College Football History

College Football: The Top 25 Schools That Have Never Won a National Championship

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistMay 5, 2011

College Football: The Top 25 Schools That Have Never Won a National Championship

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    MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 03:  The Virginia Tech Hokies offense stands in the huddle against the Stanford Cardinal during the 2011 Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 3, 2011 in Miami, Florida. Stanford won 40-12. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    College football has been crowning a champion since 1869 when Princeton claimed the first of its almost 30 national titles.

    Although in 141 years many have tasted from the chalice of ultimate victory, there is an equally impressive list of quality, long-standing programs that have never won the big enchilada, the whole ball of wax...the national championship.

    The following slideshow presents the top 25 schools in the history of college football that have never won a national title.

    These hungry teams are ranked by all-time win-loss percentage and then by total number of conference titles.  This means that the list favors schools that have performed successfully over their storied histories (not just over the last several seasons).

    As a very critical disclaimer, (and because the business of national titles is no simple affair) this article utilized the list of “recognized” champions when determining which programs had or had not won a national championship.

    “Recognized,” in this case means that only a limited number of sources (recognized by the NCAA for specific time periods) are deemed “certified” to declare a “true” national champion (e.g. the AP, UPI and USA Today are examples of certified sources), which also means more than one team can be the recognized champion from each year.

    Using this formula means that some championships (which may be claimed by certain schools) are not considered valid in this specific instance (e.g. Wisconsin’s 1942 title, which is included on some listings but not “recognized,” as it was bestowed by a selector not on the “approved” list).

    As a final disclaimer, Boise State is not found on this list because it won the 1980 NCAA DI-AA national title, which means it already technically holds a national crown.

25. Mississippi State

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    LEXINGTON, KY - OCTOBER 31:  Anthony Dixon #24 of  the Mississippi State Bulldogs runs with the ball during the SEC game against the Kentucky Wildcats  at Commonwealth Stadium on October 31, 2009 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 500-538-39

    Winning Percentage: 48.2 percent

    Conference Titles: One

     

    The Bulldogs' improved play in 2010 makes you think that they may have as good a chance as any of getting off this list.

    But, historically the Bulldogs have definitely not performed as well as most of the other programs included here and you could make a solid argument that teams like Kansas State could trump Mississippi State for inclusion (though the Bulldogs winning percentage is higher than KSU’s 43-percent mark).

    The nearest the Bulldogs have been to winning the whole thing was in 1940 when they went 10-0-1 under coach Allyn McKeen. 

    Mississippi State finished the 1940 regular season 9-0-1 and was beaten out for the SEC title by Tennessee, who went 10-0.

    The 1940 season ended with a 14-7 win over Georgetown in the 1941 Orange Bowl played on New Year’s Day.

    Mississippi State was ranked No. 9 in the final AP Poll (which was released prior to the playing of the bowl games up until 1968), which marks the highest such ranking in program history.

24. Oregon State

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    TUCSON, AZ - OCTOBER 09:  (L-R) Ryan Katz #12, Burke Ellis #74, Alex Linnenkohl #60 and Michael Philipp #77 of the Oregon State Beavers during the college football game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on October 9, 2010 in Tucson, Arizona.
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 502-537-50

    Winning Percentage: 48.3 percent

    Conference Titles: Five 


    The Beavers have been hitting the gridiron since 1893 when they went 4-1 including a 62-0 beat down of Lewis & Clark (presumably not the actual explorers).

    Oregon State has gone undefeated twice in its history; in 1907 when it finished at 6-0-0 and in 1914 when it went 7-0-2.

    Perhaps their best shot at winning a national title came in 2000 when the Beavers went 11-1 under coach Dennis Erickson and were only one loss away (a three-point defeat to Washington on the road) from playing in the title game.

    Oregon State capped off the 2000 season with a 41-9 beat down of Notre Dame in the 2001 BCS Fiesta Bowl.

23. Cincinnati

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    PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 05:  Isaiah Pead #23 of the Cincinnati Bearcats scores a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the University of Pittsburgh Panthers on December 5, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty I
    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 552-553-51

    Winning Percentage: 50.0 percent

    Conference Titles: 11

     

    Though the Bearcats made a memorable 12-1 run under coach Brian Kelly in 2009 (a run that saw the 11-0 BCS-busting Bearcats, minus Kelly, stomped 51-24 by Florida in the BCS Orange Bowl) Cincinnati also had a run of near misses with perfection in the early 1950s under coach Sid Gillman.

