College Football: The Five Most Undeserving National Champs of the Last 25 Years

Stephen BlackAnalyst IJuly 28, 2008

BYU, 1984

Give the Cougars credit for going undefeated because there is not much else they did in 1984 to deserve national championship consideration. Several "mid-major" teams since, like Boise State in 2006, Utah in 2004, and Tulane in 1998, have gone undefeated only to miss out on any serious national title consideration.

The Cougars defeated only one bowl team during the regular season (Air Force), and did not play anyone who finished the season ranked in the top 20. BYU's most impressive road win was at Pittsburgh, who finished the season 3-7-1. 

Lavell Edwards' squad clinched the national championship by playing in the Holiday Bowl against a 6-5 Michigan team, easily Bo Schembechler's worst squad in his 21 years in Ann Arbor. It is still the only Michigan team to finish without a winning record since 1967.

Also, the Holiday Bowl has not played host to another game with national title implications before or since 1984. 

The AP probably should've awarded their No. 1 ranking to Washington, a team that went 11-1 and won the Orange Bowl over No. 2 Oklahoma. Instead, the Huskies finished second in the final poll behind a BYU team that had not truly been tested all season.

Georgia Tech, 1990

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Bobby Ross' Yellow Jackets came out of nowhere to win the UPI national title in 1990 largely because, like BYU, they were the only undefeated team at the end of the season. The "Ramblin' Wreck" finished the season with a solid 11-0-1 record.

But the ACC, which had not yet added Florida State, was still a conference where most schools put basketball well ahead of football in the pecking order.

The Jackets' only blemish was a tie against North Carolina, who would finish the season 6-4-1 and miss out on a bowl. Big wins for the Jackets included Virginia, who was ranked No. 1 at the time of the game, and Clemson, who finished No. 8. Those were the only two ranked opponents that Tech played during the regular season.

In fact, Virginia would go on to lose three more times, including the Sugar Bowl to SEC champion Tennessee, and finish 23rd in the final AP Poll. 

Tech travelled to Orlando for the Citrus Bowl to play a Nebraska team coming off an embarrassing 45-10 drubbing by Oklahoma in the regular season finale. Tech would win convincingly over the plodding Cornhuskers 45-21.

In fact, Nebraska was so upset about how their season ended that head coach Tom Osborne changed his recruiting philosophy to pursue faster players. The 1990 Cornhuskers finished the season ranked No. 24, the lowest-ranked team Tom Osborne ever coached in Lincoln.

Give Georgia Tech credit for picking the right year to go 11-0-1. It was the best record in the country and the UPI poll awarded them with a national championship. However, Tech likely would've been underdog to any other team in the top five had they played in a bowl game.

The Citrus Bowl, like the Holiday, has still not hosted another game with national title implications.

Colorado, 1990

The year started off slowly for the Buffaloes, with a season-opening tie against Tennessee in the Pigskin Classic and a loss at Illinois in their third game. However, the Buffs would not see another blemish on their record as they closed out the year with 10 consecutive victories.

A key turning point for Colorado was an out-of-conference win at eventual SWC champion Texas the week after the Illinois loss. CU would go on to convincingly defeat ranked opponents Oklahoma and Nebraska and win the Big Eight with an undefeated conference record.

However, the season did not end without controversy, as the team narrowly escaped Missouri with a late touchdown on what turned out to be the fifth down of that particular series.

In the Orange Bowl, Colorado needed a clipping penalty on Notre Dame to bring back a punt return for a touchdown by Rocket Ismail that helped preserve a tight 10-9 win.

Colorado was probably the best team during 1990 and played several quality opponents, but ended up being only the second AP national champion ever to have both a loss and tie on their record.

Due to their controversial wins over Missouri and Notre Dame, a very good argument could be made that the Buffaloes did not deserve the national title. 

Michigan, 1997

In a year in which Michigan's Charles Woodson won a controversial Heisman vote over Tennessee's Peyton Manning, the Wolverines were voted No. 1 by the AP Poll over an undefeated Nebraska juggernaut, which won the ESPN/USA Today national title.

In the usually tough Big Ten, Michigan ended up being the only conference member to finish in the top 10 of the final AP rankings. Arguably, their best three wins were against Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin, teams that got beaten handily by SEC teams in their bowl games.

Why does it matter that they got beat by opponents from the SEC?  Because co-national champion Nebraska steamrolled SEC champion Tennessee in the Orange Bowl, 42-17. Meanwhile, Michigan was scraping by outmatched Washington State in the Rose, 21-16.

Had Michigan and Nebraska played a game for all the marbles, it is likely that the Cornhuskers would've been favored and, as most experts agreed at the time, the Huskers probably would've won the game handily.

Florida State, 1993

The Noles were in their second year in the ACC and still had not been challenged in a conference game.  In fact, the closest ACC games for the Noles this year were 26-point drubbings of UNC and Virginia.

With Miami on a downswing, FSU was able to get past the Canes to set up a huge showdown against undefeated Notre Dame in South Bend.

FSU talked all week prior to the game about how they didn't care about the tradition at Notre Dame and how it wouldn't affect them during the game. After all, the team had not been challenged all season and was the prohibitive favorites to beat Notre Dame and win the national title.

Come Saturday, the Irish played the game of their lives and upset the cocky Noles, 31-24.

The national title was Notre Dame's for the taking until the team lost to little Boston College the following week on a last-second field goal, 41-39.  FSU was back in the picture.

The Noles went on to play undefeated and No. 2 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl and won on yet another last-second field goal. The Noles survived despite a chaotic finish that resulted in three field goal attempts between the teams during the final 1:19 of play.

The Cornhuskers missed a 45-yard attempt on the final play of the game to give Bobby Bowden his long-awaited national title.

The Noles were probably the best team in 1993, but played only two truly tough regular season games—vs. Miami, who would finish No. 15 after a drubbing by Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl, and vs. Florida, who would win the SEC and finish No. 5.  Before and between those two games were several easy wins against over-matched ACC opponents.

Although Notre Dame also played a relatively easy schedule, they also can make an argument for the national title on the strength of their head-to-head win over the Noles. 

FSU was probably the better team overall, but they also deserve criticism for backing their way into the national title picture.

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