By RALPH D. RUSSO

AP College Football Writer

In the history of college football, only 44 schools have been able to make the claim “We’re No. 1” and have The Associated Press poll back up the boast.

That means just 15 percent of the 296 schools listed as having played major college football at some point by sports-reference.com have ever held the No. 1 ranking for at least one poll. Of those 44 schools, only 21 have been No. 1 in 10 or more polls.

The first No. 1 was Minnesota in 1936. The most recent school to make the list was Mississippi State in 2014.

For the first time, AP has ranked the No. 1s by the number of times a program has held the top spot. Ohio State leads the way with 105 times. There have been a handful of ties at No. 1 over 80 seasons and each team in that situation received one-half point.

For fun, AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo picked the best of each school’s teams to hold the No. 1 ranking. There were some tough calls, so to determine the No. 1 team of the No. 1s, Russo used the following criteria:

—Championship teams were given preference.

—Time spent at No. 1 during a single season was considered and late-season polls were given greater consideration.

—A metric called simple rating system found at sports-reference.com was referenced to give some perspective on dominance relative to a team’s era. The game and its players have changed so much over the decades that there is no way to truly compare, say, the 1958 LSU team with the 2007 national champion Tigers.

—Some feedback from reporters and sports information directors who have covered a school for decades was used.

No. 1 Ohio State (105 times)

Championships — Five (1942, 1954, 1968, 2002, 2014).

Most recent No. 1 ranking — Nov. 1, 2015.

Longest run at No. 1: 15 straight polls, 2006 preseason-Dec. 3, 2006.

Best decade: 1970s, 32 times at No. 1.

Best No. 1 team: 1968.

Russo’s reasoning: The recent Buckeyes championships include one of the great title-game upsets in college football history (2002) and a team (2014) that produced maybe the most bountiful NFL draft class ever. But the best Buckeyes team is a choice between coach Woody Hayes’ first national champion (1954) and his second (1968). Hayes himself called the ’68 team with Jack Tatum and Rex Kern one of the best in college football history, so that’s good enough for me. Those Buckeyes shut out then-No. 1 Purdue 13-0 early in the season, thumped No. 1 Michigan 50-14 and beat No. 2 USC 27-16 in the Rose Bowl.

 

No. 2 Oklahoma (100½)

Championships — Seven (1950, 1955, 1956, 1974, 1975, 1985, 2000).

Most recent No. 1 ranking — Sept. 18, 2011.

Longest run at No. 1 — 15 straight polls, 2003 preseason-Nov. 30, 2003.

Best decade: 1950s, 26 times.

Best No. 1 team — 1974.

Russo’s reasoning: Bud, Barry or Bob? The three coaches who have led the Sooners to national titles all had teams that can make a case for best in OU history. Bud Wilkinson’s Sooners won a record 47 straight games in the ’50s. Bob Stoops’ 2000 champions went unbeaten through the Big 12 at its best. Still, the Barry Switzer era produced the best of the best Oklahoma teams in 1974 with a squad NCAA sanctions kept off TV and out of the postseason. That wasn’t a problem for AP voters, who never had Lee Roy Selmon, Joe Washington and the ’74 Sooners ranked lower than No. 3.

 

No. 3 Notre Dame (98)

Championships — Eight (1943, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1966, 1973, 1977, 1988).

Most recent No. 1 ranking — Nov. 18, 2012.

Longest run at No. 1 — 11 straight polls, Oct. 17, 1966-Sept. 25, 1967.

Best decade — 1940s, 30 times.

Best No. 1 team — 1947.

College football wasn’t quite as deep in the 1940s when coach Frank Leahy won four of Notre Dame’s eight national titles, but he did have monster teams. From 1946-49, the Fighting Irish were never ranked worse than No. 3 — and that was for one week in 1946. Otherwise, it was either No. 1 or 2 for Notre Dame. Which team was best? I’ll take the 1947 team with Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Lujack at quarterback and lineman Leon Hart, who would go on to win the Heisman in ’49.

 

No. 4 Southern California (90½)

Championships — Five (1962, 1967, 1972, 2003, 2004).

