The 2018 college football season is in the books and the final chapter was written out in the Bay Area as Clemson became the first major college football program in the modern era to go 15-0. While their emphatic victory over Alabama lacked the drama of previous editions, it was still an incredible game in many respects that will be remembered long after the calendar turns the page. Where will it be remembered in the annals of college football lore though?
Looking back through the archives, here’s a ranking of all 21 championship games since the BCS was formed in 1998 and where each stacks up against each other.
— Compiled by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.
21. 2012 BCS National Championship Game — Alabama 21, LSU 0
This All-SEC West affair in the national title game had at least one big thing going: it provided the impetus to form the College Football Playoff. While the storyline was fun to note with Nick Saban playing his old team down in New Orleans, that didn’t matter once kickoff rolled around and LSU fumbled on the opening play — setting the tone early in this one. There was just a single touchdown late in the fourth quarter of the defensive-dominated shutout and a whole lot of snoozing in between.
20. 2013 BCS National Championship Game — Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14
On paper, this had a bit of everything as two of the sport’s most successful programs ever met to determine the national title. On the field, nothing of the sort transpired. Alabama led by four scores at halftime and the Irish failed to score until the third quarter to turn this highly anticipated game into a laugher. After this one, Lennay Kekua wasn’t the only thing for the Irish to be embarrassed about.
19 2002 Rose Bowl — Miami 37, Nebraska 14
This BCS title game was over, it seemed like, from the moment the Hurricanes stepped off the bus in one of the most lopsided matchups in recent memory. The Huskers backed into the game by percentage points despite not playing in the Big 12 title game and felt overwhelmed at every turn despite having a Heisman winner at QB in Eric Crouch. There was plenty of NFL talent in this one, it was all mostly on one team though.
18. 2007 BCS National Championship Game — Florida 41, Ohio State 14
Ohio State had everything going for it coming into this one, from the undefeated record to having the Heisman winner under center. When Ted Ginn Jr. returned the opening kickoff 93 yards to the house for a touchdown, it seemed like this would be quite the coronation for the Buckeyes. The opposite turned out to be true however as Florida dominated after that in a game that was over by halftime and downright boring in the second half. Most people were not thrilled at the first title game broadcast by FOX either.
17. 2005 Orange Bowl — USC 55, Oklahoma 19
The thing most folks remember about this one might be the halftime show — a sign of just how bad Ashlee Simpson was singing in South Florida and how the Trojans erased all doubt about the winner in the second quarter. This game featured three eventual Heisman winners (and four finalists from 2004) but was mostly regarded as the high point in the Pete Carroll dynasty at USC. The win was later vacated by the NCAA but that’s no consolation prize for the Sooners who still watched and have the loss on their record.
16. 2008 BCS National Championship Game — LSU 38, Ohio State 24
The 2007 season will be fondly remembered by most college football fans as the wildest in decades and among the most controversial when it came to the title game selections of the Tigers and Buckeyes. Sadly the championship game didn’t quite live up to all the twists and turns that preceded it with a rather lackluster game that was pretty much decided in the second quarter. At least Les Miles held up the crystal football and LSU became the first team in nearly 50 years to win the national title with two losses.
15. 2004 Sugar Bowl — LSU 21, Oklahoma 14
The Tigers once again captured a championship down at the Superdome in New Orleans as two of the best defensive minds in the game squared off in Nick Saban and Bob Stoops. While the game was predictably slow to unfold as a result, the intrigue in this one was off the charts with Oklahoma backing into the game despite losing to Kansas State in the Big 12 title game and USC, ranked No. 1 in the polls, already claiming a national title. LSU slowly ground out a win though and hoisted the BCS title, which was the first of many for Saban.
14. 2001 Orange Bowl — Oklahoma 13, Florida State 2
At least the game was close and filled with terrific college players even if it wasn’t the most crisply played in terms of offense. Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke couldn’t get anything going against Bob Stoops’ fearsome Sooners defense as the Seminoles failed to win back-to-back titles and glory was restored at Oklahoma.
13. 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship Game — Ohio State 42, Oregon 20
The first-ever College Football Playoff did not quite have the result that many were expecting with two of the three games resulting in blowouts. While the title game was closer than the final score indicated, it was nevertheless a rough way to go out for Heisman winner Marcus Mariota after getting harassed by a Buckeyes defense loaded with NFL talent. Ezekiel Elliott played the first of many games at AT&T Stadium and had one of his best outings ever in leading OSU to yet another title.
12. 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship – Clemson 44, Alabama 16
The fourth rodeo between these two programs in the playoff era doubled as the first-ever meeting between two 14-0 teams in the title game. While it had all the makings of a classic and was filled with some incredible highlights, the contest was over by halftime and never seemed in doubt as Clemson controlled things from the start. We’ll look back and marvel at the ridiculous amount of talent on the field overall but only Tigers fans will remember this game super fondly.
