 310, and 438 schools, respectively. However, not all schools have a football team.

About 250 schools host DI football programs (which are further broken down into FBS and FCS subdivisions), while roughly 170 and 250 football programs are hosted by DII and DIII schools. FBS schools are the most competitive, and these teams can award up to 85 full-ride athletic scholarships to students. FCS and DII football programs can award up to 63 and 36 of these awards, respectively, while DIII schools cannot offer athletic scholarships.

Student athletes at all colleges and universities spend a lot of time practicing and traveling for games. However, students playing for Division II and Division III programs typically have more time to pursue academic interests and maintain a personal life.

Do College Football Players Get Paid?

Colleges and universities do not pay their student athletes. This long-time practice has drawn criticism throughout the years, receiving its strongest challenge in 2019. Critics pointed out that without hard-working players, college football would not exist. There would be no ticket sales, merchandise, membership fees, advertising campaigns, and other revenue streams that fuel the multi-billion dollar industry,

In response, the NCAA Board of Governors created a plan that allows college athletes to receive compensation through endorsements and promotions, but not direct salaries. If all three divisions agree to these stipulations, the plan would be implemented at the start of the 2021-22 academic year.

What Percentage of College Football Players Go to the NFL?

For many college football players, getting drafted by an NFL team is the ultimate goal. The median annual salary for a professional football player is roughly $860,000, which does not include sponsorships and endorsements. According to the NCAA, about half of Division I football players believe they are at least somewhat likely to go on and compete professionally.

Unfortunately, the organization's own data shows that only 1-2% of college football players go pro. In 2020, NFL teams made 254 draft picks from an NCAA participant pool of 16,380 draft-eligible athletes. Even playing in college proves challenging, since only about 7% of high school football players go on to compete at the college level.

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