2016-2017’s 25 Best College Football & Basketball Combinations
Which schools had the best years in the two major sports? What were the 25 best college football and basketball combinations of 2016-2017?
Who had the best years in the two major sports?
All college sports matter.
With a few exceptions – like some women’s basketball programs, a few high-end hockey powers, and a trickle of big-time volleyball, wrestling, and other sports here and there – football and men’s basketball are what get the crowd moving and, for the most part, fund the activities that only a few dear friends and family willingly give away money to watch.
Argue all you want about how meaningful other sports are, but athletic directors don’t get fired if the men’s cross-country team stinks.
Starting with the 2016 football season up until now in hoops – this will be updated after March Madness – which schools had the best combination of the big two revenue-producing sports?
Only 23 schools gave their fans a bowl appearance and a trip to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Do that, and you get an automatic invite into the 2016-2017 CFN Top 25 Sports Schools.
The two others added to the list got on because – if we’re keeping it truly real here – college football is bigger and more vital to an athletic department than college basketball.
Disagree? Ask Duke and Kansas how much love they received during the realignment musical chairs of a few years ago. However, winning a conference title in either sport is obviously a big deal.
Honorary Member: Villanova Wildcats
The FCS part of the equation keeps Villanova out of the top 25, and winning the college basketball national championship last season doesn’t count for this year’s list, but being the No. 1 overall seed in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, and getting to the second round of the FCS Playoff, deserves a little recognition. It’s been a great year to be a Villanova fan – especially considering Temple and the other Philly schools aren’t in the NCAAs.
25. Baylor Bears
If this was just about sports, Baylor would be much, much higher. The basketball team was ranked No. 1 for a cup of coffee, finishing second in the Big 12 regular season and getting a 3 seed in NCAAs.
The football program might have gone through a transition – to put it very, very politely – but it closed out a tumultuous season with a blowout of Boise State in the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl.
Wins, schmins. The disastrous fallout from the Art Briles era outweigh anything positive, or else Baylor would be somewhere in the top 15.
24. South Carolina Gamecocks
The first year under head coach Will Muschamp was okay, considering how much the football program needed reworking. The Gamecocks might have come up with a losing season, but at least they got to a bowl game – losing to South Florida. Frank Martin’s hoops team finished tied for third in the SEC regular season earning a 7 seed.
23. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Wake Forest? A winning season and a bowl appearance in what turned out to be one of the best conferences in college football? Really? Yup. The terrific year ended with a victory over Temple in the Military Bowl, but the basketball team didn’t have as much fun, struggling to a 19-13 record. Fortunately, the Demon Deacons got an 11 seed. Unfortunately, it’s an 11 seed in a First Four play-in game.
22. Vanderbilt Commodores
Any year that Vanderbilt football can beat Tennessee and Georgia on the way to a bowl game is terrific. It might have been a losing campaign after a blowout Camping World Independence Bowl loss to NC State, but at least everyone got a swag bag full of interesting things.
The basketball program struggled in the regular season, but it made a push in the SEC tournament to earn a 9 seed in the NCAAs.
21. Arkansas Razorbacks
The Hogs came up with a solid basketball season – finishing tied for third in the SEC – before going on a nice run to the SEC Tournament title game loss to Kentucky.
Bret Bielema hasn’t been able to get the football program to breakthrough in the SEC West title chase, but he’s always entertaining. While Arkansas finished with a winning season, it got roasted by Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl.
20. Kansas State Wildcats
It was a quietly good football campaign, winning nine games, finishing fourth in the Big 12, and beating Texas A&M in the Advocate V100 Texas Bowl. The Wildcats won six of their final seven games, and look stronger rolling into the 2017 season.
While the basketball team might have had to sweat it out – and only got an 11 seed in a First Four play-in game – it made it into the NCAAs after winning 20 games and coming up with a decent showing in the conference tournament.
19. Maryland Terrapins
The basketball team was a bit of a disappointment, but it was decent enough to get a 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament after finishing second in the Big Ten regular season.
The football team lost in the Quick Lane Bowl to Boston College – and ended up with a losing season – but it was a good next step under head coach D.J. Durkin, helped further by a killer recruiting class in February.
18. Troy Trojans
One of the biggest shockers of the college football season, Neal Brown’s team roared to a 10-3 record with one of the most exciting and explosive offenses among the Group of Five programs. The Trojans might have just missed out on winning a share of the Sun Belt title, but they beat Ohio in the Dollar General Bowl.
The hoops side struggled through the season – right up until it ripped its way to a Sun Belt Tournament championship. Being a 15 seed vs. Duke might not be fun, but at least the Trojans are in.
17. Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
Totally and completely disrespected with a 12 seed, the Blue Raiders destroyed the Conference USA season going 17-1 before rolling to a conference tournament title. The 30-4 pre-NCAAs campaign was fantastic, especially after being the team that knocked out Michigan State in last year’s tournament.
