CollegeFootballNews.com 20th Anniversary Ranking College Football Playoff & BCS Era 20 National Champions: No. 1, 2015 Alabama Crimson Tide
How do the 20 national champions in the College Football Playoff & BCS rank based on how good their seasons were?
CFN, College Football Playoff & BCS Era National Champions Ranking: No. 1, 2015 Alabama Crimson Tide
CollegeFootballNews.com is turning 20 this season, coincidentally starting in 1998 when the Bowl Championship Series era kicked off.
With the BCS, no matter how the teams got there, it was finally No. 1 vs. No. 2 for the national title – that wasn’t a given before – and eventually, it all morphed into the College Football Playoff starting in the 2014 season.
Based on the tried, true, tested and tweaked CFN Historical Season Ranking Formula (criteria breakdown at the bottom of all this), welcome to the ranking of all 20 national champions in the era.
This isn’t about who the most talented or the best national champions were since 1998 – that’s debatable. This is about who had the best and most impressive seasons – the more wins over great teams, the higher the score.
2015 Alabama Season
There have been more impressive, awe-inspiring, and dominant teams in the Nick Saban era at Alabama. The 2009 version won 14 games, and the 2016 team would’ve been No. 1 on this list of national champs with ease had it held on against Clemson, but no one had to deal with a slate like the 2015 team did.
Even with a quirky loss to Ole Miss to open up the SEC campaign, and even through a grind along the way, the 2015 squad came up with the most impressive season of any of the 20 national champions in the BCS/College Football Playoff era.
Was the 2015 team as legendary as the 2005 Vince Young Texas squad? Nah. Was it as dominant from pillar to post as the 2013 Jameis Winston Florida State juggernaut? Nope. Was it a fun season? Not until the very end, but it didn’t matter.
From the start against a Wisconsin team that finished with ten wins, to the thriller of a national title over an unbeaten Clemson team in Round One, there was almost never a true break or time to take a breath against a schedule that would’ve destroyed anyone else.
So if 2015 Alabama was more business-like – embodying The Process as much as any of Saban’s squads – that’s the point. It took a laser focus to get through week after week of tough games.
It took a mental toughness to bounce back from being dropped from No. 2 to 12th in both polls after the loss to Ole Miss, and even falling to 13th in the AP a week later.
In all, the Crimson Tide beat a ridiculous 12 teams that went bowling, lost to a Rebel squad that won ten games. When all was said and done, Alabama played six teams that finished with ten wins or more, three more than finished with nine wins, and even the relatively lighter-weight games against Texas A&M and Auburn were on the road.
Even Charleston Southern from the FCS world – the free space game on the slate – ended up going 10-3.
Time and again, the defense stepped up when challenged – owning Dak Prescott in a 31-6 win over a strong Mississippi State team on the road, and crushing Georgia 38-10 in Athens – and Heisman-winner Derrick Henry rumbled to a 2,219-yard, 28 touchdown season, carrying the day against LSU in a 30-16 fights, and pushed past A&M with 236 yards.
But even after appearing weary in the sluggish win over Auburn and a tough day against a mediocre East champion in Florida in the SEC Championship, when it came time to turn it on, the team looked the part, saving its best performance in a jaw-dropping destruction of Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl.
Yes, Deshaun Watson went off in the national championship, but the Tide got the clutch plays it had to have to answer every test in the 45-40 win over Clemson.
In all, the Alabama defense allowed more than 17 points just three times all year, but still, in game after game, nothing seemed to come easy.
The Process, The Process, The Process. In 2015, it meant the fifth national championship for Saban, and the greatest season by any team in the last 20 years.
– Even though Henry pounded the way to a huge year for the national champion, and even though he did it against a brutal schedule, he still barely won the Heisman over Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, 1,832 points to 1,539. Deshaun Watson got 1,165 points.
– The 299 point differential was the lowest among the three College Football Playoff national champions, and the 526 points were the fewest scored. However, those 12 Quality Wins – wins over teams that finished with a winning record – were the most of any of the 20 title winners.
By comparison, 2003 and 2004 USC had five in each season, and only 2009 Alabama (10) and the two other CFP winners 11 for 2016 Clemson and 10 for 2014 Ohio State) were in double digits.
