Welcome to the TGIS National Championship Selection Page. I’m Tyler Vesely, President of the TGIS selection committee. National Championships are a highly debated part of College Football history. This includes individual years where multiple teams claim titles. The different polls are not required to give reasoning behind their championship selection. TGIS changes all of that.
The TGIS selection process is the most open, intensive process in the national championship world. Every explanation on who the one true champion of College Football for that year is detailed. TGIS has elected to name National Champions from 1924-Present. How did we come up with those years? Here’s how:
College Football History 1869-1924
The first College Football “season” started in 1869. There were two teams that played twice… Rutgers and Princeton. Both finished 1-1 and both claim “national championships”. However, the sport they were playing was not football. Each team had 25 players on the field, the ball was spherical, and you couldn’t run with the ball. Sure Rutgers and Princeton’s version eventually developed into football… but this wasn’t it. The sport they were playing was closer to Rugby.
In 1871, no official games were played. Colleges back then didn’t take this football season seriously… so neither does the TGIS selection committee.
During the 1890s most of the modern college football teams started their programs. Why do we not consider National Champions from this era? Well… it still wasn’t modern football. The forward pass was illegal, games were 70 minutes long with players playing every play, and there was no neutral zone between the offense and defense. Football was just a big scrum.
The teams were also full of “ringers” that weren’t even enrolled in the schools they played for. In 1893, the Michigan team manager stated 7 of the 11 players on that team were not actually enrolled in school.
In addition, College Football was still highly regionalized. How do you elect a National Champion when most of the regions of the nation didn’t play each other? It’d be like the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12, and SEC playing only themselves.
Another reason we discount the 1890s “National Champions”… they were strictly given to the Ivy League schools. This includes 1899 when Sewanee went 12-0 including a road trip where they had 5 shutout wins over 6 DAYS with wins over Texas A&M, Texas, Tulane, LSU, and Ole Miss. The National Champion that year? Harvard and Princeton.
In 1902, the first Rose Bowl took place. Originally named the East-West football game Michigan defeated Stanford 49-0. Football still had not become national with southern teams being largely ignored. This includes Vanderbilt in 1904 who went undefeated but wouldn’t even get a sniff at National Championship consideration.
In 1906, modern rules were instituted following eleven football related deaths. College football programs across the country were dropping the sport based on the violence. The rule changes were led by President Roosevelt who loved football, but his son was starting his freshman year on the Harvard Football team. Accordingly, Roosevelt rounded up College Football leaders and demanded the game be made safer. So the game was changed: The length of games were reduced to two 30-minute halves, the neutral zone was created, and the forward pass was legalized.
Even with the modern rule changes, the game was still regionalized. Southern teams were mostly ignored and there were no postseason matchups featuring the best teams. All that changed with the 1925 and 1926 New Year’s Day Rose Bowl Game. The 1925 game matched two undefeated teams with Notre Dame and Stanford. The 1926 Rose Bowl featured its first southern football team with Alabama and is known as “The Game that Changed the South.” These years start the official TGIS National Championship selections
TGIS Selection Process 1924-2020
Many teams claim National Championships they do not deserve. TGIS puts an end to that with one winner per year. In order to decide who the champion is, the entire resume of the elite teams of that year will be analyzed. Bowl games used to not matter in the National Championship discussion prior to 1967… they do now. So without further delay THE ONE TRUE CHAMPION of each College Football year:
1924: Notre Dame
Knute Rockne’s Fighting Irish team had the famous “Four Horseman”. The finished 10-0 beating Pop Warner’s undefeated Stanford team in the Rose Bowl. Easy pick.
Alabama was the first southern team invited to the Rose Bowl to take on Pacific Coast Conference Champion Washington. Southern football was looked down upon at the time. Alabama shocked the Huskies and the nation coming back to win a 20-19 thriller. The Crimson Tide were led by Pooley Hubert and future famous actor Johnny “Mack” Brown. The 1925 Rose Bowl became known as “The Game that Changed the South.”
Two undefeated teams faced off in the Rose Bowl again. This time it was Alabama facing Stanford. The game ended in a 7-7 tie. After analyzing the complete resume, the nod goes to Alabama as they gave up just 27 points all year.
1927: Texas A&M
Four teams claim the championship: Illinois, Georgia, Texas A&M, and Yale. Georgia beat Yale so let’s eliminate Yale. Georgia dominated their schedule… until they were shut out in an upset loss to Georgia Tech in the Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate Game. So that leaves two undefeated teams with one tie, Illinois and Texas A&M. Texas A&M dominated their schedule except for one 0-0 tie at TCU. TCU was better than Iowa State (Illinois’ tie) so A&M gets the claim.