The high-powered football team got ripped to shreds by Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl, but it was a decent 8-5 year with lots and lots of points and lots and lots of crazy shootouts.
16. Oklahoma State Cowboys
The Cowboys came up with a wild and wacky football season – for good and bad (cough, Central Michigan, cough) – finishing tied for second in the Big 12. They technically owning the No. 2 spot thanks to a win over West Virginia before closing out with a complete and utter destruction of Colorado in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
The hoops team might have finished fifth in the conference regular season, but there’s no shame this year in finishing behind Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia and Iowa State. OSU got a 10 seed.
15. Minnesota Golden Gophers
The good about the football season: the Gophers had the puck on their stick in the regular season finale against Wisconsin with a shot at sharing the Big Ten West title. The bad: they lost, followed up by the boycott threat and ensuing controversy.
The good: along with the proper way the school handled the problem – despite the suspensions, Minnesota won the Holiday Bowl over Washington State. The bad (at least for him): head coach Tracy Claeys got canned, partly because of his ill-advised, over-the-top support of the players who threatened a boycott.
The good: P.J. Fleck was a terrific hire.
The Gopher basketball team rebounded from a miserable season to finish fourth in the Big Ten, getting a 5 seed in the NCAAs – higher than Michigan and Wisconsin.
14. West Virginia Mountaineers
The Mountaineer basketball types got to the Big 12 Tournament championship – eventually losing to Iowa State – earning a 4 seed in the NCAAs. One of the best teams in a front-loaded league, the 26-8 campaign was a blast, playing in several of the season’s most intense games.
The football team finished tied for second in the Big 12 race – really third, considering a loss to Oklahoma State – but got blown away by Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Still, the ten-win season was excellent.
13. Miami Hurricanes
In a great year for the conference, the Hurricane hoops team finished seventh in the ACC regular season with 21 wins overall on the way to an 8 seed in the NCAAs.
Mark Richt’s first year at the helm started to restore the glory for the football program. The Canes might have finished tied for second in the ACC Coastal, but they won nine games with a 31-14 blasting of West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
12. North Carolina Tar Heels
UNC didn’t win the ACC hoops tournament, but it was the best team in the regular season by two games. Losing to Duke, though – while having to groove on a Blue Devil tourney title – soured a terrific 27-7 pre-NCAAs campaign.
The football team finished tied for second in the Coastal Division, but it couldn’t come through late in a Sun Bowl loss to Stanford. Mitch Trubisky, though, turned into a national story, growing into a franchise NFL quarterback prospect.
11. Louisville Cardinals
It was a football thrill ride, but outside of Lamar Jackson winning the Heisman – hardly a throwaway positive – there wasn’t much to show for it in the end. The blowout win over Florida State was amazing, but the Cardinals closed out the year with three straight losses, including a wild shootout to Kentucky and a clunker of a Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl to LSU.
The basketball side was excellent, going 24-8 before the NCAAs and tying for second in the ACC regular season. The conference tournament run ended too soon, but whatever – the Cardinals got a 2 seed.
10. Virginia Tech Hokies
The Hokies had a terrific year under new head football coach Justin Fuente, winning the Coastal Division and pushing eventual national champ Clemson in a thrilling ACC Championship loss. Closing out with a Belk Bowl win over Arkansas took a wee bit of the sting off.
While the basketball team went 22-10 before the NCAA Tournament, it earned a 9 seed in an entertaining year. Finishing the ACC regular season 10-8 and tied for seventh in a loaded league wasn’t bad.
9. Northwestern Wildcats
There might have been more accomplished schools in both sports, but in terms of important seasons for an athletic department, Northwestern pulled off something special.
After a disastrous start, the football team rallied to not only win two of its last three games to become bowl eligible, but it shocked a dangerous Pitt team in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. Normally, winning a bowl would be a really big deal in Evanston, and it was, but there was something a wee bit bigger coming.
The basketball team making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in its 78 years of existence became the national story of the hoops season. In a year of massive streak-busting moments for Chicago sports, the Wildcats’ historic 23 wins and 8 seed in the NCAAs grabbed a place of its own for long-suffering fans. No alumni base in college basketball enjoyed more unbridled glee.
8. Florida Gators
The Gator hoops team might have been bounced out of the SEC Tournament way too early, but it finished 24-8 overall and second in the conference regular season. The bad ending didn’t matter too much, earning a 4 seed in the NCAAs.
The blastings from Florida State and Alabama were a painful end to the pre-bowl part of the football season, but winning the SEC East title for the second year in a row was still a big deal. The win over LSU was one of the best games of the conference campaign, and beating Georgia always matters. Closing out with a 30-3 Outback Bowl annihilation of Iowa was a must after losing to the Seminoles and Crimson Tide by a combined score of 85-29.
7. Florida State Seminoles
The Noles finished third in the ACC Atlantic Division, but Jimbo Fisher’s squad closed out with a bang. Not only did it win five straight – to go along with an earlier win over rival Miami – but it destroyed Florida at the end of the regular season and got by Michigan in an all-time thriller of an Orange Bowl.
