The Illustrious Nebraska Football Program

The ESPN.com research team has put together their very own ‘Prestige Rankings,’ which as the name implies determines the most prestigious college football program in America.

Although not quite as elaborate as the DXP judges used for the Poon-per Bowl‘ rankings, the ESPN critics used their own complex point system that basically covers everything from points for National Championships all the way down to minus points for losing seasons and recruiting penalties. They started with the year 1936, which is the year the AP poll began and recognized a true national champion. The contest began on Monday with #21-#119 and finished today with #1-#5. As they rolled into Friday’s big finale, two Big 12 teams – Nebraska and Oklahoma – were still left standing.

The point system was as follows:

  • National title: 25 points (AP, UPI, or Coaches Poll)
  • Berth in one of the major bowls : 10 (major bowls are every Rose, Orange, and Sugar Bowl from ’36, every Cotton Bowl from 1940-’94, and every Fiesta Bowl since ’86)
  • Major bowl win: 10
  • Best win/loss record in conference regular season: 10
  • Final AP top-5 finish: 10
  • Heisman winner: 8
  • Final AP top 6-10 finish: 6
  • Conference title championship-game bonus: 5 (only given to a team if not already given points for the conference’s best record)
  • Final AP top 11-25 finish: 4
  • Bowl appearance: 3
  • 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
  • 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

The Top 5:

1. Oklahoma Sooners
Total points: 1,968

2. USC Trojans
Total points: 1,897

3. Ohio State Buckeyes
Total points: 1,655

4. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Total points: 1,579

5. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Total points: 1,553

For an overview of the Top 5, click here.

The rest of the Big 12 teams rank as follows:

7thTexas (1,494 points)
20thTexas A&M (584 points)
22nd (T) – Colorado (486 points)
36thMissouri (314 points)
42ndTexas Tech (267 points)
63rdBaylor (129 points)
65thOklahoma State (115 points)
69thKansas (86 points)
76thKansas State (66 points)
114thIowa State (minus 53 points)

Amazingly, Nebraska was in 35th place when the 1950s began according to the authors. It was the run of Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne that clearly catapulted us to the Top 5. Nebraska’ big score came from being ranked in the top five in numerous categories such as major bowl appearances (30, T-2nd), 10-win seasons (23, 3rd), bowl appearances (45, 4th), conference titles (26, T-4th), weeks at AP No. 1 (70, 5th) and major bowl wins (14, 5th).

And like many of the other schools in the Top 5, we certainly had our problem years. The Huskers had 17 losing seasons in a 21-season span between 1941 and 1961. More recently, Nebraska has produced only two first-round picks this decade, while finishing the season unranked in four of its last five seasons.

Like any arbitrary ranking system, this one certainly has its flaws. For one example, starting in the year 1936 skews the rankings significantly for some programs. Sure, the Associated Press Poll has been going strong since 1936. However, the AP took their final poll prior to bowl games from 1936 – 1964 and in 1966 and 1967. They took their final poll after the bowl games in 1965 and from 1968 – Current.

With that in mind, I believe that defining the ‘modern-era’ of college football and using that year instead of 1936 would prove a more accurate assessment of this ranking system. However, the ‘modern-era’ of college is a heated debate for most fans. I’ll argue that it began as late as the 1967 game between Notre Dame and Michigan State that brought about unprecedented television ratings and future television/bowl contracts, and as I just mentioned, the first year the polls were completed after the postseason.

Now, if only the authors at ESPN.com would follow-up these rankings with this more accurate/fair timetable, then I would be satisfied.

Even with that being said, Oklahoma still deserves that #1 spot.

At #5 on ESPN’s Prestige Rankings, Nebraska is:
( polls)

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