1928: Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech beat California in the Rose Bowl 8-7 (including Cal’s Roy “Wrong Way” Riegels running 65 yards in the wrong direction) to cap off their undefeated year. USC went undefeated with one tie, but did not play in the Rose Bowl. Lost opportunity USC.
1929: Notre Dame
Notre Dame played a tough schedule including finishing the year against Army with an attendance of over 79,000 people at Yankee Stadium. Notre Dame won every single game and get the nod.
Notre Dame and Alabama both finished the year undefeated. Except Alabama’s 24-0 win over #3 Washington State gives them the unquestionable best win and the National Championship. Alabama additionally outscored their opponents 271-13 in Wallace Wade’s “Last Dance” with the Alabama Crimson Tide as their head football coach. Notre Dame did not play in a postseason game.
USC went 10-1 and Pitt went 8-1. USC is the clear National Champion because of their win in the Rose Bowl against Tulane and their win at Notre Dame (Pitt’s only loss was to Notre Dame by double digits).
Michigan had a fantastic season finishing undefeated at 8-0. The problem? The Big Ten (“Big Nine” at the time) prohibited their teams from playing in the postseason. It was a lost opportunity as #2 USC pummeled #3 Pitt 35-0. With USC’s 10-0 season and dominant win in the Rose Bowl, USC is the National Champion.
1933 is a hard year to name a National Champion. Michigan finished 7-0-1 with a win against #5 Ohio State and a 0-0 tie against Minnesota (Minnesota was the master of ties finishing the season 4-0-4). Princeton on the other hand didn’t face great competition, but they did outscore their opponents 217 to 8 including a 20-0 win over Rose Bowl Champions Columbia (8-1). Princeton gets the slight edge.
The Big Ten’s ban against postseason play in back to back years again holds back a team from their conference. Minnesota went 8-0 and was dominant beating their opponents 270 to 38. However, Alabama was equally as dominant and won the Rose Bowl against Stanford 29-13.
1935 was a major year in College Football. Chicago’s Jay Berwanger won the first ever Heisman Trophy and it was the last year before the AP Poll was established. In 1934, Minnesota wasn’t named National Champions because they didn’t play in a post season bowl. The Big Ten’s postseason ban may have won Minnesota the 1935 National Championship.
Minnesota, SMU, TCU, and Princeton all claim National titles. SMU finished the regular season undefeated, but lost the Rose Bowl. TCU won the Sugar Bowl, but lost to SMU during the regular season. Princeton went 9-0, but their strength of schedule was not as strong as Minnesota’s. Minnesota, who hadn’t lost a game since 1932, finally gets a TGIS National title.
The first year of the AP Poll… and the writers messed it up. The AP Poll named the champion before the postseason play. For some reason they chose Minnesota despite Minnesota not even winning the Big Ten conference. The only other team receiving first place votes was LSU who lost to Santa Clara in the Sugar Bowl. That leaves Pittsburgh and Alabama. Alabama was the only unbeaten team, but did not receive a postseason bid. Pittsburgh finished 8-1-1 with a dominant 21-0 Rose Bowl victory against #5 Washington. Pittsburgh has the edge.
Pittsburgh and Cal both finished the year unbeaten and with a tie. Cal however participated in post season play and beat #4 Alabama in the Rose Bowl 13-0.
There are two great options here with 11-0 TCU and 11-0 Tennessee. TCU beat #6 Carnegie Tech in the Sugar Bowl 15-7, while Tennessee beat #4 Oklahoma 17-0 in the Orange Bowl. Tennessee has the slight edge.
1939: Texas A&M
Texas A&M finished as the only undefeated team (other than Cornell who declined a trip to the Rose Bowl to let their players catch up on their academics). #3 USC took advantage beating #2 Tennessee 14-0. However, USC had two ties compared to A&M’s undefeated season and Sugar Bowl win against #5 Tulane.
A tough year for the TGIS committee as three teams finished undefeated. The Big Ten champion Minnesota was blocked again because of the conference’s postseason ban. That leaves Rose Bowl Champion Stanford and Sugar Bowl Champion Boston College. Stanford Indians (what they were known as back then) played the tougher schedule finishing with two top ten wins against #10 Washington and #7 Nebraska.
Minnesota again dominated to an undefeated record and claimed their fifth national championship in eight years. TGIS only recognizes two with their failure to play in the postseason. Minnesota won it this year under legendary coach Bernie Bierman and Heisman winner Bruce Smith.