11. 2010 BCS National Championship Game — Alabama 37, Texas 21
Two historic programs, two future Hall of Fame head coaches and two teams who were looking to cap off a perfect season at the Rose Bowl. While this had all the makings of a classic, those hopes were probably ended as soon as Marcell Dareus tackled Longhorns QB Colt McCoy on the first drive of the game, injuring the starter’s shoulder. While freshman backup Garrett Gilbert had an admirable outing given the circumstances, the Tide were just too much on both sides of the ball as Nick Saban captured his second BCS title.
10. 2009 BCS National Championship Game — Florida 24, Oklahoma 14
The Gators’ second national title in three years cemented the status of Tim Tebow as a college football legend and capped off a pretty epic run with Urban Meyer in Gainesville. This game was tied or close most of the way but was notable for the fact that two high-scoring offenses (in the case of the Sooners, the most prolific ever) were held in check by a pair of defenses that had plenty of talent of their own.
9. 1999 Fiesta Bowl — Tennessee 23, Florida State 16
Peyton who? Tee Martin led the Volunteers to their first title in decades out in the desert in what was the first-ever BCS championship game between No. 1 and No. 2. Scoring in this one was limited to just two quarters in the game but it was still a thrilling affair for the most part, including a bomb to Peerless Price to put the cherry on top of a win for UT, who held off a late FSU comeback.
8. 2000 Sugar Bowl — Florida State 46, Virginia Tech 29
Florida State made the final margin a bit more lopsided thanks to an 18-point outburst in the final quarter but this was a pretty fun one to watch as Michael Vick faced off against the Seminoles’ fast and physical defense. Chris Weinke launched his Heisman campaign in grand fashion as there were big plays galore in this one.
7. 2011 BCS National Championship Game — Auburn 22, Oregon 19
The drama before the game surrounding Cam Newton and the Tigers was a huge storyline in the lead up to this one but the ending will be remembered much more vividly as tailback Michael Dyer improbably avoided being down to scamper down the field and set up the game-winning field goal as time expired. That gave Auburn the national title in a rare SEC-Pac-12 bowl meeting that was for all the Tostitos.
6. 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship — Clemson 35, Alabama 31
This wasn’t all that great of a game early as two excellent defenses forced plenty of punts and big plays were limited all around. Once the fourth quarter rolled around however, things picked up considerably as freshman Jalen Hurts’ 30-yard touchdown run appeared to give the Tide yet another title. That was too much time on the clock for Deshaun Watson however, as he marched the team right down the field before finding Hunter Renfrow in the end zone for the game-winner with a single second left on the clock in easily the best ending on this list.
5. 2014 BCS National Championship Game — Florida State 34, Auburn 31
The Seminoles returned to the college football mountain top in a memorable game at the Rose Bowl to close out the BCS era for good. The Tigers raced out to a 21-3 lead early and led with just 79 seconds to go but couldn’t hold on as Jameis Winston memorably found Kelvin Benjamin in the end zone with just 13 seconds left to allow FSU to hoist the crystal ball one last time.
4. 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship — Alabama 26, Georgia 23 (OT)
This All-SEC affair was controversial to some but might have the best ending of any on this list after the Crimson Tide stormed back from down 20-7 behind the play of true freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. This may not have been Nick Saban’s most talented team but it was the gutsiest as they delivered the school’s 13th title in overtime thanks to some jaw-dropping plays down the stretch.
3. 2003 Fiesta Bowl — Ohio State 31, Miami 24 (2OT)
The Hurricanes entered with a 34-game winning streak and perhaps the greatest collection of future NFL players ever to find a home on a single college roster. The Buckeyes needed plenty of help to stay undefeated along the way but the plucky underdogs just kept battling in this one as they took it to overtime. While it appeared Miami had won it after a pass went off the hands of Chris Gamble, the field judge threw an infamous pass interference penalty that extended the drive. OSU eventually held on in the second overtime frame to cap off one of the most memorable title games ever.
2. 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship — Alabama 45, Clemson 40
The Crimson Tide captured their fourth title in seven years but it wasn’t easy as both teams raced up and down the field in a game where both offenses got the better of two normally stout defensive units. Deshaun Watson was magical for the Tigers in throwing for more than 400 yards but came up just short thanks in part to Nick Saban’s gutsy decision to go with an onside kick as part of a fourth quarter that had a combined 40 points.
1. 2006 Rose Bowl — Texas 41, USC 38
The Granddaddy of the Granddaddy of them All, many consider this to be the best college football game they’ve ever seen — especially given the stakes. Both sides entered undefeated and USC’s budding dynasty was hoping to cap off a run of three straight titles. Early mistakes like Reggie Bush’s bizarre lateral hampered the Trojans’ efforts and gave just enough of an opening for Longhorns’ QB Vince Young to turn into Superman down the stretch, capping things off with a fourth-down scramble with just 19 seconds left to bring the championship trophy back to the 40 Acres.