Ranking the 5 Best CFB Teams Ever Besides 2019 LSU
At this point, it seems most fans are in agreement that the 2019-20 LSU Tigers earned the title of greatest team in college football history.
They outscored opponents by a staggering 726-328 margin en route to a 15-0 season, walloping Oklahoma (63-28) and Clemson (42-25) in the College Football Playoff to leave little doubt they were head and shoulders above everyone else.
Quarterback Joe Burrow also put together arguably the greatest single-season performance of all time, throwing for 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns.
Relative to the final AP poll, the Tigers counted wins over No. 2 Clemson, No. 4 Georgia, No. 6 Florida, No. 7 Oklahoma, No. 8 Alabama, No. 14 Auburn and No. 25 Texas among their 15 victories.
So if we're in agreement that this LSU team takes the No. 1 spot on the greatest college football teams list, whom did it pass to get there?
Ahead, we've selected the five best teams in college football history, not including this year's LSU squad, based on a combination of roster talent, margin of victory and performance against other top-tier teams.
5. 1945 Army Black Knights
Points For: 412 (45.8 per game)
Points Against: 46 (5.1 per game)
Wins vs. Final AP Top 20: (3) Navy, (6) Michigan, (8) Penn, (9) Notre Dame, (13) Duke, (19) Wake Forest
At the height of World War ll, the military academies had a distinct advantage when it came to collegiate sports, and Army was at the top of the college football world.
Bill Connelly of SB Nation wrote: "Because of loose wartime transfer rules—the service academies were basically able to recruit all-star teams—and because [Army coach Red] Blaik was relentless in milking every advantage, this team featured plenty of stars from other schools."
At the center of it all was the backfield tandem of Doc Blanchard (101 carries, 722 yards, 16 TD) and Glenn Davis (85 carries, 930 yards, 15 TD).
Blanchard won the Heisman Trophy in 1945 and Davis finished second in the ballot, before winning the award himself the following season.
The Black Knights did not allow more than 13 points in a single game, shutting out five of their nine opponents along the way. The closest thing they had to a game was the finale against then-No. 2 Navy, who they still beat handily 32-13.
In terms of sheer on-field dominance, the 1945 Army team deserves a spot in this debate.
4. 2018 Clemson Tigers
Record: 15-0 (Won CFP title game 44-16 vs. Alabama)
Points For: 664 (44.3 per game)
Points Against: 197 (13.1 per game)
Wins vs. Final AP Top 25: (2) Alabama, (5) Notre Dame), (15) Syracuse, (16) Texas A&M
In 2018, Clemson became the first team since 1897 Penn to finish a season with a 15-0 record, and their 44-16 drubbing of a stacked Alabama team in the national championship game put them squarely in the best-team-ever conversation.
It's easy to forget true freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence did not make his first start until the fifth game of the season, with Kelly Bryant opening the year as QB1.
Lawrence still finished with 3,280 passing yards and 30 touchdowns against just four interceptions, and he looked like a seasoned veteran with brilliant performances against Notre Dame (327 passing yards, 3 TD, 0 INT) and Alabama (347 passing yards, 3 TD, 0 INT) in the College Football Playoff.
Defensive end Clelin Ferrell (No. 4 overall), defensive tackle Christian Wilkins (No. 13 overall) and defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence (No. 17 overall) were all first-round picks from a defensive front that allowed just 2.7 yards per carry on the year.
Close calls against Texas A&M (28-26) and Syracuse (27-23) keep the Tigers from ranking any higher, but their dominance in the CFP and 15-0 record earn them the No. 4 spot.
3. 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers
Record: 12-0 (Won Fiesta Bowl 62-24 vs. Florida)
Points For: 638 (53.2 per game)
Points Against: 174 (14.5 per game)
Wins vs. Final AP Top 25: (2) Florida, (5) Colorado, (7) Kansas State, (9) Kansas
With arguably the biggest Heisman Trophy snub in history running a high-powered option offense, the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers steamrolled the competition.
Senior quarterback Tommie Frazier did it all, throwing for 1,362 years and 17 touchdowns while rushing for 604 yards on 6.2 yards per carry and 14 touchdowns.
