150 Greatest National Champions: Top 50
50. 1982 Penn State (11-1)
All-Time Season Score: 23.6567
Key Season Score Element: 8 Quality Wins
Best Win: Penn State 27, Georgia 23 (Sugar Bowl)
Worst Game: at Alabama 42, Penn State 21
The 1982 Nittany Lions more than earned the national title with two of the most impressive wins of the 1980s. They handed an amazing Nebraska team its only loss in a 27-24 classic, and took out Herschel Walker’s unbeaten Georgia squad in an amazing Sugar Bowl.
The 42-21 blowout loss to Alabama knocks down the Season Ranking score, but with great wins over Maryland, West Virginia, Boston College, Pitt and Notre Dame – all finished with four losses or fewer – it was a great run.
49. 1890 Harvard (11-0)
All-Time Season Score: 23.6800
Key Season Score Element: 543 point differential
Best Win: Harvard 13, Yale 6
Worst Game: Harvard 13, Yale 6
The best win and worst games were basically the same thing because Harvard demolished everyone but Yale. No one else game closer than 33 points, and only Amherst was able to score before Yale put up 6 in the season finale – Harvard beat Amherst 74-6. The two played twice, with Harvard winning the rematch on the road 64-0.
48. 1992 Alabama (13-0)
All-Time Season Score: 23.6900
Key Season Score Element: 122 points allowed
Best Win: Alabama 34, Miami 13 (Sugar Bowl)
Worst Game: Alabama 13, Louisiana Tech 0
It was supposed to be a Miami coronation. The Hurricanes were ripping through the season on the way to a yet another national title, and then came the Sugar Bowl against Bama in the Sugar Bowl, and everything flipped. The SEC champs only had one amazing win – beating Tennessee on the road 17-10 – but managed to get by a Florida team that finished 9-4 in the first ever SEC Championship to earn a shot at the Canes. The Bama D allowed more than 13 points just twice.
47. 1988 Notre Dame (12-0)
All-Time Season Score: 24.1200
Key Season Score Element: 3.5 Elite Win Score
Best Win: Notre Dame 31, Miami 30
Worst Game: Notre Dame 30, at Pitt 20
The Irish essentially won the national title in mid-October with the classic Catholics vs. Convicts game against Miami, but it took a win over an unbeaten West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl to finish the drill. Beating a strong USC team 27-10 was fantastic, but six wins came against teams that finished with losing records.
46. 2003 LSU (Coaches) (13-1)
All-Time Season Score: 24.1386
Key Season Score Element: 4 Bad Wins
Best Win: LSU 21, Oklahoma 14 (Sugar Bowl/BCS Championship)
Worst Game: Florida 19, LSU 7
USC might have won the AP national title, but Nick Saban’s Tigers had a much, much better year and – with the schedule they played – the more deserving national champ.
The 17-14 win at Ole Miss was strong, but dominating Georgia for the national title and stuffing Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl for the BCS Championship boosted up the campaign. The D allowed 14 points or fewer in 12 of the 14 games, with one of the down games coming in a 19-7 loss to Florida.
45. 1997 Michigan (AP) (12-0)
All-Time Season Score: 24.3300
Key Season Score Element: 7 Quality Wins
Best Win: Michigan 21, Washington State 16 (Rose Bowl)
Worst Game: Michigan 28, Iowa 24
Michigan beat a solid Ohio State team – thanks, Charles Woodson – and got past a good Penn State squad to get to the Rose Bowl to face Ryan Leaf and Washington State. The Wolverines got the win to go 12-0, and they beat seven teams that finished with winning records, but they still had to split the national title with Nebraska.
