CollegeFootballNews.com 20th Anniversary Ranking College Football Playoff & BCS Era 20 National Champions: No. 3, Clemson Tigers
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. 3, 2016 Clemson Tigers
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.
2016 Clemson Season
2016 was about redemption with one singular focus.
The 2015 Clemson Tigers rolled through the season 14-0, only to come up just short in a thriller of a national title loss to Alabama. But with QB Deshaun Watson returning, along with a slew of star parts to the offense and future NFL talents on defense, everything was in place for another big run.
The team went through spring football with a business-like purpose, and it started out the season ranked second in both polls behind … Alabama.
So what did the Tigers come out of the gate rocking and rolling? Hardly. It took a fight to get by Auburn, but as it turned out, the SEC Tigers weren’t all that bad – it was a better road win than it appeared to be at the time.
Clemson was about to bounce back roaring, right? Not exactly. It took everything in the bag to get by Troy 30-24. But, the Trojans were better than anyone thought, winning ten games on the season.
Even so, it wasn’t an inspiring start to what was supposed to be a dominant September. Struggling to put away Lamar Jackson and Louisville didn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence, and coming away with a miraculous win over NC State – the Wolfpack lost it more than Clemson won – meant four of the first six games were decided by a touchdown or less with the date at Florida State up next.
The Tigers got by in a 37-34 battle, and after a blowout over Syracuse, they lost a firefight against Pitt in a wild and crazy 43-42 thriller.
But it didn’t really matter. Even with all the problems and all of the issues, the Tigers were still fourth in the College Football Playoff rankings in mid-November. Win out, get in, and get a shot at the title.
Meanwhile, Alabama was the lone remaining unbeaten team, ripping through everything in its path on the way to the SEC title and the rock-solid No. 1 spot.
The Pitt loss seemed to slap Clemson awake. With blowouts over Wake Forest and South Carolina, it was off to the ACC Championship with a shot at the CFP. It wasn’t easy, but the Tigers survived Virginia Tech 42-35.
However, even with the CFP No. 2 ranking, Clemson didn’t look or play the part. It was the chance it was waiting for, but could it really beat Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl?
It was as if Clemson had gone through the motions to get back into the show. Once it was there, it was business time.
The Tigers put on a clinic, shutting out the Buckeyes in a 31-0 win that was more dominant than the final score. Meanwhile, even with an easy win over Washington, all of a sudden, Alabama was looking like the shaky team going into the College Football Playoff National Championship rematch.
Alabama had it.
Watson got banged up early, the Crimson Tide ground game was rolling, and Clemson looked overmatched. Alabama was in total control going into halftime, and all it had to do was rely on its amazing defense to come up with yet another national title.
But Watson woke up. All of a sudden, the Tiger offense started to work, the defense held its own, and it became a showdown again.
Even so, and even after the great performance, it appeared to be another heartbreaker for the Tigers as Jalen Hurts weaved his way for a touchdown and the late 31-28 Crimson Tide lead. No way, no how the Tide D was going to melt down with the national title there for the taking in the final moments.
Watson then went from a Clemson great to all-timer legend, marching the Tigers into field goal range with plenty of help from his supporting cast making big play after big play – even if the drive was a wee bit slow and seemingly without a sense of urgency.
But instead of settling for overtime, Watson found Hunter Renfrow to cap off the improbable drive with a touchdown for the national championship.
The Tigers had done it. They beat Alabama. Dabo Swinney became a national championship head coach. The program proved after years of big performances that it really was a superpower.
Clemson took down Alabama in a national championship. Mission complete.
– Even though Clemson beat Louisville and won the ACC title, Watson lost to Lamar Jackson in the Heisman race. If the voting was done after the bowls, Watson would’ve won in a walk, but at the time, he lost 2,144 points to 1,524 and 526 first place votes to 269 – including mine.
– Of the three College Football Playoff national champs so far, Clemson is just barely behind the other two. And why? Just four in the Elite Win Score – wins over teams that finished with two losses or fewer, or road wins over a three-loss team. 11 of the 14 wins were over times that finished with winning records, which is amazing, but that’s still fewer than 2015 Alabama and 2014 Ohio State.
– The overall margin of victory – 318 points was the second lowest among the teams in the top seven.
Opponent Final Record in Parentheses
Sept. 3 Clemson 19, at Auburn 13 (8-5)
Sept. 10 Clemson 30, Troy 24 (10-3)
Sept. 17 Clemson 59, South Carolina State 0 (FCS, 5-6)
Sept. 22 Clemson 26, at Georgia Tech 7 (9-4)
Oct. 1 Clemson 42, Louisville 36 (9-4)
Oct. 7 Clemson 56, at Boston College 10 (7-6)
Oct. 15 Clemson 24, NC State 17 (7-6)
Oct. 29 Clemson 37, at Florida State 34 (10-3)
Nov. 5 Clemson 54, Syracuse 0 (4-8)
Nov. 12 Pitt 43 (8-5), Clemson 42
Nov. 19 Clemson 35, at Wake Forest 13 (7-6)
Nov. 26 Clemson 56, South Carolina 7 (6-7)
Dec. 3 Clemson 42, Virginia Tech 35 (10-4)
CFP Fiesta Bowl
Dec. 31 Clemson 31, Ohio State 0 (11-2)
College Football Playoff National Championship
Jan. 9 Clemson 35, Alabama 31 (14-1)
CFN Historical Season Rankings Breakdown
Wins: 14 (at Auburn, Troy, South Carolina State, at Georgia Tech, Louisville, at Boston College, NC State, at Florida State, Syracuse, at Wake Forest, South Carolina, ACC Championship vs. Virginia Tech, Fiesta Bowl vs. Ohio State, CFP National Championship vs. Alabama)
Losses: 1 (Pitt)
Quality Wins: 11 (at Auburn, Troy, at Georgia Tech, Louisville, at Boston College, NC State, at Florida State, at Wake Forest, ACC Championship vs. Virginia Tech, Fiesta Bowl vs. Ohio State, CFP National Championship vs. Alabama)
Elite Wins Score: 4 (at Florida State, Fiesta Bowl vs. Ohio State, CFP National Championship vs. Alabama)
Bad Wins: 1 (South Carolina State)
Elite Losses: 0
Point Differential: Clemson 588, Opponents 270
Winning %: 0.929
TOTAL SCORE: 31.859
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 Texas
CFN 20th Anniversary lists compiled by Rich Cirminiello, Pete Fiutak, Phil Harrison & Russ Mitchell