The 50 Greatest National Championship Teams in College Football History
Since the Associated Press starting ranking teams back in 1936, there have been a bunch of great teams. The history of college football has given us a ton of great moments fulfilled by legendary coaches, players and most importantly teams.
Speaking of teams, which are the 50 greatest college football teams to win a national championship of all time?
Some say Nebraska's 1971 squad will forever be the greatest, while some feel that the likes of Oklahoma and Notre Dame have fielded a few unstoppable squads as well.
See for yourself who I have ranked the best of the best.
No. 50: 1984 Brigham Young Cougars
The Cougars allowed less than 14 PPG on defense and had a winning streak of 23 games after they defeated Michigan in the '84 Holiday Bowl. Their offense was potent, averaging 35 PPG, though their highest draft pick ended up being starting center Trevor Matich.
Despite playing in the WAC, the LaVell Edwards-led squad was voted the national champions at 13-0.
No. 49: 1982 Penn State Nittany Lions
This was Joe Paterno's first-ever national championship, and Penn State ended up defeating a good Georgia team that featured Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker.
The star of the team that season was arguably Todd Blackledge, who won the Davey O'Brien Award given to the best quarterback in the nation.
Blackledge ended up going 31-5 in his three years as a starter, but it was the 1982 team that was special.
No. 48: 1976 Pitt Panthers
Not only did the Panthers go undefeated, but they also won the national championship by beating Georgia 27-3.
Johnny Majors led the Panthers to a national championship, but he was helped by his Heisman Trophy-winning running back Tony Dorsett.
No. 47: 1977 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Call the greatest ever "Joe Cool," "Golden Joe," "The Golden Great" or "Comeback Joe," because Joe Montana was indeed the legend of all legends at quarterback.
Besides being arguably the greatest NFL signal-caller, at Notre Dame Montana came off the bench against Purdue following a loss to Ole Miss the previous week.
Notre Dame won 10 straight games, including a Cotton Bowl victory over Texas, which gave them the national championship under Dan Devine.
No. 46: 1938 TCU Horned Frogs
The offense was electric, scoring 269 total points for the season while only giving up 60.
They were led by Davey O'Brien, who won the Heisman that season, but more importantly, his Horned Frogs went undefeated and won the national championship.
No. 45: 1989 Miami FL Hurricanes
The 'Canes lost to Florida State on the road that season, but they bounced back quickly, rattling off five critical victories.
They were able to upset the top-ranked defending national champions in the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 27-10. Russell Maryland and Cortez Kennedy led a stout defense all season long.
Miami then defeated Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and earned the program's first of two national championships under Dennis Erickson.
No. 44: 1998 Tennessee Volunteers
The Vols had the dynamic duo of quarterback Tee Martin and wide receiver Peerless Price that led them to a 23-16 victory over Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Tennessee was not even picked to win its division that season, but it was able to sneak by many opponents en route to its 13-0 national championship season.
No. 43: 1985 Oklahoma Sooners
The '85 Sooners defense was ferocious, and they barely gave up points, let alone yards, that season. Linebacker Brian Bosworth was arguably the top defensive player in the country that season, winning the Butkus Award, and defensive tackle Tony Casillas won the Lombardi Award.
Outside of an early home loss to Miami, this team was unbeatable. In fact, not counting its lone loss, its average margin of victory was 25 PPG.
That includes the 25-10 national championship victory over Penn State in the 1986 Orange Bowl.
No. 42: 1986 Penn State Nittany Lions
Penn State was still an independent, and it had to take on the mighty top-ranked Miami Hurricanes in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl.
Vinny Testaverde had won the Heisman, and many were expecting the Hurricanes to rout the less talented Nittany Lions.
Instead, the Penn State defense played lights out, as it was led by linebacker Shane Conlan's two interceptions. His final pick set up the game-winning touchdown by D.J. Dozier, and Penn State (12-0) managed to pull off the miracle upset en route to its national championship victory, 14-10.
No. 41: 1973 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The era of Ara Parseghian was coming to a close, but not before he won the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame his second national championship.
