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Florida State, Nebraska, and Florida owned college football in the 1990s

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21 of the top 30 teams in the 1990s came from three schools.

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

At the end of each set of 10 year-by-year recaps, I want to try to take a look back at the decade as a whole. Now that you've seen each year of the 1990s, let's do some compiling.

When my original 10 best programs of each decade piece went up in February, I predictably caught a lot of ire from Nebraska fans for the fact that the Huskers finished second to Florida State in the 1990s. They had three national titles (well, 2.5) to FSU's two, after all! But these ratings don't care about titles; they only care about averages. And on average, FSU was ever so slightly better than the Huskers.

As you see below, there are five FSU teams among the top 13 teams of the 1990s; Nebraska had four of the top 18. All 10 FSU teams ranked in the top 30, while only seven Nebraska teams made the top 50. The 1990, 1998, and 1999 NU teams fell off just enough to give FSU the edge.

That's how these ratings were formed. You can use whatever criteria you want to create a different set of rankings if you so choose.

The most impressive thing about this decade to me, though, was the formation of multiple dynasties. Scholarship limits went into effect in the early part of the 1990s, but instead of opening things up, it seemed to temporarily solidify the ruling class. Indeed, there were 10 FSU and seven Nebraska teams among the top 30 of the decade; there were four Florida teams, as well, leaving only nine spots for the other 100-something programs. That's some incredible dominance from only a few teams. Washington, Penn State, Tennessee, and Ohio State had some awesome teams, and the Miami dynasty of the 1980s hadn't completely faded away yet. But this was a three-team decade.

50 Best Teams of the 1990s

Decade
Rk
Year Team Offense
Rank
(Year)
Defense
Rank
(Year)
S&P+ Rk Percentile
1 1995 Nebraska 47.8 1 20.1 28 27.7 1 99.48%
2 1993 Florida State 39.5 2 11.6 1 27.9 1 99.47%
3 1991 Washington 39.2 1 11.7 2 27.5 1 99.46%
4 1996 Florida 45.6 1 17.6 14 28.0 1 99.24%
