College Football: Power Ranking the Last 50 National Champions
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When asked by my fearless editors to power rank the last 50 national champions, I knew that this would be an impossible task to accomplish without stepping on a few toes.
Each fanbase holds their team’s national championship close to their hearts and will obviously rank that year higher than others. On the other hand, some people simply just despise certain teams and may subconsciously rank these National Championships lower.
To make sure I kept things purely unbiased and largely statistical, I did my best to formulate a “power” number to each team’s national championship season.
Armed with a cracked out excel sheet formula and every schedule of the past 50 national champions (this includes shared champions, so from the years of 1969-2010), I tallied and weighted every win and loss that these teams encountered during their magical seasons.
This trusty formula* provided each team with a fairly impartial National Championship Power Ranking (NCPR) number. Let’s see where the last 50 national champions rank.
(* Formula was based on the following: A win against a team that only lost one game that season was worth five points, a win against a team that lost two games was worth four points, three loss teams worth two points, four loss teams worth one point, and teams with five or more losses were worth .5 points. Losses and ties were worth negative points. However, if the loss or tie came against a one or no-loss team, the penalty was not as severe.)
No. 50: LSU, 2007
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The two defeats to two five-loss teams really hurt this Tigers’ national championship in the rankings.
LSU is the only two-loss team to win a national championship, and it could be a while before we see another one.
No. 49: USC, 2003
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USC’s only blemish in 2003 was an absolute blindslide by a turbulent Cal team in late September.
Outside of this loss,the Trojans annihilated the horrendous Pac-10 that season, averaging an astronomical 41 points per game and allowing a meager 18.3 points per game.
In the Rose Bowl, USC defeated a three-loss Michigan 28-14. However, thanks to USC’s unchallenging schedule, the win would not be enough for the Trojans to win an outright national title.
No. 48: Nebraska, 1970
Although Nebraska was the only undefeated team in 1970, a tie against USC early in the season forced them to share this national championship with Texas.
After the early season hiccup, the Cornhuskers breezed through their meager Big 8 schedule to get to the Orange Bowl, where they defeated a stubborn LSU defense 17-12.
No. 47: Alabama, 1973
Alabama powered through a spunky SEC in 1973, only losing its final game to the undefeated Notre Dame by one point in the Sugar Bowl.
Even with the loss to the AP National Champion Irish, the Tide still took home the UPI National Championship. How the UPI decided upon giving a national championship crown to a team that, in all practicality, lost a national championship game is beyond me.
No. 46: BYU, 1984
At season’s end in 1984, the Big 8 and the Pac-10 each had three teams ranked in the top 10. And, per usual, the fight for the SEC crown was epic.
However, while these Big Conference teams slowly beat up on each other, BYU slid in through the backdoor with a perfect season.
Thanks to the notoriously easy WAC schedule, the Cougars had 11 wins against teams that ended their season with five or more losses (more than any team on this list), which included BYU’s 24-17 victory against the subpar Michigan Wolverines in the Holiday Bowl.
No. 45: Texas, 1970
Texas took one on the chin in the final game of the season in 1970.
With only Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl standing in their way for an outright national crown, the Longhorns cutthroat offense couldn’t close the deal. The Irish defense held Texas to 11 points and stripped a portion of the 1970 national title away from them.
Although the loss sent the Longhorns tumbling in the AP Polls, Texas was still awarded the UPI National Championship for its valiant effort.
No. 44: USC, 1974
Although USC started off the 1974 season with a hearty loss to Arkansas, they managed to go undefeated the rest of the way.
The Trojan’s final two games were probably their most impressive wins. To end the regular season, USC welcomed rival Notre Dame to town and swiftly handed the Irish their second loss of the year.
A month later at the Rose Bowl, USC narrowly defeated Ohio State 18-17, enough to claim the UPI National Championship.
No. 43: Oklahoma, 1985
Oklahoma’s lone loss in 1985 was against Miami, which was one of only two games that season where the Sooners’s stonewall defense surrendered more than one touchdown.
In the Orange Bowl against Penn State, Oklahoma’s entire team shined bright, convincingly beating the previously undefeated Nittany Lions 25-10.
