The college football season is less than four months away. If you’re like most college football fans, you can’t wait to see your team back on the field.
While every team says they go into each season with the same goal in mind–win the national championship–there are very few schools with a legitimate chance to do so. The overwhelming majority of programs won’t sniff the national title chase.
When browsing the list of past college football national champions, there are some names that raise eyebrows. These schools still play at a Power 5 level, and some of them field consistently winning teams. They just aren’t capable of competing for the ultimate prize.
So which college football programs have won at least one national championship, but will never accomplish the feat again? We think there’s at least nine of them.
Let’s get started:
The Golden Gophers were a powerhouse right before World War II, winning national titles in 1936, 1940, 1941. They won their last national championship in 1960.
Unfortunately, another one isn’t on the horizon. Minnesota has had only one 10-win season since their last national title, and even though they have held their own in the Big Ten for most of the last two decades, they simply don’t recruit at a high enough level to win it all.
Could P.J. Fleck lead the Gophers to a 2015 Iowa-type season and reach the Big Ten Championship Game? It’s possible, but a national title isn’t going to happen.
Colorado’s only national title was a shared one with Georgia Tech in 1990. Shout out to the guys keeping track of the downs at Missouri.
The Buffaloes won it all during a 15-year stretch in which they were one of the most consistent programs in the country. They went to 13 bowl games in 15 seasons.
Colorado did have a 10-win season in 2016, reaching the Pac-12 championship game in the process, but it isn’t likely we’ll see them win it all again.
Pitt was a force in the early 20th century, capturing national championships in 1910, 1915, 1916, 1918, 1929, 1931, 1936 and 1937. They last won it all in 1976, led by Heisman Trophy-winning halfback Tony Dorsett. The Panthers cruised to the national title that year, winning all but one game by double-digits.
Pitt nearly duplicated the feat in 1980 and 1981 with Dan Marino playing quarterback, but would up finishing No. 2 and No. 4 in the country those seasons. Since then, they’ve had one 10-win season, coming in 2009.
The Panthers are in the weaker of the two ACC divisions, and it wouldn’t be out of the question for them to make a conference title game. A national championship is out of the question though.
Yes, BYU won a national championship, and it wasn’t that long ago. It was 1984 to be exact.
Led by quarterback Robbie Bosco, the Cougars won the WAC and defeated Michigan in the Holiday Bowl to cap a 13-0 season. In case you were wondering, the 1984 college football season was pretty wacky as a whole.
From 2005-2016, BYU was in a bowl every year. The Cougars produce good players and good teams, but as an independent with a marginal schedule, the odds of them reaching the College Football Playoff, let along winning it, are slim to none.
Remember when we said Colorado split its national title with Georgia Tech in 1990? That’s the last time the Yellow Jackets were national champs. They also finished No. 1 in 1917, 1928 and 1952.
The Yellow Jackets have actually made the ACC Championship game four times (2006, 2009, 2012, 2014), winning it in 2009. They can absolutely get back to that level.
A national championship isn’t happening though, particularly when the school runs the triple option. It is a fun offense, but not the kind that attracts recruits and wins championships anymore.
The ‘Cuse got loose in 1959, going 11-0 and winning the Cotton Bowl and the national championship. They were led by the late and legendary running back Ernie “The Express” Davis.
Syracuse’s closest shot at a national title since then came in 1987, when the Orange went 11-0 in the regular season and tied Auburn in the Sugar Bowl. They finished fourth in the country.
Unfortunately, Syracuse hasn’t won 10 or more games in a season since 2001, and they are in a brutal ACC Atlantic Division. The Orange also can’t attract the recruits you need to compete at the highest level nationally, so you won’t be seeing them winning it all again.
The Spartans were a powerhouse in the 1950s and 1960s, winning national championships in 1951, 1952, 1955, 1957, 1965 and 1966 under Duffy Daugherty. That 1966 one is pretty famous thanks to the fact it was shared with Notre Dame and the two teams played to a 10-10 tie in the regular season.
Under Mark Dantonio, Michigan State is having its most successful run since then. Six double-digit win seasons in eight years, three conference titles, a Rose Bowl and an appearance in the College Football Playoff. Not shabby at all.
However, the one time Sparty did make it to the CFP, they were smoked by Alabama. Dantonio does an incredible job developing players, but his recruiting classes usually rank in the 20s and 30s. It is tougher to get national championship-caliber talent to MSU than it is to Michigan and Penn State, which is why the Spartans make our list but PSU and Michigan don’t.
Still, we don’t feel great about any Big Ten East team not named Ohio State winning it all in the coming years.
Twenty years ago, Tennessee won its last national title in the first year A.P. (After Peyton). Led by Tee Martin, the Vols took down Florida State in the first-ever BCS National Championship Game. Tennessee also won it all in 1938, 1940, 1950, 1951 and 1967.
In the two decades since their last national championship, Tennessee has gone from national power to consistently mediocre. The hope is that new head coach Jeremy Pruitt can revive the program.
This is probably the most controversial entry on our list. The Vols have a great fan base and home field, play in a premier league and can recruit at a high level. However, they are in the same division as Georgia and Florida, and play Alabama every year in a crossover matchup. We wouldn’t hold our breath waiting for them to climb to the top of college football again.
Despite a loss to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, the Terps won the national championship in 1953. It is the only national crown in program history.
Many people mention Maryland as one the proverbial “sleeping giants” in college football. The Terps play in a fertile recruiting area, are sponsored by Under Armour and compete in the Big Ten.
Those factors should allow them to have their share of successful seasons, but being in the same division as Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State kills any national title dreams.