    The 1951 Bearcats were 10-0 going into the Sun Bowl only to be upended by the West Texas State Buffaloes 14-13.

    The 1952 and 1953 squads were similarly disappointed with 8-1 and 9-1 finishes respectively.

22. Oklahoma State

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    WACO, TX - OCTOBER 24:  Justin Blackmon #81 and Cooper Nicholas #89 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys celebrate a touchdown in front of Jordan Lake #21 of the Baylor Bears at Floyd Casey Stadium on October 24, 2009 in Waco, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/G
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 521-522-48

    Winning Percentage: 50.0 percent

    Conference Titles: Nine 

     

    The Cowboys are another team that could find themselves magically off this list at the end of 2011.

    Though 2010’s thrilling 11-2 finish was a huge story last season, its historical significance should not be overlooked; 11 wins in a season marks the most ever in the 109 years of OSU football history.

    The closest the Cowboys have ever been to tasting ultimate victory was in 1945 when they went 9-0-0 (also their only undefeated season) and captured the Missouri Valley Conference championship.

    The ninth win in 1945 came on January 1, 1946 when Oklahoma State beat St. Mary’s (CA) 33-13 in the Sugar Bowl.

    The Cowboys were ranked No. 5 in the final AP Poll (released prior to the bowl games until 1968, remember), which marked the highest final AP Poll ranking in OSU history (the Cowboys ranked No. 5 in the Coaches' Poll at the close of the 1984 season).

    The 1945 national title was awarded to 9-0 Army, who did not participate in a bowl game.

21. South Carolina

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    COLUMBIA, SC - OCTOBER 30:  The South Carolina Gamecocks run on to the field against the Tennessee Volunteers at Williams-Brice Stadium on October 30, 2010 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 544-540-44

    Winning Percentage: 50.1 percent

    Conference Titles: One 


    In 2010 the Gamecocks captured their only piece of any sort of SEC title when they won the SEC East Division crown by virtue of going 9-3 in the regular season.

    South Carolina had previously only claimed one championship title, which was the 1969 ACC championship when it went 7-4, including a 14-3 loss to West Virginia in the Peach Bowl.

    The closet the Gamecocks have ever come to a perfect season (and a shot at the big enchilada) was in 1984 when they went 10-2 (the most wins ever posted by a South Carolina team in a single season).

    The 1984 squad was 9-0 going into its November 17 meeting with Navy in Annapolis, Maryland but ultimately fell to the Midshipmen 38-21 ending its hope of a perfect season.

    South Carolina won the following game on the road at Clemson (a nail-biter with a final score of 22-21) and finished the regular season at 10-1.

    A loss to Oklahoma State in the Gator Bowl earned the Gamecocks a 10-2 finish and a No. 11 ranking in the final AP Poll (the highest finish in school history).

20. Kentucky

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    LEXINGTON, KY - NOVEMBER 13:  Derrick Locke #20 of the Kentucky Wildcats runs with the ball during the game against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Commonwealth Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 38-20.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Ge
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 573-565-44

    Winning Percentage: 50.4 percent

    Conference Titles: Two

     

    Kentucky fans might be understandably upset seeing the Wildcats included on a list of schools that have not captured a national title; this is because Kentucky claims a piece of the 1950 title.

    But, alas, this is not a “recognized” championship, as the Wildcats were declared champions by only one source, the Sagarin Rankings, which is (as is briefly explained in the introduction slide) not “recognized” as a source for determining the national champion.

    What’s truly "squirrely" is that Oklahoma is the “recognized” champion in 1950 but the Sooners (10-1-0) actually lost to Kentucky (11-1-0) in that year’s Sugar Bowl (the Wildcats' only loss that year was a 7-0 loss to Tennessee in the last game of the regular season).

    Oklahoma’s 1950 title was certified by six sources, most importantly the AP and UPI.

    Kentucky’s coach in 1950 was Paul “Bear” Bryant who led the Wildcats from 1946-53 posting a total record of 60-23-5.

    Other notable Wildcats seasons are 1898 when they went 7-0 (their only perfect season) and 1977 when they finished 10-1, the only loss being a 21-6 defeat to Baylor in the second week of the season.

    Kentucky was ranked No. 6 in the final AP Poll in 1977, the highest final ranking in its129-year history.

