San Jose, Calif.—Okay. Let’s have some fun.
But first I need to tell you a story.
Way back in 1991 I was covering the SEC Spring Meetings in Destin, Fla. During those meetings commissioner Roy Kramer informed his football coaches that the SEC would be adding two teams (Arkansas, South Carolina) and would be going to divisional play for the 1992 season. The SEC was going to create the first conference championship game.
The coaches, to say the very least, were not thrilled.
“The SEC will never win another national championship,” Alabama coach Gene Stallings told me.
Well, if No. 1 Alabama beats No. 2 Clemson Monday night at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, it will be the SEC’s 14th national championship in the 27 years since the conference went to divisional play.
So—and let me repeat that this is just for fun—I decided to rank the 13 national champions since 1992 based on talent, big wins, and just a gut instinct after having covered them all.
If you don’t like my rankings, come up with your own:
1--Alabama 1992 (13-0): After an undefeated regular-season under third-year coach Gene Stallings, Alabama beat Florida 28-21 in first SEC championship game thanks to a pick six by Antonio Langham. The Crimson Tide Beat Miami and Gino Torretta, the Heisman Trophy winner, 34-13 in the Sugar Bowl for the national championship. This team was loaded with pro talent including All-America defensive ends Eric Curry and John Copeland and defensive back George Teague. It led the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 9.2 points per game.
2--Alabama, 2011 (12-1): One of Nick Saban’s most talented teams and arguably the best defense he has ever put on a field. Alabama led the nation in four major defensive categories. In November No. 1 LSU went to Tuscaloosa and beat No. 2 Alabama 9-6 (OT) in the “Game of the Century.” LSU went on to the SEC championship game and Alabama thought its season might be over. But the final BCS standings had LSU and Alabama at 1-2 and the two met again in the Sugar Bowl. This time Alabama dominated 21-0 to win the national championship. Eight Alabama players were drafted and six more signed free agent contracts.
3--Alabama, 2009 (14-0): After losing to Florida in the SEC championship game in 2008, Alabama bounced back and posted an undefeated season (Nick Saban’s first) that was capped off with a 37-21 win over No. 2 Texas in the Rose Bowl. This team had a ton of future NFL talent that included WR Julio Jones and linebackers Rolando McClain and Dont’a Hightower.
4--Auburn, 2010 (14-0): Cam Newton, Cam Newton, Cam Newton. The junior college transfer, who would go on to win the Heisman Trophy, led the Tigers to an undefeated season and a 22-19 win over Oregon in the BCS championship game. Auburn had three victories by three points and another (over Alabama 28-27) by only one point. Auburn rallied from 24 points down to beat Alabama and advance to the SEC championship game, where it beat South Carolina.
5--1998 Tennessee (13-0): With Peyton Manning gone to the NFL, Tee Martin took over at quarterback with a loaded roster that included LB Al Wilson. Tennessee needed a field goal at the buzzer to win its opener at Syracuse (34-33) and needed a missed Florida field goal in overtime to beat the Gators 20-17 in Knoxville. But the play that will always be remembered most from this season came on Nov. 14 with Tennessee trailing Arkansas late. Razorbacks QB Clint Stoerner stumbled and fumbled to Tennessee. The Vols won 28-24 and went on to win the national championship by beating Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl.
6--Alabama 2015 (14-1): After losing to Ohio State in the semifinals of the College Football Playoff in 2014, Alabama bounced back with a 14-1 season and a national championship. The only game the Crimson Tide lost all season was at home to Ole Miss, 43-37. Running back Derrick Henry, the Heisman Trophy winner, led the way with 2,218 yards rushing. Alabama dominated Big Ten champ Michigan State 31-0 in the CFP semifinals and then won a 45-40 classic over Clemson in Glendale, Ariz. for the national championship.