They were able to knock off Bear Bryant and Alabama in an epic Sugar Bowl, which gave them the AP national championship. They were led by All-Americans Dave Casper and Mike Townsend, but the team had just two close ballgames the entire season before the Sugar Bowl.
Michigan State and USC were able to give the Irish a game, but every opponent on the schedule outside of Purdue lost by three or more touchdowns.
No. 40: 1946 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Two of the greatest college football legends were on this Irish squad that was coached by Frank Leahy: tackle George Connor and quarterback Johnny Lujack.
Outside of a tie with top-ranked Army, they clobbered every team by at least 20 points per game. Army was voted national champions in a few polls, but the Irish were voted clear-cut champs by the AP.
The two teams played to a scoreless tie in the regular season; Army had won the previous two national championships, as the Cadets had a dominating three-year stretch (27-0-1).
The final weekend of the regular season showed its true color according to most Golden Domers, because Army nearly lost to Navy (21-18), while the Irish beat down a solid USC squad, 26-6.
No. 39: 1981 Clemson Tigers
The two consensus All-Americans that season for the Tigers were safety Terry Kinard and linebacker Jeff Davis.
Clemson was able to knock off a Nebraska squad that had legends such as Dave Rimington, Mike Rozier, Roger Craig, Irving Fryar and Turner Gill.
The Huskers were shut down when Gill was injured, and the Tiger defense allowed them to cross midfield just four times in Clemson's 22-15 national championship victory.
No. 38: 1996 Florida Gators
The Florida Gators thumped the Florida State Seminoles 52-20, which of course was a rematch of a game the Seminoles won 24-21.
Danny Wuerffel won the Heisman that season and torched the Seminoles for three passing touchdowns on Jan. 2, 1997.
Steve Spurrier won his first-ever national championship that season and got his redemption since his squad was throttled in the national championship game the previous season by Nebraska.
No. 37: 1980 Georgia Bulldogs
Herschel Walker was just a baby freshman, but he ran like a full-grown man en route to his Georgia Bulldogs winning the 1980 national championship.
They beat Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl 17-10, but it was Walker's performance against Tennessee earlier in the season that propelled them to the national championship.
No. 36: 1979 Alabama Crimson Tide
Major Ogilvie helped Alabama win the 1979 national championship under Paul "Bear" Bryant by defeating Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl.
The defense was dominant, similar to most SEC teams, as the Tide posted five shutouts and allowed only two teams to score double digits (Tennessee and Auburn).
At the time, it was the Tide's seventh perfect season, and it was also the final title run for Bear Bryant before the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time, as considered by many) retired and passed away three seasons later.
No. 35: 1978 Alabama Crimson Tide
The famous goal-line stand by the Alabama Crimson Tide defense allowed them to hang on and win the 1978 national championship by defeating Penn State 14-7 ('79 Sugar Bowl).
Alabama only had one loss that season, and it was to USC, which was caused by six turnovers from the Crimson Tide.
Outside of a narrow victory over Washington, Alabama was able thump every regular season opponent put in its way.
No. 34: 2010 Auburn Tigers
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Cam Newton won the Heisman despite all of the allegations that he received improper benefits, but he put on a clinic each and every weekend en route to a BCS national championship.
Auburn's ability to put all of the distractions beyond it and gear up for the SEC gauntlet was impressive. The Tigers had their backs against the wall seemingly every week, yet Nick Fairley and the defense found ways to get the job done.
No. 33: 2009 Alabama Crimson Tide
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Nick Saban's defense was exceptional that season, but the rushing attack that featured Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and freshman Trent Richardson made up a special team.
Alabama crushed a Texas Longhorns squad that lost Colt McCoy right out of the gates, but running the table in the SEC is easier said than done.
No. 32: 2006 Florida Gators
Tim Tebow would go on to win the Heisman the following season, but he backed up starting quarterback Chris Leak this season.
The offense was great against the Buckeyes in the BCS National Championship Game, but the defense held Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith to a total of six net yards (35 passing).
The 41-14 whupping the Gators handed Ohio State stands as one of the more lopsided games in national championship game history.
