The Top 100 College Football Teams of the Last 100 Years: Part I
by Bill Connelly
In essence, the S&P+ and FEI formulas used for most of the college football work here at Football Outsiders are pretty easy to explain: Compare a team's output (and allowed output) to what would have been expected given the situation and the opponent, and voila ... ratings! Obviously there is a lot more to it than that, but that's the premise.
What do we do without play-by-play or drive data? Well, there's no reason we can't use other statistics and the same basic concept. Since points scored and allowed are recorded in the college football annals, we can create an Estimated S&P+ rating based around points.
Obviously, points scored and allowed are a much broader statistic than drive- or play-specific data and are therefore not going to be analyzed with nearly as much depth. But by using the principles of the S&P+ and its cousin, the Est. S&P+, we can have some fun in ranking teams.
These historical estimates began with an article in the upcoming Football Outsiders Almanac 2010 about the historical impact of conference realignment. Playing around with them, we realized it would be fun to just rank the best teams in college football history. (If you follow me on Twitter, you saw the beginnings of this; be aware that the formula has changed slightly since then.) During the next few weeks, we will count down the top 100 teams of the last 100 years.
We can talk about how great certain teams looked, but when comparing the almost 12,000 teams that have taken the field in the last 100 years, that doesn't get us too far. This is partially because our eyes sometimes lie to us, and partially because none of us, not even Beano Cook, have seen every single team of the last 100 years.
Certain teams are often brought up among the best ever, and television has a lot to do with that. We've seen highlights from the Game of the Century for almost 40 years now, and we saw almost every single game that some recent great teams (2005 Texas, 2004 USC, 2001 Miami, 1995 Nebraska) played on television. We know they were great. But few of us can really compare them to teams like 1961 Alabama, or 1944 Army, or 1923 Illinois, because we weren't alive to see those older teams -- and because college football was a different sport then.
The statistics used for Est. S&P+ don't care how good a team looked on television. They just care that the teams scored a lot more points and allowed far fewer points than would have been expected given their schedule, and that they played a lot of tough teams. If one unit was only good and not great, or if the team's strength of schedule just wasn't on par with other top teams, it will hurt their ratings no matter what our eyeballs tell us about those teams.
There are penalties in the formula for losses and ties, but not so much that this is only a list of undefeated teams. Seven two-loss teams make the list, either because they narrowly lost to other great teams, or they dominated all of their remaining opponents to a historical degree, or both. Even the best teams get unlucky sometimes, and they shouldn't be punished too severely for that.
Also, during the last century, college football has seen ebbs and flows in terms of how large the "ruling class" of elite teams is. Because of this, an era's standard deviation -- the gap between the best teams and the worst -- is taken into account. Therefore you will see quite a few teams from some decades and very few from others. The gap between the best and worst teams in the 1910s and 1920s was significant. For instance, seven of Alabama's ten wins in 1920 came against Southern Military Academy, Marion, Birmingham Southern, Mississippi College, Samford, Sewanee, and Case.
According to the Est. S&P+ figures, certain eras just didn't see as many truly dominant teams. Below is the breakdown of Top 100 teams from each decade:
- 1910s: 1
- 1920s: 4
- 1930s: 17
- 1940s: 12
- 1950s: 12
- 1960s: 11
- 1970s: 12
- 1980s: 13
- 1990s: 7
- 2000s: 11
Without further ado, let's take a look at the first 20 teams on the list. This is meant as a debate starter, not a debate finisher. It reframes the typical "best team ever" argument with a little bit of math, but the argument will never actually stop.
100. 1932 Michigan
Conference: Big Ten*
Best Wins: def. Michigan State (7-1) 26-0, def. Ohio State (4-1-3) 14-0
Point Differential: +110 (123-13)
* The Big Ten has been known by many things over the years -- the Western Conference, the Big Nine, the Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives, etc. For continuity's sake, we will just refer to all of the conference's teams on this list as Big Ten teams, whether or not the conference was known as that at the time.
