The 20 Most Undeserving National Champions in College Football History

Michael PintoSenior Writer INovember 15, 2010

The 20 Most Undeserving National Champions in College Football History

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    Fans of college football have been begging for a playoff system for years to put an end to the seemingly endless controversy. 

    From polls closing before bowl games were played prior to 1965, to the mess that is the BCS, college football has struggled with one problem more than any others: Deciding who the best team is. 

    In some cases it's clear; in many, many others, it's far from it.

    We'll look at the some of the worst cases. While none of these national title winners are bad teams by any means, they either didn't close strong, garnered undeserved respect, failed to play the best possible opponent for it all—or some of all of the above. 

19. & 20. Rutgers and Princeton

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    More of a satirical selection than anything else, Rutgers and Princeton are recognized for having played the first ever intercollegiate football game; though the rules were more a mixture of rugby and soccer than anything else.

    The teams played once at Ruters and once at Princeton, with the series being split and both teams retroactively being named national champions by the Billingsley Report and the National Championship Foundation.

17. & 18. Ohio State and UCLA, 1954

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    The 1954 national championship was split between Ohio State and UCLA, but unfortunately we'll never really know who the best team was. Of course, Bruins fans and Buckeyes fans will tell you with certainty who their vote is for. 

    UCLA and Ohio State both finished 9-0, but because of a "no repeat" rule, the Bruins were denied the opportunity to face the Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl. UCLA had appeared in the game the previous year and by rule was skipped over for USC, the Pacific Conference runner-up.

    Ohio State would defeat the Trojans 20-7 and finish the year ranked first in the AP Poll, but UCLA would take the Coaches' Poll for its share of the school's only national championship. 

16. Ohio State, 2002

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    MIAMI - DECEMBER 7:  Fans of the University of Miami Hurricanes want their team to take on the Ohio State University Buckeyes during the game against the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Hokies at the Orange Bowl on December 7, 2002 in
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    The 2002 National Championship Game will forever be remembered as one of the most exciting overtime games in history, but also for the questionable officiating that played a major role in the Buckeyes victory over No. 1-ranked Miami. 

    The Hurricanes entered the game on a 34-game winning streak as defending national champions, but fell to Ohio State 31-24 in double overtime.

    The controversy surrounds the infamous fourth-and-goal pass interference call against Miami on what would have been the final play of the game. The Hurricanes would have won their second straight title had there not been a flag.

    Though Big 12 officials later confirmed it was the correct call, it's still a hot topic of debate. 

15. USC, 2004

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    PASADENA, CA - DECEMBER 4:  Reggie Bush #5 of the USC Trojans carries the ball during the game against the UCLA Bruins on December 4, 2004 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.  USC won 29-24. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
    Harry How/Getty Images

    USC's 2004 championship is not only tainted by the Reggie Bush fiasco that forced the Trojans to vacate two wins from the season, including the win over Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, but also because of yet another mess-up by the BCS. 

    After no team went undefeated in 2003, three teams would not lose a game in 2004. USC and Oklahoma played for the championship and Auburn, which had gone 12-0 playing in the SEC, was left out.

    Would the Tigers have beaten USC? We'll never know, but many felt that Auburn at least deserved the chance. 

14. Louisiana State, 2003

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    ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 6:  Running back Justin Vincent #25 of the LSU Tigers celebrates with two teammates during the game against the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Championship Game on December 6, 2003 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia. LSU defeated
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    The year before Auburn missed out on its chance to play in the BCS championship, USC suffered the same fate in another controversial year. 

    Oklahoma and LSU played for the championship despite the fact that the Sooners had lost to Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship Game. USC was the odd man out with an 11-1 record, 0.16 points behind LSU in the BCS standings.

    LSU went on to beat Oklahoma, and USC dominated No. 4-ranked Michigan in the Rose Bowl to finish first in the AP and Coaches' polls.

13. Miami, 1983

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    Miami's first national championship in school history would change the face of college football and propel the Hurricanes to the forefront of the sport, but it's also a title clouded with controversy. 

    While the fifth-ranked Hurricanes defeated No. 1 Nebraska 31-30 in the Orange Bowl, the game was decided by a last-second failed two-point conversion by the Cornhuskers.

    Had they simply kicked the extra point and tied the game, many felt Nebraska would have remained No. 1 and won the national championship.

    But there's also Auburn to consider. The Tigers played one of the toughest schedules in the country and were ranked No. 3 before their win over Michigan in the Sugar Bowl. Even though both of the teams ranked higher than them lost, Miami still leapfrogged Auburn to claim the crown. 

10., 11. & 12. Alabama, Stanford and Navy, 1926

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    The 1926 National Championship is considered a three-way tie between Navy, Alabama and Stanford. In what could never happen in today's game, all three teams finished the year unbeaten even though Alabama and Stanford faced each other in the Rose Bowl. 

    The Cardinal and Crimson Tide would tie 7-7 in the Rose Bowl, finishing with season records of 10-0-1 and 9-0-1, respectively.

    Navy would go 9-0-1, with a crazy back-and-forth 21-21 tie against Army in the season finale as the only blemish on it's record. The Midshipmen would not play in a bowl game that year.

9. Brigham Young, 1984

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    BYU's 1984 national championship team was the last that is not a current member of the BCS coalition that makes up the six major conferences of college football.

