Ranking Every College Football National Champion Over the Last 50 Years

Let's take a walk down memory lane

Clemson’s 2018 national title run was exceptional, but where do the Tigers rank with other college football champions? Every national championship team was great, but I have attempted to rank every title-winning squad over the past 50 years by asking the following questions:

 

How strong was their schedule?

What was their record?

How dominant were their wins?

Did they win their conference?

Did they win their bowl game?

How many elite players did they have?

 

Before we dive into this list, I think its important to reiterate that every team on here was still pretty exceptional. So think of this as a walk down memory lane more than a scathing critique of national champions. Now without further ado, let’s begin.

 

59. 1970 Texas Longhorns

Record: 10-1

Finished: Lost to No. 6 Notre Dame 24-11 in the Cotton Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1 (Coaches Poll), No. 3 (AP Poll)

Notable Wins: No. 13 UCLA (20-17), Oklahoma (41-9), and No. 4 Arkansas (42-7)

Consensus All-Americans: Three (Bill Atessis, Steve Worster, Bobby Wuensch)

The Coaches Poll awarded the national title to teams before bowls were played until 1973 so the first two squads in this ranking have the distinction of being crowned national champion and losing their bowl game. That being said, Texas entered 1970 as the defending national champion and scorched all of its regular season opponents, capping the season with a 42-7 drubbing of fourth-ranked Arkansas on national television. The Coaches Poll declared the Longhorns national champion, but their 30-game win streak ended with a loss to Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl. The AP awarded its national title to 11-0-1 Nebraska.

 

58. 1973 Alabama Crimson Tide

Record: 11-1

Finished: Lost to No. 3 Notre Dame 24-23 in the Sugar Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1 (Coaches Poll), No. 4 (AP Poll)

Notable Wins: No. 10 Tennessee (42-21), No. 7 LSU (21-7), and Auburn (35-0)

Consensus All-Americans: One (Buddy Brown)

The Crimson Tide cruised to their third straight SEC title, beating every one opponent by at least two touchdowns. They then got 21 out of 34 first-place votes in the Coaches Poll to win Bear Bryant’s fourth national championship. But in the Sugar Bowl, they lost to Notre Dame in one of the greatest college football games every played and the Irish took home the AP title.

 

57. 1974 USC Trojans

Record: 10-1-1

Finished: Beat No. 3 Ohio State 18-17 in the Rose Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1 (Coaches Poll), No. 2 (AP Poll)

Notable Wins: No. 8 Pittsburgh (16-7), No. 5 Notre Dame (55-24), and No. 3 Ohio State (18-17)

Consensus All-Americans: Two (Anthony Davis, Richard Wood)

The Trojans outscored their opponents by a total score of 363-142 and were clearly the second-best team in the country after all the bowls were played. However, AP national champion Oklahoma was on NCAA probation and barred from the Coaches Poll, who awarded the national title to USC.

 

56. 2007 LSU Tigers

Record: 12-2

Finished: Beat No. 1 Ohio State 38-24 in the BCS National Championship Game

Final Ranking: No. 1

Consensus All-Americans: Two (Glenn Dorsey, Craig Steltz)

Notable Wins: No. 9 Virginia Tech (48-7), No. 12 South Carolina (28-16), No. 9 Florida (28-24), No. 18 Auburn (30-24), No. 17 Alabama (41-24), No. 14 Tennessee (21-14), and No. 1 Ohio State (38-24)

The Tigers overcame two triple-overtime losses to Kentucky and Arkansas to take the No. 2 spot in the BCS rankings at the end of the crazy 2007 regular season. They then dispatched Ohio State to become the only two-loss national champion of the modern college football era.

 

55. 1969 Texas Longhorns

Record: 11-0

Finished: Beat No. 9 Notre Dame 21-17 in the Cotton Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 8 Oklahoma (27-17), No. 2 Arkansas (15-14), and No. 9 Notre Dame (21-17)

Consensus All-Americans: One (Bob McKay)

The Longhorns' revolutionary wishbone offense outscored its opponents 435-119 en route to a perfect season. This squad has the distinction of having President Richard Nixon award them the Coaches Poll national championship immediately after their win over Arkansas. They also hold the distinction of being the last all-white national championship team.

 

54. 1984 BYU Cougars

Record: 13-0

Finished: Beat Michigan 24-17 in the Holiday Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 3 Pittsburgh (20-14), Wyoming (41-38), Utah (24-14), and Michigan (24-17)

Consensus All-Americans: 0

BYU upset No. 3 Pittsburgh to start the season and quickly moved up in the rankings. As the Cougars kept winning and other programs kept losing, they rose in the polls, finally attaining the No. 1 ranking the last weekend of the regular season. BYU then beat a 6-5 Michigan team in the Holiday Bowl to win the only national title awarded to a school outside the Power 5 other than Notre Dame in the modern football era.

 

53. 1990 Colorado Buffaloes

Record: 11-1-1

Finished: Beat No. 5 Notre Dame 10-9 in the Orange Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1 (AP Poll), No. 2 (Coaches Poll)

Notable Wins:  No. 22 Texas (29-22), No. 12 Washington (20-14), No. 22 Oklahoma (20-14), No. 3 Nebraska (27-12), and No. 5 Notre Dame (10-9)

Consensus All-Americans: Three (Eric Bieniemy, Joe Garten, Alfred Williams)

Arguably, the sloppiest national title on this list; Colorado tied Tennessee and lost to Illinois within its first three games of the season. Then the Buffaloes beat Missouri because officials gave it a fifth down in what is arguably the worst call in college football history. Yet despite the missteps earlier in the season, Colorado finished as one of the two best teams in the country and AP voters ranked the Buffs No. 1, while the Coaches awarded the national title to Georgia Tech.