Michigan was in the middle of a dominant stretch at the start of the 1932 season. The Wolverines went 16-1-2 in 1930-31, winning the national title in 1931. Entering Harry Kipke's fourth season as head coach, Michigan was a favorite to win it all again. They did just that. With future New York Giants quarterback Harry Newman running the show (and somebody named Gerald Ford coming off the bench), Michigan was simply untouchable. They put together the No. 1 offense in the country according to Est. S&P+. Oh yeah, and they gave up 13 points all season.
In 1932, the Western Conference (which would become the Big Ten) was still the class of the country. Although Michigan was not as dominant on the scoreboard as other teams from this time (they won just two games by more than 14 points), taking out the likes of Michigan State, Ohio State, Bernie Bierman's first Minnesota team, and Amos Alonzo Stagg's last Chicago team earns you quite a bit of credit.
99. 1938 Notre Dame
Best Wins: def. Minnesota (6-2) 19-0, def. Army (8-2) 19-7
Blemishes: def. by USC (9-2) 13-0
Point Differential: +110 (149-39)
One of the forgotten Notre Dame teams, this one split the national title with undefeated TCU. (It should be noted that TCU was the AP's champion, giving the school a slightly more legitimate claim for the title.) The Irish played six consecutive teams with winning records to end the regular season, beating both Army and Navy away from home, taking out always tough Minnesota at home, and beating 4-1-2 Northwestern in Evanston before faltering at USC. The loss gave TCU the AP title, but the brutal schedule -- not to mention the 4.4 points allowed per game -- get the Irish a spot on this list.
98. 1940 Minnesota
Conference: Big Ten
Best Wins: def. Michigan (7-1) 7-6, def. Nebraska (8-2) 13-7
Point Differential: +83 (154-71)
Starting in Bernie Bierman's third season as Gophers coach, Minnesota went on a historic run. They went 23-1 from 1934 to 1936, winning the national title in all three seasons. The golden juggernaut continued at a high level the next two seasons, going 6-2 each year, but in 1939 they took a step backwards, winning just three of eight games. That did not sit well with Bierman or his players. They responded by winning every game on a treacherous schedule. Only one of their eight games came against a team that would finish with a losing record, and the Gophers used every bit of magic they could summons. They won five games by a touchdown or less, then took care of Wisconsin (22-13) in the season finale to wrap up Bierman's fourth national title in the Twin Cities.
Led by all-star runners George Franck and Bruce Smith, the Gophers averaged almost 20 points per game against a series of rugged defenses. Four of their opponents -- Washington, Nebraska, Northwestern and Michigan -- would rack up a record of 28-3 against teams not named Minnesota.
97. 1945 Alabama
Best Wins: def. Tennessee (8-1) 25-7, def. Georgia (9-2) 28-14
Point Differential: +350 (430-80)
World War II shook up a lot of rosters and coaching staffs, but personnel was starting to get back to normal by the fall of 1945. For Alabama, veterans returning from the war mixed with a roster that had made the 1945 Sugar Bowl with mostly freshmen, and the results were spectacular. Whereas 1940 Minnesota makes the list because of their brutal schedule, 1945 Alabama qualifies simply because of their brutality. They whipped good teams (Tennessee and Georgia went a combined 17-1 against teams not named Alabama, and the Tide beat them by a combined 53-21), and they simply embarrassed bad teams (combined score against Kentucky and Vanderbilt: 131-19). Even USC in the Rose Bowl was no competition -- Alabama was up 27-0 in the third quarter when the Trojans managed their first first down.
Harry Gilmer was the star of an offense that put up numbers that were simply unheard of for the mid-1940s. Gilmer gained more than 4,600 yards in his time in Tuscaloosa, and the 1945 Tide averaged 43 points per game. That would seemingly be the equivalent of about 60 points per game today.