    The Cougars finished the season undefeated and were the consensus national champions, but their strength of schedule was weak and many feel that Washington was the real champion that year. 

    BYU played only one opponent that appeared in a bowl game that season, and none of their opponents finished in the top 20 of the postseason rankings. Washington, on the other hand, went 11-1 and defeated No. 2 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.

    The Huskies placed second in the final AP Poll, but the fault is partially their own. Washington was extended an invitation to play BYU in a game that certainly would have decided who the real champion was, but the Huskies declined for a bigger payday in the Orange Bowl.

8. Alabama, 1964

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    Before 1965, the AP released its final rankings before bowl games were played. The system was always a bit controversial, since bowl games often served as the best means to determine who the best team really was. 

    That system changed in 1964, though, when both Arkansas and Alabama went undefeated in the regular season and the Crimson Tide were named champions by the AP.

    Arkansas would go on to win the Cotton Bowl over Nebraska and Alabama would lose in the Sugar Bowl against Texas—a team the Razorbacks had beaten in the regular season. 

7. Minnesota, 1940

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    Minnesota's 1940 and 1941 teams were stellar, there's no denying that. But the 1940 championship is one that can be disputed for a number of reasons. 

    The Golden Gophers played only eight games that year, while No. 2 Stanford went 9-0 in the regular season and then beat No. 7 Nebraska in the Rose Bowl.

    No. 5 Boston College went 10-0 in the regular season, then defeated No. 4 Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl. Minnesota remains the only champion of the year, but the arguments for Stanford and Boston College are too strong to ignore.

6. Minnesota, 1960

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    Minnesota's 1960 national championship was the last in school history, but it's also one the Golden Gophers wouldn't have received if it had been just five years later.

    As mentioned before, up until 1965, final voting was completed before bowl games. In 1960, Minnesota was ranked first and Mississippi was ranked second in both the AP Poll and the Coaches' Poll. 

    The Gophers would go on to lose to Washington in the Rose Bowl while Mississippi would defeat Rice in the Sugar Bowl; the Rebels were retroactively awarded a share of the title. 

5. Tennessee, 1951

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    Tennessee and Michigan State are recognized as the co-national champions of the 1951 season. But looking back, the Volunteers are better recognized as one of the most disappointing teams in history. 

    After a 10-0 regular season, Tennessee played Maryland in the Sugar Bowl and was handed a 28-13 loss. While Michigan State did not play in a bowl game, there was a third unbeaten team that year that deserves more recognition. 

    Illinois went 9-0-1 in the regular season and dominated Stanford 40-7 in the Rose Bowl. The Illini were awarded the national championship by the Boand Selecting Body.

4. Alabama, 1973

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    Not to keep picking on Alabama, but it can't be ignored that the Crimson Tide have several disputable titles. One of the easier to point out is the 1973 national championship. 

    Alabama was the No. 1-ranked team at the end of the regular season in both the AP Poll and the Coaches' Poll. Beginning in 1965, the AP held a postseason poll after the bowl games, but the UPI did not. As a result, Alabama was awarded the national championship. 

    The Tide faced Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl, with the Irish ranked third in the AP and fourth in the UPI. Notre Dame would win the game 24-23 in thrilling fashion, finishing first in the final AP poll. 

3. Colorado, 1990

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    27 Oct 1990: Running back James Hill of the Colorado Buffaloes runs down the field during a game against the Oklahoma Sooners at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colorado. Colorado won the game 32-23.
    Tim DeFrisco/Getty Images

    One of the most controversial champions in history, the 1990 Colorado Buffaloes are remembered more for an officiating blunder than for winning the national championship.

    Colorado would go 10-1-1 that season, with a tie against eighth-ranked Tennessee to open the season and a loss against 21st-ranked Illinois two weeks later. The Buffaloes wouldn't lose again, beating Texas, Washington, Oklahoma and Nebraska—all of whom were ranked in the top 25. 

    Colorado then beat top-ranked Notre Dame in the the Orange Bowl to claim the AP national championship. The controversy centers around the Buffaloes' win over unranked Missouri, a game in which Colorado was mistakenly given a fifth down to score the winning touchdown in the closing seconds.

    Had the game been called properly, Colorado would never have been in a position to claim the national championship. 

2. Oklahoma, 1950

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    The 1950 college football season is one that will forever be remembered as the one where Kentucky shocked the world in one of the biggest upsets of the first half of the 20th century. But it is also one that didn't quite get the result it deserved.

    Oklahoma went into the Sugar Bowl as the undisputed No. 1 team in the country, riding a 30-game win streak. The Sooners would lose to 7th-ranked Kentucky 13-7 in an absolute stunner. 

    Oklahoma was still awarded the national championship though, with final voting already compete. The NCAA later retroactively recognized Kentucky as co-national champions.

1. Alabama, 1941

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    One of the oddest claims to a national title has got to be Alabama's of 1941. While there are a ton of claims from around the country that can be understood, this one is really just baffling. 

    The Crimson Tide finished the regular season at 8-2, ranked 20th in the AP Poll and third place in the SEC. Mississippi State not only beat Alabama in the regular season, finished with a better record and won the conference title, the Bulldogs were also ranked higher than Alabama. 

    So why do the Crimson Tide claim a share of the 1941 national championship when Minnesota is the only recognized champion and another SEC team was better that year? You'll have to ask Alabama fans about that one.