The Top 25 NAIA Football Programs of All-Time

texasaiWhile I can appreciate the “Big J” journalists doing their best to understand small college football, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out they are doing a terrible job.

Recently ESPN published their attempt at “The 50 best college football programs over the last 150 years.” They characterized the list as being put together as “college football’s greatest programs across all divisions” while in the same breath leaving out the NAIA. Ahh, the “Big J” journalists doing their finest work.

I’m sure they will make the argument, “Well we counted the NAIA championships for teams in DII and DIII.” But nevertheless, there isn’t one current NAIA program on the list.

Not one. Zero. Zilch.

Despite the fact there are four teams in the division that won five ore more national championships, the good folks at the worldwide leader deemed the NAIA unworthy of being on the list. So given my years of covering the NAIA and the remaining sliver of ego that I have as a guy who put in the time going to games all over the country while studying the history of the NAIA and beating the NAIA drum all those years. . . I decided to take a crack at the Top 25 NAIA programs of all-time.

My methodology is pretty simple:

  • Total number of NAIA championships.
  • Total number of postseason appearances.
  • Ranking on the “All-Time Winningest Programs” list generated by the NAIA National office. Although I will say this list might be flawed because it only included teams currently in the NAIA.
  • How dominate of a program they have been while in the NAIA.

One thing I didn’t take into consideration was coaching. There have been a lot of great NAIA coaches that banged around the division for years and years doing the best they could with the limited resources they were given by their institution. Example: Dr. Ted Kessinger is absolutely one of the greatest coaches to have ever coached the game. But the “program” maintained limited success without him has struggled in the non “Dr. Ted” years. The list of the greatest coaches in NAIA history can be saved for another time.

So here you go: The Top 25 NAIA Football Programs of All-Time.

25. Ottawa University: Nine postseason appearances and ranked 3rd all-time on the NAIA’s list of winningest programs. Longevity wins out for the Braves to take this spot.

24. Northeastern Oklahoma State: Two NAIA Football Championships. Two runner up finishes. Nine appearances in the NAIA postseason. These guys were dominant in the 80’s and early 90’s before their jump to DII.

23. Saint Xavier University (Ill.): One NAIA Football Championship. Twelve appearances in the NAIA postseason. The Cougars are a fairly new program in terms of NAIA football but have been a mainstay since their launch.

22. Southern Oregon: One NAIA Football Championship. One runner up finish. Seven appearances in the NAIA postseason. They also made an appearance in the NAIA’s winningest programs list.

21. Saint John’s (Minn.): They won two titles and had too short of a time in the NAIA to consider them one of the “top programs.” But their success in that time period definitely puts them on the list and success in DIII makes them worthy of the ESPN list.

20. Dickinson State University (N.D.): 19 postseason appearances. The Blue Hawks are steady. They’ve never made it to a title game but their longevity over time puts them on the list.

19. Northwestern Oklahoma State: One NAIA Football Championship. Two runner up finishes. 12 appearances in the NAIA postseason. In the late 90’s and 2000’s there were few teams as feared as the Rangers.

18. Benedictine (Kan.): 1 NAIA runner up finishes. 15 appearances in the NAIA postseason. The Raven’s don’t have a full 100 year program history like some on this list but since the 70’s they’ve been consistent in the NAIA.

17. Marian University (Ind.): Two NAIA Football Championships. One runner up finish. Seven appearances in the NAIA postseason. I’m sure I’ll take some crap for putting them above some of the teams on this list but you can’t deny the fact that in a fairly short period of time the Crusaders have done more than some programs with years and years of history.

16. Baker University (Kan.): Two NAIA Football runner up finishes. 17 postseason appearances. The Wildcats are No. 2 in all times wins in NAIA football.

15. Pittsburg State (Kan.): Two NAIA Football Championships. One runner up finish. Seven appearances in the NAIA postseason. Even though the Gorillas found their way onto the ESPN list, they’re time in the NAIA was just the start of the run they had that merited them being on the “Big J” journalist list.

14. Central Arkansas: Three NAIA Football Championships. 13 appearances in the postseason. In the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s these guys were always one of the top teams in the division.

13. Linfield (Ore.): Three NAIA Football Championships. Three runner up finishes. 15 appearances in the NAIA postseason. Even though they went DIII in the 90’s, Linfield still stacks up with the best all-time. They are one of the few programs in NAIA history that made it to the postseason in four different decades.

12. Pacific Lutheran (Wash.): Three NAIA Football Championships. Four runner up finishes. 15 appearances in the NAIA postseason. They get notched ahead of Linfield due to having one more appearance in the NAIA championship game.

11. Morningside (Iowa): One NAIA Football Championship. One runner up finish. 15 appearances in the NAIA postseason. Since coming back to the NAIA from DII Morningside has consistently been a Top 10 team. They’ve made the NAIA postseason every single season since 2004.

10. Northwestern (Iowa): Two NAIA Football Championships. Three runner up finishes. 20 appearances in the NAIA postseason. Over the history of the NAIA the Red Raiders have been one of the most reliable programs. They’ve made it to the postseason in five different decades.

9. Sioux Falls (S.D.): Four NAIA Football Championships. Three runner up finishes. 16 appearances in the NAIA postseason. The Cougars spent four decades making it to the NAIA postseason before joining DII.

8. Saint Francis (Ind.): Two NAIA Football Championships. Three runner up finishes. 18 appearances in the NAIA postseason. They’ve only missed the postseason twice since the program was started in 1998.

7. Findlay (Ohio): Four NAIA Football Championships. 13 appearances in the postseason. The Oilers are another program whose postseason history spans four decades.

6. Missouri Valley College: One runners up finish. 13 appearances in the NAIA postseason. You might be questioning why the Vikings are so high on this list but I’d be doing their program a disservice if the “All-time Winningest Program in NAIA History” was any lower.

5. Georgetown College (Ky.): Three NAIA Football Championships. Two runner up finishes. 21 appearances in the postseason. They’re first trip to the NAIA postseason was in 1987. So five appearances in the title game over their history plus their consistent winning keeps them near the top.

4. Carson-Newman (Tenn.): Five NAIA Football Championships. 11 appearances in the postseason. From the 70’s to the early 90’s Carson-Newman proved to be the gold standard in the NAIA.

3. Westminster (Pa.): Six NAIA Football Championships. Three runner up finishes. 17 appearances in the NAIA postseason. The Titans own a 31-11 record in the NAIA postseason and tie for the second most titles won in the NAIA.

2. Carroll College (Mont.): 6 NAIA Football Championships. Two runner up finishes. 22 appearances in the postseason. The Saints appeared in the NAIA postseason over five different decades. While most people remember them for their run from 2000-2011 of never missing the postseason, they forget about how good the Saints were in the 1980’s. Through the years, Carroll College went 42-16 in postseason play.

1. Texas A&I: Seven NAIA Football Championships. One runner up finish. Eight appearances in the NAIA postseason. A&I, now Texas A&M-Kingsville, appeared in the postseason from the 1950’s through the end of the 1970’s. During that time they only lost one postseason game which was in 1968 against Troy State 43-35.

 

2 thoughts on “The Top 25 NAIA Football Programs of All-Time

  1. As great as the Carroll College Saints were in the early part of this decade the 80s teams played tougher teams in the playoffs. Wisconsin Lacrosse comes to mind. There was a reshuffling of NAIA moving teams. Could someone explain?

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  2. There were a lot of reasons for this change, too many to list here. Ultimately the NAIA switched up the postseason from district qualifications to conference qualifications. Plus a lot of teams were leaving for DIAA, DII and DIII at the time.Too complex to respond to here but feel free to email me.

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