96. 1958 Army
Best Wins: def. Penn State (6-3-1) 26-0, def. Navy (6-3) 22-6
Blemishes: tied Pittsburgh (5-4-1) 14-14
Point Differential: +215 (264-49)
They were solid throughout portions of the 1960s and 1980s, but the Cadets of Army were last truly great in 1958. (Not coincidentally, it was also the final season for coach Earl "Red" Blaik.) Led by Heisman winner and Rhodes Scholar Pete Dawkins, who accomplished far more in one life than any reasonable person should, the Army offense averaged nearly 30 points per game. They took on seven teams who would finish .500 or better, and they were only truly challenged twice. They were tied at Pittsburgh and only won at Rice by a touchdown.
The Cadets' season started with a startlingly easy 45-8 win over what would be a 7-3 South Carolina team, followed by a 14-2 win at Notre Dame a couple of weeks later. Utilizing the "lonely end" formation and throwing often to a split end to loosen up defenses, Army whipped poor Virginia and Colgate teams by a combined 103-12, then took down Navy, 22-6, in the season finale. Blaik's final team was explosive on offense and as stingy as almost any defense in the country. They finished third in the country behind LSU and Iowa, one of whom will be featured later in this countdown.
95. 1977 Notre Dame
Best Wins: def. Pittsburgh (9-2-1) 19-9, def. Texas (11-1) 38-10
Blemishes: def. by Ole Miss (5-6) 20-13
Point Differential: +281 (420-139)
Only a shocking loss to Ole Miss in the second week of the season kept this Notre Dame team from perfection. In Dan Devine's third season at the helm, Notre Dame got better and better as the season progressed. The offense was led by first-year starter Joe Montana (maybe you've heard of him), running backs Vagas Ferguson and Jerome Heavens, and tight end Ken MacAfee. Meanwhile, the defense had even more star power: Defending Outland Trophy winner Ross Browner anchored the line with end Willie Fry, while linebacker Bob Golic and defensive backs Luther Bradley and Ted Bergmeier rounded out a defense that was strong against the run and the pass.
The Fighting Irish won the national title despite one of the toughest schedules imaginable. After taking down defending national champions Pittsburgh (ranked seventh) on the road in Week 1, Notre Dame was upset by Ole Miss the following week, then needed a fourth-quarter comeback to overtake Purdue. After Montana's heroics against the Boilermakers, however, things began to click. Notre Dame won five in a row against solid teams -- Michigan State (16-6), Army (24-0), No. 5 USC (49-19), Navy (43-10), and Georgia Tech (69-14). Back in the Top Five, the Irish needed more late heroics to get by No. 15 Clemson on the road, then unloaded on Air Force and Miami to finish a 10-1 campaign. In the Cotton Bowl, Notre Dame mauled No. 1 Texas to leap Alabama for the national title.
94. 1996 Ohio State
Conference: Big Ten
Best Wins: def. Penn State (11-2) 38-7, def. Arizona State (11-1) 20-17
Blemishes: def. by Michigan (8-4) 13-9
Point Differential: +324 (455-131)
John Cooper's career at Ohio State featured quite a few "what if" teams who slipped up in single games and failed to win the national title. The Buckeyes lost just one game in each year, 1993, 1996, and 1998, and the 1996 squad was easily the best of the bunch. All-world lineman Orlando Pace led the offense with platooning quarterbacks Stanley Jackson and Joe Germaine, while freshman linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer came out of nowhere to become potentially the best defensive player in college football.
The Buckeyes started the season ranked ninth in the country, and it did not take them long to start moving up the polls. They destroyed Rice and Pittsburgh by a combined 142-7 in the first two games of the season and had leaped to fourth by late September. From there, the wins kept coming. They beat No. 5 Notre Dame by 13 in South Bend, then took out No. 4 Penn State, 38-7. They struggled to take down Wisconsin, but a series of easy wins led them to 10-0 and No. 2 in the country. However, they were taken down by No. 21 Michigan, at home no less, to end the regular season. Thanks to Florida's easy win over No. 1 Florida State in the Sugar Bowl, the Michigan loss would prevent Ohio State from a national title, but their consolation was winning one of the greatest Rose Bowls ever.