5 1990 Miami-FL 39.1 4 13.5 4 25.6 1 99.14%
6 1994 Penn State 46.1 1 22.1 38 24.0 1 99.03%
7 1997 Florida State 39.9 2 14.2 4 25.8 1 98.96%
8 1992 Florida State 37.4 2 15.5 11 21.9 1 98.86%
9 1996 Nebraska 41.1 2 14.9 8 26.2 2 98.83%
10 1999 Florida State 39.9 1 15.3 8 24.6 1 98.82%
11 1991 Miami-FL 32.1 14 8.3 1 23.8 2 98.65%
12 1998 Ohio State 35.5 11 12.3 3 23.2 1 98.60%
13 1991 Florida State 36.2 6 12.8 5 23.4 3 98.49%
14 1995 Florida 43.2 3 20.1 27 23.1 2 98.39%
15 1997 Nebraska 43.4 1 19.9 26 23.6 2 98.28%
16 1994 Florida 40.3 2 18.7 21 21.6 2 98.26%
17 1999 Nebraska 34.9 6 12.2 1 22.7 2 98.19%
18 1992 Notre Dame 35.8 4 15.8 12 20.0 2 98.13%
19 1993 Florida 40.4 1 18.0 21 22.4 2 97.99%
20 1994 Florida State 36.7 4 15.7 10 21.0 3 97.97%
21 1993 Nebraska 35.8 7 13.4 5 22.3 3 97.96%
22 1994 Nebraska 34.4 5 13.4 6 21.0 4 97.96%
23 1992 Alabama 28.5 20 8.9 2 19.6 3 97.93%
24 1998 Florida State 32.3 16 10.8 1 21.5 2 97.92%
25 1996 Ohio State 36.1 6 12.7 2 23.5 3 97.90%
Decade
Rk
Year Team Offense
Rank
(Year)
Defense
Rank
(Year)
S&P+ Rk Percentile
26 1995 Florida State 45.1 2 23.3 57 21.8 3 97.84%
27 1992 Nebraska 36.3 3 17.1 20 19.2 4 97.72%
28 1998 Kansas State 41.5 2 20.4 28 21.0 3 97.69%
29 1990 Florida State 38.5 5 17.2 16 21.3 2 97.61%
30 1996 Florida State 37.3 4 14.4 7 22.8 4 97.61%
31 1991 Florida 34.8 9 13.6 6 21.3 4 97.57%
32 1990 Washington 36.6 6 15.5 10 21.1 3 97.51%
33 1991 Michigan 36.5 5 15.5 12 21.0 5 97.42%
34 1997 Florida 37.3 7 15.7 7 21.6 3 97.36%
35 1995 Ohio State 37.1 6 16.4 7 20.8 4 97.29%
36 1993 Tennessee 37.9 4 17.1 18 20.9 4 97.20%
37 1999 Virginia Tech 37.5 3 17.0 13 20.6 3 97.10%
38 1992 Washington 30.8 10 12.8 5 18.0 5 96.92%
39 1996 Arizona State 40.2 3 18.6 23 21.6 5 96.91%
40 1993 Notre Dame 36.9 5 16.6 17 20.3 5 96.86%
41 1992 Michigan 33.9 5 16.3 17 17.6 6 96.63%
42 1992 Miami-FL 31.1 8 13.6 6 17.5 7 96.59%
43 1991 Penn State 35.1 8 15.6 13 19.6 6 96.54%
44 1997 Tennessee 37.6 6 17.4 16 20.1 4 96.48%
45 1997 Washington 38.2 5 18.4 20 19.8 5 96.22%
46 1990 Colorado 33.7 14 14.6 7 19.1 4 96.21%
47 1994 Miami-FL 29.6 25 11.4 2 18.2 5 96.20%
48 1999 Tennessee 32.9 17 13.9 2 19.0 4 95.98%
49 1994 Colorado 37.1 3 19.2 23 17.9 6 95.94%
50 1999 Alabama 34.2 8 15.3 7 18.9 5 95.93%