 

52. 1989 Miami Hurricanes

Record: 11-1

Finished: Beat No. 7 Alabama 33-25 in the Sugar Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 14 Pittsburgh (24-3), No. 1 Notre Dame (27-10), and No. 7 Alabama (33-25)

Consensus All-Americans: One (Greg Mark)

Miami’s national title hopes appeared to be dashed by a 24-10 loss to Florida State loss in the middle of the season. The Hurricanes got redemption in the final game of the regular season, beating No. 1 Notre Dame 27-10 to move up to No. 2. Miami then dispatched Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and Notre Dame beat No. 1 Colorado to give The U its third national championship.

 

51. 1982 Penn State Nittany Lions

Record: 11-1

Finished: Beat No. 1 Georgia 27-23 in the Sugar Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 2 Nebraska 27-24, No. 13 West Virginia, No. 13 Notre Dame (24-14), No. Pittsburgh (19-10), and No. 1 Georgia (27-23)

Consensus All-Americans: 0

After three undefeated seasons with no prize, head coach Joe Paterno took home his first national title. Sporting a balanced offense with Todd Blackledge at quarterback and Kurt Warner at running back, Penn State bounced back from a loss to Alabama in the fifth game of the season to manhandle the rest of its regular season opponents. Then in the Sugar Bowl, the Nittany Lions overwhelmed Herschel Walker and Georgia to earn the top spot in the polls.

 

50. 2011 Alabama Crimson Tide

Record: 12-1

Finished:Beat No. 1 LSU 21-0 in the BCS National Championship Game

Final Ranking:No. 1

Notable Wins:No. 23 Penn State (27-11), No. 14 Arkansas (38-14), No. 12 Florida (38-10), No. 24 Auburn (42-14), and No. 1 LSU (21-0)

Consensus All-Americans:Three (Mark Barron, Barrett Johnson, Trent Richardson)

Alabama lost to LSU 9-6 in overtime earlier in the season, but finished the season No. 2 in the BCS rankings and played the Tigers again in the national championship game. In the rematch, the Tide allowed LSU across the 50-yard line only once in the only shutout in national championship history. This made Alabama the first team to ever win a national title without winning its division, much less its conference.

 

49. 1977 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Record: 11-1

Finished: Beat No. 1 Texas 38-10 in the Cotton Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins:  No. 7 Pittsburgh (19-9), No. 5 USC (49-19), No. 15 Clemson (21-17), and No. 1 Texas (38-10)

Consensus All-Americans: Three (Luther Bradley, Ross Browner, Ken MacAfee)

The Irish were upset by an unranked Ole Miss squad in the second week of the season. Then head coach Dan Devine made the decision to put Joe Montana in at starting quarterback. The move paid off and Notre Dame rebounded to win its remaining games and earn a spot in the Cotton Bowl against No. 1 Texas. There, the Irish shut down Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell in a 38-10 blowout. The win vaulted them from the No. 5 ranking to the national title.

 

48. 2017 Alabama Crimson Tide

Record: 13-1

Finished: Beat No. 3 Georgia 26-23 (OT) in the College Football Playoff National Championship

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 3 Florida State (24-7), No. 18 LSU (24-10), No. 19 Mississippi State (31-24), No. 1 Clemson (24-6), and No. 3 Georgia (26-23 OT)

Consensus All-Americans: One (Minkah Fitzpatrick)

The Crimson Tide started the season 11-0, but lost the Iron Bowl and the SEC West to Auburn in the final game of the regular season. When Georgia beat the Tigers the next week in the SEC Championship Game, Alabama got the fourth seed in the College Football Playoff. the Tide then dispatched Clemson and beat Georgia in dramatic fashion in overtime to win a national championship without winning its division for the second time.

 

47. 1990 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Record: 11-0-1

Finished: Beat No. 19 Nebraska 45-21 in the Citrus Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1 (Coaches Poll), No. 2 (AP Poll)

Notable Wins: No. 25 South Carolina (27-6), No. 15 Clemson (21-19), No. 1 Virginia (41-38), and No. 19 Nebraska (45-21)

Consensus All-Americans: One (Ken Swilling)

The 6-0-1 Yellow Jackets beat top-ranked Virginia in early November and quickly became national championship contenders. They finished the wacky 1990 season as its only unbeaten team, the only blemish being a 13-13 tie with North Carolina. The AP awarded 11-1-1 Colorado — who had a tougher schedule — the national title. But the Coaches Poll gave Georgia Tech its first national championship since 1952.

 

46. 1985 Oklahoma Sooners

Record: 11-1

Finished: Beat No. 1 Penn State 25-10 in the Orange Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 17 Texas (14-7), No. 2 Nebraska (27-7), No. 17 Oklahoma State (13-0), and No. 1 Penn State (25-10)

Consensus All-Americans: One (Brian Bosworth)

After quarterback Troy Aikman went down with an injury in a 27-14 loss to Miami, true freshman Jamelle Holieway took over the starting duties and kick-started Oklahoma’s wishbone attack. The Sooners won eight straight, including a 25-10 victory over No. 1 Penn State in the Orange Bowl. The second-ranked Hurricanes lost 35-7 to Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl, thus giving head coach Barry Switzer his third national title.