Georgia and Ohio State both finished with one loss. Although Ohio State would argue they had a good excuse for the one loss as half the team had an intestinal disorder from drinking water from an unsanitary drinking fountain on the way to Madison to play Wisconsin. TGIS says no excuses. Georgia’s win at the Rose Bowl against UCLA and blowout 34-0 victory over Georgia Tech gives Georgia Head Coach Wally Butts his first championship with legendary player Charley Trippi.
It was during World War II where the service academies rose to the top of college football including training schools like Iowa Pre-Flight and Great Lakes Navy. Purdue received several new players thanks to their Navy College Training Program and went on to an undefeated 9-0 record and outscored their opponents 214-55. Why Notre Dame is the unanimous champion I will never know, Great Lakes Navy lost to Purdue 23-13 and beat Notre Dame 19-14.
Army was absolutely dominant finishing 9-0 and outscoring their opponents 504-35. They weren’t playing cupcakes either, they blew out #5 Notre Dame 59-0. Honorable mention goes out to undefeated Ohio State and Randolph Field Ramblers (Army Air Force school 15 miles away from San Antonio).
Army again dominated in the World War II era of College Football beating at the time #2 Notre Dame 48-0 and #2 Navy 32-13. Alabama went undefeated and dominated the competition including a 34-14 Rose Bowl win over #11 USC. However, Army has the edge due to the strength of schedule. Sugar Bowl Champion Oklahoma State (Oklahoma A&M at the time) also went undefeated and was retroactively named the AFCA National Champion. However, Oklahoma State was not as dominant as Army or Alabama and did not have the same level of strength of schedule.
This season featured the “Game of the Century” where #1 Army took on #2 Notre Dame in Yankee Stadium and featured four Heisman winners… the game ended 0-0. Army and Notre Dame both finished the year undefeated with the one tie. Georgia on the other hand finished 11-0 and as Sugar Bowl Champions. Charley Trippi was back from the war and finished as the runner up to Army’s Glenn Davis (“Mr. Outside”) for the Heisman. Georgia has the edge over the Army/Notre Dame tie.
One of the most controversial National Championships. Notre Dame was named AP champions after the season after beating USC 38-7. The Big Ten (Big Nine) had finally lifted the postseason ban in 1947. Michigan went to the Rose Bowl and beat the same USC team 49-0. In an unprecedented move the AP Poll re-voted after the Rose Bowl and elected Michigan National Champions. Both teams claim the National Championship, but Michigan’s team gets the TGIS nod.
Michigan in 1947 also started specializing offense and defensive players.
Michigan finished the year as the only undefeated team… well Clemson did too but they were voted #11 by the AP. The writers weren’t impressed with Clemson’s strength of schedule which included a one point win over 1-8-1 Auburn. Michigan dominated with a solid strength of schedule.
Notre Dame and Oklahoma both finished the season undefeated. Notre Dame again refused to go to postseason play. Oklahoma? Just went to the Sugar Bowl and beat #9 LSU 35-0. Coach Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma squad outscored their opponents 399-88 and get the nod for the National Championship.
Oklahoma went undefeated during the regular season and had a 32 game win streak, but was upset by #7 Kentucky (coached by Bear Bryant). Tennessee had already beat Kentucky and won the Cotton Bowl against #3 Texas. Based on the postseason results, Tennessee gets the nod as National Champions.
An absolute mess with five teams claiming National Championships: Tennessee, Maryland, Michigan State, Georgia Tech, and Illinois. Tennessee was the AP National Champion… but they continued naming the champion before the bowl games. Tennessee was upset by undefeated Maryland in the Sugar Bowl 28-13. Georgia Tech and Illinois both had a tie on their record and Michigan State did not play in a Bowl Game. Maryland is your 1951 champions.
1952: Georgia Tech
Michigan State and Georgia Tech both finished undefeated. Michigan State was again absent from postseason play, while Georgia Tech won in dominant fashion in the Sugar Bowl against #7 Ole Miss.
1953: Notre Dame
Notre Dame and Maryland finished the year undefeated. While Notre Dame didn’t play in postseason play, Maryland lost in the Orange Bowl to #4 Oklahoma.
1954: Ohio State
The Rose Bowl had a dumb “no repeat” rule which disallowed a team from competing in consecutive Rose Bowls. Undefeated Ohio State would’ve faced undefeated UCLA. Instead we have to use our criteria to name Ohio State, as winner of the Rose Bowl against USC, National Champions.
Oklahoma finished the season as the only undefeated team and capped off their season with a 20-6 win over #3 Maryland.
Oklahoma’s win streak improved to 40 straight games and they again finished as the only undefeated team and unanimous National Champions.