Ranking 1990s FBS programs by average S&P+ percentile rating

Since I've already explained the top of these average rankings, there really aren't any more major surprises beyond maybe Tennessee eking out fourth place over Michigan, Penn State, and Notre Dame. That's not "major," though. The Vols were mostly excellent this decade.

Team
Seasons
(1990s)
Avg Percentile Rk
Florida State 10 98.4% 1
Nebraska 10 96.6% 2
Florida 10 95.2% 3
Tennessee 10 92.9% 4
Michigan 10 92.6% 5
Penn State 10 90.6% 6
Notre Dame 10 88.4% 7
Ohio State 10 87.7% 8
Miami-FL 10 87.1% 9
Colorado 10 86.9% 10
Washington 10 85.8% 11
Texas A&M 10 85.3% 12
USC 10 81.9% 13
Alabama 10 81.8% 14
Marshall 3 80.3% 15
Virginia 10 77.9% 16
Virginia Tech 10 76.1% 17
Kansas State 10 75.8% 18
Syracuse 10 75.2% 19
Auburn 10 74.5% 20
UCLA 10 72.9% 21
Texas 10 72.7% 22
BYU 10 72.2% 23
Oregon 10 71.9% 24
Michigan State 10 70.5% 25
Team
Seasons
(2000s)
Avg Percentile Rk
Georgia 10 68.8% 26
Arizona 10 67.2% 27
North Carolina 10 65.9% 28
Stanford 10 65.0% 29
Oklahoma 10 64.7% 30
Wisconsin 10 64.4% 31
Arizona State 10 64.3% 32
Clemson 10 63.4% 33
Southern Miss 10 61.5% 34
Iowa 10 61.3% 35
Georgia Tech 10 61.3% 36
West Virginia 10 61.2% 37
LSU 10 60.0% 38
Texas Tech 10 59.5% 39
Colorado State 10 59.4% 40
Purdue 10 59.1% 41
Air Force 10 57.9% 42
Arkansas 10 57.9% 43
San Diego State 10 57.8% 44
Mississippi State 10 57.4% 45
N.C. State 10 56.9% 46
Ole Miss 10 56.5% 47
California 10 56.4% 48
Utah 10 55.1% 49
Illinois 10 54.7% 50
Team
Seasons
(2000s)
Avg Percentile Rk
Washington State 10 54.5% 51
Wyoming 10 53.1% 52
Kansas 10 52.8% 53
South Carolina 10 52.3% 54
Boston College 10 52.0% 55
Fresno State 10 50.4% 56
East Carolina 10 49.9% 57
Toledo 10 48.4% 58
Indiana 10 48.1% 59
Miami-OH 10 48.1% 60
Louisville 10 46.8% 61
Central Florida 4 46.7% 62
Missouri 10 45.6% 63
Baylor 10 45.4% 64
Bowling Green 10 43.4% 65
Minnesota 10 43.3% 66
Kentucky 10 42.8% 67
Memphis 10 41.4% 68
Northwestern 10 39.5% 69
Nevada 8 39.4% 70
Oklahoma State 10 39.4% 71
Rice 10 38.8% 72
Houston 10 38.2% 73
Cincinnati 10 37.4% 74
Team
Seasons
(2000s)
Avg Percentile Rk
Maryland 10 35.6% 75
Pittsburgh 10 35.0% 76
Oregon State 10 33.4% 77
Western Michigan 10 32.8% 78
Iowa State 10 32.5% 79
New Mexico 10 32.2% 80
TCU 10 31.8% 81
Central Michigan 10 31.0% 82
Vanderbilt 10 30.9% 83
Louisiana Tech 10 30.7% 84
Hawaii 10 30.6% 85
Duke 10 29.7% 86
Tulane 10 29.3% 87
Ball State 10 29.0% 88
Utah State 10 28.5% 89
Wake Forest 10 26.9% 90
Idaho 4 26.3% 91
San Jose State 10 25.4% 92
Navy 10 24.7% 93
Tulsa 10 24.4% 94
Army 10 24.2% 95
SMU 10 22.8% 96
Rutgers 10 22.7% 97
Ohio 10 22.1% 98
Boise State 4 21.0% 99
Team
Seasons
(2000s)
Avg Percentile Rk
UAB 4 18.8% 100
Eastern Michigan 10 18.3% 101
Temple 10 17.7% 102
UL-Lafayette 10 17.6% 103
Pacific 6 16.3% 104
Akron 10 16.0% 105
Northern Illinois 10 15.5% 106
UTEP 10 14.7% 107
Long Beach State 2 13.3% 108
UNLV 10 11.7% 109
UL-Monroe 6 11.7% 110
New Mexico State 10 7.9% 111
North Texas 5 6.3% 112
Kent 10 6.2% 113
Arkansas State 10 5.4% 114
Fullerton State 3 1.5% 115
Buffalo 1 0.9% 116
Middle Tennessee 1 0.9% 117

Some other random thoughts:

  • SEC: Only two of the top 13, and both were in the East. Florida and Tennessee were great, but nobody else was particularly consistent.
  • This was the last decade of football for Fullerton State, LBSU, and Pacific. Not too hard to see why, though power to Arkansas State for sticking it out through some rough times, then beginning to thrive (relatively speaking) in the 2010s.
  • Spoiler: Kansas State is not going to grade out 18th in the 1980s. No program redefined itself like Bill Snyder's Wildcats in the 1990s.
  • Your top 10 mid-major programs of the 1990s: Marshall (15th, but in just three years), BYU (23rd), Southern Miss (34th), Colorado State (40th), Air Force (42nd), San Diego State (44th), Utah (49th), Wyoming (52nd), Fresno State (56th), and ECU (57th). You can see why the WAC thought it was ready to expand and go crazy.