Ranking the Top 10 Greatest College Football Teams Since 2000

Greg Wallace@gc_wallaceFeatured ColumnistMay 15, 2017

Ranking the Top 10 Greatest College Football Teams Since 2000

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    Vince Young and Texas played in one of the greatest college football games in recent memory.
    Vince Young and Texas played in one of the greatest college football games in recent memory.MARK J. TERRILL/Associated Press

    Over the last 20 years, it's become easier to debate about college football.

    The rise of cable and satellite television and specialized conference-centered networks have vastly increased the number of games available to the average viewer, and the internet makes it easier than ever to get stats and information about your favorite team and the game as a whole.

    It's a great time for debate, too. College football fans are passionate and love to argue about their favorite gridiron teams. Which champions are superior? Which don't measure up?

    Now we're adding to the conversation. Here's a look at the top 10 college football teams since 2000. They were measured by their on-field dominance, their overall talent levels and, of course, their overall success on the field.

10. 2002 Ohio State

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    Ohio State and Craig Krenzel pulled a stunning upset of Miami to win the national title.
    Ohio State and Craig Krenzel pulled a stunning upset of Miami to win the national title.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    By the numbers: 14-0 record. Four first-team All-Americans. Freshman tailback Maurice Clarett rushed for 1,237 yards on the ground. Flanker/cornerback Chris Gamble started both ways and caught 31 passes with four interceptions as a cornerback.

           

    Defining moment: Miami's 2001 team was one of college football's all-time great groups, and the 2002 edition was special, too. But the Buckeyes denied the 'Canes a repeat national championship following an ending that will go down in college football's annals.

    The teams battled through four quarters of the BCS National Championship Game tied at 17. Miami scored first in overtime to take a 24-17 lead, and Ohio State faced a 4th-and-3 at the Miami 5. Craig Krenzel's pass to the end zone was incomplete, and Miami erupted in celebration. But Hurricanes defender Glenn Sharpe was whistled for pass interference.

    Three plays later, Krenzel scored on a one-yard touchdown run to send the game into double overtime, and Ohio State eventually emerged with a stunning 31-24 victory.

    Miami fans hate the call, but it helped seal a most improbable and controversial national title for Ohio State.

           

    Why they're here: At times, it wasn't pretty, but it's hard to deny a team that went 14-0 and defeated a loaded Miami team in the BCS National Championship Game.

    The Buckeyes were survivors. They beat Cincinnati 23-19, Wisconsin 19-14, Michigan 14-9, Penn State 13-7, Purdue 10-6 and outlasted Illinois 23-16 in overtime.

    But nothing stopped Jim Tressel's team, led by a nasty defense and an offense keyed by dynamic freshman tailback Clarett.

    When the smoke cleared, they were 14-0 and national champions. Five Buckeyes were selected in the 2003 NFL draft, with safety Mike Doss a second-round selection of the Indianapolis Colts.

9. 2010 Auburn

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    Cam Newton carried Auburn to an unexpected national championship.
    Cam Newton carried Auburn to an unexpected national championship.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    By the numbers: 14-0 record. 41.2 points per game, 499.2 yards of total offense per game and 284.8 rushing yards per game. Two Associated Press All-Americans, and quarterback Cam Newton won the Heisman Trophy.

             

    Defining moment: Auburn lived on the edge all season, with six wins by a touchdown or less. But the biggest moment came in the BCS Championship Game.

    Oregon held the Tigers' potent offense largely in check and tied the game 19-19 with two minutes, 33 seconds remaining. But Auburn had one last chance, and the Tigers took advantage.

    The biggest play? Tailback Michael Dyer appeared to have been tackled by Oregon's Eddie Pleasant following a six-yard gain, but neither his knee nor the ball touched the ground, and he kept going for a 37-yard gain that was upheld following replay.

    That drive went all the way to the Oregon 1 before Wes Byrum kicked a 19-yard field goal on the game's final play for a 22-19 victory and Auburn's first undisputed national championship in program history.