 

45. 2012 Alabama Crimson Tide

Record: 13-1

Finished: Beat No. 1 Notre Dame 42-14 in the BCS National Championship Game

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 8 Michigan (41-14), No. 13 Mississippi State (38-7), No. 5 LSU (21-17), Auburn (49-0), No. 3 Georgia (32-28), and No. 1 Notre Dame (42-14)

Consensus All-Americans: Four (Barrett Jones, C.J. Mosley, Dee Milliner, Chance Warmack)

Defending national champion Alabama was upset late in the season by Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M, but won its last two regular season games and beat Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. That was enough to put the Crimson Tide in the BCS National Championship Game, where they throttled previously undefeated and top-ranked Notre Dame to win a second straight title.

 

44. 2003 USC Trojans

Record: 12-1

Finished: Beat No. 4 Michigan 28-14 in the Rose Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1 (AP Poll), No. 2 (Coaches Poll)

Notable Wins: No. 6 Auburn (23-0), No. 6 Washington State (43-16), and No. 4 Michigan (28-14)

Consensus All-Americans: Three (Jacob Rogers, Kenechi Udeze, Mike Williams)

After a loss to California early in the season, the USC dynasty of the 2000s came into its own, averaging 43 points a contest as it won its final nine games. The Trojans held the top spot in the AP Poll at the end of the regular season, but were third in the BCS rankings. So they beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl to win the AP title and LSU beat Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl to win the Coaches Poll for the only split championship of the BCS era.

 

43. 1978 Alabama Crimson Tide

Record: 11-1

Finished: Beat No. 1 Penn State 14-7 in the Sugar Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1 (AP Poll), No. 2 (Coaches Poll)

Notable Wins: No. 10 Nebraska (20-3), No. 11 Missouri (38-20), No. 10 LSU (31-10), and No. 1 Penn State (14-7)

Consensus All-Americans: One (Marty Lyons)

The Crimson Tide opened with a tough non-conference schedule, beating Nebraska and Missouri, but losing to USC. Alabama then won the remainder of its games to earn a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup with Penn State in the Sugar Bowl. There, the Crimson Tide took home a share of the national title thanks to one of the greatest goal-line stands in college football history. Ironically, they shared the national title with USC.

 

42. 2003 LSU Tigers

Record: 13-1

Finished: Beat No. 3 Oklahoma 21-14 in the Sugar Bowl (BCS National Championship Game)

Final Ranking: No. 1 (Coaches Poll), No. 2 (AP Poll)

Notable Wins: No. 7 Georgia (17-10), No. 17 Auburn (31-7), No. 15 Ole Miss (17-14), No. 5 Georgia (34-13), and No. 3 Oklahoma (21-14)

Consensus All-Americans: One (Chad Lavalais)

The Tigers overcame a loss to Florida to win the SEC title and finish the regular season No. 2 in both the AP and Coaches Polls behind USC. However, the BCS rankings had LSU and Oklahoma holding the top spots so USC played in the Rose Bowl and beat Michigan to win the AP title. Meanwhile, LSU took care of business against Oklahoma to win the Coaches Poll national championship and take home Nick Saban’s first title.

 

41. 1980 Georgia Bulldogs

Record: 12-0

Finished: Beat No. 7 Notre Dame 17-10 in the Sugar Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: Tennessee (16-15), No. 14 South Carolina (13-10), No. 20 Florida (26-21), Auburn (31-21), and No. 7 Notre Dame (17-10)

Consensus All-Americans: One (Herschel Walker)

Down 15-2 to Tennessee late in the third quarter of the season opener, Georgia head coach Vince Dooley put in true freshman Herschel Walker. From there, the rest is history. Walker scored two touchdowns to beat the Volunteers 16-15 and Georgia went on to win the rest of its games and the national championship.

 

40. 1983 Miami Hurricanes

Record: 11-1

Finished: Beat No. 1 Nebraska 31-30 in the Orange Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 13 Notre Dame (20-0), No. 12 West Virginia (20-3), and No. 1 Nebraska (31-30)

Consensus All-Americans: 0

The first great team in Miami history started the season with a 28-3 loss Florida in Gainesville. But then reeled off 10 straight wins to earn a spot against unbeaten and top-ranked Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. There, the Bernie Kosar-led Canes methodically took a 31-17 fourth quarter lead against the Huskers and held on to win 31-30 in dramatic fashion. The win helped move Miami from the No. 5 ranking to the top spot to claim the school’s first national title.

 

39. 1970 Nebraska Cornhuskers

Record: 11-0-1

Finished: Beat No. 5 LSU 17-12 in the Sugar Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1 (AP Poll), No. 3 (Coaches Poll)

Notable Wins: No. 16 Missouri (21-7), No. 20 Kansas State (51-13), Oklahoma (28-21) and No. 5 LSU (17-12)

Consensus All-Americans: One (Bob Newton)

The Huskers tied third-ranked USC 21-21 in the second game of the season and then beat all but one of its regular season opponents by at least two touchdowns. They entered the bowl season ranked third in both polls and the Coaches Poll had already named Texas national champion. When both Texas and No. 2 Ohio State lost their bowl games, the AP voters awarded the national championship to Nebraska.

 

38. 1978 USC Trojans

Record: 12-1

Finished: Beat No. 5 Michigan 17-10 in the Rose Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1 (Coaches Poll), No. 2 (AP Poll)

Notable Wins: No. 1 Alabama (24-14), No. 19 Washington (28-10), No. 14 UCLA (17-10), No. 8 Notre Dame (27-25), and No. 5 Michigan (17-10)

Consensus All-Americans: Two (Pat Howell, Charles White)

The Trojans started off 4-0, but lost in Tempe to an Arizona State team that would ultimately finish 9-3. They rebounded to win the rest of their games. Led by running back Charles White, USC beat ranked opponents in four of its five final games and finished ranked atop the Coaches Poll. The Trojans shared the national title with Alabama, who they beat earlier in the season.