19. Rutgers

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    NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - SEPTEMBER 02:  Rutgers Stadium is seen on the opening night of the Scarlet Knights' 2010 football season on September 2, 2010 in New Brunswick, New Jersey.  The Scarlet Knights defeated the Norfolk State Spartans 31 - 0.  (Photo by And
    Andrew Burton/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 613-602-42

    Winning Percentage: 50.5 percent

    Conference Titles: 32

     

    Despite its successes under current coach Greg Schiano, Rutgers has not been a powerhouse in recent college football.

    But the Scarlet Knights lay claim to a long, successful football history and they are the program that holds the honor of being the birthplace of college football.

    Significant seasons in Rutgers include:

    • 1961 (as members of the Middle Atlantic States Collegiate Athletic Corporation) when they went 9-0 and finished No. 15 in the AP
    • 1979 (as a Division I-A independent) when they finished 11-0 and were ranked No. 17
    • 2006 (as members of the Big East) when they achieved an 11-2 mark and were ranked a program-high No. 12 in the final poll

18. Kansas

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    KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 24: Coach Mark Mangino of the Kansas Jayhawks walks on the field with his team before the game against the Missouri Tigers at Arrowhead Stadium on November 24, 2007 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 572-561-58

    Winning Percentage: 50.5 percent

    Conference Titles: Eight

     

    It’s hard to believe only three seasons have passed since Mark Mangino led the undefeated, 11-0,  Jayhawks into Missouri to face the Tigers in the 2007 season finale.

    Of course, Kansas ultimately lost to Missouri 36-28 dashing away the dream of a perfect season and a shot at the national title. 

    The Jayhawks went on to beat Virginia Tech by three points in the 2008 BCS Orange Bowl securing a 12-1 record (the most wins ever by a Kansas team) and a program-high No. 7 ranking (also achieved by the 1968 Jayhawks) in the final AP Poll.

    Kansas fielded perfect teams in both 1899 (10-0) and 1908 (9-0), but voters preferred Harvard and Penn in those years respectively and the Jayhawks were overlooked for championship honors.

17. North Carolina State

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    ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 28:  The North Carolina State Wolfpack snap the ball during the Champs Sports Bowl against the West Virginia Mountineers at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium on December 28, 2010 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 545-532-55

    Winning Percentage: 50.6 percent

    Conference Titles: 11

     

    What may be at least marginally shocking to fans of today’s college football is the fact that North Carolina State captured seven ACC championship titles between 1957 and 1979.

    Seasons of note when the Wolfpack got closest to winning the big prize include the 1927 team that went 9-1 (the only loss was to Furman (SC) with wins over Clemson, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Michigan State), the 1932 team that went 6-1-2 and the 1957 squad that finished 7-1-2.

    The 2002 North Carolina State team fell three consecutive late-season losses short of any real glory but, after thumping Notre Dame 28-6 in the Gator Bowl, the Wolfpack finished 11-3 and ranked a program-high No. 12 in the final AP Poll.

16. Louisville

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    LOUISVILLE, KY - SEPTEMBER 04:  Blayne Donnell #45 of the Louisville Cardinals runs with the ball during the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on September 4, 2010 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Image
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 449-434-17

    Winning Percentage: 50.8 percent

    Conference Titles: Seven

     

    The Cardinals are somewhat easy to overlook when you think of great programs that haven’t won the national title, but this is a school that has posted four 10-plus-win seasons since 1990.

    Yes, in 1990 Howard Schnellenberger’s Cardinals (playing as an independent team) were just one game short (a loss to Southern Miss) of taking a shot at a national crown.  The 1990 squad went on to beat Alabama 34-7 in the Fiesta Bowl.

    In 2004 Louisville posted an 11-1 record (this time as members of C-USA) again falling one game short of being considered for a title.  The only loss suffered by Bobby Petrino’s 2004 team was a 41-38 heartbreaker to Miami (FL).

    Finally, in 2006 (again under Petrino, but this time as members of the Big East) the Cardinals went 12-1 with their one loss being to Rutgers in early November.  The 2006 team went on to beat Wake Forest in the BCS Orange Bowl representing one of the more unique matchups in BCS history.

15. Houston

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    NEW ORLEANS - OCTOBER 17:  Justin Johnson #3 of the Houston Cougars celebrates after a touchdown against the Tulane Green Wave at the Louisiana Superdome on October 17, 2009 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Cougars defeated the Green Wave 44-16.  (Photo by
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 370-333-15

    Winning Percentage: 52.6 percent

    Conference Titles: 10

     

    The Cougars are the second-youngest program on the list (after Air Force) and didn’t start fielding a football team until just after World War II in 1946.