No. 31: 2003 LSU Tigers/USC Trojans
Oklahoma received an invite to the BCS National Championship Game that season despite not even winning its conference. It got the vote over a USC team that would go on to split the national championship with LSU. Many still to this day believe the Trojans were the better team that season.
However, the Bayou Bengals won the BCS national championship with a sensational defense that limited Heisman winner Jason White to 102 yards passing. Counting his lost yardage on sacks, which the sport does, White only had a total of 50 net yards in the game.
For the game, the Sooners had just 152 total yards of offense compared to the Tigers' 312. Despite going 13-1, LSU proved it was one of the more dominant defenses in BCS history that season.
No. 30: 1991 Washington Huskies/Miami Hurricanes
Despite splitting a national championship, both of these would go on and dominate the opposition. The Huskies were sensational on both sides of the ball, but had an incredible offense and defensive line. Ed Cunningham anchored the o-line as Steve Emtman did the same for the d-line.
The Hurricanes won the AP Poll since the Huskies had claimed the Coaches Poll, but they were led by five All-Americans.
The special teams was near perfect and the combination young talent and elite speed was something many national championship teams never possess though the Huskies were one of the few during the 90s.
No. 29: 1983 Miami FL Hurricanes
The Hurricanes were never ranked in the top three of the polls until they survived a 31-30 ballgame over Nebraska. The Huskers converted a fourth down but elected to go for two since there were no overtimes back in 1984 (introduced in 1996).
This Miami squad had a solid offense led by quarterback Bernie Kosar, but it was the Canes defense that stood out, allowing just 11.3 PPG.
No. 28: 1992 Alabama Crimson Tide
Gene Stallings rolled to an undefeated season at 13-0, but the Crimson Tide made an exclamation of a national championship victory over Miami FL.
Alabama won 34-13, as the relentless defense was able to accomplish what it wanted to. It allowed only 9.2 PPG on defense but had some firepower on offense with wide receiver/kick returner David Palmer and running back Derrick Lassic.
No. 27: 1968 Ohio State Buckeyes
Heisman Trophy winner O.J. Simpson cruised to the award, but he had to face the top-ranked Buckeyes. Ohio State had a stellar defense, but even Simpson gashed the Buckeyes for two scores and 171 yards rushing.
However, Ohio State forced five Trojan turnovers (Jack Tatum had his say) and converted those into points, as it walked away with the 27-16 victory. With the victory, the Buckeyes had proclaimed themselves national champions.
No. 26: 1975 Oklahoma Sooners
Barry Switzer will be known for his 1974 national championship team, but to repeat as national champs is not an easy task.
The Sooners did lose an odd home game to Kansas (7-5) of all teams, but they were able to sneak back up to second in the polls heading into their Orange Bowl showdown with fifth-ranked Michigan.
OU escaped with a 14-6 victory and claimed the national championship with the top-ranked Buckeyes losing to UCLA in the Rose Bowl.
No. 25: 1997 Michigan Wolverines/Nebraska Huskers
This Michigan squad technically shared a national championship with Nebraska per the Coaches' Poll vote. However, the Wolverines were the clear-cut better team in some "experts'" eyes, as Charles Woodson had won the Heisman that season.
Brian Griese was the starting quarterback and led a potent offense, but the defense was one of the more athletic defenses we have seen in the history of the Big Ten.
No. 24: 2008 Florida Gators
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The Gators defense was phenomenal, and it was led by future NFL stars and former All-Americans. They went up against the highest-scoring offense of all time in the Sam Bradford-led Oklahoma Sooners.
The Gators won the game by 10 points, but it was a season where Tim Tebow had a memorable halftime speech against the Sooners, as well as his speech after their loss to Ole Miss.
Percy Harvin, Aaron Hernandez and Riley Cooper played exceptionally alongside Tebow, but the team would have gone nowhere without its special teams and defense.
No. 23: 1987 Miami FL Hurricanes
The top-ranked Oklahoma Sooners were favorites against the Miami Hurricanes, but that did not mean much when the two teams fought for it all in the 1988 Orange Bowl.