 

37. 1968 Ohio State Buckeyes

Record: 10-0

Finished: Beat No. 2 USC 27-16 in the Rose Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 1 Purdue (13-0), No. 16 Michigan State (25-20), No. 4 Michigan (50-14), and No. 2 USC (27-16)

Consensus All-Americans: One (Dave Foley)

The Buckeyes dominated a deep Big Ten to win their first conference title in seven seasons. In the Rose Bowl, Ohio State overcame a 10-0 deficit to beat O.J. Simpson and USC and give Woody Hayes his fourth national championship.

 

36. 2006 Florida Gators

Record: 13-1

Finished: Beat No. 1 Ohio State 41-14 in the BCS National Championship Game

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 13 Tennessee (21-20) No. 9 LSU (23-10), No. 25 Georgia (21-14), Florida State (21-14), No. 8 Arkansas (38-28), and No. 1 Ohio State (41-14)

Consensus All-Americans: One (Reggie Nelson)

The Gators had a solid offense with Tim Tebow coming off the bench in key situations and a defense that helped them navigate the SEC. Their only blemish was a 27-17 loss to Auburn at Jordan-Hare and they edged Michigan by .0011 BCS points to make it into the championship game. There, they dispatched Ohio State, beginning a run of the SEC winning seven straight national titles.

 

35. 1976 Pittsburgh Panthers

Record: 12-0

Finished: Beat No. 5 Georgia 27-3 in the Sugar Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 11 Notre Dame (31-10), No. 16 Penn State (24-7), and No. 5 Georgia (27-3)

Consensus All-Americans: Two (Tony Dorsett, Al Romano)

Powered by Heisman Trophy-winning running back Tony Dorsett, Pitt beat all of its opponents by at least eight points. At the end of bowl season, the Panthers were the only undefeated major program and the clear-cut national champion.

 

34. 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes

Record: 14-1

Finished: Beat No. 2 Oregon 42-20 in the College Football Playoff Championship

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 7 Michigan State 49-37, No. 11 Wisconsin (59-0), No. 1 Alabama (42-35), and No. 2 Oregon (42-20)

Consensus All-Americans: One (Joey Bosa)

The Buckeyes lost starting quarterback Braxton Miller during fall camp and J.T. Barrett took over. They lost to Virginia Tech, but won out and entered the game against Michigan ranked sixth. Then Barrett went down with an injury in the victory over the Wolverines. Cardale Jones took over as starting quarterback and led Ohio State to a blowout win against Wisconsin in the conference championship game. The victory swayed the selection committee to give the Buckeyes the No. 4 spot in the first College Football Playoff and they shocked the sports world by winning it.

 

33. 1973 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Record: 11-0

Finished: Beat No. 1 Alabama 24-23 in the Sugar Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1 (AP Poll), No. 4 (Coaches Poll)

Notable Wins: No. 6 USC (23-14), No. 20 Pittsburgh (31-10), and No. 1 Alabama (24-23)

Consensus All-Americans: Two (Dave Casper, Mike Townsend)

Ara Parseghian’s second national title came via a rushing attack that averaged 350 yards a game and a defense that held its opposition to eight points per contest. Then in the Sugar Bowl, Notre Dame beat Alabama in one of the greatest games in college football history. As noted earlier, the Coaches Poll named its national champion before bowl season and had already awarded it to the Tide, but the Irish won the AP national title.

 

32. 1981 Clemson Tigers

Record: 12-0

Finished: Beat No. 4 Nebraska 22-15 in the Orange Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 4 Georgia (13-3), No. 9 North Carolina (10-8), and No. 4 Nebraska (22-15)

Consensus All-Americans: Two (Jeff Davis, Terry Kinard)

The Tigers entered 1981 unranked. Then in the third game of the season, they recovered nine turnovers in a 13-3 upset of defending national champion Georgia and were vaulted into the national title picture. Clemson proceeded to dominate the rest of the season, allowing an NCAA-best 8.8 points per game and only giving up more than 15 points only once. The Tigers went undefeated along the way and won the school’s first national title.

 

31. 1975 Oklahoma Sooners

Record: 11-1

Finished: Beat No. 5 Michigan 14-6 in the Orange Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 15 Pittsburgh (46-10), No. 2 Colorado (21-20), No. 5 Texas (24-17), No. 19 Oklahoma State (27-7), No. 18 Missouri (28-27), No. 2 Nebraska (35-10), and No. 5 Michigan (14-6)

Consensus All-Americans: Three (Jimbo Elrod, Dewey Selmon, Lee Roy Selmon)

The Sooners entered 1975 as defending national champs, but their chances of a repeat looked slim after an upset to Kansas. Then Oklahoma reeled off wins against No. 18 Missouri and No. 2 Nebraska. After No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Texas A&M lost their bowl games, the Sooners moved into the top spot to win back-to-back national titles.

 

30. 1986 Penn State Nittany Lions

Record: 12-0

Finished: Beat No. 1 Miami 14-10 in the Fiesta Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 2 Alabama (23-3), Notre Dame (24-19), and No. 1 Miami (14-10)

Consensus All-Americans: Two (Shane Conlan, D.J. Dozier)

The Nittany Lions only beat one ranked opponent during their perfect regular season so few sportswriters any chance against Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. But Penn State stunned all the skeptics by forcing seven turnovers in a 14-10 victory over the Hurricanes to earn Joe Paterno’s second national championship.