93. 1923 Illinois
Conference: Big Ten
Best Wins: def. Chicago (7-1) 7-0, def. Nebraska (4-2-2) 24-7
Point Differential: +116 (136-20)
Illinois claims shares of five national titles, four of which came before 1930. The 1923 squad, led by a newcomer by the name of Harold "Red" Grange, was its best. The Illini went just 2-5 in 1922, but the insertion of Grange into the lineup reaped immediate dividends. Grange scored three touchdowns in a season-opening, 24-7 win over a very good Nebraska squad. Illinois beat Butler (21-7) and Iowa (9-6) ... and then they didn't give up a point the rest of the season. They dominated most teams, beat a very good Chicago squad, 7-0, and dominated a five-win Mississippi State team, 27-0. A 9-0 win over Ohio State completed the perfect season.
Perhaps the biggest what-if involved with the 1923 Illini is that they did not get to play Michigan, who at 8-0 also claimed a share of the national title. Illinois would have to wait until 1924 to get bragging rights. Grange helped christen Illinois' new stadium by scoring four touchdowns in the first quarter and leading the Illini to a dominant 39-14 win over a Michigan squad that had won 20 games in a row.
92. 2005 Texas
Conference: Big 12
Best Wins: def. Ohio State (10-2) 25-22, def. USC (12-1) 41-38
Point Differential: +439 (652-213)
In just one offseason, Vince Young went from colt to stallion, from a high-upside quarterback racked with inconsistency to the most dominant player in college football. Despite an 11-1 season in 2004, it was hard to trust that Young was truly ready to take the leap. As late as midseason, he had been booed at home as he followed up a shutout loss to Oklahoma with a major struggle against Missouri. But an outstanding 2005 Rose Bowl set the table for what was to come.
Texas struggled just twice in 2005, and they were the best possible struggles. They beat No. 4 Ohio State by three in Columbus at the start of the season, and they outlasted No. 1 USC by three in the national championship game. Everything else was a total cakewalk. Average score in the other 11 games: Texas 53.3, Opponent 13.9. They ended a five-game losing streak against Oklahoma with a 45-12 win. They spotted Oklahoma State a 28-9 lead, then scored 37 straight points to win easily. They beat Kansas and Baylor by a combined 128-14. They humiliated Colorado, 70-3, in the Big 12 Championship game. This was a machine. Why aren't they ranked higher? Through no fault of Texas, the Big 12 was rather weak that season, and despite their wins over Ohio State and USC, their strength of schedule numbers were less than stellar. Plus, while their offense was the best in the country, their defense was only very good, not great. That sounds like nit-picking, but most of the teams on this list were either fantastic on offense and defense, or they took down a brutal slate of opponents.
91. 1989 Miami
Best Wins: def. Notre Dame (12-1) 27-10, def. Alabama (10-2) 33-25
Blemishes: def. by Florida State (10-2) 24-10
Point Differential: +299 (426-127)
Five of the six Miami teams between 1986 and 1991 find their way onto this list. The 1989 was comparatively one of Miami's lesser teams, but Dennis Erickson's first squad in Coral Gables was still outstanding. Tackles Cortez Kennedy, Russell Maryland, and Jimmie Jones anchored a dominant defense, while quarterback Craig Erickson led an offense that took advantage of every opportunity the defense gave them.
Scoring a touchdown against this defense was an accomplishment, something only half of Miami's 12 opponents could do. The Hurricanes outscored their first six opponents by a 250-49 margin, but their perfect record was disrupted by a 24-10 loss at Florida State. No matter. They beat No. 14 Pittsburgh by 21 on the road, and with a dominant, 27-10 home win over No. 1 Notre Dame, they were right back in the picture for a national title. A 33-25 Sugar Bowl win over Alabama clinched it.
