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Ranking all 123 bowl-banned teams ever

There have been way more NCAA-banned FBS teams than we thought. Here’s how they stack up across history.

Bowl bans have been one of the NCAA’s favorite punishment tools since about the 1950s.

In football, the sanctions referred to as “bowl bans” usually run deeper than just bowl games. They are postseason bans, which typically bar a team from playing in conference championship games, also. For instance, third-placed Georgia Tech played in the 2012 ACC Championship because Miami and North Carolina were both under postseason bans.

They’re usually handed out for players getting paid or academic issues.

Bowl bans hurt in a few different ways.

They’re usually accompanied by recruiting restrictions, which likely cost the program more than missing out on a mid-tier bowl game would.

They can cost a lot of money. When Ole Miss was under its self-imposed ban, it said it was missing out on $7.8 million in SEC postseason revenue shares in one year (2017), per conference rules.

And most obviously, they can deprive (likely innocent) players and fans of a great ending to a season.

The pain might depend on how good the banned team is. Does the ban cost you a New Mexico Bowl appearance, a Playoff shot, or none of the above?

Back when college football didn’t have a national title game, it was possible to win all the marbles without being let into a bowl game. Auburn pulled off an AP national title while under a ban in 1957, and Oklahoma did it in 1974. Oklahoma’s accomplishment might’ve been weirder, because the national champion was selected before bowl season in the ‘50s.

But the advent of league title games, the BCS, and then the Playoff means it’s virtually impossible to be a champion while under a postseason ban.

So let’s rank every bowl-banned team in the history of college football, or at least all those we can confirm got NCAA bans.

How we made this list

We used the NCAA’s major infractions database and searched for FBS-equivalent schools that faced postseason penalties for cases relating to football since the mid-1950s, when the NCAA got the power to sanction schools. The database is messy — some cases show up that involved basketball teams getting bans in cases that also involved football, for instance — but all NCAA bowl bans should be here.

We’re not including teams that couldn’t go to bowls because of restrictive conference rules or decisions. We’re talking about FBS teams that got banned by the NCAA.

These teams are loosely ranked by a mixture of their final records and their SP+ points margins (the more positive the number, the better), with the worst banned teams up top. If you find an NCAA-banned team we’ve omitted somewhere, let us know.

Let’s start at the bottom, with the teams that came nowhere near a bowl anyway

1981 Oregon State (1-10, -21.6 points vs. average team)
1988 Cincinnati (3-8, -19.7)
1991 Oklahoma State (0-10-1, -8.1)

The ‘81 Beavers were originally banned by the Pac-10, but we’re making an exception off the bat and including them here, because they were so bad it would feel wrong not to tell you about them. They beat what turned out to be a nearly .500 Fresno State team in Week 1, then lost their last 10 games. At some point, the NCAA adopted the Pac-10’s ban.

The ‘88 Bearcats used two FCS wins to make themselves appear less putrid than SP+ says they were. They lost to Rutgers by 29. Given whom those wins came against and how much the computers hated this team, it’s fair to call Dave Currey’s squad the worst banned team ever.

Yet it’s also appropriate to put Oklahoma State here by virtue of winning zero games.

The next-most terrible

1984 Wichita State (2-9, -18.2)
1962 Colorado (2-8, -14.8)
1989 Memphis (2-9, -13.5)
1980 Colorado (1-10, -12.1)

The remaining bowl-banned squads that won two or fewer games and might’ve been double-digit underdogs against average teams.

Bad teams that should’ve cheated better

1959 NC State (1-9, -2.3)
1986 TCU (3-8, -11.7)
1971 Tulsa (4-7, -9.9)
1991 Minnesota (2-9, -8.3)
1979 Kansas State (3-8, -7.8)
1960 Indiana (1-8, -7.3)
1963 Colorado (2-8, -7.2)
1989 Oklahoma State (4-7, -7)
1978 Oklahoma State (3-8, 0.9)
1964 SMU (1-9, -6.8)
1954 Arizona State (5-5, -6.7)
1976 Long Beach State (8-3, -6.6)
1974 Long Beach State (-6.4, 6-5)
1968 Illinois (1-9, -6.3)
1963 Wichita State (3-8, -6.3)
1978 Kansas State (4-7, -6.1)
1982 Oregon (2-8-1, -1.7)
2004 Mississippi State (3-8, -5.2)
1972 Kansas State (3-8, -5.2)
1958 NC State (2-7-1, -4.9)
1962 New Mexico State (4-6, -4.8)
1967 Illinois (4-6, -4.8)
1990 Oklahoma State (4-7, -3.4)
1956 NC State (3-7, -3)
1976 Michigan State (4-6-1, -2.3)
1975 SMU (4-7, -1.1)
1972 Cal (3-8, -0.6)
1968 South Carolina (4-6, 2.1)
1960 Oklahoma (3-6-1, 0.1)
1972 Kansas (4-7, 0.3)
1963 New Mexico State (3-6-1, 2.5)

Some NCAA sanctions, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, were for relatively ticky tack stuff. If you’re going to cheat, you should expect a better ROI than these teams.

