Prestige: Notables outside the Top 25

Who is No. 1? That debate rages weekly during each college football season, and often long after the season is over and the trophies have been handed out. The debate is as much a part of the annual ritual as the touchdowns, fight songs and bowl games.

If you think that process can spark a debate, try ranking each FBS team's all-time position in college football history.

But the ESPN Research Department devised a plan to settle the argument. Their system lets the numbers do the talking.

ESPN's Prestige Rankings are a numerical method of ranking the best FBS college football programs since the 1936 season. Point values were assigned for certain successes (win a national title, earn 25 points) and failures (get your program banned from the postseason, lose two points). They ran all the numbers through the computer to come up with the No. 1 program (and Nos. 2-119) of the past 72 seasons.

Here are some notables for teams outside of the Top 25:

• Ironically, the all-time rankings put a few bitter rivals back-to-back … California is one spot ahead of Stanford in 44th place. And Minnesota is 33rd all-time, one spot ahead of its Paul Bunyan's Axe foe Wisconsin.

• Basketball blue bloods Kentucky and Kansas are tied for 69th on the all-time rankings.

Vanderbilt (119) The worst BCS-conference school is also the overall last place program in the Prestige Rankings. The 2008 season provided its first winning season and bowl bid since 1982.

Florida International (T-105) FIU has only been a member of the FBS since 2006. The Golden Panthers have been hit with a nine-point penalty from this past May for violations of NCAA legislation.

Buffalo (103) After eight-straight losing seasons since joining the FBS in 1999, Buffalo racked up eight points this past season, which ranks the Bulls ahead of 45 BCS schools.

Rutgers (101) After 26 straight seasons of being unable to accumulate positive Prestige points, the Scarlet Knights have 27 points in the last four seasons and are almost back in the black overall.

Cincinnati (82) The Bearcats have 47 points in the four seasons since joining the Big East. Pretty remarkable, considering Cincinnati had just 11 points in the almost 60 years of football before that.

Kansas State (76) KSU has climbed out of college football's outhouse to where it is the 25th-ranked program since '98. Amazingly, the Wildcats were the last-place team in The Prestige from the 1940s all the way to the early '90s.

SMU (61) From 1982-84, the Mustangs won 10 games each season, won two bowls and two SWC titles. But soon after that, the program was given "The Death Penatly" and put on the bench for two seasons by the NCAA. The penalties totaled -24 Prestige points, and SMU has just one winning season since then.

Boise State (54) It's been a quick climb for the Broncos since joining the big boys of college football in 1996. They've won the WAC in six of the last seven seasons and shocked the world with a Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma. All told, it is the No. 13 program in the BCS era.

Miami (Ohio) (48) The RedHawks are the top MAC program in the Prestige Rankings, gaining almost half of their 220 Prestige points in a five-season span (1973-75 and 2003-04).

Army (39) The Black Knights won back-to-back national titles in '44-45 and have won three Heisman trophies. Entering the '50s, it was the second-best program in the nation behind Notre Dame. But it has earned just 41 points in the 59 seasons since then, beaing ranked in just six polls since 1963.

Duke (38) A butt of futility jokes over the past few years, the Blue Devils were an early powerhouse in the sport. They were still in the top-10 when the calendar flipped to 1960; still in the top 20 entering the '80s. But since 1990, Duke has just one winning season ('94).

Virginia Tech (37) The Hokies were a big mover this past season, with 43 points, moving up four spots in the all-time rankings. It wasn't until 1995 that Virginia Tech moved into positive numbers in the scoring system. When you just look at the BCS era, the Hokies are a top-10 program.

Syracuse (29) The last few seasons have been forgetful for Orange fans. The Greg Robinson-era has sullied a program that was top-20 in the 1990s and won a national championship in 1959.

Michigan State (26) If you combined the '50s and '60s, Sparty was the seventh-best program, ahead of rivals Michigan and Notre Dame. Five losing seasons this decade and 25 points lost because of NCAA penalties cost MSU a spot in the Top 25.

UTEP (111) The Miners were the nation's lowest-rated program in the 1990s at minus-25, which is a major reason the Miners are ranked No. 111 in the all-time rankings.

Chris Fallica, Nick Loucks and Harold Shelton are researchers at ESPN.