1957: Ohio State
Auburn was the best team in 1957 and finished undefeated. The problem is they were on probation for paying high school players and were banned from postseason play. So the one loss Rose Bowl Champion Ohio State is named TGIS National Champions.
LSU finished 11-0 and were Sugar Bowl champions. No other team finished undefeated. LSU instituted a “three-platoon system”, the third squad became famously known as the “Chinese Bandits”.
Syracuse was dominant as the only undefeated team finishing 11-0 with famous running back Ernie Davis. LSU’s win against Ole Miss in the middle of the season with Billy Cannon’s famous punt return touchdown kept Ole Miss out of National Champion contention.
1960: Ole Miss
Ole Miss finished the year as Sugar Bowl champions and with a record of 10-0-1. Missouri also finished the season undefeated. However, Missouri lost to Kansas 23-7, but was held a Missouri win since Kansas used an ineligible player. Even with the ineligible player, it is hard to name Missouri champions with their 23-7 loss. Ole Miss is the National Champion.
Alabama’s first National title under Bear Bryant came after an 11-0 season and Sugar Bowl champions. The Crimson Tide defense surrendered just 25 points all year. Ohio State also claim a National title despite not playing in a post season game and finishing the year with a 7-7 tie against TCU (3-5-2).
USC and Ole Miss finished the season undefeated. USC had the better bowl opponent when they beat #2 Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Alabama was #1 most of the year with Joe Namath, but lost a close game against Georgia Tech in November when Bear Bryant went for the two point conversion and the win instead of taking the tie.
Legendary Ole Miss coach Johnny Vaught stated the 1962 team was his favorite, to finish the season undefeated despite all the riots in Oxford due to the Civil Rights movement.
TEXAS IS BACK! Texas won their first National Championship under Coach Darrell K. Royal as the only undefeated team in the 1963 season. Their final win came in the Cotton Bowl against Roger Staubach and #2 Navy.
This was the final year the AP voted before the postseason. The AP voted Alabama #1 after an impressive undefeated season. That all ended in the Orange Bowl against #5 Texas. Alabama was down 14-0 when they sent in injured Joe Namath who almost mounted a comeback, but lost 21-17 after not getting in on a 4th and Goal from the one yard line. Arkansas on the other hand finished undefeated and beat #6 Nebraska 10-7 in the Cotton Bowl.
The first year the AP Poll included the bowl results. Going into the bowl games Alabama (8-1-1) was ranked fourth with the three teams in front of them Michigan State, Arkansas, and Nebraska were all undefeated. Arkansas and Michigan State were both upset in the Cotton and Rose Bowl. That left the Orange Bowl between #3 Nebraska and #4 Alabama to decide the National Champion. Alabama won 39-28.
The top two teams in the final AP poll Michigan State and Notre Dame faced off in the regular season. The game ended in a 10-10 tie when Notre Dame coach Ara Parsegian decided to run out the clock with one minute and a half left. Both teams finished with a 9-0-1 record and neither participated in a postseason game.
Alabama on the other hand finished the season 11-0 with a Sugar Bowl win against #6 Nebraska 34-7. Alabama finished the season 3rd in the AP behind the two teams that had a tie in their record and didn’t play in a bowl game. The TGIS isn’t honoring kneeing out the clock for a tie… Alabama is the champion.
USC finished the season 10-1 with wins over #4 Indiana, #5 Notre Dame, and at the regular season finale #1 UCLA in one of the greatest games of the rivalry. USC went out as Rose Bowl champions and the clear winners of the National Championship. Oklahoma may make a claim as one-loss Orange Bowl champions, but they didn’t have the resume of UCLA and lost to Texas (UCLA beat Texas that year).
1968: Ohio State
As clear cut as you can get. Ohio State finished as the only undefeated team and beat #2 USC in the Rose Bowl. The 50-14 win against Michigan was nice too.
A memorable undefeated season that ended with a Cotton Bowl victory over Notre Dame. The game before that was the “Game of the Century” between #1 Texas vs. #2 Arkansas. Even President Nixon attended the game to watch Texas pull out a 15-14 victory. #2 Penn State went 11-0 and won the Orange Bowl, but didn’t have the resume of Texas.
Texas was well on its way to winning back to back National Championships until a 24-11 Cotton Bowl loss to Notre Dame. While Texas still claims this National Championship, they are clearly not the TGIS National Champions. Nebraska on the other hand finished with no losses, one tie to USC, and a 17-12 Orange Bowl win over LSU.
Arizona State finished undefeated, but didn’t play in a main bowl game and their competition in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) wasn’t great.