Not bad enough to be truly notable, with the exception of 1976 Long Beach State, a team that had a nice record, but played an atrocious schedule.

Indiana faced a four-year postseason ban across most of its sports, but newspaper clippings from the time indicate (in true NCAA fashion) the school didn’t know how broadly it applied. The Big Ten banned it in turn from the ‘60 Rose Bowl, and if nothing else, IU self-imposed a ban for the next three years by being bad. At least 1960’s ban was a direct result of NCAA sanctioning, so we’ve counted it here.

Two teams with crummy records that the advanced stats thought were actually pretty good

2003 Alabama (4-9, 10.4)
1983 USC (4-6-1, 12.1)

Maybe these teams had tons of unrealized potential and just couldn’t close out games due to bowl-ban despair. We’ll never know, nor would we have if either had won more than four games, because they weren’t allowed to play in the postseason.

Lousy Ole Miss teams whom advanced stats sometimes liked because they played in good conferences

1987 Ole Miss (3-8, -7)
1988 Ole Miss (5-6, -0.3)
1995 Ole Miss (6-5, -2.5)
1996 Ole Miss (5-6, -8.1)
2017 Ole Miss (6-6, 11.6)
2018 Ole Miss (5-7, 9.8)

Through consistent reps, the Rebels have learned how to bowl-ban properly. You don’t want to waste too good a season, but you don’t want to be a laughingstock.

Georgia v Mississippi Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Extremely unmemorable .500-ish outfits

1956 Cincinnati (4-5, -9.2)
1979 Memphis (5-6, -8.6)
1984 Kansas (5-6, -4.6)
1967 South Carolina (5-5, -4.2)
1964 Kentucky (5-5, -0.1)
1986 SMU (6-5, 1.5)
1997 Texas Tech (6-5, 1)
1980 Auburn (5-6, 3.2)
1977 Houston (6-5, 3.3)
1971 Kansas State (5-6, 4.7)
1970 Kansas State (6-5, 5.4)
1966 Texas A&M (4-5-1, 2.8)
1965 SMU (4-5-1, 3)
2019 Missouri (6-6, 8.2)

The cops were on the hunt for these teams, but teams from the general lower right quadrant of the country know how to be forgettable.

Pretty good teams that could’ve gotten more of their money’s worth, but still fared decently post-cheating

1970 Tulsa (6-4, -1.7)
1979 Oklahoma State (7-4, 2)
1975 Long Beach State (9-2, 2.1)
1995 Alabama (8-3, 5)
1983 Southern Miss (7-4, 5.8)
1984 Arizona (7-4, 6.4)
1977 Michigan State (7-3-1, 6.4)
1984 Illinois (7-4, 6.6)
1989 Oklahoma (7-4, 6.8)
1983 Arizona (7-3-1, 6.9)
1974 SMU (6-4, 0.6)
2002 Kentucky (7-5, 0.8)
1988 Texas A&M (7-5, 7.6)
1994 Washington (7-4, 7.7)
1975 Mississippi State (6-4-1, 7.7)
2002 Cal (7-5, 7.9)
1995 Miami (8-3, 8.1)
2012 Miami (7-5, 8.2)
1957 Florida (6-2-1, 8.9)
1956 Auburn (7-3, 9.1)
1959 USC (8-2, 9.2)
1979 Auburn (8-3, 9.2)
1993 Washington (7-4, 9.7)
1982 Southern Miss (7-4, 10.3)
1955 Miami (6-3, 12)
1959 Auburn (7-3, 12.4)
1960 Kansas (7-2-1, 12.5)
1978 Michigan State (8-3, 13)
2012 North Carolina (8-4, 14.1)
1967 Houston (7-3, 14.7)
2010 USC (8-5, 15.2)
1990 Oklahoma (8-3, +15.9)

You’d like to have built such a strong program that you can withstand the NCAA’s blow and still contend. These teams did not display overwhelming promise, but they were solid. Props to 1959 USC for nearly winning the proto-Pac-12.