            

    Why they're here: Auburn has long lived in Alabama's shadow in the college football-crazy Yellowhammer State, but the addition of quarterback Cam Newton turned the Tigers into a national contender.

    Auburn and Newton had a potent offense and were escape artists, surviving Clemson 27-24 in overtime, Kentucky 37-34 and erasing a 24-0 second-quarter deficit for a wild 28-27 win over the Crimson Tide in the Iron Bowl.

    Newton led Auburn's hurry-up, no-huddle offense to perfection and was never rattled. He won the Heisman Trophy and was taken No. 1 overall in the NFL draft by the Carolina Panthers, where he has won an MVP award and led the Panthers to the Super Bowl. He was one of two first-round picks along with defensive tackle Nick Fairley.

    The Tigers were indomitable and a fun team to watch thanks to Newton's heroics. Head coach Gene Chizik quickly flamed out at Auburn following Newton's departure, but this team will be remembered forever on the Plains.

8. 2013 Florida State

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    Florida State used a furious comeback to claim the final BCS national title.
    Florida State used a furious comeback to claim the final BCS national title.Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    By the numbers: 14-0 record. Ten All-Americans (three consensus first team). 723 total points (51.6 per game, No. 1 nationally and best all-time among FBS programs).

    Quarterback Jameis Winston won the Heisman Trophy, Davey O'Brien Award and Walter Camp Award. Kicker Roberto Aguayo won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker, and Bryan Stork won the Rimington Trophy as the nation's top center.

            

    Defining moment: The 2013 Seminoles' biggest test came in the BCS National Championship Game.

    Auburn raced to a 21-10 halftime lead and led 21-13 after three quarters. But Florida State mounted a furious comeback and took a 27-24 lead on Kermit Whitfield's 100-yard kickoff return touchdown with 4:31 left. Auburn quickly responded with an eight-play, 75-yard drive capped by Tre Mason's 37-yard touchdown run with 1:19 remaining for a 31-27 lead.

    But Florida State wasn't done. The Seminoles had one more chance and made the most of it.

    Jameis Winston quickly led the offense down the field, covering 80 yards in seven plays. With 13 seconds left, he connected with a leaping Kelvin Benjamin for a two-yard touchdown, sealing a wild 34-31 win that ensured FSU's place in college football history.

           

    Why they're here: Florida State began the 2013 season ranked outside the Top 10 nationally, but a strong-armed, confident freshman quarterback named Jameis Winston quickly changed that.

    He led a potent offense that was slowed by no one, blowing out foes right and left. A 51-14 rout of then-No. 3 Clemson catapulted FSU into the national limelight.

    Before the national title game, no one had come closer than 14 points to FSU all season, and the Seminoles topped the 50-point mark seven times. They set an FBS record for most points in a season, and Winston won the Heisman Trophy.

    FSU capped the year with a wild 34-31 comeback win over Auburn in the final BCS National Championship Game.

    Twenty-three members of that side were eventually drafted by NFL teams, including four first-round picks, led by Winston, picked No. 1 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015. It was a truly unique, dominant team that made a big mark on college football.

7. 2009 Alabama

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    Mark Ingram was a major difference-maker for Alabama's national title team.
    Mark Ingram was a major difference-maker for Alabama's national title team.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    By the numbers: 14-0 record. 11.7 points allowed per game (No. 2 nationally), 244.1 yards per game allowed (No. 2 nationally), 78.1 rushing yards per game allowed (No. 2 nationally), 215.1 rushing yards per game (No. 12 nationally).

    Six players named as Associated Press first-team All-Americans. Tailback Mark Ingram was Alabama's first-ever Heisman Trophy winner, and linebacker Rolando McClain won the Butkus Award and the Jack Lambert Award.

             

    Defining moment: Before Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama wandered in college football's desert following its last national championship under Gene Stallings in 1992, suffering multiple NCAA probations and going through four head coaches.

    As the 2009 season wound to a close, the Tide were close to returning to national glory. With an 11-0 record, Alabama needed to beat rival Auburn to secure a perfect regular season.