    But Houston has had considerable amounts of success in its 64 years on the sacred gridiron.  Significantly, the Cougars captured four Southwest Conference championships from 1976 to 1984.

    Houston has posted three one-loss seasons that left the Cougars just one win short of a shot at the whole enchilada.

    First, in 1973 (under legendary coach Bill Yeoman) Houston finished 11-1, which included a devastating 7-0 road defeat to Auburn that catapulted the Cougars out of the title discussion and into the now-defunct Bluebonnet Bowl ( played in Houston) where they beat up on Tulane 47-7.

    In 1979 the Cougars went 11-1 again (under Yeoman) with the sole blemish coming from Texas in a 21-13 defeat at home; the 1979 Cougars eventually captured a piece of the SWC championship and beat Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl.

    The most recent championship charge that fell just short for Houston came in 1990 when the 8-0 Cougars dropped the second-to-last game of the season 45-24 to Texas in Austin.

14. Virginia

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    ATLANTA - OCTOBER 09:  Keith Payne #22 of the Virginia Cavaliers against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium on October 9, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 620-551-48 

    Winning Percentage: 53.0 percent

    Conference Titles: Three

     

    Though perhaps not considered a perennial powerhouse, the Virginia Cavaliers have won a bunch of football games.

    In terms of teams in championship contention the 1908 Cavaliers went 7-0 and captured a South Atlantic Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship; 11-0-1 Penn was ultimately declared the 1908 national champion.

    In both 1941 and 1951 Virginia posted 8-1 records, the single losses being to Yale in 1941 and Washington and Lee in 1951.  The 1951 season produced the Cavaliers' first appearance in the final AP Poll, where they came in at No. 13.

    The top performance of recent years came in 1989 when the Cavaliers went 10-3 under George Walsh and shared a piece of the ACC title.

13. Purdue

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    SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 04: Robert Marve #9 of the Purdue Boilermakers throws a pass against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on September 4, 2010 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defated Purdue 23-12. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Get
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 579-502-48

    Winning Percentage: 53.6 percent

    Conference Titles: 12

     

    Purdue? Seriously?

    Yes, the Boilermakers have been members of the Big Ten Conference since 1896 and have an all-time winning percentage of over 53 percent.

    They’ve captured eight Big Ten titles, gone undefeated four times and have been one loss away from a title three times.

    Sure, they’re not Ohio State or Michigan but that’s pretty impressive.

    Near misses with the national title include the 1929 squad that went 8-0 under coach Jimmy Phelan, captured the Big Ten title and was overlooked for the national championship (by the voters, not through competition) in favor of 9-0 Notre Dame.

    The 1932 Boilermakers also went unscathed (7-0-1), captured a second consecutive Big Ten crown (which was shared with Michigan).  The national crown was split by 10-0 USC (who beat Pitt 35-0 in the Rose Bowl) and Michigan (8-0 with no bowl game).

    1943 bore witness to yet another perfect Boilermakers run (9-0), another share of the Big Ten title and ultimately another snub in the national championship race.  Unbelievably, neighboring a one-loss 9-1 Notre Dame team was awarded another title (no bowl game).

12. Missouri

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    SAN ANTONIO - DECEMBER 1:  Quarterback Chase Daniel #10 of the Missouri Tigers celebrates his touchdown with Jeremy Maclin #9 in the second quarter against the Oklahoma Sooners during the Big 12 Championship at the Alamodome December 1, 2007 in San Antoni
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 623-517-53 

    Winning Percentage: 55.0 percent

    Conference Titles: 15

     

    Really a bit of a shocker, the Tigers have never won a “recognized” national title, though they can, if they so choose, lay claim to two “unrecognized” crowns.

    The first came in 1960 when the Tigers technically went 11-0 under Dan Devine; the term “technically” is used because a 23-7 loss to Kansas in the season finale was forfeited by the Jayhawks.  The only source to declare Missouri the 1960 national champion was the Poling System,  a mathematical rating system for college football teams from 1924-84, developed by Richard Poling.

    Curiously, the recognized champion in 1960 is listed as 8-2 Minnesota, which lost 17-7 to Washington in the Rose Bowl.  The Golden Gophers were chosen by both the AP and UPI.

