Top 10 College Football Programs of the Playboy Era

By Gary Cole

From 'Bama to Ohio State to ND, great college gridiron juggernauts wake up the echoes. Did your team make it?

While Playboy may be best known for its photography of beautiful women, Hugh Hefner understood from the magazine’s inception back in 1953 that men had other significant interests in life in addition to the girl next door. And so Playboy’s editorial mix included humor, fiction, interviews, lifestyle, food and drink, fashion, and, of course, football. That’s why Hef introduced Playboy’s Pigskin Preview back in 1957, a feature repeated annually that predicts the best teams and players in each coming college football season.

Playboy’s coverage of college football truly corresponds to the explosion in popularity of the game in the modern era. The late Fifties saw the introduction of two-platoon football and over the decades the game has undergone multiple revolutions as players got bigger, stronger and faster, offenses opened up with sophisticated passing schemes, television coverage ballooned into a billion-dollar industry, and instant replay, overtime and a dizzying number of bowl games became commonplace.

Schools rise and fall from the Top 25, some toppled by scandal or suspensions, some emerging under the right coach at the right time. However, a handful of gridiron programs have been able to sustain their success with a remarkable consistency over the 55 years Playboy has been observing the college football scene.

Here’s our pick of the Top 10 college football programs since Playboy began its coverage in 1957.

10 Penn State

Despite the recent scandal that has tarnished the reputation of the university and long-time coach Joe Paterno, the Penn State football legacy built by Paterno remains. From 1966 when Paterno took over until he was recently forced to step down, the Nittany Lions won two national championships and were likely cheated out of a couple more. Over its entire history, Penn State has won 26 bowl games and produced 107 All Americas.

9 Miami

One of the dominant programs in the late ‘80’s/early ‘90’s, the Hurricanes have won five national championships and produced two Heisman winners—Vinny Testaverde and Gino Torretta. Overall, Miami has won 15 bowl games and produced 81 All Americas.

8 Texas

Winner of three national championships under Darrell Royal and another under Mack Brown, the Longhorns also produced two of the most productive running backs in college football history—Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams, both Heisman Trophy winners. Credit Texas with 20 bowl victories and 93 All Americas.

7 Nebraska

Whether under Bob Devaney or Tom Osborne, the Big Red rolled up five national titles utilizing a punishing option I-back offense. It was often said that Nebraska’s second team was better than most first teams in the nation. Overall, credit Nebraska with 23 bowl victories and 106 All Americas.

6 Michigan

Powerful but not as powerful as they once were, the Wolverines have won seven national titles overall but only one since 1957. Two Heisman winners played at Ann Arbor in that time—Charles Woodson, the all-pro still playing for the Green Bay Packers and Desmond Howard, who confidently struck the Heisman pose after scoring a touchdown.

5 Ohio State

Woody Hayes’ persona dominated the college football scene nearly as much as did his talented teams. Earl Bruce and John Cooper did much to continue that tradition. The Buckeyes have won four national titles since 1957 and won four Heisman trophies, one each by Eddie George and Troy Smith, two by Archie Griffin, the only player to ever win the award twice. Ohio State has produced 175 All-Americas over its storied history.

4 Oklahoma

Let’s face it. Over the past 50-plus years, Oklahoma’s teams are either dominant or about to become dominant. The Sooners were coming off a 47-game winning streak about the time Playboy began its college football coverage. That remains the most consecutive wins ever by a major college football program. Oklahoma also posted the second most victories in the ‘70s (102, only one behind Alabama). The current Oklahoma team coached by Bob Stoops is very much in that same winning tradition. In fact, if you checked out Playboy 2011 preseason predictions, you’d see Oklahoma again on top of the heap, looking to add to their four national titles since 1957, seven national titles overall, 24 bowl victories and 148 All Americas.

3 Notre Dame

Whether under Rockne, Leahy, Parsegian or Holtz, Notre Dame both in fact and spirit is synonymous with college football. The Irish have won 11 national titles overall, four since Playboy began its coverage. There have been two Heisman winners in that same period, seven overall.

2 Alabama

Can you say seven national titles since 1957? Football fever runs as high in Tuscaloosa under Nick Saban today as it did under Paul “Bear” Bryant in the 60’s and ‘70’s. Curiously, there has been only one Heisman winner to ‘Bama’s credit, that going to Mark Ingram in 2009. The Tide has posted 31 bowl wins in its storied history.


The Trojans have won seven national titles since 1957, eleven in school history. A couple of those may have been crossed out by the NCAA after the fact, but we all know who the best team was those years regardless of the circumstances. And there were seven Heisman trophies on display on campus as well, that is until Reggie Bush returned his statue after improprieties surfaced. Coach John McKay introduced the golden age of football at USC in the ’60;s; John Robinson continued the tradition in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s. And Pete Carroll re-established USC as the dominant team in college football over the past ten years before heading to the NFL. With 31 total bowl victories in school history, and 154 All Americas, USC clearly lands at the top of our list.

Also: Playboy’s list of the Top 10 College Football Teams of the Playboy Era, featuring two additional exclusive Jaime Edmondson illustrations


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