No. 42: Miami (FL), 1983
As an Independent, Miami’s piecemealed schedule played in its favor in 1983.
Despite a season-opening loss to Florida, Miami rode the wave the rest of the season, slowly gaining traction on the AP’s poll, until on the last day of the season, they were ranked No. 1.
The Hurricanes received an invitation to play undefeated Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, where they stunned the Cornhuskers 31-30, in one of the most memorable bowl game endings in recent history.
No. 41: Georgia Tech, 1990
During the 1990 regular season, the Yellow Jackets constructed impressive wins against a dangerous Clemson team and a rather persistent Virginia squad. They also laid the hammer down against Nebraska in the Citrus Bowl, throttling the undermatched Cornhuskers 45-21.
However, because of a fairly weak ACC schedule and the tie nestled at the end of their record, Georgia Tech snatched only a piece of the nation crown thanks to UPI.
No. 40: Oklahoma, 1974
Although Oklahoma was on probation and barred by the NCAA from postseason play, the AP still ranked the Sooners No. 1 at the end of the season since they were the only undefeated team left standing. The Sooners’ Big 8 schedule was hardly challenging, with all their opponents losing at least three games.
Oklahoma shared the national title with USC, which was awarded the UPI trophy.
No. 39: Georgia, 1980
Of Georgia’s 12 wins in 1980, only four victories came against teams that finished the season with a winning record.
The Bulldogs narrow victory against Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl clinched the lone perfect record of the season.
No. 38: LSU, 2003
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Although LSU dropped a game to Florida in 2003, the Tigers notched extremely impressive wins against three teams that went on to a season with 10-wins or more. LSU handed Georgia two of its three losses that year, opening the path for the Tigers to play in the BCS National Championship Game.
While the Coaches Polls were obligated to vote for the winner of this game the National Championship, the AP picked USC as its champ.
No. 37: Colorado, 1990
Colorado opened the 1990 season tying the SEC-favorite Tennessee Volunteers. Two weeks later, the season seems to get even worse when the Buffaloes lose to an inconsistent Illinios squad.
However, Colorado gained credit amongst their critics because of several impressive wins throughout the season. The Buffaloes beat four teams that went on to win 9 games or more in 1990, including the Longhorns in Austin and Nebraska in Lincoln.
While Georgia Tech’s undefeated season gained the favor of the UPI, the AP saw the rugged path that Colorado traveled and rightfully awarded them a portion of the 1990 National Title.
No. 36: Pittsburgh, 1976
In 1976, Pittsburgh played the Independent role to perfection.
Armed with Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett, the Panthers methodically knocked off every team on their schedule, culminating in a 27-3 win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.
However, nine of Pittsburgh’s 12 wins were against teams that finished the season below .500…hardly a difficult path to the crown.
No. 35: Florida, 2008
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In 2008, Florida chomped its way through most of a shell-shocked SEC. But, in late September, the Gators snagged a tooth against Mississippi State, losing that often-illusive perfect season.
The early loss didn’t kill the spirits of Tim Tebow, though. He marched his offense up-and-down the field the entire season, averaging 43.6 points per game, eventually leading the Gators to a BCS National Championship victory against the equally determined Oklahoma Sooners.
No. 34: Alabama, 1978
The confusion of determining a college football national champion grabbed headlines in 1978.
If Alabama beat the last undefeated team (Penn State) in the Sugar Bowl and their only loss was to USC (a team that also only had one loss), since USC already beat Alabama should the Trojans be the national champs or should the fact that the Tides’ only loss came to a top tier team hold stronger?
The AP Poll saw it one way, the UPI Poll saw it the other.
No. 33: Miami (FL), 1989
In a season that saw the top two teams finish with one loss, Miami edged Notre Dame for the national championship title despite the Irish winning one more game than the Hurricanes.
The clincher was Miami’s final regular season game, where they soundly defeated Notre Dame 27-10.
This was Miami’s third national championship of the decade, solidifying the title as “Team of the 80s.”
No. 32: Alabama, 1979
Alabama’s defense placed a stranglehold on every offense it met in 1979, allowing only 67 points the entire season. With this defense, the Tide most likely would have rolled through any team on any Saturday.
