Clem­son’s 15-0 run rates best of last 15 years

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS - Paul Myer­berg

It wasn’t long af­ter Clem­son put the finish­ing touches on the win against Alabama that coaches and play­ers be­gan to dis­cuss the Tigers’ place in his­tory. “I feel like we’re the best team ever,” de­fen­sive end Clelin Fer­rell said.

Clem­son is at least unique, as the first on col­lege foot­ball’s high­est level since Penn­syl­va­nia in 1897 to finish 15-0. The Tigers up­ended a ri­val that for much of the reg­u­lar sea­son had been viewed in com­par­i­son with some of the top teams in pro­gram his­tory.

In terms of re­cent his­tory, Clem­son’s case is hard to ig­nore. A rank­ing of the past 15 na­tional cham­pi­ons of the Bowl Sub­di­vi­sion, from 2004 to the present, be­gins with the 2018 Tigers.

1. 2018 Clem­son (15-0)

It’s note­wor­thy when you achieve mark­ers that hadn’t been matched since the 19th cen­tury. Clem­son had the na­tion’s best de­fense, the thirdbest offense and the most con­sis­tent week-to-week per­for­mances. At the least, the Tigers earned a place in the con­ver­sa­tion.

2. 2013 Florida State (14-0)

The Jameis Win­ston-led Semi­noles cruised through the reg­u­lar sea­son with an av­er­age vic­tory mar­gin of 42 points, or six touch­downs, which sounds more im­pres­sive. It was a closer call in the cham­pi­onship game against Auburn, but this was a pow­er­house team.

3. 2004 South­ern Cal­i­for­nia (13-0)

Thir­teen wins in to­tal, though two were later va­cated by the NCAA. The Tro­jans had Matt Leinart, Reg­gie Bush and more, with a ros­ter matched in the 21st cen­tury only by a 2001 Mi­ami Hur­ri­canes team over­loaded with NFL tal­ent. South­ern Cal­i­for­nia put an ex­cla­ma­tion point on its ti­tle by dis­man­tling Ok­la­homa 55-19 in the ti­tle game.

4. 2008 Florida (13-1)

That lone loss, to Mis­sis­sippi, is a blem­ish on an oth­er­wise in­cred­i­ble sea­son. Ur­ban Meyer and the Ga­tors had Tim Te­bow and Percy Harvin on offense to go with Joe Haden, Bran­don Spikes and more on de­fense, and Florida cruised through all com­ers af­ter an un­ex­pected set­back to the Rebels.

5. 2005 Texas (13-0)

Yeah, the Longhorns were about more than just Vince Young — though Young can stake claim to be­ing the best player of this cen­tury. He willed Texas to a mem­o­rable Rose Bowl win against fa­vored South­ern Cal­i­for­nia with 467 yards of to­tal offense and earned the Longhorns a place among the top ti­tle win­ners in re­cent mem­ory.

6. 2011 Alabama (12-1)

Here comes the run of Alabama teams led by Nick Sa­ban. This one tops the list de­spite not win­ning its divi­sion, a fact we’ll hold against the 2017 team. But any­one who wit­nessed 2011 Alabama can at­test to its place. A de­fense that smoth­ered ev­ery op­po­nent cer­tainly ranks in a his­tor­i­cally elite group.

7. 2012 Alabama (13-1)

While there was a loss, to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M, the Tide were im­proved offen­sively be­hind quar­ter­back AJ McCar­ron and typ­i­cally stingy on de­fense. Alabama ripped past Notre Dame 42-14 to claim the ti­tle.

8. 2015 Alabama (14-1)

Whether it could win an­other ti­tle seemed in doubt af­ter an early con­fer­ence loss. The Tide won their last 12 games, all but one by dou­ble dig­its, and topped Clem­son 45-40. Alabama won eight games against ranked teams.

9. 2016 Clem­son (14-1)

Clem­son’s shutout of Ohio State in the Fi­esta Bowl and mem­o­rable win against Alabama in the ti­tle game are the defining mo­ments from the pro­gram’s first ti­tle in 25 years. There were a few close calls and a loss to Pitts­burgh in Novem­ber. But this vet­eran team saved its best for last.

10. 2009 Alabama (14-0)

Alabama gets points for be­ing the lone un­beaten team of the Sa­ban era and for hav­ing the first Heis­man win­ner in school his­tory in run­ning back Mark In­gram. The de­fense was out­stand­ing, hold­ing six op­po­nents to sin­gle dig­its, and the Tide beat four ranked teams on the road. There were a few close calls, no­tably a 12-10 win against Ten­nessee sealed by a blocked field goal.

11. 2014 Ohio State (14-1)

The Buck­eyes played their way into the play­off by rock­ing Wis­con­sin in the Big Ten ti­tle game with third-string quar­ter­back Cardale Jones and then took dis­man­tling Alabama’s proud de­fense and rip­ping Mar­cus Mar­i­ota and Ore­gon to claim the ti­tle. But that wasn’t in­dica­tive of the rest of the sea­son.

12. 2010 Auburn (14-0)

Cam New­ton had un­doubt­edly one of the top sea­sons from a quar­ter­back in FBS his­tory, a fleet­ing, one-year romp through the SEC en route to the top spot in the fol­low­ing NFL draft. New­ton alone makes this a spe­cial team.

13. 2017 Alabama (13-1)

Last year’s cham­pi­ons failed to win the SEC West and were on the ropes against Ge­or­gia in the ti­tle game be­fore Tua Tago­v­ailoa paced a come­back. The Tide were dom­i­nant in spurts but not quite up to the stan­dard set by the rest of the Sa­ban-led cham­pi­ons.

14. 2006 Florida (13-1)

The Ga­tors get credit for nav­i­gat­ing through the na­tion’s most difficult sched­ule. Be­hind quar­ter­back Chris Leak and a fresh­man Te­bow, Florida chris­tened a pe­riod of SEC dom­i­nance by trounc­ing an Ohio State team fa­vored to win the cham­pi­onship game.

15. 2007 LSU (12-2)

The only two-loss cham­pion of this era, LSU over­came a late loss to Arkansas to squeeze into the ti­tle game af­ter a round of un­pre­dictable up­sets to cap the reg­u­lar sea­son. The Tigers had a won­der­ful de­fense and beat a slew of ranked teams, but the losses are hard to ig­nore.

MATTHEW EMMONS/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Clem­son de­fen­sive line­man Chris­tian Wilkins hams it up af­ter the Tigers beat Alabama 44-16 for the 2018 na­tional ti­tle.

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