Ahman Green (1,086 rushing yards, 13 TD) and 1996 first-round pick Lawrence Phillips (547 rushing yards, 9 TD) flanked him in the backfield, en route to the Cornhuskers averaging a staggering 399.8 rushing yards per game.
They scored at least 35 points in every game, eclipsing the 50-point mark six different times, including a dismantling of No. 2 Florida in the Fiesta Bowl.
That Florida team, led by future Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel, was also undefeated going into the bowl game with wins over final No. 3 Tennessee and No. 4 Florida State on its resume.
Strangely enough, their closest game all season for the Cornhuskers was a 35-21 victory over a Washington State team that finished 3-8. The Cougars were fresh off an upset of No. 16 UCLA and playing with some momentum.
2. 2001 Miami Hurricanes
Record: 12-0 (Won Rose Bowl 37-14 vs. Nebraska)
Points For: 512 (42.7 per game)
Points Against: 117 (9.8 per game)
Wins vs. Final AP Top 25: (8) Nebraska, (14) Syracuse, (15) Florida State, (18) Virginia Tech, (19) Washington, (21) Boston College
It's almost always an absurd argument when fans compare the best college football team to the worst NFL team in a given year and think it would have a legitimate chance to win.
The lone exception might be the 2001 Miami Hurricanes.
A whopping 17 players from that roster went on to be first-round picks in the NFL draft:
- OT Bryant McKinnie (No. 7 overall in 2002)
- TE Jeremy Shockey (No. 14 overall in 2002)
- CB Phillip Buchanon (No. 17 overall in 2002)
- S Ed Reed (No. 24 overall in 2002)
- CB Mike Rumph (No. 27 overall in 2002)
- WR Andre Johnson (No. 3 overall in 2003)
- DE Jerome McDougle (No. 15 overall in 2003)
- RB Willis McGahee (No. 23 overall in 2003)
- DT William Joseph (No. 25 overall in 2003)
- S Sean Taylor (No. 5 overall in 2004)
- TE Kellen Winslow ll (No. 6 overall in 2004)
- LB Jonathan Vilma (No. 12 overall in 2004)
- LB D.J. Williams (No. 17 overall in 2004)
- OT Vernon Carey (No. 19 overall in 2004)
- DT Vince Wilfork (No. 21 overall in 2004)
- S Antrel Rolle (No. 8 overall in 2005)
- CB Kelly Jennings (No. 31 overall in 2006)
That list does not even include 2002 second-round pick Clinton Portis and 2005 third-round pick Frank Gore, who rank No. 32 and No. 3 in the NFL's all-time rushing list, respectively. In all, 38 players from that team were drafted into the NFL.
At one point during the season, they beat No. 14 Syracuse and No. 12 Washington in back-to-back weeks by a combined score of 124-7. That was followed by a nail-biter against Virginia Tech (26-24) in what was the Hurricanes' only real test of the season.
In terms of sheer talent on the field every Saturday, the 2001 Miami squad belongs in any conversation of college football's best teams.
1. 1971 Nebraska Cornhuskers
Record: 13-0 (Won Orange Bowl 38-6 vs. Alabama)
Points For: 507 (39.0 per game)
Points Against: 104 (8.0 per game)
Wins vs. Final AP Top 20: (2) Oklahoma, (3) Colorado, (4) Alabama
It's hard to poke holes in the resume of a team that finished with wins over the final No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 teams in the country.
That's exactly what the 1971 Nebraska squad did en route to an undefeated season for the ages.
After going 11-0-1 in 1970, quarterback Jerry Tagge was back under center, and running back Jeff Kinney was gearing up for his first season as the featured running back after a pair of productive seasons in a supporting role.
Tagge ended up leading the Big 8 in completion percentage (59.7), passing yards (2,178), passing touchdowns (17) and total yards (2,508), and his 149.2 passer rating was the best in the nation.
Kinney piled up 1,136 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns, leading a rushing attack that averaged 252.5 yards per game.
However, it was the defense that did much of the heavy lifting, allowing double-digit points just three times all season. In fact, the bulk of the 104 points they allowed came in a 35-31 victory over Oklahoma, who finished in the No. 2 spot in the AP poll.
Will we ever see another team finish the year with wins over the final No. 2, 3 and 4 teams in the nation?
All stats courtesy of Sports Reference, unless otherwise noted.