    Missouri’s second “unrecognized” title came in 2007 when the Tigers went 12-2; the source of this title declaration was the Anderson and Hester mathematical system.  The AP, USA Today, NFF, BCS and three other sources declared 12-2 LSU the national champion in 2007.

    Another overlooked perfect season came in 1909 when the Tigers went 7-0-1; the national championship that year was awarded to 10-0 Yale by the voters.

11. Air Force

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    AIR FORCE ACADEMY, CO - NOVEMBER 11: Chris Sutton #6 of the Air Force Falcons carries the ball during the game against of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on November 11, 2006 at Falcon Stadium on the Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs, Colorado.  (Phot
    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 337-278-13 

    Winning Percentage: 55.0 percent

    Conference Titles: Three

     

    Air Force is the youngest program on the list (1956) and is included at No. 11 due to the stunning amount of games they have won since first taking the field only 55 years ago.

    It’s remarkable that a service academy has posted five 10-plus-win seasons since joining the Division I-A ranks in 1978.

    Really, it’s easy to forget Air Force’s near misses with perfection and the opportunity (realistic or not) to compete for a national title.

    Among the highlights is Fisher DeBerry’s 1985 squad that went 12-1.  The 1985 Falcons went undefeated all the way until their 11th contest of the season when they lost a heartbreaker (28-21) to BYU in Provo, Utah. 

    That BYU team went on to beat Texas 24-16 in the Bluebonnet Bowl and was ranked No. 8 in the postseason AP Poll.

    The 1998 Falcons (also under DeBerry) similarly went 12-1, only the loss came earlier in the season, in Week 4, when Air Force traveled to Fort Worth to face TCU.  The Falcons lost the game by one point (35-34).

    The ’98 Air Force squad ultimately won the WAC and beat Washington 45-25 in the Oahu Classic earning a final AP ranking of No. 13.

10. Arizona

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    TUCSON, AZ - DECEMBER 02:  Wide receiver Juron Criner #82 of the Arizona Wildcats and David Roberts #81 celebrate after Criner scored a 28 yard touchdown reception against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the college football game at Arizona Stadium on
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 563-415-3 

    Winning Percentage: 58.0 percent

    Conference Titles: Six

     

    It’s impressive that the Wildcats, who have been playing football since 1899, have a 58 percent all-time winning percentage.

    In terms of near misses at title opportunities the highlights include the 1961 team that went 8-1-1 (under Jim LaRue) and was only one loss away (to West Texas State in Canyon, Texas) from perfection.  The 1998 squad went 12-1 under coach Dick Tomey.

    The ’98 team got manhandled (at home) by UCLA (52-28) in a game that squashed the Wildcats' most realistic title hopes in program history.

    After the Bruins debacle Arizona went on to beat Nebraska 23-20 in the Holiday Bowl and was ranked a program-high No. 4 in the final AP Poll.

9. Oregon

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    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10:  Darron Thomas #1 and the Oregon Ducks huddle against the Auburn Tigers during the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Get
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 578-471-46 

    Winning Percentage: 55.1 percent

    Conference Titles: 10

     

    When you put the words “Oregon” and “national title” together, Oregon’s 22-19 loss to Auburn in last season’s BCS championship immediately comes to mind.

    But, what of other brushes with the glory from the highly successful Ducks of the Northwest?

    Well, despite the fact that Oregon has scored six 10-plus-win seasons since 2000 the only time the Ducks have reached perfection (other than 1895 and 1906 when they only played four and five games respectively) was back in 1916 when Oregon went 7-0-1.

    The 1916 Oregon squad won every game (except against Washington, which ended in a 0-0 tie) including a 14-0 win over Penn in the “Tournament of Roses” (aka the Rose Bowl).

    There were no polls in 1916 (the AP wasn’t established until 1936) and the national title was awarded to Pitt, which (coached by “Pop” Warner) went 8-0-0 but didn’t play in a bowl game.

    Other near misses with the big gold crown include the 2001 team (coached by Mike Bellotti) that was one seven-point loss to Stanford away from perfection and the 2005 Ducks (also under Bellotti), who suffered only one regular-season loss.

    The title-ending defeat in 2005 came at the hands of USC (45-12) in Eugene but eventually the win was vacated by the Trojans, leaving behind only an asterisk to explain why the Ducks missed a shot at playing for a national title.