The basketball team finished tied for second in the ACC regular season – with wins over Duke, Louisville, Notre Dame, and Miami (twice) – going 25-8 overall before earning a 3 seed in the NCAAs.
6. Kentucky Wildcats
The Wildcats went to a bowl game – don’t dismiss just how big a deal that is. Football might be the a la mode side to the basketball pie, but after a few years of frustration, fishing the regular season with a thrilling win over Louisville and getting to seven wins was huge. Losing big to Georgia Tech in the TaxSlayer Bowl stunk, but just getting there mattered.
John Calipari cranked up another young, ultra-talented team that had its problems, concerns, and inconsistencies in the regular season – and it still went 29-5, won the SEC regular season by two games and rolled to the conference tournament title. Getting a 2 seed was just fine.
5. Alabama Crimson Tide
Basketball might be an afterthought in Tuscaloosa, but the Tide went on a decent run in the SEC Tournament, finishing with a respectable 19 wins. They didn’t get into the NCAA Tournament, though, getting this high up on the list because of another amazing year from that other sport.
There are two ways to look at the football season. On the one side, going 14-0 with yet another SEC championship and a Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl win over Washington would be an all-timer campaign for just about every other program. On the other side, going 0-1 in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship – and coming just one defensive stop and a few seconds away from surviving the Clemson storm – will be what most Tide fans remember.
4. USC Trojans
It wasn’t easy, but USC basketball was able to slide into the NCAAs after finishing tied for fourth in the Pac-12 regular season and pushing UCLA hard in a fantastic conference tournament loss. Going 24-9 should’ve earned the Trojans more than an 11 seed in a First Four play-in game.
The football team was a disaster early on, but it soon found its groove – and found its franchise quarterback in Sam Darnold – rolling past a 1-3 start to beat Colorado, rip through Washington, and get the big New Year’s Six bowl invite. Washington might have won the Pac-12 title, and Colorado might have taken the South, but ask USC fans if they care a lick about either of those things after the way their Trojans beat Penn State in an all-timer of a Rose Bowl.
3. Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin came as close to doing something really big in both sports, without actually doing anything really big in either sport.
Beating LSU to open the football season was great, and taking the West and getting to the Big Ten Championship was tremendous. But the second-half collapse to Penn State in the title game took the shine off all the positives.
Yeah, fine, okay – the Badgers won the Cotton Bowl. But it was over a MAC team, and it wasn’t the Rose Bowl.
The basketball team struggled down the stretch, losing the Big Ten regular season fight by two games. Getting to the Big Ten tournament title game seemed nice, and then Michigan ended that run with a thud. The NCAA selection committee didn’t help, handing out a slap-in-the-face 8 seed.
2. Clemson Tigers
Yeah, the Tiger basketball team went 17-15 – at least it finished the regular season with a winning record – and didn’t get an invite to the NCAA Tournament. Like any Clemson fan still-floating-in-clouds gives a spit as he watches replays of the Deshaun Watson-to-Hunter Renfro pass again and again and again.
Really? Should a school with a mediocre hoops program being ranked this high on a list of top football-basketball combinations? When the football side wins the College Football Playoff National Championship in one of the greatest games of all-time against one of the greatest Alabama teams of all-time … yup.
1. Michigan Wolverines
Okay, so this is about as weak as it gets for a No. 1 school for top big-sport combinations, but who else deserves it?
USC didn’t win a championship of any kind, Clemson and Alabama basketball sucked, Kentucky football wasn’t that great, and Florida State – while winning the head-to-head matchup with the Wolverines in the Orange Bowl – didn’t have as good a basketball finish and wasn’t nearly as close to getting into the College Football Playoff.
Wisconsin was close, but Michigan beat the Badgers on the football field, and then in the basketball game that finished with a net being cut.
Michigan wouldn’t be here without winning the Big Ten basketball tournament, but there’s one big problem. You know who didn’t give a hoot about the title?
The NCAA selection committee.
The tournament types were so impressed, they gave Michigan a 7 seed, while Minnesota got a 5 and Purdue – the regular season champ – got a 4. But, technically, Michigan is able to print up 2017 Big Ten Champion T-shirts.
Of course, it was the way the Wolverines won the Big Ten that made it so special, playing lights-out for the four game run after the freak-the-freak-out nightmare of their plane sliding off the runway on the way to the tournament.
And for all the pain and suffering at the end of the football season – with the brutally close losses to Iowa, Ohio State, and Florida State – the Wolverines were just five points away from being perfect, they obliterated Penn State and Colorado, slipped past Wisconsin, and beat Michigan State.
Add in the ceaseless entertainment of Jim Harbaugh, and as he howled throughout last season, who has it better than Michigan?
Well, Clemson, Ohio State, Alabama and Florida State in football, and a whole slew of basketball teams, but in terms of both sports at the moment, who has it better than Michigan?