Nebraska and Oklahoma had a “Game of the Century” on November 25, 1971 with 55 Million viewers on Thanksgiving Day. Nebraska won 35-31 after scoring a TD with 1:38 left in the game. This all led to another #1 vs. #2 matchup of Nebraska vs. Alabama in the Orange Bowl. It was the first year Coach Bryant switched to the Wishbone offense which was previously utilized by Texas. The Nebraska/Bama game was not even close with the Cornhuskers demolishing Alabama 38-6.
USC are the clear National Champions of 1972. No team came within 9 points of USC and they had an easy 42-17 Rose Bowl victory over Ohio State… not much controversy with this one.
1973: Notre Dame
1973 was a crazy year where Alabama, Notre Dame, Penn State, Oklahoma, and Ohio State all finished the year with no losses. Oklahoma was on a NCAA bowl ban, Ohio State had a tie, and Penn State had a weak resume. That left #1 Alabama Crimson Tide going into the Sugar Bowl game against undefeated #2 Notre Dame. In a thrilling game, Notre Dame kicked a late field goal defeating the Tide 24-23.
The 1974 Oklahoma team was absolutely dominant. Oklahoma averaged 43 ppg and only had one team stay within 14 points. So why aren’t they number one? Their two season NCAA bowl ban kept them from competing in a bowl game. Alabama’s run at a title was again ruined by Notre Dame in a 14-11 loss in the Orange bowl. Unlike 1973, it was a who is left to name National Champions? At 10-1-1 with a Rose Bowl win over Ohio State, USC is the answer.
This year came down to three teams: Oklahoma, Alabama, and Arizona State. Oklahoma finally was able to play in a postseason bowl after a two year ban. The Sooners took advantage with a 14-6 win over #5 Michigan. Oklahoma’s resume was impressive also beating #6 Texas, #9 Nebraska, #15 Pittsburgh, and #16 Colorado. However they had one glaring red mark on their schedule… a 23-3 loss to Kansas (7-5) which is known as the “November Nightmare”.
Alabama lost the season opener to Missouri (a team Oklahoma beat). After? Alabama won every game including against #8 Penn State in the Sugar Bowl. However, Alabama’s resume falls short of Oklahoma’s.
Arizona State went undefeated, but the same issue remained… they played in the easy WAC conference. The universal doubt on how good the Sun Devils were vanished after a 17-14 win over Nebraska. Oklahoma did beat Nebraska 35-10 and had the much better resume despite Arizona State going undefeated. The Sooners are the TGIS champs for 1975.
A very easy year to decide the National Champion as Pittsburgh went 12-0 behind Heisman running back Tony Dorsett. The season ended with a dominant 27-3 win over #5 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.
1977: Notre Dame
Texas had a chance to be the undefeated champion behind Earl Campbell in Head Coach Fred Aker’s first year… those dreams were shattered in the Cotton Bowl against #5 Notre Dame when they lost 38-10. Notre Dame and Joe Montana jumped all the way to #1. Alabama also has a case with just one loss to #10 Nebraska and a blowout 35-6 Sugar Bowl win over #9 Ohio State. Notre Dame’s performance in the Cotton Bowl gives them the 1977 National Championship.
The 1978 Alabama has a little dispute behind it. Even though they went to the Sugar Bowl as the #2 team and beat #1 Penn State (won the game on a goal line stop), they lost to USC during the season. USC had beaten Alabama earlier in the season 24-14 and also finished with one lost. USC won the Rose Bowl against #5 Michigan in a close 17-10 game. However, we are treating the #1 vs. #2 game as the National Championship and giving it to Alabama.
Alabama went undefeated and untied on their way to a 24-9 Sugar Bowl victory over Arkansas. Alabama hopped #1 Ohio State after they lost to USC 17-16 in the Rose Bowl. USC finished undefeated, but with a tie on their record. If USC didn’t have the tie I’d have given them the edge.
There was a lot less controversy in the 1980s to name National Champions. For example, Herschel Walker and the 1980 Georgia Bulldogs ran through their schedule undefeated and beat Notre Dame 17-10 in the Sugar Bowl. Walker dislocated his shoulder in the game and still ran for 150 yards. Georgia had a lot of comeback victories including rallying to beat Tennessee when they were down 15-2 at the half and beating Florida on a 92 yard TD to WR Lindsay Scott with 1:35 left in the game.