Most recent No. 1 ranking. 2012 preseason.

Longest run at No. 1 — 33 straight polls (record), Dec. 7, 2003-Dec. 4, 2005.

Best decade — 2000s, 45 times.

Best No. 1 team — 1972.

Russo’s reasoning: USC football’s golden ages during the AP poll era came under coaches John McKay and Pete Carroll. So it’s only fair that the competition for best Trojans team comes down to McKay’s (1972) or Carroll’s (2004). The ’72 squad with Anthony Davis began the season No. 8, crushed No. 4 Arkansas on the road in its opener and was No. 1 for the rest of the season. The ’04 Trojans of Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush is one of only two teams to go wire-to-wire (preseason to final poll) as No. 1. Both had wipeout bowl victories, but ’72 gets the nod for playing only one game decided by less than 17 points.

 

No. 5 Alabama (74)

Championships — 10 (1961, 1964, 1965, 1978, 1979, 1992, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015).

Most recent No. 1 ranking — 2015 final.

Longest run at No. 1 — 15 straight polls, 2012 final-Oct. 24, 2013.

Best decade: 2010s, 35 times.

Best No. 1 team — 1961.

Russo’s reasoning: Maybe the most amazing thing about Nick Saban’s run at Alabama is that none of his championship teams stands way above the rest. They are all sort of equally awesome. So for the best of the best we’ll look to Bear Bryant’s boys. Bryant was partial to 1961. That team went unbeaten behind linemen Billy Neighbors and Lee Roy Jordan and quarterback Pat Trammell. The Bear’s first championship team allowed only three touchdowns and had six shutouts.

 

No. 6 (tie) Florida State (72)

Championships — Three (1993, 1999, 2013).

Most recent No. 1 ranking — Nov. 23, 2014.

Longest run at No. 1 — 17 straight polls, 1999 preseason-1999 final.

Best decade — 1990s, 57 times.

Best No. 1 team — 1999.

Russo’s reasoning: All the Seminoles championship teams were led by quarterbacks (Charlie Ward, Chris Weinke and Jameis Winston) who won the Heisman. Weinke’s award came in 2000. All were loaded with future NFL talent. It was Bobby Bowden’s ’99 team, though, that pulled off a poll feat that had never been done before by going wire-to-wire as No. 1 from the preseason to the final poll. A spectacular Sugar Bowl performance by Florida State’s Peter Warrick helped lock up the BCS championship against Michael Vick and Virginia Tech.

 

No. 6 (tie) Nebraska (72)

Championships — Four (1970, 1971, 1994, 1995).

Most recent No. 1 ranking — Oct. 22, 2000.

Longest run at No. 1 — 15 straight polls, Sept. 13, 1971-1972 preseason.

Best decade — 1990s, 23 times.

Best No. 1 team — 1971.

Russo’s reasoning: Coach Bob Devaney’s ’71 Huskers and Tom Osborne’s ’95 team are not only considered Nebraska’s best, but they both will get tossed into consideration for best of their respective decades. Both crushed bowl opponents to finish their seasons. The pick here is Johnny Rodgers and the ’71 team, which started the season at No. 2, jumped to No. 1 after an opening blowout, and never gave it up. Along the way Nebraska beat No. 2 Oklahoma 35-31 in a Game of the Century that lived up to the billing.

 

No. 8 Miami (67)

Championships — Five (1983, 1987, 1989, 1991, 2001).

Most recent No. 1 ranking — Dec. 8, 2002.

Longest run at No. 1 — 21 straight polls, Oct. 14, 2001-Oct. 27, 2002.

Best decade — 2000, 29 ½ times.

Best No. 1 team — 2001.

Russo’s reasoning: The second (though relatively brief) incarnation of the Miami dynasty produced the program’s best team after three coaches won four championships from 1983-91. The 2001 ‘Canes’ roster reads like an NFL roster. Willis McGahee, Clinton Portis and Frank Gore all at running back. They were No. 1 in all but three polls that season (three times No. 2) and beat their opponents by 34 points per game under first-year coach Larry Coker.

