Ranking The Best College & NFL Championship Years
The BCS/College Football Playoff era just finished up its 20th season, and despite what many pro fans might believe, over that same span, the Super Bowls have been consistently better and more entertaining than they ever were over the game’s first three decades.
Since 1998, which years had the best and worst combinations of football championships?
The numbers are the rankings within the last 20 years for each level – ranking the championships 1-20 for both the national championships and the Super Bowls; it’ll be changed after next week – based on how good, meaningful and historic they were.
Which years had the championships that made life truly worth living for football fans?
The year represents the season, not the actual date of the games.
18. Florida 41, Ohio State 14, BCS National Championship
14. Indianapolis 29, Chicago 17, Super Bowl XLI
Coincidentally, no two championship games started out with more of a misleading bang. OSU’s Ted Ginn Jr. took the opening kickoff for a touchdown against Florida, and Chicago’s Devin Hester was ridiculous, taking the kick to the house to get the Super Bowl going And that was about it for both games.
The Gator defense shut down Heisman-winner Troy Smith and the Buckeye offense to a dead stop, and in the rain, Peyton Manning and the Colts outscored the Bears 23-3 after the first quarter.
20. USC 55, Oklahoma 19, Orange Bowl
13. New England 24, Philadelphia 21, Super Bowl XXXIX
The USC-Oklahoma national championship was supposed to be an all-timer, and it was all-timer over at halftime with the Trojans up 38-10. How bad was this? The ratings were among the worst in the BCS era with America turning it off, but fortunately, everyone missed halftime entertainer Ashlee Simpson getting booed for her clunker of a performance.
Unfortunately, in the combo rankings, the college national championship was an anchor for a solid Super Bowl. It was a thriller, but it’ll always be known for Donovon McNabb being gassed as the Eagles took FOREVER to get the offense moving down two scores late.
19. Miami 37, Nebraska 14, Rose Bowl
9. New England 20, St. Louis 17, Super Bowl XXXVI
It was the beginning of a dynasty, even if it didn’t quite seem like it at the time. New England and Tom Brady came through in the final moments to shock the Greatest Show On Turf St. Louis team – finishing with the walk-off Adam Vinitieri field goal.
But before that, one of Miami’s most talented teams laid waste to a horribly outmatched Nebraska squad that didn’t win its own division or conference championship.
15. Alabama 37, Texas 21, BCS National Championship
11. New Orleans 31, Indianapolis 17, Super Bowl XLIV
The Saints won the Super Bowl helped by a gutsy onside kick call, a brilliant game from Drew Brees, and a pick-six from Tracy Porter. Indianapolis was sputtering, but Peyton Manning and company were only down 24-17 with under four minutes to play. And then Porter stepped in and took the title.
The BCS Championship was a dud after Texas QB Colt McCoy got hurt almost immediately. Backup Garrett Gilbert made the game somewhat entertaining for a little while, but Nick Saban took home his first national title with the Tide in his only perfect season.
7. Oklahoma 13, Florida State 2, Orange Bowl
19. Baltimore 34, New York Giants 7, Super Bowl XXXV
The end of the 2000 seasons were marked by all-time great defensive performances. The Orange Bowl was the bomb that never went off. It seemed like it was just a question of time before Heisman-winner Chris Weinke and the Florida State offense would blow up. Nope. Oklahoma’s defense pitched a near-perfect game to give Bob Stoops his only national title.
Talk about the 1985 Chicago Bears all you want, but when it comes to all-time great NFL defenses, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens were right there. They dismantled the Giants in an ugly Super Bowl blowout.
6. Florida State 34, Auburn 31, BCS National Championship
20. Seattle 43, Denver 8, Super Bowl XLVIII
It’s a shame the final BCS Championship was paired up in the same year with, arguably, the worst Super Bowl of all-time.
Auburn seemingly had FSU dead and buried, but Jameis Winston overcame a late Tre Mason touchdown run with an epic drive for a national title, finding Kelvin Benjamin in the back of the end zone for the score in the final moments.
Seattle won Super Bowl XLVIII getting off the bus. An early snap blew past Peyton Manning, and Denver was swarmed over the entire way in what turned out to be a coronation.
17. Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14, BCS National Championship
8. Baltimore 34, San Francisco 31, Super Bowl XLVII
Super Bowl XLVII has never quite received its due for being an amazing all-around event. From the power outage, to Jim Harbaugh and Colin Kaepernick coming this close being Super Bowl winners, to the Ray Lewis retirement and his incessantly silly motivational screaming, it was strange, but terrific.