Clemson earned their first National Title as the only undefeated team during the season. This included wins over the SEC Champion Georgia Bulldogs, #9 North Carolina, and #4 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
1982: Penn State
Penn State finished 11-1 with an impressive resume including wins over #3 Nebraska, #19 West Virginia, and #10 Pittsburgh in the regular season. The one loss came to Alabama early in the season. Even with the loss, #2 Penn State was matched up against undefeated #1 Georgia. Penn State won 27-23. SMU has an argument finishing 11-0-1, but didn’t have a great regular season with only a win against #17 Texas. SMU beat #6 Pittsburgh 7-3 in the Cotton Bowl… but it wasn’t as impressive as Penn State’s 19-10 victory over the same Pittsburgh team.
Auburn gets a little upset with 1983. Going into the January 2nd bowl gameday #1 Nebraska played #5 Miami in the Orange Bowl, #2 Texas played #7 Georgia in the Cotton Bowl, and #3 Auburn played #8 Michigan in the Sugar Bowl (#4 Illinois was blown out 45-9 in the Rose Bowl). The day started with undefeated Texas losing 10-9. That left the door open for Auburn who beat Michigan 9-7. The only game left was a dominant Nebraska team who lost to Miami 31-30 after they failed a two-point conversion in the final minute for the win. Coach Tom Osborne made the gutsy decision as he easily could’ve kicked the PAT, finished with a tie, and won the National Championship. Props to Coach Osborne, but the Orange Bowl loss eliminates them from the National Championship discussion.
That leaves just Auburn and Miami both at 11-1. Miami’s impressive win against a dominant Nebraska team gives them the edge over Auburn who wasn’t impressive in their Sugar Bowl win and had lost to Texas earlier in the season. Miami gets their first TGIS National Championship.
THIS YEAR IS MY BIGGEST ISSUE. BYU is named as the consensus National Champion despite not having one Top 25 win. They weren’t dominate either as the best teams they played resulted in only a 5 point win over Hawaii (7-4) and 3 point win against Wyoming (6-6). BYU did not play in a major bowl and beat Michigan (6-6) by 7 points in the Holiday Bowl… whoopty doo. Washington on the other hand beat #2 Oklahoma 28-17 in the Orange Bowl and finished the year 11-1…. This isn’t hard Washington is your actual National Champions.
Oklahoma finished the year 11-1 with their only loss coming against Miami early in the season. In that game, freshman QB Jemelle Holloway took over the starting job after Troy Aikman was injured and out for the year. Oklahoma ended Penn State’s undefeated season 25-10 in the Orange Bowl. Oklahoma jumps from #3 to #1 after that game.
1986: Penn State
The Miami Hurricanes dominated the 1986 season never having a game closer than a touchdown, including a 12-point win over Oklahoma (their only loss of the year). That run was stopped by undefeated Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl who beat Miami 14-10.
Miami went through a tough schedule including #2 Florida State, #15 South Carolina, and #17 Notre Dame. The perfect season was capped with a 20-14 win over undefeated Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.
1988: Notre Dame
The Catholics vs. Convicts game against Miami was the pinnacle of Notre Dame’s season. Notre Dame won 31-30 and never lost another game. The Irish finished their season with a 34-21 win over #3 West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl.
While they didn’t go undefeated, Miami has the best resume. It all came down to January 1st when #1 Colorado lost to #4 Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl. A win would’ve given Colorado the National Championship. A loss opened the door for #2 Miami for a 33-25 win against #7 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Why not Notre Dame? Well they lost to Miami on the last week of the season 27-10.
One of the messiest years for naming a National Champion. The AP Poll named Colorado (11-1-1) while the Coaches Poll named Georgia Tech (11-0-1) National Champions. Colorado’s season was a rollercoaster after starting the season 1-1-1 with a loss against #25 Illinois and a tie against #8 Tennessee. A few weeks later they had the famous “Fifth Down Game” where Colorado scored the game winning touchdown on an extra play given by the officials. After the rough start, Colorado went on a run with a very impressive resume capped by a 10-9 Orange Bowl win against #6 Notre Dame. Georgia Tech did not play as great of a schedule including finishing with a Citrus Bowl win over #24 Nebraska. Although Colorado has a loss on their schedule, their tough schedule and impressive bowl game win gives them the edge over Georgia Tech.
For the second consecutive year the AP and Coaches named different National Champions. Miami was named AP champions and Washington was the Coaches poll champions. Both Washington and Miami finished the year undefeated. The conference bowl selection alignments prevented the dream matchup of #1 Miami against #2 Washington. So, we have to look at each team’s resume to decide for ourselves.
Miami had close victories over#3 Penn State and #4 Florida State along with a Orange Bowl 22-0 win over #15 Nebraska. Washington had a wins over #8 Cal, #15 Nebraska and a Rose Bowl win against #6 Michigan 34-14. Miami had the better resume, but Washington is close with how dominant they were during the season.
