Throughout college football history, the one and only goal of every team has been to win a national championship. But unfortunately for the other 129 FBS teams, only one team can actually be crowned champions.
Over the course of NCAA history, there have been a lot of great college football teams, but some of them didn’t finish the job and win an NCAA championship and are remembered for coming up short. What teams are the best college football teams to never bring home the trophy?
Everyone can think of a great team that never won a title. Almost every season has at least one that doesn’t win, feels cheated and would claim to be atop this list, but these are who we rank as the 10 best teams that didn’t win a national championship.
10. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2016
Led by a great defense and freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, the Alabama Crimson Tide won the first 14 games of the season including nine wins over ranked opponents, and a 24-7 win over the Washington Huskies in the semifinals of the College Football Playoff. Their lone loss of the season came against Deshaun Watson and the ACC-champion Clemson Tigers in a rematch of the College Football National Championship in 2015.
With just a few seconds in the game, Watson hit Hunter Renfrow along the goal line for a touchdown to give the Tigers the lead and the Crimson Tide their only loss of the season. Alabama and Nick Saban came up just short against a really talented Clemson team and almost won three consecutive titles.
9. Auburn Tigers, 2004
Not often does a team finish the regular season undefeated in a Power 5 conference and not get a shot at the national championship. But in 2004, after finishing the regular season 11-0 and beating the 15th-ranked Tennessee Volunteers for the second time at the SEC Championship Game, the Auburn Tigers were passed over for the USC Trojans and Oklahoma Sooners — each also unbeaten — and instead played in a lesser bowl game.
Auburn was led by quarterback Jason Campbell (the Sooners and Trojans each had a Heisman winner), but were left out and are living proof the College Football Playoff is absolutely necessary to crown the correct champion. Unfortunately, we will never know how the Tigers would have stacked up, but they are definitely one of the top teams to never even get a shot at glory.
8. Penn State Nittany Lions, 1994
Before the 2004 Auburn team, there was the 1994 Penn State Nittany Lions who went 11-0 but had the third-ranked Miami Hurricanes picked over them to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Orange Bowl. Instead, the Nittany Lions faced the 12th-ranked Oregon Ducks and beat them by 18 points, and they never got a shot to win a championship because Nebraska won the title game.
Led by TWO Heisman Trophy finalists — Kerry Collins and Ki-Jana Carter — Penn State beat their four ranked opponents by an average of 24.5 points, including a 63-14 win over the 21st-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes and 38-14 win over the 14th-ranked USC Trojans. How tragic.
7. Florida State Seminoles, 1987
The story of the ’80s and ’90s was the battle between Florida State and Miami. The winner of that rivalry each season played a huge role in the national championship race, but no game meant more than during the 1987 season. Led by Deion Sanders, Florida State was not only the best team not to win it all in 1987, but maybe the best team in the country.
The Hurricanes went on to win the 1987 national title and were responsible for the Seminoles’ only loss, a 26-25 game where FSU head coach Bobby Bowden decided to go for a two-point conversion near the end of the game instead of the game-tying extra point.
Instead of another shot at the Hurricanes, Florida State played Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl and won, 31-28. They finished the season as the second-ranked team in the AP Poll behind Miami and were easily the second-best team in the country, if not just as good as the Canes.
6. Ole Miss Rebels, 1959
The 1959 Ole Miss Rebels came just one Halloween disaster away from likely winning the national championship. On Halloween, the Rebels traveled to Baton Rouge to take on the top-ranked LSU Tigers and were leading, 3-0. Instead of kicking the ball out of bounds like he was supposed to, the Ole Miss punter put the ball in the hands of future Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon, who caught the ball at the 11-yard line and returned it for the only touchdown of the game.
Ole Miss lost the game, 7-3, which was the team’s only loss of the season. They did get a rematch against LSU in the Sugar Bowl, taking revenge with a 21-0 win, but due to that punt return, the Rebels missed out on a chance at the national championship that Ernie Davis and the Syracuse Orange would win.