The BCS National Championship stunk. Notre Dame was a good story, right up until it showed up to deal with the Alabama defense. The game’s MVP turned out to be – thanks to Brent Musburger’s fawning – Alabama QB AJ McCarron’s girlfriend, Katherine Webb.
11. Tennessee 23, Florida State 16, Fiesta Bowl
14. Denver 34, Atlanta 19, Super Bowl XXXIII
Both games were defined by big pass plays, with Tennessee taking home the first BCS Championship on a Tee Martin-to-Peerless Price hookup. John Elway’s final game was marked by his bomb to Rod Smith.
The problem? The opponents weren’t quite what everyone wanted.
FSU was okay, but QB Marcus Outzen wasn’t exactly up to injured Chris Weinke snuff. In the Super Bowl, Minnesota should’ve and would’ve been there if they didn’t gag away the NFC Championship – Vikings-Broncos was what the world desired and deserved.
10. Auburn 22, Oregon 19, BCS National Championship
12. Green Bay 31, Pittsburgh 25, Super Bowl XLV
Cam Newton was just okay on the big stage of the national championship, but his Tigers completed the improbable perfect season helped by a sensational big play from RB Michael Dyer, and a walk-off field goal for the title.
Aaron Rodgers came up with 304 yards and three touchdown throws to get Green Bay up 28-17 in the fourth. And then the team held on for dear life, as the D came through with a stop in the final moments for the Packers’ fourth Super Bowl.
16. Alabama 21, LSU 0, BCS National Championship
5. New York Giants 21, New England 17, Super Bowl XLVI
It was the year of the rematch. No one really wanted to see Alabama play LSU again after the Tigers got by the Tide 9-6 in Tuscaloosa, and it showed in one of the lowest-rated BCS/CFP Championships. The world didn’t miss much other than a dominant Crimson Tide defensive performance, and absolutely no answers from the LSU offense.
Round Two between New York and New England was the more entertaining redo. It wasn’t as good as the 2008 Super Bowl that denied the Patriots a perfect season, but it didn’t disappoint, with Mario Manningham’s catch – and Eli Manning’s perfect throw – highlighting the great fight.
13. LSU 21, Oklahoma 14, Sugar Bowl
7. New England 32, Carolina 29, Super Bowl XXXVIII
Despite ending with a walk-off kick for the win, and with 24 points scored in the final 6:53, Super Bowl XXXVIII wasn’t quite as historic as a few of the other New England classics. But it was a killer, with Tom Brady and Jake Delhomme trading knockout shot after knockout shot, combining for 679 passing yards and six touchdowns.
Nick Saban got his first national championship, and it was a close game, but the 2004 BCS Championship was boring. Mostly, it was marred by a controversy that left out AP No. 1, USC.
5. Alabama 45, Clemson 40, CFP National Championship
17. Denver 24, Carolina 10, Super Bowl 50
This was when Deshaun Watson went from great to legendary – and then he took his game to another level a year later. Alabama’s offense opened it up when it had to, the special teams came up with a key onside kick recovery, and it still almost wasn’t enough to get Nick Saban his fifth national title.
Super Bowl 50 was fine. Whatever. It was a good defensive day from Von Miller and company, and Peyton Manning was along for the ride for his second Super Bowl win, It wasn’t all totally overshadowed by Cam Newton and his post-game grouchiness, but it was close.
2. Ohio State 31, Miami 24 OT, Fiesta Bowl
18. Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21, Super Bowl XXVII
If it wasn’t for Vince Young and Texas against USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl, the 2003 Fiesta might have been known more as the greatest college football game of BCS/CFP era – if not all-time. It had absolutely everything with talent, a massive controversy, and a heart-stopping finish in a battle that was phenomenal throughout.
The Tampa Bay defensive performance to shut down Rich Gannon and the high-powered Oakland offense was a thing of beauty – and Jon Gruden has been living off of it ever since.
8. Florida State 46, Virginia Tech 29, Sugar Bowl
10. St. Louis 23, Tennessee 16, Super Bowl XXXIV
Both games are mostly remembered for the jaw-dropping performances from the losing quarterbacks. Peter Warrick and the FSU offense might have taken over the 2000 Sugar Bowl late, but it was Hokie QB Michael Vick who had everyone talking.
St. Louis and Kurt Warner capped off their improbable season thanks to the defense holding the Titans inches short of the goal line on the final play, but Steve McNair was the star of the show, doing everything possible to almost pull off the upset.
1. Texas 41, USC 38, Rose Bowl
16. Pittsburgh 21, Seattle 10, Super Bowl XL
Super Bowl XL was the Jerome Bettis special, but it was an ugly game. Strange penalty calls killed the Seahawks, and Ben Roethlisberger had one of the worst games ever by a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, completing 9-of-21 passes for 123 yards and two picks.
