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Top 15 Programs Without A College Football Playoff Appearance - NCAA Power Rankings

Drew Allar - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Rookies, Draft Sleepers, NCAA College Football, Prospects

The College Football Playoff was created ahead of the 2014 season, and after a decade of the four-team format, it is set to expand to 12 teams in 2024. There were 30 playoff games during the four-team era, yet only 15 total programs appeared in the CFP. There will now be 11 playoff games per season and triple the number of qualifiers, so programs that have failed to reach the most important postseason action in the sport will have a higher chance under the new format.

Schools like Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Georgia have dominated the CFP era, while other traditional powerhouses have found playoff berths elusive. In this article, we'll dive into the top 15 programs that failed to make the College Football Playoff during its first decade of existence and discuss their chances to make it in the foreseeable future.

Selections are listed in alphabetical order, and we will list all-time wins and each school's best single-season record since the inception of the CFP. Let's dive in!

 

Arkansas Razorbacks

All-Time Wins: 740
Best Season In CFP Era: 9-4 (2021)
Chances To Make CFP In the Next 10 Seasons: C-

The Razorbacks did not find sustained success under Bret Bielema or Chad Morris. Current head coach Sam Pittman gave the program reason for optimism in 2021 with a 9-4 campaign, but it's gone downhill ever since. Over the last two years, the Hogs are 11-14, and Pittman is firmly on the hot seat.

Arkansas has not won an SEC title since joining the conference in 1992, though it has played in three SEC Championship games. It's difficult to hang with Alabama, LSU, and Georgia in recruiting. The league's additions of Texas and Oklahoma will make things even more challenging. It's tough to expect Arkansas to be in the CFP anytime soon.

 

Auburn Tigers

All-Time Wins: 799
Best Season In CFP Era: 10-4 (2017)
Chances To Make CFP In the Next 10 Seasons: B

Auburn won the SEC West seven times in the BCS era (1998-2013) and took home the SEC title three times. Cam Newton led the program to a National Championship in 2010, and the Tigers lost in the natty in 2013, but it's been mostly a struggle ever since.

Gus Malzahn was fired after posting a 68-35 record in eight seasons. The grass isn't always greener, as evidenced by their last three campaigns. Bryan Harsin and Hugh Freeze have combined to go 17-21 over the last three seasons, and the Tigers have zero bowl wins in that span.

All that said, Auburn has proven it can be a top-tier contender in college football, so if Freeze can repeat his success from his time at Ole Miss and Liberty, Auburn could be playing in January at some point soon.

 

Colorado Buffaloes

All-Time Wins: 723
Best Season In CFP Era: 10-4 (2016)
Chances To Make CFP In the Next 10 Seasons: B

In the Big Eight conference under head coach Bill McCartney, the Buffaloes were one of the top programs in the country. From 1989 to 1994, Colorado compiled a 58-11-4 record, including three Big Eight crowns and a National Championship.

Early in the Big 12 era, the program had success, winning the North division four times and the conference once. After that stretch of excellence in the early 2000s, CU has been one of the worst programs in college football. From 2008-2023, Colorado has qualified for just two bowl games (lost both) and won more than five games in a season just once.

Regardless of your opinion of Deion Sanders, he's bringing in recruiting classes like the Buffaloes have never seen. The school is now back in the Big 12, and following the exit of Texas and Oklahoma, it's a wide-open conference. If Sanders sticks around for the long haul and continues to out-recruit the other members of the league, Colorado has a great chance to see double-digit wins in a season soon. Remember -- with 12 teams qualifying for the playoffs -- that could be all it takes.

 

Florida Gators

All-Time Wins: 758
Best Season In CFP Era: 11-2 (2019)
Chances To Make CFP In the Next 10 Seasons: A-

Florida wasn't one of the top programs in the early-to-mid 1900s, but it came alive under Galen Hall and caught fire when Steve Spurrier took the head-coaching job in Gainesville. Spurrier led the Gators to eight SEC title games, won six SEC Championships, and captured the school's first National Championship (1996). He posted a 122-27-1 overall record with Florida, and he never won fewer than nine games in a season in 12 years with the program.

Ron Zook struggled in his three seasons at the helm, so he was replaced with Urban Meyer, a then-up-and-coming coach from Utah. Meyer led Florida to two BSC National Championships in just six years behind quarterbacks Chris Leak and Tim Tebow. Will Muschamp, Jim McElwain, and Dan Mullen each took the Gators to the SEC title game during their tenures, but program expectations were raised by Spurrier and Meyer, so none of them lasted more than four seasons. Billy Napier hasn't gotten out to a hot start, winning just 11 games in his first two seasons.

The resources are there for the Gators to rejoin the elite tier of the SEC, so a CFP appearance is within reach. However, Napier is likely not the man for the job.