90. 1972 Nebraska
Conference: Big 8
Best Wins: def. Colorado (8-4) 33-10, def. Notre Dame (8-3) 40-6
Blemishes: def. by UCLA (8-3) 20-17, tied Iowa State (5-6-1) 23-23, def. by Oklahoma (11-1) 17-14
Point Differential: +404 (501-97)
Despite the fact that this team failed to win a national title after back-to-back championships and actually lost two games, this team makes the list because almost no team has had a more dominant stretch of games than the Huskers did for two months from mid-September to mid-November. The Huskers were upset by quarterback Mark Harmon (yes, the same guy who now stars in NCIS) and UCLA's new wishbone attack in the first week of the season, which dropped the two-time defending national champions to 10th in the polls. They then outscored their next seven opponents, 348-24. That's an average score of 50-3.
These opponents weren't chumps either. Army, a 77-7 victim, went 6-4. Mizzou, massacred by a 62-0 margin, would upset Notre Dame the very next week on the way to a Fiesta Bowl bid. Gator Bowl participants Colorado went down via a comparatively competitive 33-10 margin in Boulder. Unfortunately for the Huskers, they ran out of gas late in the regular season. They were shockingly tied by Liberty Bowl-bound Iowa State, and they lost at home to soon-to-be national runner-up Oklahoma, 17-14, in the season finale. Though they could not wrap up their third national title, they took out their frustrations in style, destroying Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl by a 40-6 margin.
89. 1989 Notre Dame
Best Wins: def. Michigan (10-2) 24-19, def. Colorado (11-1) 21-6
Blemishes: def. by Miami (11-1) 27-10
Point Differential: +238 (427-189)
The formulas don't care about head-to-head matchups, therefore Notre Dame gets the slight nod over a Miami team that served them their only loss of the 1989 campaign. Really, the only difference between the performances of the 1988 national champion and 1989 squad were that the 1989 Irish played Miami on the road. Their one-point home win in 1988 served as the primary catalyst of their title run, but they couldn't knock off the mighty Hurricanes (the "convicts" of the infamous "Catholics vs. Convicts" battles) in Miami. As a result, they finished second in the polls to Miami, whereas the exact opposite happened the year before. Strangely enough, it was Notre Dame's easy 21-6 Orange Bowl win over No. 1 Colorado that gave the Hurricanes the title.
The 1989 Notre Dame offense was even more loaded than the title-winning 1988 unit. Tony Rice finished fourth in the Heisman voting, but Raghib "Rocket" Ismail was the attention-getter. He returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in a tight win against Michigan, and his 37-yard touchdown against Colorado gave Notre Dame a 14-0 lead it would not relinquish. Meanwhile, tackle Chris Zorich anchored a defense that was not as successful as 1988's, but was good enough against every team but Miami.
88. 1936 Alabama
Best Wins: def. Mississippi State (7-0), def. Tulane (6-3-1) 34-7
Blemishes: tied Tennessee (6-2-2) 0-0
Point Differential: +133 (168-35)
Bear Bryant's first season in control in Tuscaloosa (he was an assistant from 1936-39) saw the Crimson Tide lay waste to an improving SEC. They shut out five of their first six opponents and gave up more than seven points just once, in a 20-16 win over Georgia Tech. This was the beginning of the first golden age in the SEC, with Alabama, Tennessee and others rising to prominence. This was also the first season that the Associated Press began ranking college teams. The South was strangely underrepresented in the polls, at least until November when both Alabama and LSU forced writers to notice. (Alabama was ranked just 14th when they whipped No. 10 Tulane on November 7.) In the end, LSU finished the season ranked second, Alabama fourth. Statistically, however, 'Bama gets the nod.
87. 2004 Oklahoma
Conference: Big 12
Best Wins: def. Texas (11-1) 12-0, def. Colorado (8-5) 42-3
Blemishes: def. by USC (13-0) 55-19
Point Differential: +233 (452-219)
First impressions mean a lot in the dating world, but last impressions are all that matter in college football. The 2004 Oklahoma Sooners were a killing machine, outscoring 12 overmatched opponents by a 433-164 margin (average score: 36-14). They gave Texas their only loss of the season, a 12-0 shutout in Dallas. They got hot down the stretch of the regular season, outscoring their final three opponents -- Nebraska, Baylor and Colorado -- by a combined 107-6. But they had the eventual misfortune of drawing USC in the BCS championship game, and ... let's just say that USC team will be featured quite high on this list. The 55-19 massacre that occurred in Miami soured people on the quality of this team -- somewhat justifiably so -- but they were still one of the best teams of the 2000s.