    With 8:27 left, they trailed Auburn 21-20 and took the ball at their own 21. Quarterback Greg McElroy led a 79-yard touchdown drive, completing seven consecutive passes.

    He finished the drive with a four-yard touchdown pass to Roy Upchurch with 1:24 left, lifting Alabama to a 26-21 victory that kept the Tide on track to win a national championship.

            

    Why they're here: Alabama fans will always have a special place in their heart for the team that returned the Crimson Tide to glory.

    The Tide struggled mightily following Stallings' retirement, but Saban was hailed as a savior. In his third season, Alabama won a national title with a perfect 14-0 record.

    The Tide survived an upset bid from Tennessee, escaping with a 12-10 victory after Terrence Cody blocked a last-second field goal.

    They avenged the 2008 SEC Championship loss with a 32-13 rout of Tim Tebow and Florida in the 2009 SEC Championship. And they jumped to a 24-6 halftime lead over Texas and hung on for a 37-26 win in the BCS National Championship Game.

    Alabama had seven players selected in the 2010 NFL draft, including first-round selections in linebacker McClain and cornerback Kareem Jackson.

    This team set the standard for those that would follow and paved the road for Saban's glorious tenure inside Bryant-Denny Stadium.

6. 2012 Alabama

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    Eddie Lacy and Alabama left no doubt against Notre Dame in the national title game.
    Eddie Lacy and Alabama left no doubt against Notre Dame in the national title game.David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    By the numbers: 13-1 record. 250 yards per game allowed, 10.9 points per game allowed, 76.4 rushing yards per game allowed, all No. 1 nationally.

    Four players named as Associated Press first-team All-Americans. Barrett Jones honored with the Rimington Award as college football's top center.

             

    Defining moment: Thanks to a late-season loss to Texas A&M, Alabama entered the BCS National Championship game as the nation's No. 2 team behind undefeated No. 1 Notre Dame. But there was no doubt which was the superior team in south Florida.

    Alabama took its first two drives 82 and 61 yards, respectively, jumped to a 14-0 lead, led 28-0 at halftime and ripped the Fighting Irish 42-14 to win its second consecutive national championship.

    Nick Saban's team left no doubt that it was the best program in college football, winning the third national title in his Tuscaloosa tenure.

           

    Why they're here: The 2011 national championship team left a high standard for Alabama's 2012 group to live up to, but the Crimson Tide was quietly excellent.

    Following a 9-0 start that included a stirring 21-17 comeback win at LSU, Alabama was upset by Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel in Tuscaloosa.

    However, the team rebounded to blank both Western Carolina and Auburn by 49-0 scores and survived a classic 32-28 win over Georgia in the SEC championship that came down to the final seconds. They then crushed Notre Dame 42-14 in the BCS National Championship Game.

    The Tide thrived with the run game and defense; both T.J. Yeldon and Eddie Lacy surpassed 1,000 rushing yards, and Alabama led the nation in total defense, scoring defense and rushing defense.

    Defensive back Dee Milliner and offensive linemen Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker were NFL first-round picks, and nine Alabama players were selected in the NFL draft. This team wasn't perfect, but it was very good.

5. 2008 Florida

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    Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer formed a potent partnership for Florida.
    Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer formed a potent partnership for Florida.Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    By the numbers: 13-1 record. 43.6 points per game. 12.9 points per game allowed. 6,231 yards of total offense and 42 total touchdowns by quarterback Tim Tebow.

    One first-team All-American in linebacker Brandon Spikes, who had 93 tackles. Three major awards won by Tebow (Maxwell Award, Manning Award and Wuerffel Trophy).

           

    Defining moment: For Florida, the biggest moment of the year was a loss. On September 27, 2008, Ole Miss came into Gainesville and handed the Gators a stunning 31-30 home defeat.

    Afterward, an emotional Tebow faced reporters and promised them that "you have never seen any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of this season, and you'll never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of this season, and you'll never see a team play harder than we will the rest of this season."