After two straight seasons of split National Champions, college football instituted the Bowl Coalition in order to force a National Championship game between the top two teams. There were still flaws as the system did not include the Big Ten or Pac-10 because of the Rose Bowl. It did not matter in 1992 when undefeated Alabama met undefeated Miami in the Sugar Bowl. Alabama’s defense dominated in a 34-13 victory.
1993: Florida State
The Bowl Coalition didn’t make 1993 any easier. Auburn finished as the only undefeated team, but did not participate in post-season play because they were on NCAA Probation. Florida State played Notre Dame in a “Game of the Century” as a #1 vs. #2 matchup. Florida State lost 31-24, but Notre Dame lost the next week to Boston College 41-39. The Bowl Coalition had #1 Florida State face undefeated #2 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, despite #3 Notre Dame beating Florida State and only having one loss. #1 Florida State beat #2 Nebraska 18-16 in the Orange Bowl. Florida State is your National Champions.
It finally happened where a Big Ten team not part of the Bowl Coalition finished undefeated. #2 Penn State went undefeated, but instead of squaring off against undefeated #1 Nebraska, they played #12 Oregon. #1 Nebraska beat #3 Miami in the Orange Bowl 24-17 for the National Champion.
In 1995 the Bowl Coalition was replaced with the Bowl Alliance which paired the top two teams up against each other by adding the point totals from the AP Poll and Coaches Poll (the Big Ten and Pac-10 were still excluded). It didn’t matter in 1995 when Nebraska was one of the most dominant teams in College Football history as their closest game all season was 14 points and their average margin of victory was by 38.6 points. This included wins over #2 Florida, #5 Colorado, #7 Kansas State, and #9 Kansas by an average of 30.8 points. Nebraska won the Fiesta Bowl 62-24 against Steve Spurrier’s #2 Florida team.
Florida was given a second opportunity by the Bowl Alliance. After Florida and Florida State faced off as 10-0 teams in late November, Florida State beat Florida by a field goal. Florida State went to #1 and Florida dropped to #3. However, undefeated #2 Arizona State did not play against Florida State because they were not in the bowl alliance. Instead, #2 Arizona State went to the Rose Bowl and lost to #4 Ohio State.
#3 Florida got their chance at a rematch and defeated #1 Florida State 52-20 in the Sugar Bowl.
It was the last year of the Bowl Alliance which forced the Big 10 and Pac-10 winners to face off in the Rose Bowl. In 1997, Michigan and Nebraska both went undefeated but did not face each other because of Michigan’s obligation to play in the Rose Bowl. Michigan squeaked out a 21-16 victory over #8 Washington State. Nebraska on the other hand dominated #3 Tennessee 42-17, a month after their 54-15 Big 12 Championship over #14 Texas A&M. Nebraska’s resume gives them the edge over Michigan.
Bowl Championship Series (BCS) Era (1998-2013)
College Football finally figured it out by eliminating Big Ten and the Pac-10’s obligation for the Rose Bowl and finally instituted a true National Championship. The issue moved to the BCS formula which was a combination of the AP Poll, Coaches Poll, and a computer calculation. The computer calculation factored in strength of schedule, margin of victory, and quality wins. The formula was tweaked throughout the BCS era before a playoff was instituted. While the BCS wasn’t perfect, it finally established a #1 vs. #2 National Championship.
The first year of the BCS Championship game was generally controversy-free as it matched undefeated #1 Tennessee against #2 Florida State. Tennessee won 23-16 against Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl.
1999: Florida State
The BCS again brought two undefeated teams together as #1 Florida State faced a Michael Vick led #2 Virginia Tech. Vick put on a great show, but Florida State came out on top 46-29.
The first year with major controversy to the BCS. Oklahoma went undefeated during the regular season. The final spot was between one loss Miami and one loss Florida State… except Florida State’s one loss was to Miami. The BCS somehow calculated Florida State over Miami. #1 Oklahoma beat #3 Florida State 13-2 in the National Championship.
The BCS readjusted their formula after 2000… it did more harm than good. The question was who was going to play undefeated #1 Miami? Nebraska was #2 going into their last game regular season game against Colorado; they were blown out 62-36 and shut out of the Big 12 Championship game. The BCS still selected Nebraska despite Oregon also only having one loss and winning the Pac-10. Miami demolished Nebraska 37-14 in the National Championship.
2002: Ohio State
The National Championship brought undefeated #1 Miami and #2 Ohio State against each other. While there wasn’t any controversy with the teams included the National Championship, there was controversy in OT when the ref called a very late pass Interception against Miami. The call cost Miami the championship as Ohio State won 31-24 in OT.