Steve Walsh and Michael Irvin were unstoppable in the clutch, and they helped the 'Canes prevail for their second national championship and the only one under Jimmy Johnson.
No. 22: 1949 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
This was Frank Leahy's fourth and final national championship in South Bend. His Notre Dame squad was led by All-American and legendary tight end/defensive end Leon Hart, who went on to win the Heisman that season.
This was arguably the greatest dynasty in college football history, as the Irish won two Heismans and three national championships on top of posting a 36-0-2 record.
No. 21: 1962 USC Trojans
John McKay was just in his third season with the Trojans, and he knocked off a valiant comeback by the Wisconsin Badgers to hang to the 42-37 Rose Bowl and national championship victory.
Pete Beathard was named the co-MVP alongside Badgers quarterback Ron Vander Kelen. USC was hammering Wisconsin 42-14 in the fourth quarter before the Badgers scored 23 unanswered points to make it a thrilling finish.
Only three opponents were able to stay within single digits of the Trojans that year, as they seemingly cruised to a national championship and 11-0 finish.
No. 20: 2000 Oklahoma Sooners
The Sooners dominated a Florida State team that in the AP Poll was ranked behind a team that beat it earlier in the season (Miami).
However, the BCS ranked the Seminoles ahead of the 'Canes, and Oklahoma ended up defeating them to win the national championship, 13-2.
The defense was sensational, and the team had an total of 14 future NFL players that were drafted. That may not seem like a whole lot compared to some teams, but the Sooners found ways to win towards the end of the season.
No. 19: 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes
This Buckeyes team was picked by nobody to beat the Miami Hurricanes despite having a great defense and a ball-controlling offense led by Maurice Clarett.
Craig Krenzel fell into the Ken Dorsey role, where he was never sexy but got the job done by avoiding turnovers.
Going 14-0 is not easily accomplished, but the Buckeyes overcame a few close games, such as the "Holy Buckeye" one against Purdue. This is far from one of the most talented teams, but it was clearly a team of destiny.
No. 18: 1969 Texas Longhorns
Texas was loaded with talent, as it often is. However, consensus All-American Bob McKay was a stud tackle and was just one of the many productive players they had that season.
The Longhorns had Darrell Royal as their head coach, and he went on to win his second of three national championships with this 1969 squad.
Texas had its memorable "Game of the Century" against Arkansas, where it won 15-14. The victory propelled the Longhorns to the national championship, where they would defeat Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl 21-17.
No. 17: 1988 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The 1988 Irish squad will forever be remembered as the team that dethroned and ended the 36-game winning streak of the Miami Hurricanes.
It was the Catholics against the Convicts, and the Golden Domers were able to prevail against the top-ranked Hurricanes.
The victory certainly brought momentum for Lou Holtz's team, as it was unscathed in its national championship season. Notre Dame knocked off the second-ranked Trojans and ended the season with a 34-21 victory over third-ranked West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl.
No. 16: 1993 Florida State Seminoles
Their 1993 national championship victory over Nebraska still brings arguments up with Husker Nation, but Charlie Ward was just too darn good to be contained that season.
He not only won the Heisman but also led the fast-break offense for a Florida State team that was nearly unbeatable.
The Seminoles lost by a touchdown in one of the greatest regular season games against Notre Dame. It was a "Game of the Century," and they caught a huge break since the Irish lost to Boston College the following week.
That knocked the Irish out and gave the Seminoles a chance to play in and eventually win the national championship.
No. 15: 1994 Nebraska Cornhuskers
The Huskers would of course lose a tough nail-biter to Florida State in the 1994 Orange Bowl, but they would go on to win two straight national championships.
Tommie Frazier became a legend by winning two national championships with Tom Osborne, and the "Blackshirt" defense bullied and dominated as the cream of the crop in college football during the mid '90s.
No. 14: 2004 USC Trojans
Though the Trojans were forced to vacate their national championship in 2004, the team, as the whole nation watched that night against Oklahoma, has to be ranked somewhere high up there.
