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Tough calls: Most difficult college football programs to rank

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It sounds like a simple proposition: On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is (fill in the blank with a school) to the history of college football?

Sure, in our blue bloods project, programs such as Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma and USC all grabbed unanimous 10s across the board.

But that's when things got interesting. Here are the most difficult assessments that each of our 12 writers had to hand out.

Andrea Adelson: Nebraska Cornhuskers

It has been nearly 20 years since Nebraska won a national championship, 17 years since it won a conference title. Despite the recent slide in fortunes, there is no question the Huskers deserve the highest possible rating as a tried-and-true blue blood. The program has been around for 126 years -- it's won 46 league titles, five national championships and produced three Heisman Trophy winners. Its teams in the mid-'90s go down among the best in college football history. Has the program slid in recent years? Yes. Incoming freshmen have never known true Nebraska football dominance. But its storied history puts the Huskers in rarefied air, worthy of a perfect "10" rating.


Edward Aschoff: Ole Miss Rebels

Yes, the Rebels are nationally relevant now, but it's not like this has been a common theme for the program. Growing up in Oxford, the football program wallowed in mediocrity and constantly made real national contenders look good. Before that, you had to go all the way back to the 1960s to find real national success for this football program. So a "6" kind of felt high, but recent success and the wins from long ago made it hard to put the Rebels below the halfway point. And while it's been impressive, it's taken head coach Hugh Freeze four years to get the Rebels into the national spotlight, and even then, many are still wondering if this is a flash-in-the-pan situation or if Freeze can sustain long-term success. His win totals keep rising, so all signs point to this program sticking around the relevancy category.


Brian Bennett: Georgia Bulldogs

No wonder the Bulldogs finished just outside our Top 10, and I rated them a "9." They perfectly skate the line between true royalty and simple nobility. Georgia boasts a huge fan base, a tremendous stadium and a grand tradition of great players. Yet it rarely hovers in the national title discussion, has won just two SEC titles in the division era and perpetually seems just a notch below the sport's best programs.


Heather Dinich: Penn State Nittany Lions

Full disclosure: This one was personal. Growing up about three hours east of Penn State, it was impossible to ignore the shadow that Joe Paterno cast over the entire state. Experiences often shape opinions. The Blue-White game. Beaver Stadium. Two-time national champs. Seven undefeated seasons. LaVar Arrington. Courtney Brown. Those traditional white uniforms, those cuffed pants, those glasses ... there was a time when Penn State was the very definition of a blue blood -- winning and tradition. Has recent history, though, changed that picture and perception? It's not the same place. Not the same program. You don't think James Franklin and "blue blood." You hear Penn State, you hear Sandusky. It's hard to classify Penn State's program anymore, and for better or worse, you can't erase its history. That's why I gave PSU a "9."


Travis Haney: Nebraska

For me, it was Nebraska (my score for the Huskers: "9"). It was challenging to balance the program's rich history and tradition with the fact that, really, it has been mostly irrelevant since the turn of the century. Even a move to the Big Ten has not returned the Cornhuskers to national prominence. Coaches see a program that, largely due to location, has struggled to keep up with the recruiting boom. It makes you wonder whether Nebraska will eventually be a museum relic, a storied program we look back on fondly, or if it can find a way back to elite status in modern college football. Count me among the doubters.


Chris Low: Alabama Crimson Tide

My real dilemma wasn't the score for Bama -- I had the Tide as a "10" -- but more, where to put the program in the top three all time? The Tide were easily in the top three on my list when you think about two of the greatest coaches in history (Bear Bryant and Nick Saban) combining for all of the national titles they have and just the iconic standing Alabama football has in football circles. The fact that Alabama sort of lost its way after Bryant retired in 1982 and spun its wheels for a large chunk of the next two decades hurts the Tide's cause some, but few fan bases are as passionate about college football as Alabama. And where else does football matter more than Alabama? The Tide have it all -- coaches, players, tradition, championships and pageantry. They should be at the top of this list.


Ivan Maisel: Penn State

What to do with Penn State? Joe Paterno made the Nittany Lions a national power in the early '60s, and they remained so for more than 30 years. Dominance over that length of time turns a program's blood blue in most cases. But that's because in most cases, more than one coach sustained it. In the end, I decided that I wanted to see Penn State return to the top under a different coach, so I gave the Lions a "9."


Ryan McGee: Florida State Seminoles

As a would-be college football historian, the most difficult task for me was balancing what a program has done vs. what it is doing. How much more or less weight do you give, say, Penn State, Nebraska or Tennessee? Their lengthy histories are easily among the greatest. So how do you factor in their recent dips, for whatever reason? Or how about an Oregon, Florida or even an FSU? The Seminoles have had ridiculous success during this modern era of the game, but prior to that they had decades that contained an awful lot of so-so football. It makes you appreciate the likes of Ohio State, Alabama, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, etc. They might lose their way for a year or two, but they never really go away.


Ted Miller: Georgia

While it was tough to rate Nebraska a "9," my most painful realization was that I rated my home state Georgia Bulldogs lower than anyone. I gave the Bulldogs a "7." No one else had them lower than "9" or "10." As an Atlanta native, my immediate reaction was thinking my buddies at home are going to crush me. Then I realized I'm just like a Georgia fan -- hard to please. While Wally Butts' run in the 1940s might say differently, the Bulldogs own only one real national title: 1980. That's 36 years ago. Heck, Justin Timberlake and Paris Hilton weren't even born yet. While Georgia is almost always at least good, it not only lacks national titles, it's mostly been an afterthought in the national title hunt by November over the past few decades. Georgia hasn't won an SEC title in a decade and owns just two since 1983. Ergo, it's no blue blood. Still, "7" might be a bit low.


Adam Rittenberg: Texas Longhorns

Maybe it's recency bias but the Longhorns have won only one national title during my lifetime (I'm 35) and endured two prolonged stretches of stunning mediocrity (1986 to 1993 and 2010 to present). I realize the long-term history, the great tradition, immense resources and all the star players who have worn burnt orange, but Texas hasn't been consistently elite during a period when the sport is most competitive. It was very close for me, but I had to give the Longhorns a "9."


Mark Schlabach: Which is more important -- Notre Dame or Ohio State?

Notre Dame or Ohio State? It's like picking between Urban Meyer and Nick Saban to coach your team. It's nearly impossible. In my opinion, Notre Dame is the ultimate blue blood in college football. Knute Rockne. The Four Horsemen. Touchdown Jesus. The Gipper. The Fighting Irish have won 11 national championships, but only three since 1967 and none since 1988. Notre Dame's 899 all-time victories are the most in FBS and it has produced seven Heisman Trophy winners. But Ohio State's tradition and history are equally impressive. The Buckeyes have won 875 games and have just as many Heisman Trophy winners, including Archie Griffin, the only two-time winner. The Buckeyes claim eight national titles (only six are widely recognized), including two since 2002. Across the board, it was a toss-up between Notre Dame and Ohio State, but I had both as "10s."


Mitch Sherman: The Florida schools

I had trouble finding a way to differentiate the three power programs from the state of Florida. An argument can be made for each that it deserves distinction over the others. Their histories are intertwined. All three have sat atop the entire sport. Ultimately, I considered Florida State over Miami, then Florida. But the gap was so small that I scored each as a "9."