44. 1972 USC (12-0)
All-Time Season Score: 24.5800
Key Season Score Element: 7 Quality Wins
Best Win: USC 42, Ohio State 17 (Rose Bowl)
Worst Game: USC 18, at Oregon 0
There were a whole slew of mediocre wins for most of the season, and then came the big tests at the end. USC passed with flying colors, taking out UCLA 24-7 in Pasadena, rocked Notre Dame 45-23, and went back across town to take out Ohio State 42-17 in the Rose Bowl. Stanford – in a 30-21 loss in Palo Alto – was the only team to come closer than 17 points against the dominant Trojans.
43. 1945 Army (9-0)
All-Time Season Score: 24.6600
Key Season Score Element: 5.5 Elite Win Score
Best Win: Army 32, Navy 13
Worst Game: Army 55, Melville PT Boats 13
Out of all the great Army teams, this is the one. This was when the program was at the peak of its powers, going 27-0-1 from 1944 to 1946 with this season right in the middle of it all. There wasn’t a lick of drama, handing Navy its only loss in a 32-13 blasting, and destroying an outstanding Notre Dame team 48-0.
In all, five of the nine wins ended up being a part of the Elite Win category. So why is the ranking so low? There weren’t enough games. 1945 Army was the only team in the top 49 that didn’t have double-digit wins.
42. 1888 Yale (13-0)
All-Time Season Score: 24.6900
Key Season Score Element: Outscored teams 694-0
Best Win: Yale 10, Princeton 0
Worst Game: Yale 28, Crescent Athletic Club 0
The 1888 Yale team was never touched, with eight of the 13 victories decided by 54 points or more. The problem was the multiple wins over bad teams. Yale whacked around Wesleyan three times, including a 105-0 squeaker late in the year. There were also two wins over Amherst and two more over Penn. In the end, nine of the victories were Bad Wins.
41. 2004 USC (13-0)
All-Time Season Score: 24.7700
Key Season Score Element: 327 point differential
Best Win: USC 55, Oklahoma 19 (Orange Bowl/BCS Championship)
Worst Game: USC 31, at Stanford 28
The 2003 team earned a split national title, but there weren’t any question marks after the 2004 season. There were some rough patches – it took a lot of work to get by bad Stanford and Oregon State teams on the road – but a win over a fantastic Cal team, and a 45-7 blasting of an Arizona State squad that went 9-3, set the stage for what was coming. The 55-19 destruction of Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl was the most dominant big game performance of the Pete Carroll era.
40. 1993 Florida State (12-1)
All-Time Season Score: 24.9931
Key Season Score Element: 407 point differential
Best Win: Florida State 18, Nebraska 16 (Orange Bowl)
Worst Game: at Notre Dame 31, Florida State 24
Thank you, Boston College. Florida State lost at Notre Dame in an epic 31-24 classic, but the Irish were shocked by BC the following week to keep the national title dreams open. Six of the last 11 games came against teams that finished with three losses or fewer, FSU handed Florida one of its two losses on the year – and did it in Gainesville – and survived an unbeaten Nebraska in the final seconds of the Orange Bowl for Bobby Bowden’s first national championship.
39. 1997 Nebraska (Coaches) (13-0)
All-Time Season Score: 25.1800
Key Season Score Element: 607 points
Best Win: Nebraska 42, Tennessee 17 (Orange Bowl)
Worst Game: Nebraska 45, at Missouri 38
There was the miraculous “kick” game to get by Missouri, but Scott Frost and company ripped through just about everyone else, beating Texas A&M 54-15 in the Big 12 Championship before destroying Peyton Manning’s Tennessee team for a share of the national title. There were plenty of easy wins, but the Huskers handed Kansas State its only loss in a 56-26 win.
38. 1994 Nebraska (13-0)
All-Time Season Score: 25.2200
Key Season Score Element: 6 Quality Wins
Best Win: Nebraska 24, Miami 17 (Orange Bowl)
Worst Game: Nebraska 42, Wyoming 32
The Huskers had a great season, but there were a whole slew of mediocre victories before getting by Miami for the national title. They handed Colorado its only loss of the season in a 24-7 performance, but there were only three wins over teams that finished with more than seven wins.
