20. 2020 Clemson (10-1)
The Case For: When the team was healthy and fully operational, it was the same sort of Clemson machine that ripped through college football over the previous few seasons.
There weren’t a slew of amazing wins, but it was the only team to beat (18) Miami before it got trounced in the regular season finale by North Carolina, and most importantly, it destroyed (2) (4) Notre Dame 34-10 in the ACC Championship to make amends for …
The Case Against: A loss in South Bend was the blemish. The Tigers were without QB Trevor Lawrence and were hurting on the defensive side, and they still managed to almost pull off the tough road win in an overtime thriller. However, it was a loss combined with a relatively weak rest of the schedule. However …
Final Decision: There aren’t any real blips or dings considering the COVID concerns and issues in a tough year for everyone. There aren’t a lot of great wins, but blowing out Notre Dame in the ACC Championship, combined with the talent level, make this a dangerous team peaking at the right time.
19. 2014 Florida State (13-0)
The Case For: 13-0. It might not have been pretty, but this was the only Power Five team to finish the 2014 season without a blemish. The Seminoles fought through plenty of adversity and still answered every challenge, beating Clemson (17) and Louisville (21) teams that finished in the top 25, and beat Georgia Tech (12) in the ACC Championship.
The Case Against: The eye test hurts. There were too many lousy performances, too many close calls, and too many battles without one truly great win. The Noles weren’t playing like a top team, even at 13-0.
Final Decision: There’s a benefit of the doubt factor kicking in. There’s something to be said for being the only unbeaten team in a given year, especially as the defending national champions. But the Seminoles could never quite wake up – they don’t look the same as they did in 2013.
Okay, What Happened? College Football Playoff Results: (2) Oregon 59, (3) Florida State 20 (semifinal)
18. 2015 Michigan State (12-1)
The Case For: The early season win over Oregon (15) set the tone as the Spartans seemed to invent ways to win close game after close game.
The punt block finish against Michigan (14) on the road was an all-timer, but it was the road victory over Ohio State (7) – the Buckeyes’ only blemish – that changed everything. Handing Iowa (5) it’s only loss gives the Spartans one of the best resumés on the board, but …
The Case Against: The loss to a Nebraska team that finished with a losing record wasn’t okay. The Spartans played with fire time and again, and in Lincoln, they got burned. Six of their games were decided by a touchdown or less – they didn’t always pass the eye test.
Final Decision: This was more like a team that just found a way to get it done. There’s no arguing against what the Spartans did, but based on look and the “four best team” theory, it’s hard to make a case for anything higher.
Okay, What Happened? College Football Playoff Results: (2) Alabama 38, (3) Michigan State 0 (semifinal)
17. 2017 Oklahoma (12-1)
The Case For: The offense … the offense. Who’s stopping this thing? Texas was able to keep it in check, but even in the loss to Iowa State the Sooners put up 31 points.
Baker Mayfield came up with a season-long performance for the ages, especially in a Heisman-defining 31-16 win at Ohio State (5). Based on the look, this team answers every question on offense, surviving a 62-52 shootout against Oklahoma State (19) on the road, and beating TCU (15) twice, including in the redo of the Big 12 Championship. Beating seven bowl teams – including one twice – is terrific.
The Case Against: The defense was still suspect. Granted, playing in the Big 12 will do that, but the conference wasn’t that great. The loss to Iowa State, while generally acceptable, was still a loss. At home. To Iowa State.
Final Decision: The Texas game needed a late boost, and Mayfield saved the day against Kansas State, but it’s really all about that win at Ohio State – considering the final ranking, it’s among the best by anyone on this list.
Okay, What Happened? College Football Playoff Results: (3) Georgia 54, (2) Oklahoma 48 (2OT) (semifinal)