 

No. 9 Texas (44.5)

Championships — Three (1963, 1969, 2005).

Most recent No. 1 ranking — Oct. 26, 2008.

Longest run at No. 1 — Nine straight polls, Oct. 14, 1963-1963 final.

Best decade — 1960s, 23 times.

Best No. 1 team — 2005.

Russo’s reasoning: All three championship teams finished unbeaten, and the ’63 and ’69 squads spent more time at No. 1 than Mack Brown’s ’05 team. The last Longhorns’ national title team was No. 2 all season behind Southern California before keeping the Trojans from the first AP title three-peat. Extra credit to the ’05 team for Vince Young’s Rose Bowl performance, maybe the greatest by an individual in college football history.

 

No. 10 Florida (41)

Championships — Three (1996, 2006, 2008).

Most recent No. 1 ranking — Nov. 29, 2009.

Longest run at No. 1 — 10 straight polls, Sept. 23, 1996-Nov. 25, 1996.

Best decade — 1990s, 21 times.

Best No. 1 team — 1996.

Russo’s reasoning: Steve Spurrier’s Gators or Urban Meyer’s Gators? Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel or Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow? Neither team finished unbeaten, but the ’96 team was No. 1 most of the season before losing by three at No. 2 Florida State in November. The Gators then avenged that loss in the Sugar Bowl, 52-20.

 

No. 11 Michigan (34)

Championships — Two (1948, 1997).

Most recent No. 1 ranking — 1997 final.

Longest run at No. 1 — Eight straight polls, Sept. 14, 1976-Nov. 2, 1976.

Best decade — 1970s, 12 times.

Best No. 1 team — 1948.

Russo’s reasoning: The ’48 team was a continuation of the dominant ’47 team, which went 10-0 with a 49-0 victory against USC in the Rose Bowl. The final poll was taken before the bowl games back then, though a special post-bowl vote (no longer recognized by the AP or NCAA) gave Coach Fritz Crisler’s “Mad Magicians” the top spot. Crisler retired and handed the team to Bennie Oosterbaan in 1948. The Wolverines rolled to another unbeaten season that included five shutouts.

 

No. 12 LSU (30)

Championships — Two (1958, 2007).

Most recent No. 1 ranking — Dec. 4, 2011.

Longest run at No. 1 — 14 straight polls, Oct. 27, 1958-Nov. 2, 1959.

Best decade — 1950s, 14 times.

Best No. 1 team — 1958.

Russo’s reasoning: The 2007 Tigers were talented and fortunate, becoming the first and only team to lose twice during the regular season and become AP national champions. So the ’58 team is an easy choice as the best for LSU. Those Tigers had Billy Cannon (who won the Heisman in ’59) and a defense nicknamed the Chinese Bandits that allowed more than seven points in only one game all season.

 

No. 13 Michigan State (29)

Championships — One (1952).

Most recent No. 1 ranking — Oct. 10, 1966.

Longest run at No. 1 — Eight straight polls, Oct. 13, 1952-1952 final.

Best decade — 1950s, 16 times.

Best No. 1 team — 1952.

Russo’s reasoning: Under coach Clarence “Biggie” Munn, the Spartans won a school-record 28 straight games, a streak that started in 1950 and ended in 1953. The ’51 Spartans went unbeaten but had to settle for No. 2 in the final AP poll behind Tennessee. The ’52 Spartans, led by Don McAuliffe, Ellis Duckett and Paul Dekker, were No. 1 all but one week of the season.

 

No. 14 Army (27)

Championships — Two (1944, 1945).

Most recent No. 1 ranking — Oct. 20, 1958.

Longest run at No. 1 — 15 straight polls, Oct. 30, 1944-1945 final

Best decade — 1940s, 22 times.

Best No. 1 team — 1944.

Russo’s reasoning: Both Army championship teams stand among the most dominant in college football history, but coach Red Blaik’s 1944 Black Knights get the nod. With two eventual Heisman Trophy winners (Doc Blanchard, ’45 and Glenn Davis ’46), Army outscored its opponents 504-35 and had four shutouts.

