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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.