Matt Leinart had Reggie Bush and LenDale White behind an all-world offensive line. Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith put up plenty of points that night, but it was the defense that was flat-out suffocating all season.
Maybe the Trojans don't deserve to be ranked that high, but hanging 55 points on Oklahoma deserves something noteworthy.
No. 13: 1970 Nebraska Cornhuskers
Averaging 35.5 PPG offensively was not seen often back in the day, but the Huskers were potent. The team won the AP national championships with a 11-0-1 record.
The lone non-win was a 21-21 tie against the USC Trojans in the L.A. Coliseum. The season was capped off in the Orange Bowl, where the Huskers beat LSU 17-12. They were just ranked third going into the game but received some help when both Ohio State and Texas lost on New Year's Day.
No. 12: 2005 Texas Longhorns
Vince Young carried this team offensively when it mattered most. You remember the situation—it was 4th-and-5 to go for the Longhorns.
USC just needed a simple stop against a man that owned the Trojans all game long. Young's 467 total yards and three touchdowns were enough for Texas to pull off the improbable 41-38 all-time thriller over Southern Cal.
This Texas team did not play the toughest schedule we have seen, but it was able to cruise by every team it faced en route to the 2006 BCS national championship.
No. 11: 1944 Army Cadets
These Cadets rank among the greatest for several reasons. They outscored their opponents 504-35, but they had a legendary coach in Earl "Red" Blaik and don't forget "Mr. Inside" Doc Blanchard and "Mr. Outside" Glenn Davis.
That trio could forever remain the greatest in college football's storied history. It was not like the team just dominated a few opponents, as that scoring difference was truly amazing. Army beat fifth-ranked Notre Dame 59-0!
It didn't stop there, as the Cadets finished their undefeated season by knocking off the second-ranked Midshipmen of Navy, 23-7. That was just one of two games they did not win by 46 or more points.
No. 10: 1974 Oklahoma Sooners
Barry Switzer won his first national championship with the Boomer Sooners, and he had quite the team. Joe Washington was the AP Offensive Player of the Year, though Archie Griffin won his first of two Heisman Trophies.
Lee Roy "The Gentle Giant" Selmon and Dewey Selmon were arguably the best brothers to ever play college football together, and they steamrolled the opposition in the process. The Longhorns were the only team on their schedule that gave the Sooners a game that was decided by single digits.
Switzer went on to win a total of three national championships, though this was his only undefeated team that won it all.
Note: Alabama was atop the polls in UPI, though it lost to Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Rankings did not change after the bowl games; rather, they were final when the regular season ended.
No. 9: 1947 Michigan Wolverines
Call me inconsistent on this, but the 1947 "Mad Magicians," also known as the Michigan Wolverines, were spectacular despite being ranked second in the AP Poll.
Several other polls had the Wolverines No. 1, so there was not a consensus on a national champion.
The Wolverines buried USC in the Rose Bowl 49-0 with the likes of tailback Bob Chappuis, wingback Chalmers "Bump" Elliott, fullback Jack Weisenburger and signal-caller Howard Yerges leading the way.
No. 8: 1947 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Having 41 players on one team who eventually played professional football is an absurd number.
Also, though the team won a disputed championship along with Michigan, the Irish flat-out bombed the opposition. They capped off the season by obliterating third-ranked USC 38-7.
Head coach Frank Leahy, end Leon Hart, tackle George Connor and quarterback Johnny Lujack will forever remain Notre Dame and college football immortals.
No. 7: 1999 Florida State Seminoles
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One of the greatest teams of all time and arguably the greatest Florida State football team speaks volumes.
It was led by All-American wide receiver Peter Warrick, and his quarterback Chris Weinke would go on to win the Heisman the following season.
This team was not loaded with All-Americans (four), but it was a complete team. FSU could run it when it needed to, as the offense was explosive as we have seen in the entire BCS era.
The '99 Noles were the first ever and currently are only the second team all-time to win a wire-to-wire national championship ('04 USC).
No. 6: 1961 Alabama Crimson Tide
This dominating 1961 squad was all about defense. It had six shutouts (five consecutive) that led it to an undefeated 11-0 legendary season.
