Ranking the 5 'Greatest Teams' in College Football Since 2000
After a dominant 52-24 victory over Ohio State in the national championship game to cap off an undefeated season, there is little question Alabama was the best team in college football in 2020.
But the best team ever?
"I think we're the best team to ever play," Alabama quarterback Mac Jones told reporters. "There's no team that will ever play an SEC schedule like that again."
Last year's Heisman Trophy winner and leader of the 2019 national champion LSU Tigers, Joe Burrow, was recently asked who would win if that team faced off against this year's Alabama team.
"I think everyone knows the answer to that question... I don't even have to say it," Burrow told reporters.
While that argument persists, there are a number of other teams from the last 20 years of college football history that also belong in the conversation of "Greatest Team of All Time" that seems to pop up every year now.
For the record, the 1971 Nebraska Cornhuskers team that went 13-0 and beat the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 teams in the final AP poll along the way still has a pretty strong claim to the title, but for the sake of this debate, we're focusing solely on 2000 to now.
Based on a combination of point differential, quality of wins and overall roster talent, here's how we would rank the five best of the last 21 years.
5. 2005 Texas Longhorns
Record: 13-0 (Won Rose Bowl 41-38 vs. USC)
Points For: 652 (50.2 per game)
Points Against: 213 (16.4 per game)
Wins vs. Final AP Top 25: (2) USC, (4) Ohio State, (20) Texas Tech, (22) Oklahoma
The 2004 USC Trojans have a solid argument for inclusion on this list after starting the season at No. 1 in the AP poll and finishing with a 55-19 victory over Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl to close out an undefeated season.
However, that team tight-roped through Pac-10 play with four victories of fewer than 10 points, and this list is all about dominance.
Instead, it's the Texas team that beat them the following year when expectations were sky-high with Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush both returning that slides onto the list.
The Longhorns entered the Rose Bowl averaging a staggering 50.9 points per game behind Heisman Trophy runner-up Vince Young, who was the first quarterback in college football history to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a season, accounting for 38 total touchdowns along the way.
The defense was equally formidable, allowing 14.6 points per game and holding opponents below 20 points eight times, including a 70-3 drubbing of Colorado in the Big 12 Championship Game.
Their overall resume is a bit lacking relative to some of the other teams on this list, but a nonconference win over No. 4 Ohio State and their consistent dominance during the regular season pads their case.
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
The 2018 Clemson Tigers undoubtedly benefited from an extremely weak ACC that featured just one other ranked team in the final AP poll in No. 15 Syracuse (10-3), who they beat by just four points in early conference play.
However, they were the first team since the 1897 Penn Quakers to finish a season 15-0, and their utter dismantling of Notre Dame and Alabama in the playoffs erased any questions about whether they were simply a big fish in a small pond.
The Fighting Irish managed just 248 total yards, and a first-quarter field goal accounted for their only points in a 30-3 loss in the Cotton Bowl. The national championship game ended up being similarly lopsided.
A 25-yard field goal with 14:18 remaining in the second quarter gave Alabama a 16-14 lead in what had to that point been a back-and-forth game, but that's the last points the Crimson Tide would score as Clemson rattled off 30 unanswered to close out the game.
It wasn't the best Alabama team of the last 10 years, but it was still an undefeated Crimson Tide squad loaded with future NFL talent. They were completely outmatched offensively and defensively for the better part of three quarters.
3. 2019 LSU Tigers
Record: 15-0 (Won CFP title game 42-25 vs. Clemson)
Points For: 726 (48.4 per game)
Points Against: 328 (21.9 per game)
Wins vs. Final AP Top 25: (2) Clemson, (4) Georgia, (6) Florida, (7) Oklahoma, (8) Alabama, (14) Auburn, (25) Texas
Let the SEC debate begin!
The 2019 LSU Tigers are an all-time great team, and there's little question all of Baton Rouge would put them ahead of this year's Alabama team on the strength of five wins over AP final Top 10 teams and a dominant showing in the national championship game.
