Bill Connelly is pretty well respected throughout the college football world. Connelly covered the sport for SBNation for years, until making the jump to ESPN about a year ago. If you are not familiar with him, he is the brains behind the widely popular S&P+ metric.
SP+ is intended to be predictive and forward-facing. That is important to remember. It is not a resume ranking that gives credit for big wins or particularly brave scheduling. No good predictive system is. It is simply a measure of the most sustainable and predictable aspects of football
On Tuesday, Connelly ranked the top 25 teams in college football that failed to win a national title. These were comprised of teams that took the field in the AP poll era (1935 to present) and didn’t finish a season as national champion in either the AP or Coaches Poll.
Connelly used his historical SP+ rankings as a starting point and then took creative control from there. Many in the Tiger family will question the “creative control” aspect of it all after seeing that neither the 2015 nor the 2019 Clemson teams made the list.
25. 1947 Michigan (10-0)
24. 2011 LSU (13-1)
23. 1980 Florida State (10-2)
22. 1987 Florida State (11-1)
21. 1992 Florida State (11-1)
20. 1958 Oklahoma (10-1)
19. 1945 Navy (7-1-1)
18. 1976 Michigan (10-2)
17. 1940 Tennessee (10-1).
16. 1972 Oklahoma (11-1)
15. 2005 USC (12-1)
14. 2008 USC (12-1)
13. 2008 Texas (12-1)
12. 2016 Alabama (14-1)
11. 1966 Alabama (11-0)
10. 1986 Miami (11-1)
9. 1994 Penn State (12-0)
8. 2018 Alabama (14-1)
7. 1973 Ohio State (10-0-1)
6. 1971 Oklahoma (11-1)
5. 2019 Ohio State (13-1)
4. 1983 Nebraska (12-1)
3. 1987 Oklahoma (11-1)
2. 1986 Oklahoma (11-1)
1. 1959 Ole Miss (10-1)
Connelly lists three teams in his top 25 that the Tigers have beaten. First, he has the 2016 Alabama team ranked #12.
12. Alabama (2016)
In 2016, Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide nearly went wire-to-wire for the national title despite 10 ranked opponents and a true freshman quarterback. With Jalen Hurts behind center, Bama beat eventual Rose Bowl champion USC by 46, defeated ranked Ole Miss and Arkansas on the road, and pummeled top-10-at-the-time Tennessee and Texas A&M by a combined 82-24. The Tide hung 54 points on Florida in the SEC title game, too. Two years earlier, Saban had hired Lane Kiffin to modernize his offense; this was the realized vision.
But the Tide peaked early and still had to deal with the best Clemson team of all time. Bama eased by Washington 26-7 in the Peach Bowl CFP semifinal, but Clemson corralled Hurts, played keep-away, wore the Bama defense out and prevented the Tide from winning their fifth title in seven years with a Deshaun Watson to Hunter Renfrow in the dying seconds.
Then he has the 2018 Alabama team listed at #8.
8. Alabama (2018)
Nick Saban has won five national titles at Alabama, but you could make the case that his two best teams (2016 and 2018) didn’t. With 2017 national title game hero Tua Tagovailoa at QB, the Tide outscored their first eight opponents by an average of 54-16, then shut out two great defensive teams (LSU and Mississippi State). They rolled to a nearly unchallenged 12-0 season.
Tagovailoa got hurt against Georgia in the SEC title game, but 2016-17 starter Jalen Hurts led an unlikely comeback for a 35-28 win. The Tide rolled through Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl and headed to the third Bama-Clemson national title game in four years as a solid favorite. Then they blew an abundance of scoring chances, attempted the worst fake field goal of all time, threw a pick-six and got their doors blown off 44-16. That’ll knock you down the list a bit.
Then last but not least,and this is where it really gets interesting, Connelly has the 2019 Ohio State team that Clemson beat in the semifinal round of last years playoff listed at #5.
5. Ohio State (2019)
Ryan Day’s first Ohio State squad is remembered mostly for its final game, a brilliant, somewhat controversial 29-23 loss to Clemson in the CFP semifinals. Between that and LSU’s late-season brilliance, that could lead us to forget how incredible this team was.
During a 13-0 regular season, Ohio State played eight teams that would finish with eight-plus wins, and the Buckeyes averaged a 49-13 outcome. Only two opponents stayed within 24 points, none within single digits. J.K. Dobbins rushed for 2,000 yards; Justin Fields threw 41 touchdown passes (with only three INTs); guard Wyatt Davis was a consensus All American; and a Buckeyes defense with three 2020 first-round picks was first in the nation in sacks, tackles for loss and passer rating allowed. Day’s Ohio State tenure started by fielding maybe the best Ohio State team. The only way to top that is by winning the title.
Again, Connelly doesn’t list any of the three Clemson teams with losses in the title game. He does list both of the Alabama teams that lost to the Tigers, but is hard to argue with those two. Those were two great teams.
However, the Ohio State team that Clemson beat in the Fiesta Bowl makes the list? The team Clemson beat on their way to the title game with LSU? And that same Clemson team doesn’t?
The team that lost after giving up a 16-0 lead makes it, but not the team that came back from the sixteen point deficit to win and earn the spot in the national title game? And not only does that Buckeye team make the list, but they’re number five? That is some big-time creative control there.
We haven’t even really mentioned the 2015 Clemson team getting slighted. The team that went blow for blow with Alabama, before the Tide needed an onside kick to help them get the win. That team probably should have made the cut as well.
In the desert, Alabama and Clemson played a doozy. When it was over, the Crimson Tide had a 45-40 victory, their fourth national title since 2009 and the glory of prevailing in one of the best national championship games ever. This was a classic. Alabama and Clemson went back and forth for 12 great rounds and the winner prevailed by landing the last combination of the evening and withstanding a final flurry from the loser.
Few national title games this century were on par with this one — maybe Ohio State upsetting Miami, Texas outdueling USC and Florida State surviving Auburn would be in the conversation. But for sheer quantity and variety of big plays, this one will stand the test of time.- SBNation on 2015 National Championship Game
The 2015 team might even have a stronger argument for being included that the 2019 team.
However, it is the 2019 team that the Tiger faithful will have an issue with, and rightfully so. Many will see this as more fuel for the ROY Bus in 2020. Once again it seems that there is still little to no respect being given by some in the media for what Dabo and Company have been able to accomplish.