However, most of the teams on the Tide’s 1979 schedule were experiencing down years (three teams finished the season with 10 losses or more).
A convincing win against Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl put together with the only perfect record of the year gave voters enough reasons to acknowledge the Tide’s accomplishments.
No. 31: Michigan, 1997
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The Michigan Wolverines ran the gambit in 1997, steadily winning every game on a rather mundane Big Ten schedule.
In the Rose Bowl against the Pac-10 Champion Washington State Cougars, Michigan’s defense silenced the Cougars breakneck offense, pulling off a perfect season with a 21-5 win.
Nebraska would also go undefeated this year, forcing a shared title.
No. 30: Texas, 1969
During the regular season, Texas played only two teams that ended the year with a winning record.
Even though USC produced an undefeated season in 1969 as well, the Longhorns persuasive defeat of Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl helped Texas receive the most votes for the national title.
No. 29: Notre Dame, 1977
A loss to Mississippi in the second week of the season was not enough to stop the Irish from snatching away the national crown in 1977.
Notre Dame surprised most people when they annihilated No. 1 Texas in the Cotton Bowl 38-10.
With four one-loss teams atop the standings to end the year, the Irish’s domination of the Longhorns vaulted them ahead of the rest.
No. 28: Penn State, 1986
The Independent schedule etched out by Penn State in 1986 was almost laughable.
Besides two decent games against Boston College and Alabama, the rest of the games on the Nittany Lions’ schedule consisted of five-win teams.
However, in a hard-fought battle against the last two unbeaten teams, Penn State snuck by Miami in the Fiesta Bowl 14-10 and claimed the national title.
No. 27: Florida State, 1999
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In 1999, Florida State breezed through the parity-stricken ACC, assembling a perfect record, providing them with the right to play undefeated Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.
To no one’s chagrin, the Seminoles lit up Virginia Tech the same way they did the ACC, taking the national championship on a 46-26 shellacking of the Hokies.
No. 26: Miami (FL), 2001
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A bevy of four-loss and five-loss teams littered Miami’s final schedule in 2001.
However, this offense was no slouch when it came to putting up points. The Hurricanes averaged 42.6 points per game, dominating practically every battle they encountered.
No. 25: Florida, 2006
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Florida’s only blemish in 2006 was a heartbreaker in Auburn against a Tigers squad that ended the season with an 11-2 record. The Gators also beat a two-loss LSU team that season, but outside of these two games, Florida saw various levels of mid-standings talent in the SEC.
After defeating Arkansas in the SEC Championship game, the Gators went on to bulldoze previously unbeaten Ohio State 41-14 in the BCS Championship Game, solidifying a hard-earned national title.
No. 24: Notre Dame, 1973
Thanks to the AP’s decision to take a poll after the bowl games, Notre Dame was able to grab a share of the 1973 National Title with Alabama.
Since the UPI handed its National Championship out before the postseason bowls, the Tide was given a crown before the decisive Sugar Bowl game against Notre Dame ever took place. The Irish proved to be the better team in that game and deserved an outright championship that season
No. 23: Oklahoma, 1975
Oklahoma beat three teams that would go on to lose only two games in 1975.
Both Texas and Nebraska were undefeated when they were upended by the Sooners during the regular season.
Oklahoma saddled Michigan with its second loss of the year with a 14-6 victory over the Wolverines in the Orange Bowl.
No. 22: Clemson, 1981
In 1981, Clemson went undefeated for the first time in 40 years, and they have not been able to repeat the performance since.
The Tigers biggest victories came against Georgia and North Carolina, both teams would eventually only lose two games that year.
Another highlight on the season for Clemson was the 82 points they put up on Wake Forest, one of the highest scoring games in Tigers’ history.
No. 21: USC, 1972
USC strung together an undefeated season in 1972, becoming a unanimous choice by the 50 AP panelists.
Although the Trojans rattle off impressive wins during the season against Washington, UCLA and Notre Dame, they really took the nation by surprise when the laid a 42-17 beat down on Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.
No. 20: Ohio State, 2002
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Ohio State cleaned the table in 2002, playing pretty tough non-conference games and within a fairly competitive Big Ten.