 

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

All-Time Wins: 756
Best Season In CFP Era: 11-3 (2014)
Chances To Make CFP In the Next 10 Seasons: D+

Georgia Tech's football history is underrated, but it hasn't had an overwhelming amount of success since its 1952 National Championship run. Bobby Ross led the Yellow Jackets to a national title in 1990, but Georgia Tech has won just two conference titles since.

Paul Johnson put together an 82-61 record from 2008 to 2018, and the Yellow Jackets were somewhat close to qualifying for the first-ever CFP in 2014. Jameis Winston and Florida State beat them in the 2014 ACC Championship game, but the Yellow Jackets rebounded in an Orange Bowl victory over Dak Prescott and Mississippi State.

Despite the school being located in one of the best locations for high school talent, it can't compete with Georgia for the top prospects in the Peach State. Clemson, Miami, and Florida State have a grip on the ACC talent, while North Carolina and NC State have become better recruiters in recent seasons, too. Ultimately, it's one of the toughest power-conference schools to compete at -- hence why the program has not won more than seven games since 2016.

 

Miami Hurricanes

All-Time Wins: 663
Best Season In CFP Era: 10-3 (2017)
Chances To Make CFP In the Next 10 Seasons: B

In its program history, Miami has five claimed National Championships and 11 conference titles, but none have come since 2003. The 2001 squad that featured Ken Dorsey, Frank Gore, Willis McGahee, Clinton Portis, Jeremy Shockey, Jonathan Vilma, Ed Reed, Andre Johnson, Antrel Rolle, and Vince Wilfork is regarded as one of the greatest college football teams ever.

But since 2003, the Hurricanes have just one double-digit win season and two bowl game wins. The university swung for the fences with its hires of Mark Richt, Manny Diaz, and Mario Cristobal in recent years, but the once-proud program cannot seem to reignite itself as a powerhouse.

Recent success tells us Miami might be a long shot to make a CFP moving forward, but given the location and resources poured into the program, something has to give eventually.

 

Minnesota Golden Gophers

All-Time Wins: 733
Best Season In CFP Era: 11-2 (2019)
Chances To Make CFP In the Next 10 Seasons: D

If this article was written anytime between 1900 and 1960, we'd be having a different conversion. The Golden Gophers claimed seven National Championships from 1904 to 1960, but after its 1967 Big Ten crown, it's been mostly pain for the program's diehard fans.

Since that '67 season, Minnesota has won six or fewer games 39 times in 55 years. Minnesota has rarely been competitive in the Big Ten over the last half-century, so it would take a magical season to find its way into the College Football Playoff.

There is slight optimism under P.J. Fleck, who has led the university to three seasons of at least nine wins. He also had the Golden Gophers in its first Big Ten Championship Game in 2019. Big Ten newcomers Oregon, Washington, UCLA, and USC will make his job twice as difficult.

 

Nebraska Cornhuskers

All-Time Wins: 917
Best Season In CFP Era: 9-4 (2016)
Chances To Make CFP In the Next 10 Seasons: C+

Nebraska has the eighth-most wins all-time among current FBS programs to go along with five claimed national titles and 46 conference titles. The Cornhuskers are one of the elite programs in college football history, but it has been a tough decade.

From 1969 to 2001, Nebraska did not have a season of fewer than nine wins -- seriously. All five National Championships came in that span, so it's not as if all of their success came before John F. Kennedy took office. Bo Pelini (2008-14) even had some success, winning three Big 12 North titles and one Big Ten Legends division crown.

But Nebraska's last conference championship was in 1999, and the move to the Big Ten in 2011 has tanked the program trajectory. The Huskers have not qualified for a bowl game since 2016.

The fan base is hopeful former Baylor and Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule can lead them to the promised land, but again, it's an uphill battle in the new-look conference.

 

Penn State Nittany Lions

All-Time Wins: 930
Best Season In CFP Era: 11-2 (2017, 2019, 2022)
Chances To Make CFP In the Next 10 Seasons: A

Penn State is one of four teams on this list that have an "A" chance to make the CFP by 2034. The Nittany Lions are on just their third head coach since 1966, and James Franklin has done a great job over the last few seasons. The 2017, 2019, and 2022 Penn State teams all went 11-2 and would have made the playoffs in a 12-team format, so as long as Franklin keeps it rolling, multiple appearances in the near future should be the expectation.

Although Franklin isn't bringing in elite recruiting classes, he has enough talent to remain a top-10 team. With quarterback Drew Allar coming back in 2024, Penn State has a great chance to make the tournament in the first year of the new format.

 

Pittsburgh Panthers

All-Time Wins: 761
Best Season In CFP Era: 11-3 (2021)
Chances To Make CFP In the Next 10 Seasons: C

Pitt has nine claimed national titles on its resume, but eight of them came before 1940. Its latest was in 1976. The program has won double-digit games in a season just twice since 1981, but the 2021 squad led by Kenny Pickett likely would have qualified for a 12-team playoff.