 

No. 15 Pittsburgh (21)

Championships — Two (1937, 1976).

Most recent No. 1 ranking — Nov. 1, 1982.

Longest run at No. 1 — Four straight polls, twice (1937, 1981).

Best decade — 1930s and 1980s, eight times.

Best No. 1 team — 1976.

Russo’s reasoning: Led by Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett, the Panthers went undefeated and were ranked in the top three most of the season. Coach Johnny Majors’ team jumped to No. 1 in early November and completed their championship season by beating Georgia 27-3 in the Sugar Bowl.

 

No. 16 Penn State (19)

Championships — Two (1982, 1986)

Most recent No. 1 ranking — Oct. 13, 1997.

Longest run at No. 1 — Five straight polls, Nov. 12, 1985-Dec. 10, 1985.

Best decade — 1990s, eight times.

Best No. 1 team — 1982.

Russo’s reasoning: Joe Paterno had four teams that went unbeaten and didn’t finish No. 1 so an argument can be made the best Penn State team of all time was not one that won a national title. Maybe the 1994 team, which spent two weeks at No. 1 and finished No. 2 to Nebraska? Neither championship team reached No. 1 until the final poll. The ’86 team went undefeated and upset Miami in the Fiesta Bowl, but the ’82 team with quarterback Todd Blackledge and running back Curt Warner faced six ranked teams on the way to a title.

 

No. 17 Tennessee (18)

Championships — Two (1951, 1998)

Most recent No. 1 ranking — 1998 final.

Longest run at No. 1 — Six straight polls, Nov. 9, 1998-1998 final.

Best decade — 1950s, eight times.

Best No. 1 team — 1951.

Russo’s reasoning: The ’51 Volunteers would seem to be the obvious choice. Under coach Robert Neyland, the Vols were never ranked lower than No. 3 and were No. 1 six times. Led by Heisman runner-up Hank Lauricella and future Hall of Famer Doug Atkins, the Vols had five shutouts. One problem: The Vols lost the Sugar Bowl to Maryland, but because there were so few bowls the final poll was taken before they were played.

 

No. 18 Minnesota (17 ½ )

Championships — Four (1936, 1940, 1941, 1960)

Most recent No. 1 ranking — 1960 final.

Longest run at No. 1 — Four straight polls, twice (1940, 1941).

Best decade — 1940s, 10½.

Best No. 1 team — 1941.

Russo’s reasoning: Both the 1940 and ’41 teams went unbeaten under coach Bernie Bierman, but the ’41 team spent most of the season as the No. 1 team and was more dominant, outscoring opponents 186-38. Halfback Bruce Smith became the first — and still only — Heisman Trophy winner for the Golden Gophers.

 

No. 19 Georgia (15)

Championships — One (1980).

Most recent No. 1 ranking — 2008 preseason.

Longest run at No. 1 — Six straight polls, Nov. 10, 1980-1980 final.

Best decade — 1980s, 11 times.

Best No. 1 team — 1980.

Russo’s reasoning: Coach Vince Dooley’s team began the season ranked No. 16, but fabulous freshman Herschel Walker led the Bulldogs to an unbeaten season and the school’s only national championship. Georgia reached No. 1 late in the season and beat No. 7 Notre Dame 17-10 in the Sugar Bowl to seal the title.

 

No. 20 Washington (14 1/2)

Championships — None.

Most recent No. 1 ranking — Nov. 3, 1992.

Longest run at No. 1 — Six straight polls, Sept. 13, 1982-Oct. 18, 1982.

Best decade — 1980s, 10 times.

Best No. 1 team — 1992.

Russo’s reasoning: The funny thing about Washington is the best team in school history never was ranked better than No. 2 in the AP poll. The 1991 Huskies under Don James finished the season unbeaten and No. 2 behind Miami, but were crowned champions by the coaches’ poll. Much of that team came back in 1992 and spent the first nine weeks of the season at either No. 1 (five times) or two, before losing three of its last four games to ranked teams. It was a disappointing finish for a loaded team that included quarterback Mark Brunell and All-America tackle Lincoln Kennedy.

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