In an unforgettable Fiesta Bowl, the Buckeyes squared off against an undefeated Miami for the rights to the national championship. It took overtime to decide the winner and the game still ended amongst controversy.
No. 19: Alabama, 1992
Alabama knocked down every opponent that stood in their path in 1992.
Although their offense only averaged 28.1 points per game, the Tide’s daunting defense made it practically impossible for opponents to score.
In the Sugar Bowl, this dominating defense silenced Heisman Trophy winner Gino Torretta and Miami’s overly cocky offense, taking the national championship with ease.
No. 18: Nebraska, 1997
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Nebraska was the victim of inadvertent poll shuffling in 1997.
Despite winning every game that season, the Cornhuskers season resume just wasn’t enough to give an outright national title. Michigan’s perfect season was considered more impressive by the press, and they awarded the Wolverines the AP National crown.
However, Nebraska’s containment of Peyton Manning in the Orange Bowl cannot be glossed over. The Cornhuskers shut down one of the best quarterbacks to play college football and put up 42 points to boot.
No. 17: Nebraska, 1994
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The Cornhuskers finished the 1994 season undefeated, but to their chagrin, so did Penn State.
Thanks to the dreadful Bowl Coalition system, these two teams did not face off for the national title. Instead, Penn State played Oregon in the Rose Bowl and Nebraska played the “championship game” in the Orange Bowl.
The AP and UPI polls agreed with the outcome and that Nebraska deserved the national title.
No. 16: USC, 1978
In the first season of the Pac-10 Conference, USC’s only hiccup on the year came against conference newcomer, Arizona State.
The AP and most voting outlets chose Alabama as the national champions in 1978, but the UPI actually got it right this season.
Not only did USC defeated Alabama 24-14 earlier in the year, the Trojans tougher schedule should have also been weighed accordingly.
No. 15: Penn State, 1982
In Joe Paterno’s first national championship season, Penn State was not perfect, but they managed to be the only loss on two teams’ schedules.
Nebraska suffered its loss to Penn State in early October. They managed to win every game thereafter, narrowly beating LSU in the Orange Bowl.
Georgia got the Paterno Punch in the Sugar Bowl. Heisman Trophy winner Hershel Walker was expected to have his day with the Nittany Lions. However, Penn State’s defense proved otherwise.
No. 14: Florida State, 1993
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The matchup between Florida State and Notre Dame in mid-November of 1993 pitted two, undefeated teams, desperately trying to keep their national championship lives on the lines. The Irish stole the game from the Seminoles but stumbled to Boston College a week later, giving Florida State a window of hope.
The Seminoles solidified their right to the national title by handing Florida its second loss to finish off the regular season, and then, knocking off the final undefeated team (Nebraska) in the Orange Bowl.
No. 13: Miami (FL), 1987
In a rare No. 1 versus No. 2 Orange Bowl matchup, Miami and Oklahoma were the last two perfect teams standing and actually got to play each other to decide the national championship. What a concept.
Although a scattered Independent schedule allowed the Hurricanes to see a nice variety of mid-level talent throughout the nation, Miami handed Oklahoma and Florida State their only losses in 1987, which was hardly an easy feat.
No. 12: Texas, 2005
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Texas’ offense in 2005 was so good, it should have been illegal. The Longhorns averaged a ridiculous 50.2 points per game, with Vince Young scoring practically at will.
Although the Longhorns stomped all over a mediocre Big 12 schedule, a persuasive win against Ohio State in early September adds a little more pop to their resume.
In one of the most dramatic Rose Bowl games ever, Young orchestrated an unbelievable game-winning drive, handing USC its first and only loss of the year.
No. 11: Tennessee, 1998
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Tennessee’s 1998 schedule does not boast a bevy of eye-popping teams, but solid wins against a very deep SEC certainly bolster the Volunteer’s amazing season.
In the inaugural BCS National Championship game, Tennessee’s defense managed to slow down Florida State’s speedy offense, winning the game 23-16 and grasping onto sole possession of the national crown.
No. 10: Florida, 1996
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Florida’s unruly offense powered through several tough teams in 1996, and they didn’t let a loss to Florida State slow it down one bit.