    Tebow was right. No team came closer than 10 points to Florida the rest of the way, including a 49-10 rout of No. 8 Georgia, a 56-6 pummeling of No. 24 South Carolina and a 45-15 blasting of No. 23 Florida State. Florida won its last 10 games and claimed Urban Meyer's second national championship.

    Meanwhile, the text of "The Promise" has been placed on a plaque which now hangs outside Florida's practice facility for all to see.

             

    Why they're here: Florida finished 13-1 after a surprising home loss to Ole Miss, but the Gators learned from it and cruised to a national title under Tebow's guidance.

    Love him or hate him, Tebow proved to be one of the best and most inspirational college football players in recent memory.

    He was a dual threat and an excellent leader, but the defense, with future NFL players such as linebacker Spikes, cornerbacks Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap, did its job as well, holding foes to 12.9 points per game.

4. 2011 Alabama

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    Trent Richardson and Alabama dominated LSU when it truly mattered.
    Trent Richardson and Alabama dominated LSU when it truly mattered.Dave Martin/Associated Press

    By the numbers: 12-1 record. 183.6 total yards allowed per game, No. 1 nationally. 8.2 points per game, No. 1 nationally. Zero points allowed in BCS National Championship Game win over LSU. Four players named as Associated Press first-team All-Americans.

           

    Defining moment: Only one team came within 16 points of Alabama all season. That was LSU, which went into Bryant-Denny Stadium and defeated the Crimson Tide 9-6 in an overtime, all-field goal slugfest.

    The Tide finished second in the SEC West behind the Tigers, but they forced a rematch in the BCS National Championship Game, a matchup which has been credited with kickstarting the push for a true four-team college football playoff.

    This time, Nick Saban's team would not be denied. Alabama's defense completely shut down the Tigers in a 21-0 defeat, the only title game shutout of the BCS era.

    Alabama kicked five field goals and added a late Trent Richardson touchdown for the final margin.

           

    Why they’re here: Saban's best teams are built with defense, and the 2011 Crimson Tide was no exception. Alabama yielded only 8.2 points per game, and only one team (FCS foe Georgia Southern) scored more than 14 points against them. That's impressive.

    The Tide avenged its only defeat with a thoroughly dominant 21-0 win over LSU in the BCS National Championship Game.

    Alabama ripped No. 12 Florida 38-10, No. 14 Arkansas 38-14 and No. 24 Auburn 42-14. Aside from LSU, no team really challenged the Tide.

    Hard-charging tailback Richardson was an NFL bust, but he finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting after rushing for 1,679 yards. He was one of four NFL first-round picks, joined by defensive backs Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick and linebacker Dont'a Hightower. 

    It was one of Saban's best teams and can hold its own with plenty of recent champions.

3. 2005 Texas

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    Vince Young led Texas to a wild comeback and a national championship.
    Vince Young led Texas to a wild comeback and a national championship.PAUL SAKUMA/Associated Press

    By the numbers: 13-0 record. 652 total points, a then-FBS record. Twenty-four players eventually drafted into the NFL. Seventy points in Big 12 title game win over Colorado. 4,086 total yards for quarterback Vince Young, the first college football player to throw for 2,500 yards and rush for 1,000 in the same season. Fifty-five team rushing touchdowns, a Texas record.

           

    Defining moment: The biggest moment for the 2005 Texas Longhorns is obvious. With under seven minutes left in the 2006 Rose Bowl, the BCS National Championship Game, Texas trailed Southern California 38-26.

    The Longhorns scored quickly to cut the lead to five points, and they then held the Trojans on fourth and 2 at their own 45, getting the ball back with 2:09 remaining.

    Texas quickly marched downfield again and faced fourth and 5 from the USC 9 with under 30 seconds to go. The Trojans covered the play well, but quarterback Young scrambled down the right sideline for a nine-yard touchdown run, and he slotted the two-point conversion for a stunning 41-38 win.

           

    Why they're here: It took until the final seconds of the national title game, but Texas earned its spot as one of the great college football teams in recent memory.

    The Longhorns were somewhat overshadowed by defending national champion Southern California, which entered the game undefeated, but they made their mark with a last-second 41-38 comeback victory.