37. 1902 Michigan (11-0)
All-Time Season Score: 25.3200
Key Season Score Element: Outscored teams 644-12
Best Win: Michigan 21, at Chicago 0
Worst Game: Michigan 6, Wisconsin 0
This was the best season in the run of Michigan national championships from 1901 to 1904. The 1902 team gave up six points to a strong Minnesota squad, and beat Case 48-6. That was it for the points allowed, obliterating everyone else with a 107-0 win over Iowa, an 86-0 win over Ohio State, and a 119-0 squeaker against Michigan State. The Elite Win Score of 3.5 helped provide the big boost in the rankings.
36. 1897 Penn (15-0)
All-Time Season Score: 25.4300
Key Season Score Element: 15 total wins
Best Win: Penn 15, Harvard 6
Worst Game: Penn 4, Cornell 0
The 15 wins got Penn this high because of the bulk, but like most of the program’s great seasons in the late 1800s, there were a whole lot of layup wins against bad teams – there were eight Bad Wins. However, six of the team’s wins were against schools that finished with winning records, and a 46-0 victory over Lafayette and handing Harvard its only loss of the year in a 15-6 showdown made the campaign.
35. 2001 Miami (12-0)
All-Time Season Score: 25.4500
Key Season Score Element: 395 point differential
Best Win: Miami 37, Nebraska 14 (Rose Bowl/BCS Championship)
Worst Game: Miami 26, at Virginia Tech 24
This might have been among the most talented teams of all-time, but it’s dominance was mythologized, and the ranking is this low, thanks to a schedule that was a giant bag of whatever.
It caught a massive break by not having to play anyone from the SEC, and missed a fantastic Oregon squad. The win over Florida State wasn’t that big a deal, and the BCS Championship win came against a Nebraska team exposed by Colorado in the Big 12 Championship.
34. 2002 Ohio State (14-0)
All-Time Season Score: 25.5200
Key Season Score Element: 1 Elite Win Score (lowest in the top 31)
Best Win: Ohio State 31, Miami 24 (Fiesta Bowl/BCS Championship)
Worst Game: Ohio State 23, at Illinois 16
At the time, the national championship was among the most impressive runs of all-time. The Buckeyes won 14 games – only three all-time national champs won more – the most of any of the national champions since Penn won 15 in 1897. There was one problem in these rankings, though – the Buckeyes didn’t have any Elite Wins until taking out Miami for the national title in one of the greatest games of all-time. The defense allowed nine points or fewer six times.
33. 1991 Washington (Coaches) (12-0)
All-Time Season Score: 25.5500
Key Season Score Element: 115 points allowed
Best Win: Washington 34, Michigan 14 (Rose Bowl)
Worst Game: Washington 14, at USC 3
This might be the all-time most unsatisfying split national title. Miami went 12-0 and won the AP championship, Washington won the USA Today Coaches Poll title, and both were good enough to finish among the top 30 in the Season Rankings.
The Huskies were able to beat a great Nebraska team in Lincoln, took care of a Cal team that finished 10-2 on the road, and closed it all out with a 34-14 blowout over Michigan in the Rose Bowl. The UW D allowed seven points or fewer seven times.
32. 1978 USC (UPI) (12-1)
All-Time Season Score: 25.5731
Key Season Score Element: 10 Quality Wins
Best Win: USC 24, at Alabama 14
Worst Game: at Arizona State 20, USC 7
The Trojans clunked in a 20-7 road loss to Arizona State, but a 24-14 win at Alabama, and the 17-10 win over Michigan in the Rose Bowl, were enough to early the UPI national championship. Bama got the AP title, but as the CFN Season Rankings show, USC was the far, far more deserving champ. Only three of the national champs on this list – and no one outside of the top seven – had more wins over teams that finished with winning records.
