5. 2016 Clemson (14-1)
All-Time Season Score: 31.8633
Key Season Score Element: 11 Quality Wins
Best Win: Clemson 35, Alabama 31 (CFP National Championship)
Worst Game: Pitt 43, at Clemson 42
Remember that year when the ACC got all chirpy about being the best conference in college football? This was it – eight of the ACC teams on the slate finished with a winning record – and it helped build up Clemson’s resumé in one of the five greatest national championship seasons of all-time.
The Tigers started out on the road against a good Auburn team, and then had to get by a Troy squad that went 10-3 and pushed Clemson in a 30-24 loss.
There was a 42-36 struggle against Lamar Jackson and Louisville – at least in the final score -and it took a 24-17 overtime minor-miracle to get past NC State. Pitt – led by that Nathan Peterman’s five touchdown passes – pulled off a thrilling 43-42 win in Death Valley, and all of a sudden, Clemson didn’t appear to be ready for the big show.
And then it all kicked in.
Virginia Tech showed up in the ACC Championship, but after the Pitt loss, Clemson came up with three blowouts in the next four games, including a 31-0 stomping of Ohio State in the College Football Playoff semifinal.
Just when it seemed like Alabama was going to win yet another national title, Deshaun Watson led Clemson on a drive for the ages to pull out a 35-31 win.
Wins (14): at Auburn (19-13), Troy (30-24), South Carolina State (59-0), at Georgia Tech (26-7), Louisville (42-36), at Boston College (56-10), at Florida State (37-34), Syracuse (54-0), at Wake Forest (35-13), South Carolina (56-7), Virginia Tech (42-35, ACC Championship), Ohio State (31-0, Fiesta Bowl), Alabama (35-31, CFP National Championship)
Losses (1): Pitt (43-42)
Quality Wins (11): at Auburn, Troy, at Georgia Tech, Louisville, at Boston College, NC State, at Florida State, at Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Ohio State, Alabama
Elite Wins (3): at Florida State, Virginia Tech, Ohio State
Bad Wins (1): South Carolina State
Points For: 588
Points Against: 270
4. 2014 Ohio State (14-1)
All-Time Season Score: 31.6033
Key Season Score Element: 672 points
Best Win: Ohio State 42, Alabama 35 (Sugar Bowl/College Football Playoff)
Worst Game: Virginia Tech 35, at Ohio State 21
And to think, the season was supposedly over after a 35-21 debacle at home against Virginia Tech.
Everything had to go perfectly for Ohio State just to get into the College Football Playoff, and that included TCU not converting on a late fourth down play in a shootout loss to Baylor.
The Buckeye offense kicked it in after the loss to the Hokies – scoring 42 points or more in 11 of the final 13 games – with the 59-0 destruction of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship the final statement to the CFP committee.
Once the Buckeyes got in, they took care of business with a terrific 42-35 win over Ohio State, and a 42-20 win over Heisman winner Marcus Mariota and Oregon to become the first ever College Football Playoff national champion.
Only three champions (2013 Florida State and 1886 and 1888 Yale) scored more than 2014 Ohio State, and only three (2015 Alabama, and 2016 and 2018 Clemson) had more wins over teams that finished with winning records.
Wins (14): Navy (34-17), Kent State (66-0), Cincinnati (50-28), at Maryland (52-24), Rutgers (56-17), at Penn State (31-24), Illinois (55-14), at Michigan State (49-37), at Minnesota (31-24), Indiana (42-27), Michigan (42-28), Wisconsin (59-0, Big Ten Championship), Alabama (42-35, Sugar Bowl/College Football Playoff), Oregon (42-20, College Football Playoff National Championship)
Losses (1): Virginia Tech (35-21)
Quality Wins (10): Navy, Cincinnati, at Maryland, Rutgers, at Penn State, at Michigan State, at Minnesota, Wisconsin, Alabama, Oregon
Elite Wins (4.5): at Michigan State, Wisconsin, Alabama, Oregon
Bad Wins (1): Kent State
Points For: 672
Points Against: 330
3. 2015 Alabama (14-1)
All-Time Season Score: 32.4233
Key Season Score Element: 12 Quality Wins
Best Win: Alabama 45, Clemson 40 (College Football Playoff National Championship)
Worst Game: Ole Miss 43, at Alabama 37
Ole Miss 42, Alabama 37.
That wild and crazy shootout with a whole lot of strange bounces, twists and turns went the wrong way for the Crimson Tide in the SEC opener. Had they won and gone on to win the rest of their games, they would’ve had the greatest season in the history of college football.
Instead, Bama finished in the top three thanks to 12 Quality Wins – victories over teams that finished with winning records – the most by any national champion.
