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5 Worst Defending National Champions in College Football History

LSU will have to lose quite a few more games to make this list

LSU's 44-34 loss to Mississippi State on Sept. 26 was surprising mainly for the fact the Tigers won the national championship just eight months ago. They became the first defending national champion to lose their opener since the 1998 Michigan Wolverines and saw their 16-game winning streak end.

 

Only time will tell if the loss was a product of a rusty LSU team facing Mississippi State's new Air Raid offense under head coach Mike Leach or a sign of things to come. Regardless, the Tigers will have to drop quite a few more games to make this list, the worst defending national champions of the modern college football era.

 

5. 1959 Iowa Hawkeyes

Record: 5-4

Finished: Lost to Notre Dame 20-19 in final regular-season game

Final Ranking: Unranked

The Hawkeyes finished in the top five three seasons in a row and started the season ranked 13th, but the ball did not seem to bounce their way as in years past. Iowa lost to four teams that either finished in the top 20 or with winning records by a combined total of 21 points. The program returned to form the next season with a top-five finish and Big Ten title.

 

4. 1983 Penn State Nittany Lions

Record: 8-4-1

Finished: Beat Washington 13-10 in the Aloha Bowl

Final Ranking: 17 (Coaches Poll)

Penn State started the season with a 44-6 shellacking by top-ranked Nebraska en route to losing its first three games. However, the Nittany Lions rebounded with an 8-1-1 run that included an upset of fourth-ranked West Virginia, a tie with 17th-ranked Pitt, and a bowl win.

 

3. 2011 Auburn Tigers

Record: 8-5

Finished: Beat Virginia 43-24 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl

Final Ranking: Unranked

After losing Cam Newton to the NFL and playing in arguably the toughest SEC West ever, Auburn was expected to experience a drop-off from its national championship season and certainly did. The Tigers suffered blowout losses to Alabama, LSU, and Arkansas, all of whom finished in the top five, and also handed one-sided defeats to Georgia and Clemson. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn took the head coaching job at Arkansas State at the end of the season and in 2012, Auburn went 3-9, head coach Gene Chizik was fired two years after winning a national championship, and Malzahn returned to coach the program.

 

2. 1991 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Record: 8-5

Finished: Beat Stanford 18-17 in the Aloha Bowl

Final Ranking: Unranked

The 1990 Yellow Jackets went 11-0-1 and shared the national title with Colorado. The 1991 squad began the season ranked eighth, but were out of the Top 25 by Oct. 7, thanks to a 2-3 start. Head coach Bobby Ross left for the NFL after the season and Georgia Tech won only 11 games over the next three seasons.

 

1. 1967 Michigan State Spartans

Record: 3-7

Finished: Beat Northwestern 41-27 in final regular-season game.

Final Ranking: Unranked

The two-time defending national champion entered the season ranked third but were upset at home by Houston in a 37-7 beatdown. The season devolved from there, and the Spartans were only able to manage three wins against teams with losing records. No other defending national champion has experienced this type of drop off.

 

— 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 @LSUfootball)

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