Best CFB Programs to Never Win a National Championship
Winning college football's national championship isn't easy, especially for smaller programs that are trying to compete with powerhouses like Alabama and Clemson.
However, considering how top-heavy the power rankings can be year after year, dozens of prestigious programs have never won the big one.
The best teams to never win are those that have captured multiple conference titles, played in or at least been close to being selected for a championship game and produced some superstar players. With the introduction of the College Football Playoff, teams with more recent success are more highly prioritized.
As much as I'd want to include the Indiana Hoosiers on the list of best teams to never win a title, they don't check any of the boxes.
So let's take a look at some of the programs that do.
5. Virginia Tech Hokies
Former Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer is considered one of the more successful skippers in college football history, even if he never captured a national title.
During Beamer's tenure with the Hokies, which stretched from 1987 to 2015, they won seven conference titles between the Big East and ACC and had 13 seasons with at least 10 wins. During the 1999 campaign, Beamer took the Hokies all the way to the BCS national title game, thanks to the help of an extremely talented freshman quarterback named Michael Vick.
Vick went on to finish third in the Heisman Trophy race and was the first-ever Archie Griffin Award winner (awarded after bowl season to the most valuable player). He even helped the Hokies overcome a 21-point deficit against the Florida State Seminoles in the national championship game, but Virginia Tech couldn't hold on.
Even without a national title, the Hokies haven't missed a bowl game appearance since 1992, which is a level of consistent success that a lot of programs don't have.
4. Louisville Cardinals
The Louisville Cardinals have felt like a team without a home over the past couple of decades, bouncing from conference to conference before landing in the ACC in 2014.
While the program is focused on competing in the conference, the Cardinals are still hoping someday soon they can end that 58-year national title drought.
During Bobby Petrino's first stint with Louisville, the Cardinals almost knocked on the doorstep of a national championship appearance in 2006. They went into a November game against Rutgers with an 8-0 record but fell 28-25 in their only loss of the season. Had they fended off Greg Schiano's Scarlet Knights, things would have looked a lot different.
Even quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater and Lamar Jackson haven't been able to take Louisville to the promised land. The program has been up and down over the past three years, but things looked a lot better in 2019 with an 8-5 record and a win over Mississippi State in the Music City Bowl.
3. West Virginia Mountaineers
The West Virginia Mountaineers have yet to win a conference title since they left the Big East to join the Big 12 in 2012. However, while they haven't been a true title contender in over a decade, the Mountaineers have still had a handful of chances to get their first ever national title.
In 1988, the Mountaineers had a chance to be crowned national champions with a victory over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Fiesta Bowl. Unfortunately, West Virginia couldn't pull it off, falling 34-21 and finishing the season 11-1.
It wasn't until Rich Rodriguez took over as head coach in 2001 that the Mountaineers became a consistent national force. From 2005 to 2007, the Mountaineers went a combined 33-5 and were a win away from a BCS championship game that final season.
In the 100th Backyard Brawl, the Pittsburgh Panthers ruined the Mountaineers' hopes of a championship appearance—partially because explosive quarterback Pat White injured his thumb in the second quarter—and pulled off a massive 13-9 upset. Rodriguez went on to accept a job with the Michigan Wolverines, stepping down before the team's Fiesta Bowl appearance against Oklahoma.
It's been an unfortunate series of what-ifs for the Mountaineers over the past couple of decades, but the main focus for West Virginia is to keep competing in a tough Big 12 before setting its sights on another national title run.
2. Oregon Ducks
High-flying offenses, flashy uniforms and some elite players at quarterback haven't been enough to help the Oregon Ducks be named national champions at any point in their 102-year program history.
Although the Ducks didn't become a true college football powerhouse until the 1990s, Oregon has seen a lot of success in a competitive conference over the past couple of decades. Under head coaches Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich, the Ducks have even gone to two national championship games, in 2010 and 2014.
Unfortunately, the Ducks couldn't end their championship drought in either of those contests. They lost the 2010 national championship to Auburn on a field goal as time expired, and they lost in the inaugural College Football Playoff title tilt after the 2014 season, getting dominated by Ezekiel Elliott and the Ohio State Buckeyes 42-20.
Even with decorated quarterbacks such as Marcus Mariota and Justin Herbert, the Ducks haven't had that near-perfect season that ended in a national title. With Herbert heading to the NFL, Oregon will have its hands full in trying to figure out how to replace him and become a College Football Playoff contender once again.
1. Wisconsin Badgers
For as prestigious of a program as Wisconsin is, it's incredible to think the Badgers have never been crowned national champions.
They've captured 14 Big Ten titles since being one of the conference's founding members in 1896. Since 2005, the team has won double-digit games 10 times.
The closest the Badgers have gotten to a national title was a heartbreaking 42-37 Rose Bowl defeat against the USC Trojans in January 1963, causing them to finish No. 2 in the AP poll. There have been other seasons and eras in which Badgers fans felt their team had a shot, however, with one of the more recent runs coming under Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (11-3 with a loss to Oregon in the Rose Bowl).
The 2017 team under Paul Chryst had a chance to make a run, but it couldn't get a College Football Playoff bid after a crushing 27-21 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes in the conference title game and finished 13-1.
Still, the Badgers seem to contend almost every year in the competitive Big Ten, and all it will take is one magical season for Wisconsin to finally get the 100-plus-year-old monkey off its back.