7--Florida 1996 (13-1): After getting dominated by Nebraska in the 1995 national championship game, Florida coach Steve Spurrier made some changes. He hired one of the nation’s best defensive coordinators in Bob Stoops (from Kansas State), and it made a difference in 1996. With Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel leading the offense, which featured All-America wide receivers Ike Hilliard and Reidel Anthony, the Gators were undefeated and ranked No. 1 when they went to Florida State. Florida lost that game 24-21 and dropped to No. 4. After beating Alabama in the SEC championship game Florida moved to No. 3 and got a rematch with Florida State in the Sugar Bowl. When No. 2 Arizona was upset by Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, it set up the Sugar Bowl as a winner-take-all for the national championship. Florida dominated the Seminoles 52-20 and to give the Gators their first national title.
8--Alabama 2012 (13-1): Alabama lost a ton of talent to the NFL from the 2011 team but still came back behind quarterback AJ McCarron, running back Eddie Lacy, and a veteran offensive line to go 13-1. Alabama’s only loss was to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M 29-24 in Tuscaloosa. The No. 2 Crimson Tide won a dramatic 32-28 decision over Georgia in the SEC Championship game and then simply overwhelmed No. 1 Notre Dame 42-14 in the BCS championship game.
9--Florida 2008 (13-1): Florida, led by Tim Tebow, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, loses an inexplicable 31-30 game to Ole Miss in Gainesville. After the game Tebow makes “The Promise” that Florida will come back from that bitter defeat. The Gators win the rest of their games, beating No. 1 Alabama 31-20 in the SEC championship game. That moved the Gators to No. 1 and set up a BCS championship game with quarterback Sam Bradford and the No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners. Oklahoma was scoring 50 points a game but was held in check as Florida won 24-14 to give Coach Urban Meyer his second national championship in three seasons.
10--LSU 2003 (13-1): It was Nick Saban’s fourth team at LSU and the Tigers had only one blemish one on their record, a 19-7 loss to unranked Florida on Oct. 11. LSU beat No. 5 Georgia 34-13 in the SEC championship game to advance to the BCS title game with Oklahoma in New Orleans. LSU held Oklahoma and Jason White, its Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback, in check to win 21-14. It gave Saban the first of his six national championships
11—Florida 2006 (13-1): It was Urban Meyer’s second year as the Florida head coach. He had a senior quarterback in Chris Leak and a freshman quarterback in Tim Tebow. Florida’s only loss was at Auburn on Oct. 14. Florida had a great escape on Nov. 11 when it blocked a Ryan Succop 48-yard field goal attempt on the last play of the game and won 17-16. “Looks like it might be the year the year of the Gator,” said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, the former Gator coach. Florida beat Arkansas 38-28 in the SEC championship game and then dominated No. 1 Ohio State 41-14 in the BCS championship to give Meyer his first of three national championships
12--Alabama 2017 (13-1): Alabama was 11-0 and ranked No. 1 when it lost at Auburn 26-14 in late November. It looked like the Crimson Tide season was over after failing to reach the SEC championship game. But Alabama got a second chance as the No. 4 seed in the College Football Playoff. After a convincing 24-6 win over Clemson in the semifinals, Alabama faced Georgia in the national championship game in Atlanta. Trailing 13-0 at halftime, Alabama inserted freshman Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback. He rallied Alabama to tie the game an in overtime, threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to Devonta Smith to win the game and the national championship.
13--2007 LSU (12-2): LSU was 10-1 and ranked No. 1 when it went to Arkansas on the Friday after Thanksgiving. The Tigers lost 50-48 in triple overtime. The following week LSU was ranked No. 7 as it faced Tennessee in the SEC championship game. The Tigers appeared to be out of the national championship race. But on that unforgettable Saturday in December, No. 1 Missouri lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game and No. 2 West Virginia lost to Pittsburgh 13-9. Ohio State moved to No. 1 and LSU jumped to No. 2 in the final BCS Standings. LSU dominated Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl 38-24 to become the first team in the BCS era to win the national championship with two losses.
Last point: If Alabama beats Clemson Monday night the Crimson Tide will be the first FBS team to go 15-0. On that, and its record setting offense, the 2018 Crimson Tide will shoot right to No. 1 on this list.