 

29. 1996 Florida Gators

Record: 12-1

Finished:Beat No. 1 Florida State 52-20 in the Sugar Bowl

Final Ranking:No. 1

Notable Wins:No. 2 Tennessee (35-29), No. 12 LSU (56-13), No. 16 Auburn (51-10), Georgia (47-7), No. 11 Alabama (45-30), and No. 1 Florida State (52-20)

Consensus All-Americans:Three (Reidel Anthony, Ike Hilliard, Danny Wuerffel)

After being blown out by Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl the year before, Florida head coach Steve Spurrier lured defensive guru Bob Stoops from Kansas State. The result was a Fun ‘n’ Gun offense led by Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Danny Wuerffel and a defense that shut down the opposition. The Gators tore through the SEC, but lost to Florida State 24-21 in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup to close the regular season. However, they got another shot at the Seminoles and the national title in the Sugar Bowl. They made the most of it, winning 52-20 to earn the first national championship in the program’s history.

 

28. 2016 Clemson Tigers

Record: 14-1

Finished: Beat No. 1 Alabama 35-31 in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins:Auburn (19-13), No. 3 Louisville (42-36), No. 12 Florida State (37-34), No. 19 Virginia Tech (42-35), No. 3 Ohio State (31-0), and No. 1 Alabama (35-31)

Consensus All-Americans: 0

The Tigers played 15 teams, 13 of which went to bowl games. They did have one blemish, a 43-42 loss to an 8-5 Pitt team, but arguably no other team on this list had to run such a gauntlet. Clemson capped off this amazing season by beating undefeated Alabama and its top-ranked defense in dramatic fashion.

 

Related: 10 Greatest Clemson Football Teams of All Time

 

27. 1993 Florida State Seminoles

Record: 12-1

Finished: Beat No. 2 Nebraska 18-16 in the Orange Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 17 Clemson (57-0), No. 13 North Carolina (33-7), No. 3 Miami (28-10), No. 15 Virginia (40-14), No. 7 Florida, and No. 2 Nebraska (18-16)

Consensus All-Americans: Three (Derrick Brooks, Corey Sawyer, Charlie Ward)

Led by Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward, the Seminoles beat their first nine opponents by at least two touchdowns. They were upset by No. 2 Notre Dame in South Bend, but got the top ranking back after the Irish lost to Boston College the next week. They then won their final three games, including a war of attrition with Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, and secured Bobby Bowden’s first national title.

 

26. 2008 Florida Gators

Record: 13-1

Finished: Beat No. 2 Oklahoma 24-14 in the BCS National Championship Game

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 4 LSU (51-21), No. 8 Georgia (49-10), No. 24 South Carolina (56-6), No. 23 Florida State (45-15), No. 1 Alabama (31-20), and No. 2 Oklahoma (24-14)

Consensus All-Americans: Three (Percy Harvin, Brandon James, Brandon Spikes)

In their fourth game, the Gators were upset 31-30 by an Ole Miss team that would finish 9-4. After the game, junior quarterback Tim Tebow said, “I'm sorry. I'm extremely sorry. We were hoping for an undefeated season. That was my goal, something Florida's never done here. But I promise you one thing: a lot of good will come out of this. You have never seen any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of this season and you'll never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of this season, and you'll never see a team play harder than we will the rest of this season. God Bless.” He wasn’t kidding.

 

25. 2015 Alabama Crimson Tide

Record: 14-1

Finished: Beat No. 1 Clemson 45-40 in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 20 Wisconsin (35-17), No. 8 Georgia (38-10), No. 9 Texas A&M (41-23), No. 2 LSU (30-16), No. 17 Mississippi State (31-6), No. 18 Florida (29-15), No. 3 Michigan State (38-0), and No. 1 Clemson (45-40)

Consensus All-Americans: Four (Derrick Henry, Ryan Kelly, Reggie Ragland, A’Shawn Robinson)

The Crimson Tide lost early in the season to Ole Miss, but would not lose again thanks to its top-ranked defense and an offense powered by Heisman Trophy-winning running back Derrick Henry. In the national championship game, Alabama found itself in a shootout with undefeated Clemson, but proved to have more firepower. The win gave Nick Saban his fourth national title in Tuscaloosa

 

24. 1997 Nebraska Cornhuskers

Record: 13-0

Finished: Beat No. 3 Tennessee 42-17 in the Orange Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1 (Coaches Poll), No. 2 (AP Poll)

Notable Wins: No. 2 Washington (27-14), No. 17 Kansas State (56-26), Missouri (45-38), No. 14 Texas A&M (54-15), and No. 3 Tennessee (42-17)

Consensus All-Americans: Three (Jason Peter, Aaron Taylor, Grant Wistrom)

The last primarily rushing team to win a national title averaged 393 yards on the ground per game and blew out all of its Big 12 opponents, except two: 1) a 27-24 win over Colorado, and 2) a 45-38 win over Missouri in the infamous “Flea Kicker” game. At the end of the season, Nebraska and Michigan were the only two undefeated Power 5 teams and AP voters awarded the national title to Michigan, while the Coaches Poll gave retiring Nebraska coach Tom Osborne his third national championship.

 

23. 1991 Miami Hurricanes

Record: 12-0

Finished: Beat No. 11 Nebraska 22-0 in the Orange Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1 (AP Poll), No. 2 (Coaches Poll)

Notable Wins: No. 10 Houston (40-10), No. 9 Penn State (26-20), No. 1 Florida State (17-16), and No. 11 Nebraska (22-0)

Consensus All-Americans: Two (Carlos Huerta, Darryl Williams)

Loaded with a roster that included eventual People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” (Dwayne Johnson), the 1991 Miami squad beat all but three of its opponents by 20 points or more. Were the Hurricanes the best team in the country? That’s still the subject of debate, as Washington also went undefeated in similarly dominant fashion. So the AP Poll named Miami national champion and the Coaches Poll gave Washington the top spot.