Twenty-five points was what the defense had allowed the entire season, and due to that, the Tide were only involved in two games decided by single digits.
They capped off the year by knocking off Arkansas 10-3 in the Sugar Bowl.
No. 5: 1945 Army Cadets
Doc Blanchard (Mr. Inside) and Glenn Davis (Mr. Outside) were arguably the most talented duo in the history of college football.
Blanchard won the Heisman during the 1945 season, whereas David won it the following season. Averaging 45.8 PPG on offense while allowing only 5.1 PPG is just stupid. They pitched five shutouts and were kicking teeth in for two straight seasons.
No. 5: 1956 Oklahoma Sooners
I can't decide between the '45 Cadets and the '56 Sooners because they were two of the greatest dynasties one has ever seen. Oklahoma not only won the national championship in consecutive seasons, but it was also amidst a record 47-game winning steak (record still stands to this day).
The streak ended in 1957, as it was Bud Wilkinson's third national championship, but this Sooners squad and dynasty ranks among the greatest of all time.
No. 4: 1972 USC Trojans
At the time, these Trojans were the first-ever team to be voted atop the polls unanimously, and they were led by their all-everything running back Anthony Davis.
Davis had six touchdowns in their Rose Bowl rout over third-ranked Ohio State, 42-17. Legendary coach John McKay won his third of what would eventually become four national championships. Trojans fans and players to this day say it's a no-brainer when deciding the greatest team ever assembled.
No. 3: 1971 Nebraska Cornhuskers
Tom Osborne was the offensive coordinator, and Bob Devaney was the head man in charge.
Johnny Rodgers went on and won the Heisman the following season, but he played for arguably the greatest team in the history of college football in 1971.
The team had zero flaws, as it was as balanced as any team the sport has currently ever seen. It averaged 39 PPG on offense while allowing only eight PPG on defense.
What made it tougher was these Huskers repeated as national champions by dominating the opposition even worse than the first time around.
No. 2: 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers
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You want dominant? How about averaging 52 PPG and an average margin of victory of 39 PPG, including a 62-24 victory over Florida in the national championship?
Some big shots called for the Gators to win the game, yet Tommie Frazier went bonkers, rushing for 199 yards while throwing for 105, which resulted in a total of three touchdowns.
When Tom Osborne was asked by Sporting News this month what he thought about whether or not the '95 Huskers were better than the '71 team, he said, "I would have a hard time picking one over the other. When you're looking at teams that are nearly 25 years apart, you're talking about different eras of football."
There were many other great teams in college football, and perhaps there were a few that deserved to be ranked that just missed the cut.
Here are several others that I felt deserved to be in the discussion of at least being ranked. It cannot be stated how tough it is to rank some of these teams since we are comparing many teams from completely different eras of football.
1919 Notre Dame
1924 Notre Dame
1930 Notre Dame
1966 Notre Dame/Michigan State
1990 Georgia Tech/Colorado
No. 1: 2001 Miami FL Hurricanes
Known by many as the greatest college football team of all time, the 2001 Hurricanes were dominant from start to finish.
The only game in which Miami did not blow its opponent out was its final regular season game, where it went into Lane Stadium and defeated the Virginia Tech Hokies 26-24.
Many wanted to see Oregon play in the Rose Bowl, but instead the Nebraska Huskers were chosen, and they were stomped by Miami 37-14 en route to the Hurricanes' clear-cut national championship.
The team allowed only 9.75 PPG on defense while scoring an average of 42.6 PPG. The average margin of victory was 32.9 PPG.
This squad featured college greats such as Ken Dorsey, Willis McGahee, Clinton Portis, Andre Johnson, Kellen Winslow II, Jeremy Shockey, Sean Taylor, Ed Reed, Antrel Rolle, Vernon Carey, D.J. Williams, Jon Vilma, Vince Wilfork, Bryant McKinnie and Mike Rumph, among many others.
Miami ended up having 11 first-round draft picks (17 total draft picks) from that season alone. It also included six All-Americans and 11 First Team All-Big East performers.