12. 2016 Clemson (12-1)
The Case For: On talent, Clemson was as good as anyone on this list. There’s NFL prospect after NFL prospect on both sides, led by Deshaun Watson conducting it all.
Beating Auburn (14) to start the season on the road was strong, and while it was a fight to get by Troy at home, that turned out to be a fantastic Trojan team. Surviving Lamar Jackson and a red-hot Louisville (13) helps, beating Florida State (11) on the road was great, and winning the ACC Championship over Virginia Tech (22) padded the resumé.
The Case Against: The 43-42 shootout loss at home to Pitt was a problem. Considering the Tigers lucked out against NC State a few weeks earlier – a missed field goal was needed to survive – this was a shaky team despite all the talent.
Final Decision: The problem is that NC State game. Clemson certainly had the talent to turn it all up a few notches – and Watson was Watson – but there were a whole lot of moments that didn’t add up. Would the Tigers have been more focused if they lost to the Wolfpack? Maybe, but that lack of focus is scary to put up any higher than this.
Okay, What Happened? College Football Playoff Results: (2) Clemson 31, (3) Ohio State 0, (semifinal); (2) Clemson 35, (1) Alabama 31 (National Championship)
11. 2014 Oregon (12-1)
The Case For: Who’s stopping this offense? On a roll, Heisman-winner Marcus Mariota led an attack that cranked up 42 points or more in every game except the 31-24 loss to Arizona (10).
The Ducks avenged that with a 51-13 Wildcat stomping in the Pac-12 title game.. The 19-point win over Michigan State (8) is the big win, but winning at UCLA (14), blowing out Utah (22) on the road helped.
The Case Against: The loss to Arizona the first time around was at home. The rest of the Pac-12 was relatively mediocre, and there were some defensive issues against bad Washington State and California teams.
Final Decision: This was a whole different ball game for this up-tempo offense. Mariota was the key, able to run it at the highest of levels. And the Ducks had a defense, too. No, beating the team that beats you doesn’t take the sting totally away, but it comes close.
Okay, What Happened? College Football Playoff Results: (2) Oregon 59, (3) Florida State 20 (semifinal); (4) Ohio State 42, (2) Oregon (National Championship)
10. 2014 Alabama (12-1)
The Case For: The talent-level was jaw-dropping. The lines were incredible, and the offense explosive. Beating Mississippi State (7) was excellent, and getting by LSU (23) on the road was important, but it was the way the offense rolled when it needed to in a 55-44 win over Auburn (19), and the 42-13 dominance over Missouri (16), that took the 2014 Tide to another level.
The Case Against: The defense was too inconsistent for the talent level. There were a few too many tight games when Bama was the far better team, and the 23-17 road loss to Ole Miss (9) is an anchor.
Final Decision: The lack of consistency was troubling. This might be the most talented team on the list, but there were way too many struggles along the way. However, some credit has to be given for being the conference champ in an epic year for the conference, especially the SEC West.
Okay, What Happened? College Football Playoff Results: (4) Ohio State 42, (1) Alabama 35 (semifinal)
9. 2019 Clemson (13-0)
The Case For: The Tigers were phenomenal down the stretch – and weren’t bad to start the season, either. A 21-20 win over North Carolina was the only blip – and it was a win. No one else came closer than 14 of the Tigers, and after the battle with the Tar Heels, no one came closer than 31. In the eight game run after the close call, Clemson beat five bowl teams, a rival in South Carolina, and one of those good wins came over Virginia 62-17 in the ACC Championship. But …
The Case Against: The team might have looked and played the part, but it helped that it didn’t play anyone ranked in the College Football Playoff top 25. Yeah, the Tigers blew out everyone, but their toughest test was … Virginia? They had the easiest slate among the top 24 teams when it came to playing top teams, and it wasn’t all that close.
Final Decision: The talent factor overcomes a whole lot else. No, Clemson didn’t play anyone, but it did what you’re supposed to do against a slew of mediocre teams – you blow them out with ease.
Okay, What Happened? College Football Playoff Results: (3) Clemson 29, (2) Ohio State 23 (semifinal); (1) LSU 42, (3) Clemson 25 (National Championship)