Ten years ago, these programs were not what they are today.
Kyle Parker connected with Jamie Harper on a 24-yard touchdown reception to give Clemson a 17-0 lead over 16th-ranked Auburn on Sept. 18, 2010. Two hours later, Clemson departed Jordan-Hare Stadium with a 27-24 overtime loss, adding another notch to their Clemsoning belt and, with the added future context of a 6-7 season that prompted calls for Dabo Swinney’s dismissal, the Tigers limped into the decade.
One decade later, Clemson is rolling with two national championships in the last four years and, even with the six-win dud in 2010, the second-most wins in college football over the last 10 years. They aren’t Clemsoning anymore, nor are they playing in Nashville, Charlotte, or Boise in late December, or still chasing their first national championship in three decades.
Entering 2010, Clemson was…well, Clemson. Entering 2020, Clemson sits alongside Alabama as two of the most dominant programs in college football history.
What other programs have risen the most from 2010?
Alabama’s dynasty began with the 2009 national championship but we didn’t know it was the start of a dynasty.
At the time, Alabama and their future Hall of Fame head coach were rolling with a 26-2 record in two seasons and three straight top-four recruiting classes, though they spent most of the 2000s dog-paddling through mediocrity. Even with the 12 wins in 2008 and 14 wins in 2000, Alabama was just 10 games over .500 in the decade and ranked 48th in the FBS in decade winning percentage.
Baylor entered the 2010s with Art Briles as head coach. They enter the 2020s without Art Briles as head coach. That’s the biggest win for any program on this list.
Baylor’s decade arc was unfathomable: The Bears went from the most irrelevant power-conference program not named Duke to College Football Playoff contender to a one-win team reeling from a sexual-assault and rape scandal to a College Football Playoff contender. And even with Matt Rhule’s departure, the Bears have dramatically risen from 2010.
Eastern Michigan lost to Akron in the 2009 regular-season finale to finish 0-12 and cap a decade with only 27 wins, the third-fewest of any permanent FBS member over that time. They finished 2009 with an SP+ of -32.7, dead last in the FBS.
Seven years later, the Eagles played in their second-ever bowl game (and first in 28 years), and won seven games for the fourth time ever. They closed the decade with 25 wins over four seasons (first time since the 1980s) and three NFL Draft picks over four years (first time since the 1970s)…all while facing calls for the program’s extinction.
Louisiana will lose head coach Billy Napier to a Power Five program eventually—he was reportedly a candidate at Baylor, Mississippi State, and elsewhere. For now, Louisiana has Billy Napier and runs into the decade after an 11-win season, their first-ever season with at least 10 wins.
The Ragin’ Cajuns entered the 2010s as a middling Sun Belt program struggling to find consistency under longtime head coach Ricky Bustle, who had zero bowl appearances and didn’t win more than six games in his first eight seasons.
Minnesota could’ve hired Gary Patterson in January 2007. Instead, they hired Tim Brewster, the Denver Broncos’ tight ends coach who had zero FBS coordinator or head-coaching experience. Shockingly, one of the dumbest hires of this millennium flopped as the Gophers entered 2010 (Brewster’s final season) with 14 total wins in three years.
Now, with a real head coach and real institutional support, they won 14 games in 13 months, posted the program’s first 11-win season since 1904, and are landing previously unattainable recruits. P.J. Fleck has the Gophers rolling into the 2020s 10 years after the indefensible Brewster experiment failed.
Michigan still can’t beat Ohio State and are still chasing their first Big Ten championship since 2004 and first national championship since 1997. At least now they’re actually chasing those things. They weren’t actually chasing those things in 2010.
Lloyd Carr and his two predecessors failed to win eight games in a season only twice in 49 years. Rich Rodriguez didn’t hit eight wins in any of his three seasons, crawling to 15 total wins from 2008-10 as the program imploded. Jim Harbaugh has at least eight wins in each of his five seasons, including three 10-win seasons, and the Wolverines in annual contention for the elusive conference championship.
When Justin Fuente took the Memphis job in 2012, I vividly remember seeing the news on ESPN’s BottomLine and wondering, “Why would he want that job?” Why does a highly regarded Gary Patterson assistant want a program that’s won five total games in three seasons and has three eight-win seasons in four decades?
Eight years later, Fuente is long gone, as his successor Mike Norvell, but Memphis is an annual New Year’s Six contender, not a college football afterthought.
It’s easy to poke at Notre Dame’s shortcomings and wonder if the Irish will ever close the talent gap between them and college football’s true big boys. It’s also easy to forget Notre Dame sucked 10 years ago.
From 2007-09, 77 other FBS teams had a better winning percentage. And that’s not including five-, five-, and six-win duds in 2001, 2003, and 2004. Entering 2010, Notre Dame was an annual bowl contender. Entering 2020, Notre Dame is an annual playoff contender.
SAN DIEGO STATE
San Diego State’s nine-win 2010 season remains one of the most underrated in college football history. After years of bottom-half finishes in the Mountain West (and two years after a last-place finish), the Aztecs went 5-3 in a strong conference, losing three games to BYU, TCU, and Utah by a combined 12 points.
Before that, San Diego State had zero nine-win seasons since 1977, four all-time bowl appearances, and near-zero national relevance. Brady Hoke and Rocky Long led the Aztecs to 90 wins last decade, more than TCU, Penn State, Auburn, Michigan, USC, Notre Dame, and several other high-profile programs.
If you don’t appreciate UAB’s 20 wins over the last two seasons, find a new sport. The Blazers, who finished last decade with 14 total wins from 2006-09, has transformed from nothing…literally nothing…into a Group of Five juggernaut.
Washington State opened the decade with Paul Wulff as head coach. They close it with Nick Rolovich. Similarly to Minnesota and Baylor, that’s a huge win in itself.
Ten years ago, Washington State was the worst Power Five program. The Cougars couldn’t score, couldn’t win, couldn’t recruit, couldn’t do anything. They needed a gift from Maryland, who passed on Mike Leach because he rambled during an interview, to transform from a one-win embarrassment into a Pac-12 title contender.
Virginia was competent in the 2000s, and their three-win 2009 season wasn’t an accurate reflection of a consistent decade in which they won at least eight games four times and played in five bowl games.
Still, they entered the 2010s as a three-win team led by a guy with zero FBS head-coaching experience, not a nine-win team led by Bronco Mendenhall, a highly accomplished Group of Five coach in the middle of a methodical rebuild at Virginia.Listen to “Predicting the Most Overrated College Football Teams in the AP Preseason Top 25” on Spreaker.