8. Navy

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 23: Alexander Teich #39 of the Navy Midshipmen rushes past the tackle of Darrin Walls #2 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at New Meadowlands Stadium on October 23, 2010 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Ge
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 652-524-57 

    Winning Percentage: 55.4 percent

    Conference Titles: Zero

     

    The Midshipmen have been fielding a football team since 1879 and in all that time they have never won a title of any kind.

    Showing amazing consistency, Navy has been an independent team, without a conference affiliation for all of its long football life.  And that is exactly why the Midshipmen hold no conference or national championship titles and wear no victors’ crowns; despite the fact they have a 55 percent winning percent over 131 years of play.

    But, how close has Navy come to winning it all?

    Well, the Midshipmen have achieved a one-loss season at least 13 times, but the year that really stands out in their history in terms of title hopes is the 1926 campaign when Navy went 9-0-1.

    The Midshipmen’s only perfect season was highlighted by wins over Purdue, Princeton and Michigan and closed with a 21-21 tie with Army in the season finale.

    The “recognized” champions in 1926 are 9-0-1 Alabama and 10-0-1 Stanford, which tied one another 7-7 in the Rose Bowl.

    Navy wasn’t completely overlooked in ’26, as they were declared the national champion by both the “Boand System” and the “Houlgate System.”  These certifications were apparently not enough to make the title stick as a “recognized” crown.

7. Texas Tech

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    LUBBOCK, TX - NOVEMBER 01:  Michael Crabtree #5 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders carries the ball after making a reception during the first half of the game against the Texas Longhorns on November 1, 2008 at Jones Stadium in Lubbock, Texas.  (Photo by Jamie
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 519-398-32 

    Winning Percentage: 56.6 percent

    Conference Titles: 11

     

    The Red Raiders represent the third-youngest team on the list (after Air Force and Oklahoma State) but have managed to win an impressive number of games in their 85-year history.

    Though Texas Tech’s most recent foray into title contention came in 2008 when Mike Leach’s "Air Raid" Raiders were a titillating 10-0 going on the road to face Oklahoma (only to be shellacked and devastated by the Sooners 65-21), Tech has achieved at least seven one-loss (or one step away) seasons in its storied history.

    Highlights include the 1938 squad that were 10-0 at the end of the regular season and ultimately lost 20-13 to St. Mary’s in the 1939 Cotton Bowl finishing ranked No. 11 in the final AP Poll (a program high matched only by the 1973 team).

    Then there was the 11-1-0, 1953 Texas Tech team that was one 27-14 loss to Texas A&M away from perfection; this squad went on to beat Auburn 35-13 in the Gator Bowl and ranked No. 12 in the final polls.

    More recently there was the 1973 Red Raiders, who had their perfect season upended by a 28-12 defeat at the hands of Texas; Tech went on to finish the season 11-1-0 including a win over Tennessee 28-19 in the Gator Bowl and a final AP Poll ranking of No. 11.

6. North Carolina

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    CHAPEL HILL, NC - NOVEMBER 13:  The North Carolina Tar Heels run onto the field before their game against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Kenan Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 653-495-54

    Winning Percentage: 57.0 percent

    Conference Titles: 10

     

    For what is considered a basketball dominant school, North Carolina has won a bunch of football games.

    From 1963 to 1980 the Tar Heels (a time period where the UNC basketball team played in, and, lost two NCAA title games) won the ACC (football) championship five times.

    Near misses in terms of the bigger enchilada are more numerous than you might guess; the Tar Heels have earned one-loss seasons at least 14 times and enjoyed seven years with 10-plus wins.

    The highlights are literally two abundant to list individually, but notable is the 1948 season when UNC was 9-0-1 going into the Sugar Bowl to face Oklahoma; the Sooners won the game 14-6 leaving the Tar Heels with a 9-1-1 record and a program-high No. 3 ranking in the final AP Poll.  The national champion in 1948 was Michigan, which went 9-0-0 and did not play in a bowl game.

    The 1980 Tar Heels went 11-1 and also suffered their only loss to Oklahoma (41-7); this team went on to beat Texas 16-7 in the Bluebonnet Bowl and was ranked No. 10 in the final AP Poll.

    Another 11-1 season was achieved in 1997 when the Mack Brown-led Tar Heels suffered a single loss to Florida State (20-3); this edition of UNC football went on to beat Virginia Tech (42-3) in the Gator Bowl and finished the season ranked No. 6.

