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Ranking the 5 Lackluster College Football National Champions of All Time

By Dan Vasta in College Football
| January 6, 2022 10:55 am PDT

There have been several struggling national champions over the years in college football. To these teams, winning is all that matters.

Winning ugly is sometimes more enjoyable due to stealing games from the better teams on paper. The resume and ability to escape has put some title teams on the bottom of rankings.

Here are your top five worst college football national champions of all time.

5. Georgia Tech – 1990

The 1990 season was an unusual year in college football. There was plenty of chaos but look at the preseason Top 5 and where Georgia Tech started in the AP Poll.

  • No. 1 Miami
  • No. 2 Notre Dame
  • No. 3 Auburn
  • No. 4 Florida State
  • No. 5 Colorado
  •  Georgia Tech: Unranked

The Yellow Jackets were coming off a 7-4 season without a trip to the postseason. Before Bobby Ross coached in the NFL for the Chargers and Lions, he was with the Yellow Jackets. Entering the 1990 season, Ross was in his fourth season.

Ralph Friedgen was the offensive coordinator, but this team lacked the star-studded players needed to win a national championship. They proved the doubters wrong, but they certainly had a few close calls.

Among the games that came down to the wire, we saw five nearly get away from the Yellow Jackets.

Ironically, the AP Poll ended up having Colorado as the national champion despite starting their season at 1-1-1. The Buffaloes couldn’t knock off a Top 25 team but continued to move up the polls.

Georgia Tech was given the UPI national championship by one vote over Colorado. Prior to the BCS era in 1999-99, the national title was subjective and never a sure thing.

The Coaches Poll awarded the Jackets their first national title since 1952. They were the lone unbeaten team, but the schedule was a soft one in the ACC. Virginia and Clemson were solid Top 20 squads, but there were a handful of cake walks.

Look at how the program finished their next few seasons. Ross would shortly leave for the NFL two years after winning it all in 1991.

  • 1991: Preseason No. 8 team finished 8-5 and finished unranked
  • 1992: Preseason No. 23 finished 5-6 under Bill Lewis
  • 1993: Preseason unranked finished 5-6
  • 1994: Preseason unranked finished 1-10

They had a few impressive wins over Nebraska, Clemson, and top-ranked Virginia. The rest of the schedule was lacking. Even the Cornhuskers were not impressive, barely ranking in the Top 25 after losing three of their final four games.

Praying your conference has at least a few ranked teams and challenging yourself in the non-conference is pivotal. Georgia Tech was lacking and starts off the list.

4. Alabama – 2011

The Crimson Tide entered their showdown against top-ranked LSU at 8-0 with a number two ranking. They were in Tuscaloosa and were expected to come away with a 4.5-point victory per the experts in the desert.

The Game of the Century turned out to be a paint dry matchup that lacked touchdowns. There were zero scores, and the game went to overtime at six a piece.

After McCarron was sacked on third and long, the team was forced to kick a long field-goal. Plus, Richardson dropped a perfectly thrown over the shoulder pass from McCarron.

Alabama was in trouble and LSU had running back Michael Ford run the ball inside the LSU 10-yard line. He nearly scored but stepped out of bounds by an inch on the white chalk. The key was a chip-shot kick in overtime to have the Bayou Bengals prevailing, 9-6.

Alabama dropped two spots to fourth, but they didn’t even win their own division. LSU thumped their next four opponents, but the rest of the college football landscape was hectic down the stretch of the 2011 season.

Oklahoma State was a perfect 10-0 heading into Ames against a hapless 5-4 Iowa State squad that wasn’t close to being a Top 25 squad. Losing in overtime dropped the Pokes down a few spots and moved Alabama back to second in the BCS Standings.

Everything worked in favor of Alabama since the Big Ten and Pac-12 were non-existent that season. Oregon kept hacking up November critical losses that prevented them from being considered a title contender.

Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and the rest of the conference all had two-plus losses. It was a beautiful disaster for Alabama. The Crimson Tide hardly struggled against any of their teams outside of LSU, but the conference was down that year.

Notable Wins At No.23 PSU No. 14 ARK At No. 1 UF At No. 24 AUB
Final Record/Rank 9-4, unranked 11-2, No. 5 7-6, unranked 8-5, unranked

Other than dominating the Razorbacks in September in Tuscaloosa, the schedule was soft. Many will argue this Tide team would have missed a College Football Playoff in an average year where there are one-loss or undefeated conference champions. The schedule needed more landmines.

While they have no control over how poor their conference schedule is on paper, the team had a mediocre resume and lost at home to LSU in a game where they were lackluster on offense.

Fortunately, the scheduling gods and BCS voters gave the Tide a second shot with LSU.  The game was a snooze fest, but they made the most of it and cracked the top 5 for worst champions.

3. Colorado – 1990

Let’s just say 1990 was nuts. The scheduling gods were on their side, but Colorado started their season at 1-1-1. Talk about mediocrity, the Buffs failed miserably at knocking off a Top 25 squad in September.

They bounced back by knocking off a pair of ranked teams. Texas and Washington ended up having special seasons, which helped Colorado’s chances. The voters rewarded Ralphie for the losses/ties.

Also, do we need to look at the fifth down discussion against Missouri? Another loss would have dropped them outside the Top 10 potentially.

