Ranking The Best National Championship Teams Of The Last 30 Years

When looking back on the last 30 years of college football champions, there are four separate eras of the sport. Currently we live in the College Football Playoff era where four teams get the opportunity to battle it out for the championship. From 1998 to 2013, the BCS was designed to pit the perceived top two teams against each other for a national championship game. Before that was the Bowl Alliance, which was designed to get the top teams to play each other in a bowl game. Prior to all of that was the original bowl structure.

Needless to say, how we get our national champions has changed over time. The advent of computer rankings and a playoff has also meant some changes in how regular seasons play out (plus the addition of conference championship games). Seasons are shorter, conferences smaller and there is less opportunities. Of course as you say that, we will be seeing Clemson play for the championship for the fourth time in five seasons.

So let’s look back at the last 30 years of champions. There have been 30 years of title teams but there are 34 champions due to split national championships in 1990, 1991, 1997 and 2003. All champions are included, so let’s see how the rankings stack up.

34. Colorado Buffaloes, 1990

Colorado Buffaloes, 1990

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Not many teams can fall as far as Colorado did in 1990 yet still end up winning a share of a national championship. The Buffaloes opened the season 1-1-1 after a loss to Illinois and a tie with Tennessee, and the Associated Press dropped them to No. 20 in the rankings. Colorado also benefited from two of the most debated moments in college football: the Fifth Down Game against Missouri and the Orange Bowl against Notre Dame where a clipping call negated a Raghib Ismail touchdown with 43 seconds left. This wasn’t a dominant champion, though the Buffs did beat No. 10 Oklahoma and No. 3 Nebraska in consecutive weeks, the latter on the road. 

33. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, 1990

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, 1990

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The 1990 season wasn’t one of the banner years of great college football. Georgia Tech was the only team to finish undefeated…yet did end up with a tie against North Carolina. That tie was during a stretch in the middle of the season where the Yellow Jackets won games by two, seven, three and three. One of those three-point wins was at No. 1 ranked Virginia, which launched a team that wasn’t even ranked during the first four weeks of the season into a long shot to win a national title. As teams fell around them, the Jackets chugged along and ended up winning the Coaches Poll national championship by one point. 

32. LSU Tigers, 2007

LSU Tigers, 2007

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LSU won a national championship just four years after Nick Saban left Baton Rouge following its last title. The Tigers are the lone team to win a national championship with two losses since the BCS era began. Both those losses were in triple overtime (43-37 to Kentucky; 50-48 to Arkansas), but despite being ranked No. 7 in the BCS heading into the SEC championship, LSU took advantage of losses by Missouri and West Virginia and its own win over Tennessee to jump to No. 2 in the BCS standings. The Tigers also had the fortunate luck to face Ohio State for the BCS championship in the Sugar Bowl in nearby New Orleans.

31. Florida Gators, 2006

Florida Gators, 2006

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The Tim Tebow hype was just beginning, but it was senior Chris Leak who held down the starting job. Tebow played in special packages to give the offense some juice, but it was the defense, led by Reggie Nelson, Ryan Smith and Jarvis Moss, that carried this team. The Gators allowed 20 points or more just three times all season and beat up Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith in the BCS championship to upset Ohio State, 41-14.

30. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2017

Alabama Crimson Tide, 2017

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Unlike the other Alabama championship teams, this squad didn’t come into the championship round as the baddest man on the block. The Tide squeaked into earning a Playoff berth after losing to Auburn in their regular-season finale and not even playing for the SEC championship. Still, Bama blew out defending champion Clemson before beating Georgia in a classic title tilt. Down at halftime, Nick Saban benched Jalen Hurts in favor of freshman Tua Tagovailoa, who led the Tide to an improbable comeback overtime win. What sets this Alabama team back from the others was the lack of offensive explosiveness during the season. 

29. Alabama Crimson Tide, 1992

Alabama Crimson Tide, 1992

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The Crimson Tide were led by a stingy defense that allowed just 9.2 points per game for the season and shut down the defending champion Miami Hurricanes in the Sugar Bowl. Bama also boasted a lethal running attack led by backs David Palmer and Derrick Lassic and a senior receiver named Dabo Swinney. It was the first championship for Alabama since Bear Bryant roamed the sidelines and last until Nick Saban took over. 

28. Michigan Wolverines, 1997

Michigan Wolverines, 1997

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This was a magical season in Ann Arbor, as the Wolverines boasted the Heisman Trophy winner (Charles Woodson) and a share of the national championship. Michigan’s season went like its games: methodical and needing to slowly climb to get the victory. The Wolverines moved to the No. 1 ranking late in the year after a win over No. 2 Penn State, and they would beat ranked Wisconsin, Ohio State and Washington State to claim the Associated Press national championship. The defense was outstanding by not allowing any fourth-quarter points until the Penn State game…its ninth of the season…and allowed more than eight points in only seven of their first nine games. Since the Big Ten champion was bound to the Rose Bowl, we didn’t get the Michigan vs. Nebraska game everyone wanted. But both would end up champion.

27. Miami Hurricanes, 1989

Miami Hurricanes, 1989

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Look at the names on this defense: Cortez Kennedy, Russell Maryland, Jessie Armstead, Michael Barrow, Jimmie Jones, Bernard Clark, Darryl Williams. This was Dennis Erickson’s first season in Miami after the successful Jimmy Johnson era. The No.2-ranked ‘Canes blew through the first half of the season until they were spanked by Florida State, 24-10. Miami was seemingly out of the championship discussion until a 27-10 win over top-ranked Notre Dame vaulted the Hurricanes from seventh to second in the rankings in the regular-season finale. Miami would beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, while new No. 1 Colorado was throttled in the Orange Bowl by…Notre Dame. 

26. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2015

Alabama Crimson Tide, 2015

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People tend to forget that during the Nick Saban era the Tide had some tough endings to seasons in the mid-2010s. After getting spanked by Oklahoma in 2013 and upset by Ohio State in 2014, the 2015 team had the feeling of a redemption tour. Despite losing early in the season to Ole Miss, the Crimson Tide battled back with great defense and a stable of great backs and big-play receivers to win another national championship. Alabama allowed more than 16 points in a game just once during its last 11 games, leading to the title game in which the Tide won a shootout over Clemson.

25. Miami Hurricanes, 1991

Miami Hurricanes, 1991

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The Hurricanes were an outstanding defensive team with stars Darrin Smith and Darryl Williams, and they shut down David Klingler and Houston’s offense early on in the season. This ‘Canes team may be best known as the one that toppled top-ranked Florida State in the “Wide Right” game and for having a freshman defensive tackle named Dwayne Johnson —now more commonly known as The Rock. What holds Miami back a bit is that it played in the old bowl structure with predetermined matchups, and that put the Hurricanes against No. 11 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, while co-champion Washington beat No. 4 Michigan in the Rose Bowl.  

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Posted 2 days ago  |  By Shiloh Carder

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