Between 2010 and 2019 there were 1,263 individual team seasons. That’s about 126 teams per year that enter the season with hopes of a conference or national championship. In these 10 seasons, 15,018 games have been played between FBS teams with over 422,000 points scored and nearly 6,000,000 yards gained.
Now that the calendar has moved to 2020 we can look back on the 2010’s and discuss which of those 1,263 teams were the best in the group. If a team is in the top 25, they were one of the top-2% of the decade, and truly in the upper echelon of the sport. Did they have one of the generational offensive stars of the era (Cam, Saquon, Tua) or were they built on a suffocating defense? In this series of posts we’ll discuss the best teams of the decade on the basis of advanced analytics to try and develop the definitive rankings of the decade.
To generate these rankings I utilized a mix of Bill Connelly’s S&P+/SP+ rankings and our new WAR system. The SP+ values were taken from Football Study Hall’s redone S&P+ from 2009 – 2017, the 2018 values, and ESPN's 2019 numbers. The WAR rankings are based on only FBS competition and are adjusted for conference strength of schedule. The top-50 teams from 2010 – 2019 for each rating system were combined to give 65 total teams (i.e. there were 15 that did not show up in the top 50 of one ranking system). Then, each team’s strength was calculated as a percent performance against the top team of the system and the percentiles were averaged to give the final rating. The top-25 teams of the 2010’s are below.
Update: After the first two postings in the series, I have updated the normalization method to calculate the percentile ratings. These changes have minor impact on the rankings that have been updated.
Now, onto the rankings!
26. 2017 Penn State
I lied… we’ll actually give a top 26. As I looked at the calculation and saw that the very memorable 2017 Nittany Lions were sitting at No. 26, I couldn’t resist adding them to this article. It is a Penn State blog after all. And spoiler alert, you won’t see them again. The 11-2 Penn State team was *this* close to their first College Football Playoff berth, but losses at Ohio State, and the following week at Michigan State spoiled a magical season. They rebounded to win their final four games, including the Fiesta Bowl over Washington.
As it is, the Lions make their lone appearance in the rankings. WAR likes them considerably more than S&P+ in terms of ranking, and the average was good enough to sneak into the conversation.
25. 2014 Georgia Bulldogs
The 10–3 Bulldogs come in at No. 25, finished ninth in the AP Poll, and were the top scoring team in the SEC (41.3 PPG). Mark Richt's squad was led by quarterback Hutson Mason, who completed 67% of his passes for 2,168 yards and 21 TD’s. The leaders of the offense were the running backs, and the Bulldogs easily had one of the best backfields of the decade. Nick Chubb (1,547 yards; 7.1 YPC), Todd Gurley (911 yards, 7.4 YPC), and freshman Sony Michel (410 yards; 6.4 YPC) all provided UGA the opportunity to lean on the rushing attack and pass only when needed. They capped their season with a 37–14 victory over Louisville in the Belk Bowl.
24. 2012 Oregon Ducks
Oregon had a phenomenal run from 2008 to 2014, winning at least 10 games each season. The 2012 squad marks the Ducks first appearance in our rankings. In 2012 Oregon won conference games against ranked team by scores of 49–0 (Arizona), 52-21 (Washington), 62–51 (USC) and were ranked No. 1 in the country heading into their November 17 showdown with Stanford. The Cardinal held a Ducks team that averaged 48.5 PPG (against FBS) to only 14 regulation points and walked away with a 17 – 14 overtime victory, spoiling Oregon’s national title hopes. Oregon finished out the season with a 48–24 victory in the Civil War against the No. 16 Beavers of Oregon State and a 35–17 Fiesta Bowl win over No. 7 Kansas State.
23. 2011 LSU Tigers
The SEC West makes its first appearance in the rankings with the 2011 Bayou Bengals. LSU averaged 34.7 points per game, while allowing a scant 11.9 points against. Only the 2011 and 2012 Alabama teams had stingier defenses in the decade. Following their 47–21 victory over West Virginia on September 24, LSU held the top spot in the AP Poll until the they faced Alabama in the BCS Championship game. Earlier in the season the teams battled in Tuscaloosa in one of the more exciting 9 – 6 games you will ever see with LSU coming out on top. The Tide spoiled LSU’s 13 – 0 start with a 21–0 win in New Orleans, however, giving Alabama their second national title in three years.
S&P+ has LSU as a top-12 team of the decade whereas WAR has them at No. 50. Defensively though, WAR ranks 2011 LSU as third best of the decade and S&P+ has them fourth.
22. 2010 Oregon Ducks
The Ducks make their second appearance in the rankings. Prior to Chip Kelly’s second season, offseason turmoil could’ve derailed their magical season. They overcame the dismissal of their starting quarterback, and other off field issues to run through the regular season at 12–0 with 21-point wins against Pac-10 (at the time) powers USC and Stanford, and their first ever No. 1 ranking. The early decade Oregon offenses were some of the most fun to watch of the era. Out of the 1,263 teams to take the field, Oregon has had five of the top-50 in terms of total yards, and the top-110 of yards-per-play. The 2010 squad ranked No. 50 and No. 110 in those categories respectively. Sadly, for the Oregonians, the 2010 season ended in defeat at the hands of the Cam Newton led Auburn Tigers by a score of 22–19 in the BCS Championship game in Glendale.
21. 2010 Alabama Crimson Tide
2010 Alabama?! You mean the 10–3 Tide who lost by 14 to South Carolina, by 3 to LSU, and lost the Iron Bowl (28–27)? Yes, that Alabama team made the top-25 of the decade. They started the season ranked No. 1 following their 2009 national championship, with returning Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram leading the way. The Tide rolled to a 5–0 start with ranked wins against No. 18 Penn State, No. 10 Arkansas, and No. 7 Florida, before facing the No. 19 Gamecocks on the road. They then played three more teams ranked in the top-17 in their last six games, culminating with the Iron Bowl. Alabama took a 24 – 7 lead into halftime, but the Tigers' Heisman Trophy quarterback took over from there. In the second half Cam Newton threw for two touchdowns and ran of another, while the Auburn defense held theTide to just 58 yards in the second half to come out with the win. Saban's team capped the year in Capital One Bowl where they destroyed the 11–1 Michigan State Spartans by 42.
Next time we'll examine the first five teams of the top-20. Who do you think will make the cut?