 

22. 1997 Michigan Wolverines

Record: 12-0

Finished: Beat No. 8 Washington State 21-16 in the Rose Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1 (AP Poll), No. 2 (Coaches poll)

Notable Wins: No. 8 Colorado (27-3), No. 15 Iowa (28-24), No. 15 Michigan State (23-7), No. 2 Penn State (34-8), No. 23 Wisconsin (26-16), No. 4 Ohio State (20-14), and No. 8 Washington State (21-16)

Consensus All-Americans: One (Charles Woodson)

Michigan fielded one of the most dominant defenses in Big Ten history. Led by defensive back Charles Woodson, who would go on to become the only primarily defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy, the Wolverines allowed no fourth-quarter points or second-half touchdowns in the first eight games of the season. They ended up sharing the title with Nebraska, but their resume was more impressive than the Huskers’.

 

21. 1991 Washington Huskies

Record: 12-0

Finished: Beat No. 4 Michigan 34-14 in the Rose Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1 (Coaches Poll), No. 2 (AP Poll)

Notable Wins: No. 9 Nebraska (36-21), No. 7 California (24-17), Washington State (56-21), and No. 4 Michigan (34-14)

Consensus All-Americans: Two (Mario Bailey, Steve Emtman)

The finest team in Washington history beat all of its opponents except one (California) by at least 11 points en route to a perfect season. Miami also finished undefeated so the Huskies won the Coaches Poll, while the Canes won the AP Poll. Personally, I think Washington would have beaten Miami.

 

20. 1998 Tennessee Volunteers

Record: 13-0

Finished: Beat No. 2 Florida State 23-16 in the Fiesta Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 17 Syracuse (34-33), No. 2 Florida (20-17), No. 7 Georgia (22-3), No. 10 Arkansas (28-24), No. 23 Mississippi State (24-14), and No. 2 Florida State (23-16)

Consensus All-Americans: One (Al Wilson)

The Volunteers entered 1998 without four-year starter Peyton Manning, who had left for the NFL. But Tee Martin took over the starting duties and led a balanced offense that complemented a defense that would bend but never break. Tennessee went on to beat eight teams that went to bowls on its way to a perfect season and sixth national title.

 

19. 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes

Record: 14-0

Finished: Beat No. 1 Miami 31-24 in the Fiesta Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: Texas Tech (45-21), No. 10 Washington State (25-7), No. 17 Penn State (13-7), No. 23 Minnesota (34-3), No. 12 Michigan (14-9), and No. 1 Miami (31-24)

Consensus All-Americans: Three (Mike Doss, Mike Nugent, Mike Wilhelm)

The first team to ever go 14-0 did so in typical Big Ten fashion, with a stout defense and whole-grain offense powered by freshman running back Maurice Clarett. Few gave the Buckeyes a chance against defending national champion Miami in the Fiesta Bowl, but they snapped the Hurricanes' 34-game winning streak with a 31-24 win. Yes, Ohio State did benefit from a really bad pass interference call in overtime, but the fact that it was even in OT is a testament to how great the Buckeyes were.

 

18. 2010 Auburn Tigers

Record: 14-0

Finished: Beat No. 2 Oregon 22-19 in the BCS National Championship Game

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: Mississippi State (17-14), Clemson (27-24), No. 12 South Carolina (35-27), No. 12 Arkansas (65-43), No. 6 LSU (24-17), No. 11 Alabama (28-27), No. 18 South Carolina (56-17), and No. 2 Oregon (22-19)

Consensus All-Americans: Three (Nick Fairley, Cam Newton, Lee Ziemba)

Few players have ever exploded on to the college football scene the way Cam Newton did. After transferring to Auburn as a Juco from Blinn (Texas) College and taking over as the starter for 2010, he was named SEC Offensive Player of the Week after his first game. It only got more exciting from there as offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn refined his scheme to make the most of Newton’s unique combination of size, speed and accuracy. And for that one season, fans tuned in to SEC games... for offense. Along the way, Newton won the Heisman Trophy and Auburn earned its first national title in 53 years.

 

17. 2000 Oklahoma Sooners

Record: 13-0

Finished: Beat No. 3 Florida State 13-2 in the Orange Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 11 Texas (63-14), No. 2 Kansas State (41-31), No. 1 Nebraska (31-14), No. 23 Texas A&M (35-31), No. 8 Kansas State (27-24), and No. 3 Florida State

Consensus All-Americans: Two (Rocky Calmus, Josh Heupel)

After toiling in futility in the 1990s, head coach Bob Stoops returned Oklahoma to national prominence in just his second season. The Sooners beat six ranked opponents over nine games. The last win was a nasty 13-2 Orange Bowl victory over Florida State to claim Oklahoma’s seventh national title.

 

16. 1992 Alabama Crimson Tide

Record: 13-0

Finished: Beat Miami No. 1 34-13 in the Sugar Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 13 Tennessee (17-10), No. 16 Mississippi State (30-21), No. 12 Florida (28-21), and No. 1 Miami (34-13)

Consensus All-Americans: Two (John Copeland, Eric Curry)

Sporting one of the best defenses in college football history, the 1992 Alabama team seemed to beat all of its opponents in workman-like fashion. Then in the Sugar Bowl, the Crimson Tide embarrassed defending national champion and eight-point favorite Miami in what Sports Illustrated called “one of the more spectacular comeuppances in the history of sport.”

