Clemson’s 15-0 run rates best of last 15 years
It wasn’t long after Clemson put the finishing 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 first on college football’s highest level since Pennsylvania in 1897 to finish 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 offense 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 offense 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 offense 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 offensively 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 defining moments from the program’s first 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 first 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 field 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 fleeting, 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 difficult 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.
Clemson defensive lineman Christian Wilkins hams it up after the Tigers beat Alabama 44-16 for the 2018 national title.