It also wasn’t fair to the NFL’s championship that it had to follow – arguably – the greatest college football game ever.
The season-long hype building for USC and Texas was all worth it, as Vince Young came up with his magnum opus to get past Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, and Pete Carroll going for a threepeat.
12. Ohio State 42, Oregon 20, CFP National Championship
3. New England 28, Seattle 24, Super Bowl XLIX
The first College Football Playoff National Championship was still a game going into the fourth – Ohio State was only up 28-20. But Ezekiel Elliott took over – finishing with 246 yards and four scores – giving Urban Meyer his third national title.
Ohio State didn’t forget to feed its beast. Seattle? Now, not handing the ball off to Marshawn Lynch for an almost-certain game-winning touchdown looks like the end of what might have been a great run for the Seahawks.
14. LSU 38, Ohio State 24, BCS National Championship
1. New York Giants 17, New England 14, Super Bowl XLII
You can have your Ice Bowl and keep your 1958 Colts-Giants. Considering the stakes, just behind the 1981 NFC Championship – the Dwight Clark catch game as San Francisco beat Dallas – and the Kellen Winslow performance in the San Diego win over Miami that same playoff year, Super Bowl XLII might have been the most amazing pro football game ever.
It was New England gunning for 19-0. It was the possible run for Greatest Team of All-Time status. And it was New York coming in and stomping on all of that with a David Tyree helmet catch, an unrelenting pass rush, and Eli Manning outplaying Tom Brady when he had to.
The 2008 BCS Championship was fine. It was an okay-not-amazing Ohio State team – even though it was undefeated – against an LSU team that wouldn’t have been there if West Virginia didn’t choke against Pitt. LSU might have been the worst national champion in the BCS/CFP era – it’s the only one with two losses – but Les Miles got his title.
9. Florida 24, Oklahoma 14, BCS National Championship
6. Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23, Super Bowl XLIII
Part of the problem with these two championship games was the focus of the rest of the world on a global financial meltdown. There was a reason there wasn’t quite as much attention on football with shockingly low TV ratings, at least for a showdown between Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford.
Florida’s defense held down the historic Sooner offense to give Urban Meyer his second national title. That was good, but Pittsburgh’s win over Arizona was better.
Ben Roethlisberger-to-Santonio Holmes will always be one of the most impressive game-winning touchdowns in Super Bowl history, and no one had a better defensive touchdown than James Harrison going coast-to-coast to end the first half. Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald had one last shot to pull it off, but the Steeler defense came through.
3. Alabama 26, Georgia 23 OT, CFP National Championship
4. Philadelphia 41, New England 33, Super Bowl LII
In a lot of ways, Super Bowl LII was a bad game.
The special teams? Bad. The officiating? A whiff on a key Corey Clement touchdown catch. The Justin Timberlake halftime show? Lazy. The defenses? Non-existent. However, it was thrilling theater throughout, including Tom Brady getting two final shots at being Tom Brady.
It was historic – the 1,131 combined yards were the most amassed ever in an NFL game – it was a first Philadelphia Super Bowl – and it was endlessly entertaining.
The fourth College Football Playoff National Championship wasn’t always pretty, but it was as emotional as any game in the CFP/BCS era – and it went into overtime.
From the quarterback change to Tua Tagovailoa, to the slow-bleed on a final drive in regulation that looked like Alabama was going to pull it off, and then whiffed on the field goal, to the phenomenal walk-off finish – it was special.
4. Clemson 35, Alabama 31, CFP National Championship
2. New England 34, Atlanta 28 OT, Super Bowl LI
Sorry, all things Georgia.
Both 2016 football seasons ended with amazing games and all-timer endings.
Alabama-Clemson II appeared to be a dud. Deshaun Watson got rocked, the Tide defense was dominating, and it looked like Nick Saban was about to cruise to another title. And then Watson got hot, Bama played like it didn’t know how to do that defense thing, and all of a sudden, it looked like the Tigers might actually pull it off.
And then Jalen Hurts happened.
After struggling through the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and for most of the CFP National Championship, Hurts weaved his way though the Clemson defense for what appeared to be the game-winning touchdown. But there was just enough time left for Watson to have his moment.
No. 4 marched the Tigers down the field, the offense caught a break on what appeared to be a pick play that wasn’t called, and Clemson had its national championship. That was good. Super Bowl LI was better.
Like the CFP national title, the Super Bowl was over.
The Falcons were dominating with a 28-3 lead late in the third quarter. And then came the collapse, as the Patriot offense made play after play, Atlanta went into a shell, and 31 unanswered points and one overtime later, Tom Brady and his 466 passing yards had Super Bowl win No. 5.