5. Wisconsin

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    PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Quarterback Scott Tolzien #16 of the Wisconsin Badgers looks to hand the ball against the TCU Horned Frogs in the 97th Rose Bowl game on January 1, 2011 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 625-468-53

    Winning Percentage: 57.2 percent

    Conference Titles: 12

     

    Wisconsin is yet another team that does not have a “recognized” title but has at least one source that considered the Badgers a national champion.

    The year of confusion for the Badgers was 1942, when they went 8-1-1 (the only loss was a 6-0 defeat by Iowa) and were selected as the champions by the Helms Athletic Foundation.

    The recognized champ from 1942 was ironically Ohio State, which went 9-1-0 under Paul Brown and suffered its only loss to...guess who...Wisconsin.

    The Buckeyes were awarded the title by, among others, the powerful AP.  Neither team played in a bowl game.

    Even with the befuddlement of the 1942 season it is surprising that a program like Wisconsin does not have an outright or “recognized” national championship.

    Among the dizzying array of near misses are almost 20 one-loss seasons, two perfect seasons (1901 and 1906) and eight years with 10-plus wins.

    Highlights included the 1951 season when the Badgers went 7-1-1 (the one loss was a four-point defeat to Illinois) and finished No. 8 in the AP Poll, and the 1962 season when Wisconsin went 8-2-0 and lost in the Rose Bowl 47-32 to USC.

    The 1962 team also earned the Badgers their highest ever final AP ranking, No. 2.

    More recently was the 2006, 12-1 Wisconsin team that suffered a title-hopes-crushing loss to Michigan in Week 4, but went on beat Arkansas 17-14 in the Capital One Bowl and finish No. 7 in the AP.

4. Utah

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    SALT LAKE CITY, UT - NOVEMBER 22:  DeVonte Christopher #15 and Greg Bird #49 of the Utah Utes run onto the field before the game against the BYU Cougars at Rice-Eccles Stadium on November 22, 2008 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty I
    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 627-424-31

    Winning Percentage: 60.0 percent

    Conference Titles: 24

     

    You know what?  I think Utah ranked at No. 4 on this list sounds crazy too. 

    In fact, I almost moved the Utes down but, frankly, that wouldn’t be fair.  Sure, this is a team that (up until 2011) hadn’t played in a big conference and hadn’t really found its way onto the national radar other than as a BCS buster in recent years, but this is a very good football program.

    How good?

    Well, the Utes have 24 conference titles (second to only Rutgers with 32), they have the fourth-highest winning percentage on the list, they have gone undefeated seven times (twice within the last decade) and have posted one-loss finishes 16 times.

    I think Utah, now that it has the benefit of playing in a BCS conference, might be off this list sooner than anyone might ever imagine.

    Despite some early seasons where Utah went undefeated and title-less, the obvious close calls for the Utes have come during the BCS era.

    In 2004 Utah went 12-0 (including wins over Texas A&M and North Carolina) and beat Pitt (35-7) in the BCS Fiesta Bowl.  The ’04 Utes finished the season ranked No. 4 in the AP.

    In 2008 the Utes were again perfect (13-0) scoring wins over Michigan (in Ann Arbor), Oregon State and TCU.  This Utah squad went on to beat Alabama (31-17) in the BCS Sugar Bowl and was ranked a program-high No. 2 in the final AP Poll.

    I’m just saying...not a lot of teams on this list can touch that.

    Of note, in 2008 Utah did receive recognition from three mathematical systems (Anderson & Hester, Massey and Wolfe) as the national champion.

    As you know, the 2008 “recognized” title winner was Florida, which was awarded the championship hardware by the AP, BCS, USA Today, FWAAA and six other sources.

3. West Virginia

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    CINCINNATI - NOVEMBER 13:  Head coach Bill Stewart of the West Virginia Mountaineers meets with his team in the fourth quarter of the game against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Nippert Stadium on November 13, 2009 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/G
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 691-454-45

    Winning Percentage: 60.3 percent

    Conference Titles: 14

     

    Another mild shocker on the list, the Mountaineers are quite title-less.

    Since becoming a member of the Big East in 1991 West Virginia has won six conference titles, but has never broken through to the national title game.

    Highlights of near misses are numerous; the Mountaineers have had at least 14 seasons with only one loss and went undefeated in 1922 with a 10-0-1 record, which included a victory over Gonzaga in the San Diego E-W Christmas Classic.

    The 1922 title was awarded to 8-0-0 Cornell, which did not participate in a bowl game.