Close Calls At No.22 Texas No. 12 Washington At Missouri At No. 5 Notre Dame
Victories 29-22 20-14 33-31 10-9 (Orange Bowl)

Nowadays, the voters and pollsters will obliterate your team into an abyss if you were to lose twice in September.

Granted, ties are not in the equation anymore. Still, the lack of teams magically propelled them atop the rankings in a watered-down season.

2. LSU – 2007

The 2007 college football season was one of the most chaotic and highly entertaining seasons in all of sports. We ended up having a two-loss conference champion appearing in the BCS national championship.

Les Miles was only in his third season, but a few players from the Nick Saban tenure were still there and making an impact on the field.

Luckily, the one positive caveat that was on the side of the Tigers was their gauntlet of a schedule. Entering the preseason most teams would lose two or three games at the minimum.

LSU Schedule Virginia Tech South Carolina Florida Auburn Tennessee Arkansas
Preseason Rank No. 9 Unranked (moved to No. 6 by October) No. 6 No. 18 No. 15 (SEC title game opponent) No. 21

The SEC was dominant that season and whoever survived the conference was certainly going to rank in the top 5. The elite matchups every week were impressive, but there were pieces that quickly began to fall.

The Bayou Bengals dominated Virginia Tech and looked the part to start out 3-0. They survived a battle with a pesky South Carolina team that ended up finishing 6-6. They were the top-ranked squad in Baton Rouge against the future Heisman Trophy winner.

Tim Tebow nearly pulled out a victory in a game that was won by fullback Jacob Hester. There were two fourth-down conversions on the final LSU drive of the game.

  • LSU trailed 24-21 in the fourth quarter
  • 9:20 remaining in regulation, drive started from own
  • 15-play, 60-yard drive
  • 8:11 time of possession
  • Jacob Hester: 39 yards rushing, game-winning TD

The final drive was an epic performance. Despite an early pass interference call, LSU made up for it with a 15-yard scramble by quarterback Matt Flynn. Hester then plunged ahead for the fourth down conversion and capped it off with a touchdown in the closing moments.

After surviving against Florida, they lost the next week in Lexington against Kentucky in triple overtime, 43-37. Quarterback Andre Woodson made some clutch throws for the Cats, and it was the Tigers that were searching for answers.

Surviving against Auburn and Alabama the next two weeks were entertaining Top 20 tussles that came down to the wire. They then soon became the top-ranked in November despite already having a loss.

Hosting unranked Arkansas on Black Friday was a nightmare defending Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. Run DMC ended up rushing for 206 yards on 32 carries with three scores. The game was a triple overtime thriller again. LSU took the loss, 50-48.

It should have dropped the Tigers like a bad habit outside the Top 5, but they were seventh in the second to last BCS Standings. There was a SEC title game matchup with Tennessee that week. LSU prevailed 21-14, and that was where the chaos reared its ugly head again.

The Tigers miraculously moved from seventh to second due to everybody either losing or not playing.

The Mountaineers were stunned in the Backyard Brawl after a few injuries impacted Steve Slaton and Pat White. Missouri and Chase Daniel had their dream cut short by Oklahoma.

LSU was the last team standing and Ohio State moved up to number one as the Big Ten champion (no conference title games).

The season was absurd and two-loss LSU was then giftwrapped the title game in the Louisiana Superdome. Knocking off Ohio State should take nothing away from their dream season. However, literally everything went their way down the stretch of the most chaotic season in college football history.

1. BYU – 1984

The Cougars were a Cinderella story during the 1984 season. They started the year unranked and were able to win on the road against third-ranked Pitt.

Sadly, the Panthers were one of the most overrated teams of the decade. They started the season third and ended up finishing a miserable 3-7-1.

The road ahead for BYU was a dream come true for their chances of running the table. BYU didn’t come close to competing against a Top 25 squad all year.

  • Combined Record of Schedule: 61-89-3
  • Wins over Top 25 Teams: One
  • Wins over Eventural Top 25 Teams: ZERO

Finishing nearly 30 games under 500 is abysmal for any team in the country. The ability to win a national title would be the equivalent of a team from the MAC winning a national title. The WAC had Boise State dominated under Chris Petersen a few decades later, but the 1984 BYU squad was a godsend.

To even finish the year ranked was a surprise for many, but to win the national title after surviving against lowly Michigan was impressive. Of course, it was impressive for BYU’s standards.

They nearly lost to a Michigan team that lost four games in a Big Ten conference that had two squads in the Top 25. They never impressed anybody but the voters apparently.

The schedule ranks among the worst in college football history. Luckily, the AP Top 10 entering the postseason was wacky.

The season had several other struggling teams that lacked quality wins. BYU was the only one without a loss, so they slowly moved ahead of everybody once November approached.

The lack of stars was obvious. Other than future first-round center Trevor Matich, there were only four other draft picks that season. Quarterback Robbie Bosco was a great story finishing third in the Heisman voting with Doug Flutie winning the trophy out of Boston College.

There wasn’t a beef with BYU winning the national title, but they have been widely considered the worst team to win it all in college football.

While these were some of the worst college football champions ever, they still got the win. Every college football title game is still important, and you can bet on the winner – deserving or not. Just make sure you’re using the best college football sportsbooks to do so.

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