– As good as Alabama was, it caught a massive break thanks to an all-timer of a 4th-and-25 play. Arkansas survived in a wild 53-52 win over Ole Miss on the desperation backwards lateral for a first down that lead to the victory.
Had Ole Miss won, and assuming it beat LSU and Mississippi State like it did, it would’ve gone off to the SEC Championship instead of Alabama.
Considering 13-0 Clemson, 12-1 Michigan State, and 11-1 Oklahoma would’ve been a lock for the College Football Playoff, there would’ve been a massive argument for the fourth spot.
The Crimson Tide likely would’ve still gotten in thanks to the tough schedule – they were No. 2 in the rankings from the second installment on – but Stanford, Ohio State, and even Iowa would’ve had a beef.
Opponent Final Record in Parentheses
Sept. 5 Alabama 35, Wisconsin 17 (10-3) (in Dallas)
Sept. 12 Alabama 37, Middle Tennessee 10 (7-6)
Sept. 19 Ole Miss 43 (10-3), Alabama 37
Sept. 26 Alabama 34, ULM 0 (2-11)
Oct. 3 Alabama 38, at Georgia 10 (10-3)
Oct. 10 Alabama 27, Arkansas 14 (8-5)
Oct. 17 Alabama 41, at Texas A&M 23 (8-5)
Oct. 24 Alabama 19, Tennessee 14 (9-4)
Nov. 7 Alabama 30, LSU 16 (9-3)
Nov. 14 Alabama 31, at Mississippi State 6 (9-4)
Nov. 21 Alabama 56, Charleston Southern 6 (FCS, 10-3)
Nov. 28 Alabama 29, at Auburn 13 (7-6)
Dec. 5 Alabama 29, Florida 15 (10-4)
CFP Cotton Bowl
Dec. 31 Alabama 38, Michigan State 0 (12-2)
College Football Playoff National Championship
Jan. 1 Alabama 45, Clemson 0 (14-1)
CFN Historical Season Rankings Breakdown
Wins: 14 (Wisconsin, Middle Tennessee, ULM, at Georgia, Arkansas, at Texas A&M, Tennessee, LSU, at Mississippi State, Charleston Southern, at Auburn, SEC Championship vs. Florida, Cotton Bowl vs. Michigan State, CFP National Championship vs. Clemson)
Losses: 1 (Ole Miss)
Quality Wins: 12 (Wisconsin, Middle Tennessee, at Georgia, Arkansas, at Texas A&M, Tennessee, LSU, at Mississippi State, at Auburn, SEC Championship vs. Florida, Cotton Bowl vs. Michigan State, CFP National Championship vs. Clemson)
Elite Wins Score: 5 (at Georgia, Cotton Bowl vs. Michigan State, CFP National Championship vs. Clemson)
Bad Wins: 2 (ULM, Charleston Southern)
Elite Losses: 0
Point Differential: Alabama 526, Opponents 227
Winning %: 0.929
TOTAL SCORE: 33.419
The Season Formula’s Components
If you win, everything else falls into place. Each win counts as 1.
If you lose, everything stinks. Each loss counts as -1.
3. Quality Wins
The number of wins over teams that finished with a winning record. Each Quality Win counts as 1.
4. Elite Wins
The number of wins over teams that finished with two losses or fewer. Each Elite Win counts as 1 with a road win over an Elite team getting an extra 0.5.
Also counting as 1 is a road win over a team that finished with three losses or fewer (but the extra 0.5 isn’t added). A win over a team that finishes with three losses in a bowl game also gets counts as 1.
5. Bad Loss
The number of losses to teams that finished with three wins or fewer, or a loss to an FCS (DI-AA) team. Each loss counts as minus-1. Take away an additional 0.5 for a Bad Loss at home.
6. Bad Win
The number of wins to teams that finished with three wins or fewer, or a win over a an FCS (D-IAA) team. Each win counts as -0.25
7. Elite Loss
The number of losses to teams that finished with two losses or fewer. Each loss counts as 0.25.
8. Point Differential
Points for minus points against divided by 100.
9. Winning Percentage
Created as a sort of tie-breaker, the winning % is added to the total score.
Photo courtesy of University of Alabama
CFN 20th Anniversary lists compiled by Rich Cirminiello, Pete Fiutak, Phil Harrison & Russ Mitchell