When the NCAA attempted to punish actual crime by handing out a bowl ban

2012 Penn State (8-4, 14.1)
2013 Penn State (7-5, 8.9)

The NCAA initially banned Penn State from the postseason for four years. Amid courtroom pressure, the NCAA ended the ban halfway through.

Teams that missed out on pretty good bowl games

1957 NC State (7-1-2, 9)
1983 Clemson (9-1-1, 10.4)
1982 Clemson (9-1-1, 11.3)
1959 Wyoming (9-1, 10.7)
1990 Houston (10-1, 11.2)
1994 Texas A&M (10-0-1, 11.7)
1976 Mississippi State (9-2, 12.5)
1966 Houston (8-2, 15.4)
1985 Florida (9-1-1, 15.8)
1990 Florida (9-2, 16.6)
1984 Florida (9-1-1, 19.2)
2002 Alabama (10-3, 16.6)
1977 Kentucky (10-1, 16.6)
1981 Arizona State (9-2, 17.1)
1981 Miami (9-2, 17.6)
1981 SMU (10-1)
1989 Houston (9-2, 18.4)
1968 Houston (6-2-2, 18.5)
1982 USC (8-3, 18.9)
2011 USC (10-2, 24.7)
1959 Arizona State (10-1, 0.8)
1960 Auburn (8-2, 12.6)
1994 Auburn (9-1-1, 13)
1958 Auburn (9-0-1, 11.2)

Some of these teams were pretty close to national title claims. Auburn would’ve come close to champ status in 1958 if LSU hadn’t gone 11-0. Clemson was perfect in 1981, precluding SMU. A&M would’ve been on the doorstep in 1994 if Nebraska hadn’t gone 13-0. Wyoming wasn’t in a powerful enough conference and lost to a blah Air Force team.

But something like the Peach Bowl or the Fiesta Bowl? Sure! We could have had 1981 SMU in the Cotton Bowl against a top-five Alabama, or 2011 USC in the Sugar Bowl instead of either Brady Hoke’s Michigan or an underwhelming Virginia Tech.

The ‘57 NC State team won the ACC but was banned because the NCAA decided to punish the whole athletic department for basketball infractions. The Wolfpack missed out on what would have still, today, been their only Orange Bowl berth. The bid instead went to Duke, the second-place team, which got walloped by Oklahoma. That sticks out as a sad bowl ban.

UCLA v USC Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Plausibly could’ve been the national champ if the BCS hadn’t existed

2012 Ohio State (12-0, 23.8)

First, let’s remember that the Buckeyes were banned because they decided they couldn’t pass up a trip to the 2011 season’s Gator Bowl, where they lost to Will Muschamp. They were just coming out of the tattoos/memorabilia episode that got Jim Tressel fired.

The Buckeyes were only ninth in 2012 SP+, and they didn’t beat a team ranked higher than 16th in the final BCS standings (though the Big Ten Championship, from which they were also banned, would’ve added a game against a ranked Nebraska). If they had been eligible, they most likely would’ve finished where they did in the final AP Poll: third.

Of course, the team that played Alabama in the BCS title game actually did not play Alabama in that title game, according to the NCAA’s record-keeping. Via Notre Dame’s vacating of wins, maybe we can pretend Ohio State did make the title game.

Good enough to have a national championship argument

1993 Auburn (11-0, 13.6)

AU doesn’t officially claim the title this year, but via recognized champ FSU going 12-1, the Tigers were one of three teams the National Championship Foundation also called the champ, along with Nebraska and Notre Dame.

A legit national champ, despite being banned

1957 Auburn (10-0, 15.1)

Auburn won an AP title for the best of its exceptional nine bowl-banned seasons. Ohio State has a claim on this year, but Auburn’s the truest champ.

The two best bowl-banned teams ever, including 1974’s national champ

1973 Oklahoma (10-0-1, 27.6)
1974 Oklahoma (11-0, 27.8)

Sports Reference’s Simple Rating System considers the 1973 Sooners the best-ever team that wasn’t assembled by World War II’s unique roster situation. SP+ says the ‘73 Sooners are much better than any other bowl-banned team ever, save for themselves the next year. OU had the country’s most legit title claim in ‘74 ... despite finishing its season in November.

There’s little question these were the two most dominant banned teams ever.

And in case you were wondering, here’s the top of our Most Bowl-Banned Seasons Leaderboard:

  • Nine seasons: Auburn
  • Six: SMU, Ole Miss, Houston
  • Five: Oklahoma State, USC, Kansas State, Oklahoma