Another thing that mars people's view of this OU team is that they lost in the BCS title game for the second straight year after being picked above teams that, retroactively, seemed more deserving. In 2003, they lost to LSU by a touchdown (a respectable margin considering the game was New Orleans, and that Jason White was fighting a broken hand and foot) while one-loss USC missed the proceedings. In 2004, Oklahoma was chosen over undefeated Auburn. Both times, the BCS formula's main failing was that it couldn't fit three teams on the same field. OU had a decent case in 2003 and a great case in 2004, but the teams failed when the spotlight was shining the brightest.
(And yes, it is certainly odd that this team still gets the nod over 2005 Texas. That's how much weaker the Big 12 got in 2005.)
86. 1969 Penn State
Best Wins: def. West Virginia (10-1) 20-0, def. Missouri (9-2) 10-3
Point Differential: +232 (322-90)
It takes a lot for the virulently conservative Joe Paterno to say something negative in public about anybody, much less a Republican president. But he couldn't bite his tongue when it came to the 1969 college football season. After an epic 15-14 Texas win over Arkansas which President Richard Nixon attended (commemorated in this great book), Nixon proclaimed Texas the national champion ... despite the fact that Penn State was still undefeated, and the bowl games had not taken place yet. How much this affected poll voters' intentions is impossible to say, but when Texas beat Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl, and Penn State beat Missouri in the Orange Bowl to finish an undefeated season, Texas won the title.
When Nixon called to offer a plaque to Penn State for their long unbeaten streak, Paterno reportedly said, "You tell the president to take that trophy and shove it." Years later, at the 1973 Penn State commencement speech, Paterno said "I'd like to know, How could the president know so little about Watergate in 1973 and so much about college football in 1969?"
Sadly, this story dominates people's memories of this squad of Nittany Lions, when it was one of their best ever (and is the only 1969 squad to make this list). They allowed just 8.2 points per game and outscored their two highest-ranked opponents (West Virginia and Missouri) by a combined 30-3.
85. 1932 Notre Dame
Best Wins: def. Kansas (5-3) 24-6, def. Army (8-2) 21-0
Blemishes: def. by Pittsburgh (8-1-2) 12-0, def. by USC (10-0) 13-0
Point Differential: +224 (225-31)
Like 1972 Nebraska, this two-loss Notre Dame team makes the list because of what it did in its wins. In the second season after Knute Rockne's passing, the Irish outscored their seven vanquished foes by a combined score of 225-6. They beat three lesser teams -- Haskell, Drake, and Carnegie Tech -- by a combined 177-0 to start the season. After their loss to Pittsburgh, they rolled through Kansas, Northwestern, Army, and Navy by a combined 78-6. We often suggest here that killing bad teams is almost as telling as simply beating good ones, and this team's presence on that list suggests that the statistics agree.
84. 1947 Michigan
Conference: Big Ten
Best Wins: def. Michigan State (7-2) 55-0, def. USC (7-2-1) 49-0
Point Differential: +341 (394-53)
Ah, college football. It is the only sport for which so many teams can just "claim" national titles without the matter having actually been settled on the field. At the end of the 1947 regular season, the Associated Press named Notre Dame its national champion by a small margin over Michigan. But after Michigan ran up the score on USC in the Rose Bowl, demolishing the Trojans by a 49-0 margin, the AP decided to break its own rules and take another poll after the bowls. This time, it was Michigan who was named the national champion. Naturally, both programs still claim this title. It took almost another decade and a half before the AP began issuing its final poll after the bowls were over.
The Est. S&P+ gives Michigan the nod. The 10-0 Wolverines outscored opponents by an average margin of 39.4 to 5.3, slightly better than the 32.3 to 5.8 margin that Notre Dame produced. Plus, they played a much better schedule (combined record of Michigan's opponents: 41-45-5; Notre Dame: 29-46-7) and beat USC by a slightly bigger margin (49-0 to 38-7).