 

15. 1974 Oklahoma Sooners

Record: 11-0

Finished: Beat Oklahoma State 44-13 to close the regular season

Final Ranking: No. 1 (AP Poll), Coaches (N/A)

Notable Wins: No. 17 Texas (16-13) and No. 6 Nebraska (28-14)

Consensus All-Americans: Three (John Roush, Rod Shoate, Joe Washington)

The 1974 Oklahoma Sooners are the best team of the era when NCAA probation barred teams from appearing on television, regardless of how good they were. Only fans and reporters in the stadium were able to see Oklahoma average 43 points a game and beat all but one of its opponents by at least 14 points. At the end of the season, the Sooners were the only undefeated team in the country and the AP voters had no choice but to award them the national title.

 

Related: 10 Greatest Oklahoma Football Teams of All Time

 

14. 1987 Miami Hurricanes

Record: 12-0

Finished: Beat No. 1 Oklahoma 20-14 in the Orange Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 20 Florida (31-4), No. 10 Arkansas (51-7), No. 4 Florida State (26-25), No. 10 Notre Dame (24-0), No. 8 South Carolina (20-16), and No. Oklahoma (20-14)

Consensus All-Americans: Two (Bennie Blades, Daniel Stubbs)

The irony is that this season was expected to be somewhat of a rebuilding year for the Hurricanes. Instead, Miami only allowed 125 points and beat six ranked opponents on its way to a perfect season. In the Orange Bowl, the Canes held No. 1 Oklahoma’s vaunted wishbone attack to less than 200 rushing yards to win 20-14, giving head coach Jimmy Johnson his first and only national title.

 

13. 1994 Nebraska Cornhuskers

Record: 13-0

Finished: Beat No. 3 Miami 24-17 in the Orange Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 24 West Virginia (31-0), No. 13 UCLA (49-21), No. 16 Kansas (17-6), No. 2 Colorado (24-7), and No. 3 Miami (24-17)

Consensus All-Americans: Three (Brendan Stai, Ed Stewart, Zach Wiegert)

When quarterback Tommie Frazier was lost for much of the season, backup Brook Berringer took over and the team did not miss a beat. With an offensive line that included two Consensus All-Americans, Nebraska averaged 340 rushing yards a game and blew through the Big 8. Frazier returned for the Orange Bowl and led a fourth-quarter comeback to clinch Tom Osborne’s first national championship.

 

12. 1979 Alabama Crimson Tide

Record: 12-0

Finished: Beat No. 6 Arkansas 24-9 in the Sugar Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 18 Tennessee (27-17), No. 14 Auburn (25-18), and No. 6 Arkansas (24-9)

Consensus All-Americans: One (Jim Bunch)

The 1979 squad picked up right where the '78 team left off, going undefeated and winning all but four of its games by 20 points or more. They also shut out five of their 12 opponents and only trailed twice during the season. The repeat national championship was the sixth and last of Bear Bryant’s career.

 

11. 1999 Florida State Seminoles

Record: 12-0
Finished: Beat No. 2 Virginia Tech 46-29 in the Sugar Bowl

Final Ranking: No.1

Notable Wins: No. 10 Georgia Tech (41-35), No. 20 North Carolina State (42-11), No. 19 Miami (31-21), No. 4 Florida (30-23), and No. 2 Virginia Tech (46-29)

Consensus All-Americans: Three (Sebastian Janikowski, Corey Simon, Peter Warrick)

Bobby Bowden’s best team was the first in history to go “wire-to-wire” in the modern era, meaning it started the preseason at No. 1 and held the ranking throughout the entire season. The Seminoles knocked off five ranked opponents, including an undefeated Virginia Tech team led by Michael Vick, to win Bowden’s second national championship.

 

10. 2004 USC Trojans

Record: 13-0

Finished: Beat No. 2 Oklahoma 55-19 in the Orange Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: Virginia Tech (24-13), No. 7 California (23-17), No. 15 Arizona State (45-7), and No. 2 Oklahoma (55-19)

Consensus All-Americans: Four (Reggie Bush, Shaun Cody, Matt Groodegoed, Matt Leinart)

After going 12-1 the season before and splitting the national title with LSU, USC entered the 2004 season with the motto of “Leave No Doubt.” The Trojans did their part, going undefeated and blowing out Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, but still left doubt. It wasn’t their fault, though. Auburn also went undefeated and the cracks in the BCS system became more apparent and the argument for a College Football Playoff became stronger. There is no question that this is one of the greatest teams ever fielded, but that matchup with Auburn would have been one for the ages.

 

9. 1988 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Record: 12-0

Finished: Beat No. 3 West Virginia 34-21 in the Fiesta Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 9 Michigan (19-17), No. 1 Miami (31-30), No. 2 USC (27-10), and No. 3 West Virginia (34-21)

Consensus All-Americans: Two (Frank Stams, Michael Stonebreaker)

With a roster that included 30 players who would go on to the NFL, the Irish beat the teams that would finish No. 2 (Miami), No. 4 (Michigan), No. 5 (West Virginia), and No. 7 (USC) en route to the national championship. The wins against the Hurricanes and the Wolverines were by razor thin margins, but the other 10 victories were by double digits.

