There have been various media outlets that have created their own respective lists of the greatest teams to ever take the gridiron for a single season. I figured it was time to put my spin on it with my personal reasoning’s (plus with the season over, it’s fun to get the whole 2019 season’s perspective.)
Without further adieu, let’s list some honorable mentions shall we?
1979 Alabama Crimson Tide, 1987 Miami Hurricanes, 1972 USC Trojans
Bear Bryant’s final national championship squad was perhaps his most dominant in his years following his switch to the wishbone as his Crimson Tide averaged 344.7 YPG and capped off the season with a 24-9 win over Lou Holtz’s #6 Arkansas Razorbacks in the 1980 Sugar Bowl and finished the season 12-0.
The most dominant of the teams to come out of The U in the 80’s was Jimmy Johnson’s national championship squad in 1987. Led by future stars of the Dallas Cowboys dynasty of the 90’s in Michael Irvin and Russell Maryland, the Canes eliminated all who walked into the Orange Bowl, including top-10 opponents Notre Dame and South Carolina to end the regular season, and then humbled Barry Switzer’s Oklahoma Sooners in the national championship game.
John McKay saw his most dominant team at USC come in 1972, led by All-American running back Anthony Davis and Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver Lynn Swann took down six ranked opponents in the 1972 season.A season which was capped off by a 42-17 demolition of Woody Hayes’ Ohio State Buckeyes in the 1973 Rose Bowl.
#10: 1968 Ohio State Buckeyes
The “Super Sophomores” of the 1968 Ohio State Buckeyes included quarterback Rex Kern, middle guard Jim Stillwagon, running back John Brockington and Pro Football Hall of Fame safety Jack Tatum. Those players, with the help of 70 other Buckeyes, laid waste to all who challenged the Scarlet and Gray in the Fall of ’68.
The Buckeyes averaged 301.8 yards per game on the ground in Woody Hayes’ “3 yards and a cloud of dust” offense, which was spearheaded by junior fullback Jim Otis, who scored a then school-record 17 rushing touchdowns in the 1968 season. The defense punished opponents as well, averaging opponents to a mere 15 points per contest, including a 13-0 shutout of then-#1 Purdue in October of that season.
Ohio State saved their worst beat down for their rivals to the north, as the Buckeyes smacked Michigan 50-14 in Bump Elliott’s final game as Michigan head coach. Jim Otis scored four touchdowns and Woody Hayes infamously sent his offense back on the field for a two-point conversion while already up 50-14.
Why you ask? “Because I couldn’t go for three,” Hayes told reporters afterwards.
Claiming the Big Ten Championship, Ohio State traveled to Pasadena to face off with OJ Simpson’s USC Trojans in the 1969 Rose Bowl. The Buckeyes left with a 27-16 victory and the final consensus national championship of the Woody Hayes era.
#9: 1956 Oklahoma Sooners
Bud Wilkinson’s Mona Lisa of his Oklahoma squads during the Sooners NCAA-record 47-game winning streak. Oklahoma shutout six of their 10 opponents in 1956 and didn’t allow a touchdown until the season’s fourth game against Kansas. Opponents the Sooners shutout include North Carolina, Kansas State, Texas, Notre Dame, Iowa State and Oklahoma State.
Oklahoma tallied a season-long point differential of +415 and only allowed 51 points all season, which averages out to just over five points allowed per contest. The Sooners offense averaged 46.6 points per game and averaged 391 rushing yards per game led by senior running back Tommy McDonald, who accounted for 19 total touchdowns in 1956.
Individually, McDonald won the 1956 Maxwell Award and was one of three consensus All-Americans for Oklahoma in 1956, joining offensive guard Ed Gray and center Jerry Tubbs, who finished fourth in Heisman Trophy voting, behind his teammate McDonald and Paul Hornung.
Oklahoma did not participate in a bowl game following the regular season due to the Big Seven’s no-repeat rule at the time. Instead, conference runner-up Colorado was sent to the Orange Bowl instead of the Sooners. Despite this, Oklahoma was still named the consensus national champions in 1956.
#8: 2012 Alabama Crimson Tide
In what was the most talented team of the Nick Saban era, the 2012 incarnation of the Crimson Tide bludgeoned teams week after week in the mighty SEC West. The only blemish was a loss to Texas A&M and 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, Alabama responded to the loss with back-to-back 49-0 shutouts against Western Carolina and in-state rival Auburn.
The talent that was on the 2012 Crimson Tide was nothing short of ridiculous. Seven players from that team went on to be future first-round draft picks. Overall, 28 players from that national championship team would go on to be drafted in the NFL, including Pro Bowlers such as Amari Cooper, Landon Collins and CJ Mosley.