    More recently the Mountaineers got close in 1988 when they went undefeated in the regular season only to be beaten by Notre Dame (34-21) in the Fiesta Bowl.  The Irish (12-0) won the ’88 title and WVU (11-1) was ranked No. 5 in the final polls.

    Similarly, in 1993 West Virginia went unscathed in the regular season only to be upended by Florida in the Sugar Bowl (41-7); Florida State (12-1) was awarded the title in ’93 and the Mountaineers were ranked No. 7 in the final AP Poll.

    West Virginia was also 11-1 in 2005, but this time the loss came in Week 4 at the hands of Virginia Tech (34-17); the Mountaineers went on to win out, beat Georgia (38-35) in the BCS Sugar Bowl and finish ranked No. 5.

2. Arizona State

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    TUCSON, AZ - DECEMBER 02:  Runningback Cameron Marshall #26 of the Arizona State Sun Devils scores a rushing touchdown during the college football game at Arizona Stadium on December 2, 2010 in Tucson, Arizona. The Sun Devils defeated the Wildcats 30-29 i
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 553-354-24

    Winning Percentage: 60.1 percent

    Conference Titles: 17

     

    The Sun Devils can claim a piece of two “unrecognized” national championships, 1970 and 1975.

    In 1970, ASU (under Frank Kush) went 11-0 including a 48-26 victory over North Carolina in the Peach Bowl; though the Poling System declared the Sun Devils the champions, the UPI and AP split the decision between 11-0-1 Nebraska (which beat LSU in the Orange Bowl) and 10-1-0 Texas (which lost to Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl).

    The Kush-led Sun Devils went undefeated again in 1975 (12-0), which included a 17-14 win over Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl.  Though the AP ranked Arizona State No. 2 in its final poll and though both the Sporting News and National Championship Foundation declared the Sun Devils the national champs, the “recognized” title holder in 1975 was 11-1-0 Oklahoma, which beat Michigan in the Orange Bowl.

    It was the UPI and the AP that chose the Sooners over the Sun Devils in 1975; if you’re curious, Oklahoma’s only loss that season was a 23-3 defeat at the hands of Kansas, in Norman (if you are even more curious Kansas finished the season 7-5).

    Other near misses include 1986 when ASU (under John Cooper) were 9-0 going into the finale against Arizona and lost 34-17; the ’86 Sun Devils went on to beat Michigan (ironically Cooper was the winning coach) in the Rose Bowl and finished No. 4 in the final AP Poll.

    Most recently the 1996 Sun Devils were a perfect 11-0 going into their New Year’s Day meeting with Ohio State in the Rose Bowl only to come out with a three-point loss to the Buckeyes (as luck would have it, then coached by John Cooper); the 1996 ASU team was also ranked No. 4 in the final polls.

1. Virginia Tech

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    LANDOVER, MD - SEPTEMBER 06:  Running back Ryan Williams #34 of the Virginia Tech Hokies celebrates with quaretrback #7 Tyrod Taylor after a touchdown in the second quarter against the Boise State Broncos at FedExField on September 6, 2010 in Landover, Ma
    Geoff Burke/Getty Images

    Win-Loss Record: 679-431-46

    Winning Percentage: 61.1 percent

    Conference Titles: 10

     

    The Hokies, who began playing football in 1892, have the highest all-time winning percentage of any team on this list.

    Though their greatest successes have occurred more recently, as far back as 100 years ago we find Hokies teams that strived for perfection and championships.

    In 1918 Virginia Tech went 7-0-0 (4-1 Pitt, coached by “Pop” Warner, was declared the 1918 champ) and in 1954 Tech went 8-0-1 and finished the season ranked No. 18 in the AP Poll (the 1954 title was split by 10-0 Ohio State and 9-0 UCLA).

    Recent close calls are too numerous to list (the Hokies have had 12 10-plus-win seasons under Frank Beamer) but highlights include the 1999 squad, which was undefeated until being upended by Florida State in the Sugar Bowl (FSU won the title and Virginia Tech settled for a No. 2 AP ranking).

    The next season, 2000, the Hokies went 11-1 again but this time dropped a midseason game to Miami (FL) before going on to beat Clemson (41-20) in the Gator Bowl and earning a final AP ranking of No. 6.

    It would be prudent to predict that Virginia Tech will find itself off the “no national titles” list before any other team.

    Indeed, when will the bridesmaid become the bride?

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