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Ranking Every College Football National Champion Over the Last 50 Years

2001 Miami Hurricanes Football

The 2001 Miami Hurricanes are widely considered the best college football team in the history of the sport

Every college football team that won a national championship was great, but I have attempted to rank every title-winning squad over the past 50 years (going back to 1968) 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 it's 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. And don't forget that before the College Football Playoff, there were other polls and systems that determined the national champion, and on more than one occasion those methodologies resulted in a split. (It's eight different years for this exercise.) Now without further ado, let’s begin.

62. 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 (No. 42).

61. 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 ever played and the Irish (No. 36) took home the AP title.

60. 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 (No. 17) was on NCAA probation and barred from the Coaches Poll, who awarded the national title to USC.

59. 2007 LSU Tigers

Record: 12-2
Finished: Beat No. 1 Ohio State 38-24 in the BCS National Championship Game
Final Ranking: No. 1
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)
Consensus All-Americans: Two (Glenn Dorsey, Craig Steltz)

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.

58. 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.

57. 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.

56. 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 (No. 50).

55. 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.

54. 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.

53. 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.

52. 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.

51. 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.

50. 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 (No. 56) — who had a tougher schedule — the national title. But the Coaches Poll gave Georgia Tech its first national championship since 1952.

49. 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.

48. 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.

47. 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 (No. 45) beat Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl to win the Coaches Poll for the only split championship of the BCS era.

46. 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 (No. 41).

45. 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 (No. 47) 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.

44. 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.

43. 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 to 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.

42. 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 (No. 62) national champion. When both Texas and No. 2 Ohio State lost their bowl games, the AP voters awarded the national championship to Nebraska.

41. 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 (No. 46), who they beat earlier in the season.

40. 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.

39. 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.

38. 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.

37. 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.

36. 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 (No. 61), but the Irish won the AP national title.

35. 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.