There were two easy games, but again, 12 of the 15 games were against teams that at least ended up going bowling, and one of the other battles was that loss to the Ole Miss team that finished 10-3.
Wins (14): Wisconsin (35-17, in Arlington), Middle Tennessee (37-10), ULM 34-0), at Georgia (38-10), Arkansas (27-14), at Texas A&M (41-23), Tennessee (19-14), LSU (30-16), at Mississippi State (31-6), Charleston Southern (56-6), at Auburn (29-13), Florida (29-15, SEC Championship), Michigan State (38-0, CFP Cotton Bowl), Clemson (45-40, CFP Championship)
Losses (1): Ole Miss (43-37)
Quality Wins (12): Wisconsin, Middle Tennessee, at Georgia, Arkansas, at Texas A&M, Tennessee, LSU, at Mississippi State, at Auburn, Florida (SEC Championship), Michigan State (CFP Cotton Bowl), Clemson (CFP National Championship)
Elite Wins (4): Wisconsin, at Georgia, Michigan State (CFP Cotton Bowl), Clemson (CFP National Championship)
Bad Wins (2): ULM, Charleston Southern
Points For: 526
Points Against: 227
2. 2018 Clemson (15-0)
All-Time Season Score: 33.1700
Key Season Score Element: 467 point differential
Best Win: Clemson 44, Alabama 16 (CFP Championship)
Worst Game: Clemson 27, Syracuse 23
2018 Clemson was very, very, very close to being No. 1, and because of the quirky nature of how the top team in the National Champion Season Rankings got to that spot, go ahead and call this the No. 1A greatest season of all-time.
Only one other national champion – that No. 1 squad – won more than 14 games than the 15-0 Tigers, who were pushed hard by Texas A&M in a 28-26 thriller in College Station, and survived a scary 27-23 battle with Syracuse.
But that was about it. There wasn’t any drama over the last ten games, closing out with an epic finishing kick.
Clemson rolled past Pitt in the ACC Championship, an unbeaten Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl part of the College Football Playoff semifinals, and a seemingly all-timer of an Alabama squad in the CFP national championship by a combined score of 116-29.
This was the proverbial team that got better as the season went on. That’s not supposed to happen in a 15-win season.
Wins (15): Furman (48-7), at Texas A&M (28-26), Georgia Southern (38-7), at Georgia Tech (49-21), Syracuse (27-23), at Wake Forest (63-3), NC State (41-7), at Florida State (59-10), Louisville (77-16), at Boston College (27-7), Duke (35-6), South Carolina (56-35), Pitt (42-10, ACC Championship), Notre Dame (30-3, Cotton Bowl/College Football Playoff), Alabama (44-16, CFP National Championship)
Losses (0): None
Quality Wins (11): at Texas A&M, Georgia Southern, at Georgia Tech, Syracuse, at Wake Forest, NC State, at Boston College, Duke, South Carolina, Notre Dame, Alabama
Elite Wins (2): Notre Dame, Alabama
Bad Wins (2): Furman, Louisville
Points For: 664
Points Against: 197
1. 1894 Yale (16-0)
All-Time Season Score: 33.7200
Key Season Score Element: 16 wins
Best Win: Yale 12, Harvard 4
Worst Game: Yale, 10, Crescent Athletic Club 0
Wins, wins, wins, wins, wins.
College football might be night-and-day different now from what it was back in the 1800s, but the 1894 Yale team still managed to have the best season by any national champion in the history of the sport, mainly because of the 16 wins and by beating opponents by a combined score of 485-13.
There were a whole slew of Bad Wins against athletic clubs, but the nine Quality Wins helped make up for it in the overall score. The more games against good teams, the more chances for a loss, and the more chances for something to go wrong.
Other teams in history played 16 games or more – the 1889 Yale team played 17 – but no one ever pulled off a season this strong … at least for the era.
Wins (16): at Trinity (42-0), Brown (28-0), Crescent Athletic Club (10-0), Williams (23-4), Lehigh (34-0), Dartmouth (34-0), Orange Athletic Club (24-0), Boston Athletic Club (24-0), at Army (12-5), Volunteer Athletic Club (42-0), at Brown (12-0), Tufts (67-0), Lehigh (50-0), Chicago Athletic Club (48-0), Harvard (12-0), Princeton (24-0)
Quality Wins (9): at Trinity, Brown, Williams, Dartmouth, at Army, at Brown, Tufts, Harvard, Princeton
Elite Wins (4.5): at Trinity, at Army, Harvard, Princeton
Bad Wins (6): Crescent Athletic Club, Orange Athletic Club, Boston Athletic Club, Volunteer Athletic Club, Chicago Athletic Club
Points For: 485
Points Against: 13
Click for the breakdown of the CFN Season Formula criteria