 

Related: 10 Greatest Notre Dame Football Teams of All Time

 

8. 2005 Texas Longhorns

Record: 13-0

Finished: Beat No. 1 USC 41-38 in the Rose Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 4 Ohio State (25-22), Oklahoma (45-12), No. 24 Colorado (42-17), No. 7 Texas Tech (52-17), Texas A&M (40-29), Colorado (70-3), and No. 1 USC (41-38)

Consensus All-Americans: Three (Michael Huff, Jonathan Scott, Vince Young)

Vince Young became the first quarterback in FBS history to pass for more than 2,500 yards and rush for more than 1,000 as Texas averaged 50 points a game. The Longhorns' 70-3 win over Colorado in the Big 12 Championship Game is the largest margin of victory in a conference title game. And of course, they ended USC’s 34-game winning streak in one of the greatest college football games ever played. Only a handful of teams on this list have better pedigrees.

 

7. 1972 USC Trojans

Record: 12-0

Finished: Beat No. 3 Ohio State 42-17 in the Rose Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 4 Arkansas (31-10), No. 15 Stanford (30-21), No. 18 Washington (34-7), No. 14 UCLA (24-7), No. 10 Notre Dame (45-23), and No. 3 Ohio State (42-17)

Consensus All-Americans: One (Charles Young)

USC suffered mediocre seasons in 1970 and '71 while head coach John McKay retooled and rebuilt his program with new approaches to conditioning and game preparation. Everything came together in 1972 when the Trojans beat all but one of its opponents by 17 points or more and never trailed anyone again after falling behind 10-7 against Stanford on Oct. 7.

 

6. 2009 Alabama Crimson Tide

Record: 14-0

Finished: Beat No. 2 Texas 37-21 in the BCS National Championship Game

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 7 Virginia Tech (34-24), No. 20 Ole Miss (22-3), No. 22 South Carolina (20-6), No. 9 LSU (24-15), No. 1 Florida (32-13), and No. 2 Texas (37-21)

Consensus All-Americans: Five (Javier Arenas, Terrence Cody, Mark Ingram, Mark Johnson, Rolando McClain)

The Crimson Tide recorded their second straight undefeated regular season with arguably the toughest schedule in the country and beat top-ranked and defending national champion Florida in the SEC title game. Then they beat Texas in the Rose Bowl to give Nick Saban his first national championship in Tuscaloosa. Oh, and Mark Ingram became Alabama’s first Heisman Trophy winner too.

 

Related: 10 Greatest Alabama Football Teams of All Time

 

5. 2018 Clemson Tigers

Record: 15-0

Finished: Beat No. 1 Alabama 44-16 in the College Football Playoff National Championship

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: Texas A&M (28-26), Syracuse (27-23), No. 16 NC State (41-7), No. 17 Boston College (27-7), South Carolina (56-35) Pittsburgh (42-10), No. 3 Notre Dame (30-3), No. 1 Alabama (44-16)

Consensus All-Americans: Three (Clelin Ferrell, Mitch Hyatt, Christian Wilkins)

Clemson is the first major college football program to go 15-0 since the 1800s, and 12 of those wins came against teams that went to bowls. The Tigers' run in the postseason also was the most dominant in the history of the young College Football Playoff.

 

4. 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers

Record:12-0

Finished: Beat No. 2 Florida 62-24 in the Fiesta Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 8 Kansas State (49-25), No. 7 Colorado (44-21), No. 10 Kansas (41-3), and No. 2 Florida (62-24)

Consensus All-Americans: One (Tommie Frazier)

After winning the national championship the year before in dramatic fashion, the Huskers sapped the drama out of their encore. Their closest margin of victory was 14 points against Washington State and their beatdown of Florida is the most dominant performance in national championship game history.

 

3. 2013 Florida State Seminoles

Record: 14-0

Finished: Beat No. 2 Auburn 34-31 in BCS National Championship Game

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 25 Maryland (63-0), No. 3 Clemson (51-14), No. 7 Miami (41-14), No. 20 Duke (45-7), and No. 2 Auburn (34-31)

Consensus All-Americans: Three (Lamarcus Joyner, Byron Stork, Jameis Winston)

Quarterback Jameis Winston became the second freshman to win the Heisman Trophy as he led an offense that outscored its opponents 723-170 to become the highest-scoring team in college football history. The Seminoles beat all but two of its opponents by 27 points or more. Those two exceptions were a 48-34 win over Boston College in Chestnut Hill and the 34-31 win over Auburn in the title game, which ended a run of seven straight national championships for the SEC.

 

2. 1971 Nebraska Cornhuskers

Record: 13-0

Finished: Beat No. 2 Alabama 38-6 in the Orange Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 9 Colorado (31-7), No. 2 Oklahoma (35-31), and No. 2 Alabama (38-6)

Consensus All-Americans: Two (Larry Jacobsen, Johnny Rodgers)

The defending national champion Huskers had one close contest: the epic 35-31 win over Oklahoma in college football’s one true “Game of the Century.” They beat the rest of their opponents by 24 points or more. When the dust settled, Nebraska had beaten the No. 2 (Oklahoma), No. 3 (Colorado), and No. 4 (Alabama) teams in the final rankings.

 

1. 2001 Miami Hurricanes

Record: 12-0

Finished: Beat No. 4 Nebraska 37-14 in Rose Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

Notable Wins: No. 13 Florida State (49-27), No. 15 Syracuse (59-0), No. 11 Washington (65-7), No. 14 Virginia Tech (26-24), and No. 4 Nebraska (37-14)

Consensus All-Americans: Two (Bryant McKinnie, Ed Reed)

The Hurricanes garnered the No. 1 ranking after the first game and went on to beat all of their opponents by an average of 32.9 points. They also had the third-best offense and top-ranked defense that season. With 38 NFL draft picks (17 in the first round), the 2001 Miami squad is widely regarded by college football fans and writers as the greatest of all time.

 

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.

 

(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)

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