Battle Royale: The greatest college football programs of all time go head to head

By Amy Daughters -

A couple of weeks ago we highlighted nine never-before-seen matchups featuring programs mentioned in the AP Poll’s Greatest College Football Top 25 of all time. This week, we take the same rankings and look back through history to see how each club mentioned has performed head-to-head against its fellow “greatest” programs.

The result highlights the teams that haven’t just been ranked the most frequently in the AP’s final poll every season since 1936 (with bonus points awarded to the No. 1 team), but reflects which programs have achieved consistent, on-field success vs. the longest-standing powerhouses in college football.

Of the 25 clubs, only 13 (or 52 percent) have a .500 or better record against the top all-time teams. Of these best-of-the-best programs, six (or 46 percent) are current SEC members followed by two representatives apiece from the Big 12 (both of which are moving to the SEC in 2024) and the Big Ten. That leaves one club each from the Pac-12 (its representative is off to the Big Ten in 2024), the ACC, and an Independent.

Of the 12 programs with a losing record vs. the greatest teams of all time, five are currently in the Big Ten, three are SEC members, and two apiece hail from the Pac-12 (one of which will go to the Big Ten in 2024) and the ACC.

Another interesting takeaway from our analysis is which elite programs have played the most total games vs. the rest of the list. Not shockingly, it’s the SEC – with the top six teams and eight of the top ten – that’s played the best-of-the-best most frequently. Where the nine SEC members mentioned have played, on average, 524 “greatest” members, the seven Big Ten clubs have played 403, the two Big 12’ers have played 380, the three Pac-12 clubs have played 306 and the three ACC teams have played 268. Notre Dame, the sole Independent, has played 410.

Finally, the clubs with the biggest disparity between their ranking in the AP Greatest Top 25 and their performance head-to-head vs. the same list are: Oklahoma (ranked No. 3 in the AP Greatest Top 25 but only No. 9 in head-to-head action), Clemson (ranked No. 18 in the Top 25 but only No. 24 head-to-head), Nebraska (No. 7 in the Top 25 but only No. 14 head-to-head) and Penn State (No. 9 in the Top 25 but only No. 16 head-to-head). On the flip side it’s Georgia (No. 12 in the Top 25 but No. 7 in head-to-head action) and Auburn (No. 14 in the Top 25 but No. 8 head-to-head).

25. OLE MISS

Winning percentage vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 33.3%

Total games vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 456 (no. 9)

Rank in the greatest AP Top 25: No. 24

24. CLEMSON

Winning percentage vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 36.34%

Total games vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 249 (no. 24)

Rank in the greatest AP Top 25: No. 18

23. WISCONSIN

Winning percentage vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 38.2%

Total games vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 407 (no. 15)

Rank in the greatest AP Top 25: No. 23

22. IOWA

Winning percentage vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 38.56%

Total games vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 424 (no. 13)

Rank in the greatest AP Top 25: No. 25

21. ARKANSAS

Winning percentage vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 38.96%

Total games vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 435 (no. 10)

Rank in the greatest AP Top 25: No. 20

20. WASHINGTON

Winning percentage vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 38.97%

Total games vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 245 (no. 25)

Rank in the greatest AP Top 25: No. 22

19. TEXAS A&M

Winning percentage vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 39.13%

Total games vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 405 (no. 16)

Rank in the greatest AP Top 25: No. 21

18. MICHIGAN STATE

Winning percentage vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 40.25%

Total games vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 431 (no. 11)

Rank in the greatest AP Top 25: No. 19

17. MIAMI FLA.

Winning percentage vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 45.57%

Total games vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 294 (no. 20)

Rank in the greatest AP Top 25: No. 16

16. PENN STATE

Winning percentage vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 47%

Total games vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 267 (no. 22)

Rank in the greatest AP Top 25: No. 9

15. UCLA

Winning percentage vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 47.72%

Total games vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 286 (no. 21)

Rank in the greatest AP Top 25: No. 17

14. NEBRASKA

Winning percentage vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 48.93%

Total games vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 328 (no. 19)

Rank in the greatest AP Top 25: No. 7

13. FLORIDA STATE

Winning percentage vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 50%

Total games vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 262 (no. 23)

Rank in the greatest AP Top 25: No. 13

12. FLORIDA

Winning percentage vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 50.18%

Total games vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 555 (no. 5)

Rank in the greatest AP Top 25: No. 15

11. TENNESSEE

Winning percentage vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 50.65%

Total games vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 458 (no. 7)

Rank in the greatest AP Top 25: No. 10

10. LSU

Winning percentage vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 52.24%

Total games vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 602 (no. 3)

Rank in the greatest AP Top 25: No. 11

9. OKLAHOMA

Winning percentage vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 52.43%

Total games vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 329 (no. 18)

Rank in the greatest AP Top 25: No. 3

8. AUBURN

Winning percentage vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 53.02%

Total games vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 612 (no. 2)

Rank in the greatest AP Top 25: No. 14

7. GEORGIA

Winning percentage vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 55.71%

Total games vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 569 (no. 4)

Rank in the greatest AP Top 25: No. 12

6. NOTRE DAME

Winning percentage vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 57.19%

Total games vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 410 (no. 14)

Rank in the greatest AP Top 25: No. 5

5. USC

Winning percentage vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 57.73%

Total games vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 388 (no. 17)

Rank in the greatest AP Top 25: No. 6

4. OHIO STATE

Winning percentage vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 61.05%

Total games vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 457 (no. 8)

Rank in the greatest AP Top 25: No. 2

3. TEXAS

Winning percentage vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 61.97%

Total games vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 430 (no. 12)

Rank in the greatest AP Top 25: No. 7

2. MICHIGAN

Winning percentage vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 62.79%

Total games vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 508 (no. 6)

Rank in the greatest AP Top 25: No. 4

1. ALABAMA

Winning percentage vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 65.64%

Total games vs. the greatest AP Top 25: 620 (no. 1)

Rank in the greatest AP Top 25: No. 1

Historical data courtesy of Sports Reference/College Football.

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