Quarterback Joe Burrow put together an absurd offensive season, throwing for 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns on his way to Heisman Trophy honors, and freshman sensation Derek Stingley Jr. picked off six passes and tallied 15 pass deflections in the secondary.
However, the 2020 Alabama team didn't have a chance to ease into things with a game against Georgia Southern or to pad stats with blowout wins over Northwestern State and Utah State. It was pedal to the metal from the start in a strange season.
Both teams manhandled the competition in the playoffs, with LSU (+52) holding a slight advantage over Alabama (+45) in terms of margin of victory in those two games. Both teams had dynamic offenses and disruptive defenses.
In the end, this simply came down to an 8-0 record in SEC play compared to a 10-0 record in SEC play, as no team has ever endured a schedule quite like the one Alabama survived this year.
2. 2020 Alabama Crimson Tide
Record: 13-0 (Won CFP title game 52-24 vs. Ohio State)
Points For: 630 (48.5 per game)
Points Against: 252 (19.4 per game)
Wins vs. Final AP Top 25: (2) Ohio State, (4) Texas A&M, (5) Notre Dame, (7) Georgia, (13) Florida
The grind of an 11-game conference schedule in the SEC simply can't be understated.
Aside from big wins over Texas A&M, Georgia and Florida to claim unquestioned conference supremacy, the Crimson Tide also won road games at Ole Miss, Tennessee, LSU and Arkansas, and a home game over then-No. 22 Auburn.
First-year starter Mac Jones completed 77.4 percent of his passes for 4,500 yards and 41 touchdowns against just four interceptions, and a large chunk of that aerial damage came with Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith on the other end.
The senior star has a strong case for the greatest single-season performance by a wide receiver in college football history, finishing with 117 receptions for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns. That includes an absurd 12-catch, 215-yard, three-touchdown performance in the national championship game, with all of that damage coming in the first half.
Not to be overlooked, the defense was stout as well, limiting opponents to fewer than 20 points eight times, including three games where they kept the opposition out of the end zone.
In the end, their toughest game of the season was a 52-46 victory over Florida in the SEC title game, and they were solidly in control of that one from start to finish despite the narrow margin of victory.
Season-long supremacy amid a grueling slate devoid of cupcake games is enough to earn them the No. 2 spot, but the top spot still goes to an early 2000s powerhouse.
1. 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
A whopping 38 players from the 2001 Miami Hurricanes roster went on to play in the NFL, including 17 future first-round picks and a pair of all-time great running backs in Frank Gore and Clinton Portis, who were selected outside of the first round.
Ken Dorsey was an effective game manager under center, and the team had no shortage of offensive weapons. Portis, Gore and Willis McGahee shared carries out of the backfield, Andre Johnson and Jeremy Shockey anchored the receiving corps, and left tackle Bryant McKinnie was widely regarded as the best lineman in the country.
However, the legacy of this team is its swarming defense.
The Hurricanes allowed double-digit points just four times in 12 games, pitching three shutouts along the way, including a 59-0 victory over then-No. 14 Syracuse in which they limited the Orange to 185 total yards.
Linebacker Jonathan Vilma, safeties Ed Reed and Sean Taylor, and cornerback Phillip Buchanon were the stars, but it was a dynamic unit across all three levels.
The fact that their best win of the year came against a Nebraska team that was ranked No. 4 at the time and No. 8 in the final AP poll is simply a result of a flawed system.
I have no doubt they would have steamrolled Joey Harrington's Oregon Ducks, Rex Grossman's Florida Gators or any other team that was put in front of them using today's playoff format.
So cheers to 2020 Alabama, 2019 LSU, 2018 Clemson and all the other teams that have claimed to be the greatest of all-time in recent years, but you're all still looking up at the 2001 Miami Hurricanes.
All stats courtesy of Sports Reference.