AJ McCarron was nearly flawless in his 2nd season as a starter, throwing for 2,933 yards, 30 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. The Crimson Tide boasted two, 1,000 yard rushers in Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon and a 1,000-yard receiver in Amari Cooper. Alabama boasted a season scoring margin of +389, allowing only 10.9 points per game and only allowing 250 yards per game.
Alabama eeked by a great Georgia team in the SEC Championship Game and earned a bid to the BCS National Championship Game against Notre Dame. With much anticipation surrounding the game, the Crimson Tide came out and punched the Irish in the mouth and Notre Dame never responded, as Alabama took home a 42-14 win to capture the national championship.
#7: 1971 Nebraska Cornhuskers
The 1971 incarnation of the Nebraska Cornhuskers was clearly the best version during Bob Devaney’s tenure. The Huskers possessed an defense that was just as dominating as their offense, as the Huskers only allowed more than a touchdown against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Kansas State.
Of course the game that solidified the 1971 Cornhuskers place in history was their “Game of the Century” against #2 Oklahoma, that was immortalized by Johnny Rodgers 72-yard punt return for a touchdown. Rodgers, along with quarterback Jerry Tagge, led a Nebraska offense that scored 507 points in 1971, and boasted a season point differential of +403.
The Huskers cruised to a Big Eight title and earned a berth to the Orange Bowl against Bear Bryant’s Alabama Crimson Tide in a de facto national championship game with #1 vs. #2. It was never a contest as Devaney’s Huskers dominated Alabama from start to finish in a 38-6 shellacking that captured Nebraska their second consecutive national championship.
#6: 2005 Texas Longhorns
It was never a question throughout the 2005 season who the two best teams in college football were: The USC Trojans and the Texas Longhorns. USC was in the midst of their upstart-dynasty under Pete Carroll and had won back-to-back national championships and were looking to become the first team to three-peat ever in the poll era.
Texas had rebuilt slowly but surely under Mack Brown, with the final stepping stone a Rose Bowl win over Michigan to cap the 2004 season. The Longhorns ran the table in the 2005 regular season averaging 50.2 points per game and setting a new NCAA-record for points in a season with 642. It was an offense loaded with generational talents including quarterback Vince Young, running back Jamaal Charles and receiver Limas Sweed.
The storybook season balanced on a clash of titans between USC and Texas in the Rose Bowl. In a game that is considered the best college game ever played, Texas knocked off the reigning dynasty of USC 41-38 thanks to Vince Young’s 8-yard touchdown run with 19 seconds to play, a play immortalized by legendary ABC announcer Keith Jackson and Texas radio announcer Craig Way.
The win gave Texas their first national championship since 1970 and cemented the 2005 Longhorns a place among the great teams in college football.
#5: 2004 USC Trojans
In the height of the Pete Carroll dynasty, USC eviscerated the competition in the Pac-10 thanks to a mistake-free offense led by Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and LenDale White, along with a punishing defense anchored by Matt Grootegoed, Darnell Bing and Lofa Tatupu en route to their second consecutive national championship.
USC’s point differential isn’t as great as others on this list, sitting at only +327, but the talent on the 2004 Trojans put them head and shoulders above the rest of the college football world that season. Matt Leinart threw for 3,322 yards, 33 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions. LenDale White rushed for 1,103 yards and 15 touchdowns while Reggie Bush amassed 1,417 yards of total offense and 13 touchdowns.
The lasting image many have of the 2004 Trojans was their whipping of the Oklahoma Sooners in the 2004 Orange Bowl. The Sooners struck first in Miami, but USC followed up with a barrage scoring 28 unanswered points and went into halftime with a 38-10 lead.
It would only get worse for the Sooners as the Trojans continued to pound away behind Matt Leinart’s five touchdown passes in USC’s 55-19 rout of Oklahoma to win the 2004 BCS National Championship.
#4: 2018 Clemson Tigers
Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers in 2018 epitomized the word “dominance” in college football. Featuring a young offensive core of quarterback Trevor Lawrence, running back Travis Etienne, receivers Justyn Ross, Tee Higgins and 2017 National Championship hero Hunter Renfrow that averaged 44.3 points per game in 2018.
Complimenting them was one of the most talented defensive units college football has ever seen, allowing only 13.1 points per game in 2018. The Tigers boasted one of the best defensive lines in college football history with a quartet of Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Austin Bryant, plus a young talented secondary including Trayvon Mullen, AJ Terrell and linebacker Isaiah Simmons.
Trevor Lawrence won the starting quarterback job outright before the fifth game of the season and proved to be the turning point in Clemson’s season. The Tigers destroyed the rest of the ACC from there on and averaged a margin of victory of 32 points per game with a season point differential of +467.