31. 2017 Alabama (13-1)
All-Time Season Score: 26.6286
Key Season Score Element: 8 Quality Wins
Best Win: Alabama 26, Georgia 23 (College Football Playoff National Championship)
Worst Game: at Auburn 26, Alabama 14
By 19 miles, this was the weakest season by any of the College Football Playoff champions so far. The Tide didn’t play in the SEC Championship and lost to Auburn, meaning they won 13 games instead of the 14 or more by the other CFP title winners.
The defense allowed ten points or fewer nine times, and there’s no dogging beating Clemson and Georgia in the playoff, but considering the team didn’t have to play the conference title game to get into the tournament, it caught a mega-break.
30. 1932 USC (10-0)
All-Time Season Score: 25.6300
Key Season Score Element: 5 Elite Win Score
Best Win: USC 35, Pitt 0 (Rose Bowl)
Worst Game: USC 6, Loyola Marymount 0
Out of the ten victories, five of them ended up factoring into the Elite Win range – USC beat three teams that ended up with just one loss – and three others were wins over teams that finished with a winning record. USC allowed just 13 points all year, pitched eight shutouts, and won eight of its ten games by double digits.
29. 1930 Notre Dame (10-0)
All-Time Season Score: 25.6600
Key Season Score Element: 9 Quality Wins
Best Win: Notre Dame 7, Army 6
Worst Game: Notre Dame 20, SMU 14
How strong was the 1930 Irish season? Out of the ten wins, nine of them were against teams that finished with a winning record. Notre Dame handed Northwestern its only loss, and did it on the road. It gave Army its only loss – doing it in Chicago – and closed out with a win over USC in Los Angeles.
28. 1903 Princeton (11-0)
All-Time Season Score: 25.7800
Key Season Score Element: 9 Quality Wins
Best Win: Princeton 11, at Yale 6
Worst Game: Princeton 5, Georgetown 0
It’s the greatest of all of the Princeton national championship seasons with nine of the 11 wins coming against teams that finished with winning records. The D allowed just six points all season long, but those came on the road in an 11-6 victory in what would be the national championship determining game against a Yale team that finished 11-1. There was a Bad Win over a Gettysburg team that wasn’t a part of the official standings, but the 68-0 stomping helped the Point Differential Score.
27. 1996 Florida (12-1)
All-Time Season Score: 26.0731
Key Season Score Element: 611 points scored
Best Win: Florida 52, Florida State 20 (Sugar Bowl)
Worst Game: Florida 28, at Vanderbilt 21
Steve Spurrier’s squad caught two massive breaks to win the national title. First, it got a second shot at a Florida State team that beat up QB Danny Wuerffel in a 24-21 showdown of unbeatens in Tallahassee. The Gators stomped all over the Noles 52-20 in the rematch in the Sugar Bowl.
The second break was an Ohio State comeback over unbeaten Arizona State in the Rose Bowl. If the Sun Devils held on, they would’ve been national champs. Florida bear four teams that finished with double-digit victories, including a 35-29 win at Tennessee and Peyton Manning, and a 56-13 crushing of a great LSU.
26. 2012 Alabama (13-1)
All-Time Season Score: 26.8186
Key Season Score Element: 542 points, 389 point differential
Best Win: Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14 (BCS Championship)
Worst Game: Texas A&M 29, Alabama 24
The Crimson Tide lost to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M, but they did everything else right. After the loss, Bama stepped back up with back-to-back 49-0 wins over Western Carolina and Auburn, but neither team was that great. It took a fantastic win over Georgia in the SEC to earn the right to blowout Notre Dame in the BCS Championship. Bama scored 40 points or more in eight games, and the D allowed more than 17 points twice.
150 Greatest College Football National Champions
CFN 2021 Final Rankings | No. 1 | No. 2 | No. 3 | No. 4
No. 5 | No. 6 | No. 7 | No. 8 | No. 9 | No. 10 | 11-25 | 26-50
51-75 | 76-100 | 101-125 | 126-150 | Just Missed
CFN Season Formula Criteria | @ColFootballNews