In SEC play, the Gators knocked out three ten-win teams (Tennessee, LSU, and Alabama). To make things even better for the Gators, they were able to make up for its defeat to the Seminoles by handing them their only loss in a 52-20 Sugar Bowl shellacking.
No. 9: USC, 2004
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Because five teams finished the regular season undefeated, the USC/Oklahoma National Championship Orange Bowl was played under an umbrella of controversy (a common theme for the NCAA).
Although USC was mainly handed the crown because they picked apart Oklahoma, the Trojans regular season schedule was not exactly a walk in the park. Big wins against Virginia Tech, California and Arizona State certainly boosted USC’s stock in the end of season standings.
No. 8: Washington, 1991
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Although Washington shared the 1991 national title with Miami, the Huskies have to be one of the most underrated national champions in the history of the sport.
Behind Steve Entman and the Huskies steel curtain defense, Washington toppled three top 10 teams, including the 34-14 bludgeoning of No. 4 Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
No. 7: Oklahoma, 2000
In 2000, Oklahoma had an October to remember.
That month, the Sooners rattled off three straight wins against the toughest teams in the Big 12 (Texas, Kansas State, and Nebraska), grabbing a hold of No. 1 in the rankings and never letting go. Kansas State would get another shot at the Sooners in the Big 12 Championship game but would fail a second time.
To the end the season, Oklahoma emerged victorious from the Orange Bowl against Florida State, in a quirky, 13-2 defensive battle.
No. 6: Alabama, 2009
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Alabama started and ended the 2009 season with an exponential bang.
The Tide opened up the season with huge win against Virginia Tech (a 10-game winner in 2009) and continued to pick through the SEC like a ninja in a hallway.
In the SEC Championship game, Alabama squared off against undefeated Florida and flung them to the side like the rest of the lot.
Mark Ingram and the Tide's persistent offense completed the dominant run with a 37-21 pounding of Texas in the BCS Championship game.
No. 5: Auburn, 2010
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Cam Newton and Auburn faced several near-loss situations in 2010. However, Newton’s uncanny ability to slither out of tough holes would ignite Auburn’s unbelievable title run.
Auburn’s amazing wins against LSU, Alabama and Oregon magnify the breakneck ability of this team and displayed exactly how much they deserved the most recent national championship.
No. 4: Miami (FL), 1991
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Miami may share the 1991 title with Washington, but most people will remember the Hurricanes’ outlandish swagger that season more than anything.
The Hurricanes played an unbelievably hard schedule in 1991, facing off and winning against four teams that would only lose two games the entire year.
A 22-0 shutout of Nebraska in the Orange Bowl rang loudly from coast-to-coast, convincing the press (and many others) that Miami deserved the AP National Championship title.
No. 3: Nebraska, 1995
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Nebraska didn’t beat teams in 1995. They absolutely crushed them into oblivion.
Despite the Cornhuskers relentless schedule, they crushed four teams that finished the season with two losses or less, averaging 49.5 points for in those games.
An undefeated Florida squad tried to derail Nebraska’s perfect season in the Fiesta Bowl, but the Cornhuskers made quick of the Gators in a 62-24 laugher.
No. 2: Nebraska, 1971
In another amazing year for the Big Red, Nebraska took charge atop of the rankings after the second week and never relinquished it.
Amongst the top tier teams that got in the path of these unstoppable Cornhuskers were Oklahoma and Alabama.
In Norman, Nebraska saddled Oklahoma with its only loss of the season, a 35-31 victory that decided the winner of the Big 8 Title. Although Alabama also entered the Orange Bowl undefeated, the Tide didn’t do much to stand in the way of Nebraska winning its second straight national title, losing the bowl game 38-6.
No. 1: Notre Dame, 1988
Notre Dame had one of the toughest roads to a national championship in 1988.
Arch rivals USC and Michigan both had stupendous years, losing only two games the entire season. Notre squeaked by Michigan 19-17 in the season opener and handed USC its first loss in the last game of the regular season.
Also during the regular season, the Irish provided Miami with its only loss of the year in a 31-30 nail bitter.
To polish off the perfect season, Notre Dame took down the only other undefeated team standing in the Fiesta Bowl, clinching a marvelous national championship with a 34-21 win over West Virginia.