Clemson faced off with Alabama in the national championship game, an Alabama team that was thought of to be one of the greatest college football teams ever assembled. By the end of the night in Santa Clara, the narrative did a complete 180 degree swing as Clemson stomped the Crimson Tide 44-16 to win the Tigers third national title in school history
#3: 2019 LSU Tigers
The current rulers of the college football world were not thought to be anywhere close to the level of Clemson and Alabama back in August of 2019. Joe Burrow was a serviceable quarterback and Ed Orgeron had the reputation as a mediocre head coach everywhere he went. That all changed with the hiring of Joe Brady, a former quality control coach for the New Orleans Saints.
Brady brought the Saints system to Baton Rouge, which gave way to greatest single season by a quarterback in college football history. Joe Burrow threw for 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns, which is an NCAA single-season record. Burrow also set the NCAA record for passer rating in a season with a rating 202.0.
Paired with phenomenal receivers such as Biletnikoff Award-winner Ja’Marr Chase, All-SEC running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire and All-SEC receiver Justin Jefferson, LSU averaged 48.4 points per game in 2019 and scored a grand total of 726 points. The defense, while not lockdown, was filled with star power with Thorpe Award-winning safety Grant Delpit and freshman sensation cornerback Derek Stingley Jr.
LSU’s final 3 games saw the out score three, top-5 opponents by a combined total of 142-63, as the Tigers saw their season end with a coronation against the Clemson Tigers in 42-25 win over the defending national champions. It was an offense the likes of which may never been seen again at this level of college football.
#2: 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers
There’s a great debate whether or not the ’95 Huskers or the 2001 Miami Hurricanes are the greatest college football team of all-time. On my list, the ’95 Huskers are number two. Tom Osborne’s second national championship team was by far his best, as Nebraska scored 50 or more points six times during the 1995 season, including 62 points in the national championship game against Florida.
Nebraska was led by legendary quarterback Tommy Frazier, who threw for 17 touchdowns and ran for 14 more in Osborne’s I-bone offense. The Huskers rushing attack was spearheaded by the duo of future Pro Bowl running back Ahman Green and Lawrence Phillips, along with an offensive line that included Aaron Graham and Adam Treu. It was an offense that averaged 53.2 points per game and on average rushed for 399.8 yards per game.
The Husker’s defense was just as dominant as well, only allowing 174 points all season in 1995, averaging out to 14.5 points per game. Overall, Nebraska’s point differential for the season stood at +464, just 3 points behind the 2018 Clemson Tigers. The Huskers embarrassed numerous top 10 opponents throughout the season as well, including #8 Kansas State, #7 Colorado and #10 Kansas.
Perhaps the crown jewel of the Tom Osborne era was the 1996 Fiesta Bowl against Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators. At one point trailing 10-6 at the end of the first quarter, Osborne’s Huskers exploded for 29 unanswered points in the second quarter, en route to a 62-24 rout of the Gators to capture Nebraska’s second consecutive national championship.
You guys probably have a good idea who number one is by now.
#1: 2001 Miami Hurricanes
As ESPN radio host and Miami native Dan Le Batard said while being interviewed for the 30 for 30: The U Part II, the 2001 Miami Hurricanes were “A nuclear absurdity of talent”. That sums up how special team was in Coral Gables in the fall of 2001.
The 2001 Miami Hurricanes boasted 17 future first round NFL Draft picks and 37 future draft picks altogether. No other team in the history of college football can claim anything near that. A team that boasted Willis McGahee, Frank Gore, Kellen Winslow II and Sean Taylor…who all rode the bench. Quarterback Ken Dorsey threw for 2,652 yards, 23 touchdowns and 9 interceptions and featured targets such as Andre Johnson, Kevin Beard and tight end Jeremy Shockey as well as future All-Pro running back Clinton Portis.
The Canes defense was one of the most dominant defenses in the history of college football too, holding opponents to 9.7 points per game in 2001. It was a defense led by future All-Pro’s in safety Ed Reed and linebacker Jonathan Vilma as well as future NFL starters in linebacker DJ Williams, cornerback Phillip Buchanon and defensive tackle William Joseph.
While Miami did have struggles with Boston College and Virginia Tech in 2001, the Canes scored back-to-back blowouts of ranked Syracuse and Washington teams in which Miami scored 59 and 65 points respectively. The Hurricanes also had dominating wins over Penn State and Florida State as well.
Larry Coker’s Hurricanes cruised to the Rose Bowl against Nebraska in a battle for the national championship. The score was even to start the game, and that was as close as it ever got. Miami appeared to be in light speed while Nebraska looked like molasses compared to the Canes speed. Miami took home a 37-14 thrashing of the Huskers and captured their fifth national championship in program history.
The talent base, matched with what they did to the best of the best, as well as their statistics, is why I name the 2001 Miami Hurricanes, the greatest college football team of all-time.