The last year there was a split National Champion as USC won the AP National Championship and LSU won the BCS/Coaches. 2003 was the nightmare scenario for the BCS as LSU, USC, and Oklahoma all finished with one loss. LSU and USC lost close games earlier in the season, but Oklahoma was blown out in the Big 12 Championship by #12 Kansas State 35-7. The BCS rankings spit out LSU and Oklahoma and LSU won 21-14. USC beat #4 Michigan 28-14 in the Rose Bowl. Oklahoma ruined the USC and LSU matchup… but LSU still has the better resume and the National Championship.
Another disaster year for the BCS where five teams went undefeated: USC, Oklahoma, Auburn, Utah, and Boise State. Auburn won the Sugar Bowl against #9 Virginia Tech in a close one… meanwhile USC dominated Oklahoma 55-19. USC are your 2004 National Champions and this marks the last year of national championship controversy.
A season for the ages. Both Texas and USC were the only undefeated teams by the end of the season. Vince Young led the Longhorns to a 41-38 victory in the National Championship.
#2 Florida defeated #1 Ohio State in the National Championship with their two quarterbacks Chris Leake and Tim Tebow
In one of the wildest college football seasons of all-time, it was the year of the upset. The team ranked #2 lost seven out of the final nine weeks. During the final weeks #1 Missouri lost in the Big 12 Championship to Oklahoma and #2 West Virginia blew a shot at the National Championship when they lost to rival Pittsburgh. The crazy season ended up with #2 LSU beating Ohio State 38-24 and becoming the first two-loss champion. LSU never lost in regulation though as both their losses were in triple overtime.
There were no undefeated teams during the season as #1 Oklahoma was slotted to play #2 Florida. Florida beat Oklahoma 24-14 behind Tim Tebow.
Undefeated SEC Champion Alabama faced off against undefeated Big 12 Champion Texas in the National Championship. Colt McCoy was injured in the first quarter and Alabama went on to win 37-21.
Cam Newton led Auburn to an undefeated season in his first year as a JUCO transfer. Auburn defeated Oregon 22-19 with a last second field goal.
Alabama needed an Oklahoma State late season overtime loss to Iowa State in order to get their rematch with LSU. After losing the first game 9-6 in OT, Alabama won 21-0 (21-Zereaux).
Alabama suffered a heart breaking 29-24 loss to Texas A&M on November 10th. The Crimson Tide had some luck as #1 Oregon and #2 Kansas State both went down the following week. Alabama ran the rest of the table and blew out Notre Dame in the National Championship 42-14. Ohio State went 12-0 during the 2012 season, but was ineligible for post season play.
2013: Florida State
The final year of the BCS was a wild one as Auburn got the final spot in the National Championship to play Florida State after the “Kick-Six” victory against Alabama. Jameis Winston and Florida State capped off the 2013 season with a 34-31 win to go 14-0.
College Football Playoff Era (2014-Present)
Other than UCF for some reason claiming the 2017 National Championship, the playoff has made naming the National Champion easy as the top four teams settle it on the field. While it isn’t perfect, it is a much more efficient solution to naming a National Champion.
2014: Ohio State
Ohio State won the first College Football Playoffs being led by Cardale Jones. The Buckeyes beat Alabama 42-35 and Oregon 42-20.
Alabama overcame an early season loss to make the playoffs as a 2 seed. Alabama ran behind Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry to beat Michigan State 38-0 and Clemson 45-40.
Deshaun Watson and Clemson came back for revenge in 2016. Clemson beat Ohio State 31-0 and Alabama 35-31 on a last second pass to Hunter Renfrow.
Alabama snuck into the playoffs as a one-loss for the final spot. Alabama went on to beat Clemson 24-6 and Georgia 26-23 in overtime with a freshman to freshman connection of Tua Tagovailoa to Devonta Smith.
UCF self-proclaims this National Championship even though their top wins were against #10 Auburn, #21 South Florida, and #25 Memphis. The AP Poll voted #6 and I concur (actually I would rank one-loss Rose Bowl champion Wisconsin over UCF so #7 like the Coaches). Great season UCF… but you are not National Champions.
Trevor Lawrence and a fantastic Clemson squad dominated the playoffs beating Notre Dame 30-3 and Alabama 44-16.
Joe Burrow and LSU had one of the greatest teams of all-time as they beat Oklahoma 63-28 and Clemson 42-25.
In one of the strangest college football years ever, COVID-19 forced the colleges to play conference-only regular season games. Alabama finished the year 13-0 beating Notre Dame 31-14 and Ohio State 52-24 in the playoffs.