    Texas boasted a potent offense that scored 652 points, including a 70-3 Big 12 title game rout of Colorado. The Longhorns were led by do-everything quarterback Young, and 24 players from that roster were NFL draft picks. That includes four first-round picks in Young, safeties Michael Huff and Michael Griffin and cornerback Aaron Ross.

    This was the best team of Mack Brown's impressive Texas tenure, and one of the best in the BCS era, without question.

2. 2004 Southern California

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    Reggie Bush and USC had a special season in 2004.
    Reggie Bush and USC had a special season in 2004.KEVORK DJANSEZIAN/Associated Press

    By the numbers: 13-0 record (including two wins later vacated by NCAA sanctions). Six All-Americans: QB Matt Leinart, RB Reggie Bush, DE Shaun Cody, LB Matt Grootegoed, DT Mike Patterson and LB Lofa Tatupu. 

    A 25.2-point average margin of victory, including a 36-point victory in the BCS National Championship Game.

            

    Defining moment: With five undefeated teams entering the 2004 postseason, Southern California needed to make its mark to stake its claim as the nation's best team.

    The Trojans did just that, ripping Oklahoma 55-19 in the BCS National Championship Game to win the national title.

    Oklahoma scored the game's first touchdown, but USC rolled to a 38-10 halftime lead and cruised from there. Leinart threw five touchdown passes.

    Why they're here: 2004 was one of the most controversial college football seasons in recent memory.

    Five teams finished the regular season undefeated, including Auburn, Boise State and Utah, but only two (Oklahoma and Southern California) got a shot at the championship.

    The Trojans, per their team motto, "left no doubt" with a 55-19 dismantling of the Sooners in the national title game. Southern California was No. 1 from wire to wire and survived close calls from Stanford, Cal (and Aaron Rodgers) and UCLA in the regular season.

    They boasted the Heisman Trophy winner in Leinart and fifth-place finisher in do-everything back Bush.

    While Leinart and Bush didn't live up to their hype in the NFL, they were special college players, and this was a special college team.

1. 2001 Miami

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    The 2001 Miami Hurricanes were one of the great teams in college football history.
    The 2001 Miami Hurricanes were one of the great teams in college football history.MARK J. TERRILL/Associated Press

    By the numbers: 12-0 record. 512 total points, averaging 42.7 points per game. 9.8 points allowed per game. 32.9 point average margin of victory. Thirty-eight NFL draft picks. Seventeen first-round selections.

    Six first-team All-Americans (punt returner Phillip Buchanon, right tackle Joaquin Gonzalez, left tackle Bryant McKinnie, safety Ed Reed, tight end Jeremy Shockey and kicker Todd Sievers).

           

    Defining moment: The 2001 Miami Hurricanes were a dominant all-around team, but sealing the national title with a 37-14 Rose Bowl rout of Nebraska in the BCS National Championship Game was special.

    The extremely talented 'Canes never let the Cornhuskers in the game and cemented their legacy with a title win.

    Ken Dorsey passed for 362 yards and three touchdowns, and Miami's defense held Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch completely in check.

             

    Why they're here: Miami is the best team in recent memory, and one of the greatest teams in college football history.

    Outside of a 26-24 win at Virginia Tech in the regular season finale, the Hurricanes simply weren't challenged by their foes. They outscored teams by an average of 42.7-9.8 and cruised to the national title with a 12-0 record.

    The 'Canes had an absurd level of talent on their roster. Thirty-eight players from the 2001 team were eventually drafted into the NFL, and 17 were first-round selections.

    This list included mainstays like wide receiver Andre Johnson, safety Sean Taylor, running backs Willis McGahee and Clinton Portis, tight end Shockey, linebacker Jonathan Vilma, tight end Kellen Winslow II, offensive tackles Vernon Carey and McKinnie, defensive backs Antrel Rolle and Buchanon and more.

    Miami had fun, played dominantly with swagger and established itself as the best college football team of the new millennium and perhaps beyond.