Pat Narduzzi is coming off a 3-9 season, the worst campaign of his nine-year tenure in Pittsburgh. Will Pitt emerge as a contender in the league during the new-look CFP era, or was the 2021 ACC Championship run just a one-time thing? The answer is likely the latter.

 

Tennessee Volunteers

All-Time Wins: 865
Best Season In CFP Era: 
11-2 (2022)
Chances To Make CFP In the Next 10 Seasons: A

Robert Neyland led the Vols to four national titles before the 1960s, Doug Dickey won one in 1967, and Phillip Fulmer was the head coach for the most recent "natty" in 1998. Fulmer, who won at least 10 games in nine of his 16 seasons in Knoxville, took Tennessee to six SEC title games and won two. His final season, in which the Vols went 5-7, started a decade-plus downfall for one of the greatest programs of all time.

Lane Kiffin went 7-6 before parting for USC, then Derek Dooley lost seven games in each of his three years at the helm. Butch Jones brought Tennessee back to respectable nine-win seasons in 2015 and 2016, but then the Vols failed to win an SEC game for the first time since they joined the league in 1993 during Jones' final season. Jeremy Pruitt was even worse and was fired after an NCAA investigation.

However, Josh Heupel's arrival on Rocky Top has turned everything around in a hurry. He's gone 27-12 during his first three seasons in the orange and white, and the 2022 squad finished as the No. 6 team in the country after knocking off Clemson in the Orange Bowl. With five-star quarterback Nico Iamaleava running Heupel's offense next season, look out for the Vols to make the CFP right away.

 

Texas A&M Aggies

All-Time Wins: 778
Best Season In CFP Era: 9-1 (2020)
Chances To Make CFP In the Next 10 Seasons: A

Texas A&M has not won a conference title in the Big 12 or SEC since 1998, but there's no denying the program has the resources to field an elite team. However, after winning 11 games with Johnny Manziel in 2012, the Aggies have lost at least four games in 10 of the following 11 seasons. The 2020 team was just left out of the CFP after going 11-1. Its only loss was the eventual National Champion Alabama that year.

The Aggies have a 102,733-seat stadium, a top-10 budget in the country, homegrown talent in the state, and the SEC brand behind it. Quite frankly, it shouldn't even take a spectacular coach to put the program back on the map. Perhaps Mike Elko is up for the task.

 

USC Trojans

All-Time Wins: 875
Best Season In CFP Era: 11-3 (2017, 2022)
Chances To Make CFP In the Next 10 Seasons: A

USC has a long history of college football success, but even if we only discuss Pete Carroll's tenure as its head coach, there are a lot of things to like. In nine seasons in SoCal, Carroll won a whopping seven Pac-10 Championships and two consecutive national championships in 2003 and 2004. Quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart and running back Reggie Bush (later vacated) won Heisman Trophies under Carroll, and Lane Kiffin, Ed Orgeron, and Steve Sarkisian were products of his coaching tree.

Kiffin and Sarkisian both struggled to replace their former boss during their tenures at the helm, and Clay Helton crashed and burned after two double-digit win seasons to kick off his reign. Current head coach Lincoln Riley, who led Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray to Heisman campaigns, did it again with USC's Caleb Williams in 2022. That team fell just one win short of making the CFP. USC had the worst defense in the nation in 2023, so an 8-5 season was the result.

Either way, the future of the Trojans program is as bright as it has been since Carroll left for the Seattle Seahawks, and it would be a surprise if USC can't make a CFP in the next decade.

 

Virginia Tech Hokies

All-Time Wins: 772
Best Season In CFP Era: 10-4 (2016)
Chances To Make CFP In the Next 10 Seasons: B-

Like many of the other programs on this list, Virginia Tech benefited from having one head coach for an extended stretch. Frank Beamer led the Hokies program from 1987 to 2015 -- highlighted by three Big East titles and four ACC crowns. Beamer's teams finished in the final polls with a top-12 ranking seven times, so it's impossible to ignore the program completely in the new era of college football.

Brent Pry has begun his head-coaching career with a 10-14 record, but the university will likely give him plenty of time to build the team into a legitimate contender after several down seasons under Justin Fuente.

 

West Virginia Mountaineers

All-Time Wins: 781
Best Season In CFP Era: 10-3 (2016)
Chances To Make CFP In the Next 10 Seasons: C-

West Virginia is another program that has not found its footing in a new conference. The Mountaineers won six Big East Championships in their final nine seasons in the league, but the program has just one double-digit win season in 12 years as a member of the Big 12. The 2016 team won 10 regular season games under Dana Holgorsen, which wasn't good enough to win the conference.

Neal Brown led the team to a 9-4 campaign in 2023. However, the team's only two games against ranked opponents resulted in 20-plus point losses. WVU is unlikely to become a top-tier program anytime soon, but Texas and Oklahoma moving to the SEC should help them compete within the conference.

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