While this Michigan team is known most for controversy, it should not be forgotten that the on-the-field product was simply fantastic. Bob Chappuis and Bump Elliott led an offense that averaged almost 40 points per game in an era where that simply did not happen. Chappuis finished second in the Heisman race, while Chappuis, Elliott, and Al Wistert all earned spots in the College Football Hall of Fame.
83. 1992 Alabama
Best Wins: def. Tennessee (9-3) 17-10, def. Miami (11-1) 34-13
Point Differential: +244 (366-122)
Believe it or not, this team was much more than just George Teague's amazing forced fumble and recovery. But wow, is that one of the most memorable and re-watchable plays in college football history.
Despite being ranked ninth in the preseason AP poll, Alabama snuck up on people in 1992. This is likely because it was a foregone conclusion that a dominant Miami team would probably win the tile. But the Crimson Tide continued to hang around and win games. They overcame multiple turnovers to defeat a good Southern Miss squad in Birmingham. They built a 17-0 lead at No. 13 Tennessee, then held on for a 17-10 win. They scored 10 points in the fourth quarter to hold off Mississippi State, 30-21. When Antonio Langham returned an interception for a touchdown with 3:25 left to give the Tide a 28-21 win over Florida in the SEC Championship game, Alabama improbably had a shot at a national title if they could beat the seemingly invincible No. 1-ranked Miami Hurricanes.
They did just that, of course. They obliterated Miami by a 34-13 margin and, in their 100th year of football, claimed their 12th national title.
82. 1988 Florida State
Best Wins: def. Clemson (10-2) 24-21, def. Auburn (10-2) 13-7
Blemishes: def. by Miami (11-1) 31-0
Point Differential: +283 (455-172)
For those who have seen ESPN's The U., you will recognize this team as the one that was voted preseason No. 1 above defending national champion Miami, only to get wrecked by the Hurricanes in the first week of the season. The Seminoles disappeared from the title race after that, but from the second week of the season on, they were every bit as good as they were predicted to be.
In his second consecutive All-America campaign, the Seminoles' Deion Sanders had one of the best seasons possible for a cornerback. He picked off a Brett Favre pass and returned it for a touchdown in a 49-13 romp over Southern Miss, then returned a punt 76 yards for a go-ahead touchdown against a very good Clemson squad (a game won by the famous Puntrooskie). Then, with Florida State leading 13-7 in one of the more enjoyable Sugar Bowls ever, Sanders picked off a pass intended for Lawyer Tillman in the Seminoles' endzone to clinch a 13-7 win.
81. 1936 Pittsburgh
Best Wins: def. Nebraska (7-2) 19-6, def. Washington (7-2-1) 21-0
Blemishes: def. by Duquesne (8-2) 7-0, tied Fordham (5-1-2) 0-0
Point Differential: +190 (224-34)
The 1936 Panthers finished third in the AP voting, but they were named champions through more minor sources. Again, college football is the best. Why Missouri isn't hanging two banners because of their 1960 Polling System title and their 2007 Anderson & Hester title, or Utah because of their 2008 Massey Ratings title, one never knows. They might as well join the party!
Led by Jock Sutherland, the Panthers were barely challenged in 1936, playing only three games decided by a touchdown or less. Unfortunately for them, they went 1-1-1 in those three games. They won at Ohio State (always an accomplishment) by a 6-0 margin, were upset by Duquesne, and tied a very good Fordham squad. (The Rams were a legitimately solid program in the 1930s.) They won the other seven games on their schedule by a combined 218-27 margin. They killed Nebraska, 19-6, in Lincoln and easily handled a 7-1-1 Washington squad in the Rose Bowl, 21-0. Running back Bobby LaRue and a strong line headlined by Averell Daniel and future Nebraska coach Bill Glassford were central to the team's success.
Coming next Tuesday: Teams 61-80.