5. LSU Tigers, 2011
The 2011 LSU Tigers were not just a great team for that season, but all time. With Pro Bowl-caliber NFL talent on both sides of the ball, the only thing this team was missing was a solid quarterback. Their only loss of the season came in a rematch against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the BCS National Championship game.
After finishing the regular season 12-0 and beating seven ranked teams, the Tigers destroyed the 12th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs, 42-10. Earlier in the season, LSU faced off with then-No. 2 Alabama in a defensive battle, taking the game to overtime and winning, 9-6. Fast forward two months, and ‘Bama would get payback, beating LSU, 21-0.
A team with Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and Rueben Randle at receiver, Spencer Ware and Alfred Blue at running back, and too many defensive studs to name made up an insanely talented team but just couldn’t consistently score points due to below-average quarterback play.
4. Miami Hurricanes, 2000
One of the biggest mistakes from the BCS era was when the Miami Hurricanes were left out of the 2000 BCS National Championship game. Miami suffered just one loss on the season to the 15th-ranked Washington Huskies, a game played 3,300 miles away from Coral Gables out in Washington. The Hurricanes were left out in favor of the Oklahoma Sooners and Florida State Seminoles, even though Miami beat the ‘Noles earlier that season.
This ‘Canes team is not much different than the 2001 Miami team that is considered one of the best teams ever. If they were picked to face Oklahoma in the title game, which was played in the Orange Bowl, there is a great chance they win the school’s fifth national championship.
3. Florida Gators, 2009
After winning the 2008 BCS National Championship in led by Tim Tebow, the Florida Gators and head coach Urban Meyer were on track to repeat. There were two key differences though. This time around, they were able to finish the regular season undefeated, but they also ran into a much better Alabama team in the SEC Championship game, losing 32-13.
After the loss to ‘Bama, the Gators destroyed the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Sugar Bowl, 51-24. This team was extremely talented and would have won a third title in four years if not for Saban going to Alabama and turning the program around.
2. USC Trojans, 2005
As Pac-12 Champions and riding a 34-game winning streak led by one of the best quarterback-running back duos of all time, the USC Trojans were seconds away from winning the Rose Bowl for a second-consecutive BCS National Championship when Vince Young’s heroics led the Big 12-champion Texas Longhorns to the title. With Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush going back-to-back for the Heisman Trophy, this team was extremely talented and came just seconds away from a second championship.
Pete Carroll had 11 Trojans selected in the 2006 NFL Draft, including Bush, Leinart, LenDale White, Winston Justice, Frostee Rucker and Deuce Lutui.
Their closest game of the regular season came against the ninth-ranked Notre Dame team and what is now famously known as the “Bush Push.”
With 2004 USC being one of the best teams ever, and the same key players on the 2005 team, it is still no doubt that it is an absolutely great team even if they weren’t able to stop Young from scoring inside the final minute of the title game.
1. Miami Hurricanes, 2002
For starters, this team was one pass interference call away from its second consecutive national championship. But besides that, this team was not much different than the legendary 2001 team.
The Hurricanes finished the regular season undefeated with a 56-46 win over Virginia Tech and six touchdowns from Willis McGahee. Quarterback Ken Dorsey, as well as McGahee, were Heisman Trophy finalists, and they were set to take on Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl for the BCS National Championship. There are a lot of “ifs” in this game other than the P.I. call in overtime, including McGahee viciously blowing out his knee late in the game.
No team was more talented than the 2001 Miami Hurricanes, but this team had equally as talented All-Americans. They don’t receive the credit because they didn’t end the season with as national champions just like the other nine teams on this heartbreaking list.
Plenty of terrific programs — like Oregon, West Virginia, Virginia Tech and Missouri — are still searching for their first national title. At least they haven’t experienced the heartbreaking losses some of these teams did.
This article was originally published on July 22, 2019.