In the last 80 years, 42 different college football programs have claimed national championships. That list includes programs like Princeton, Cornell, and Army, and a number of now-lower level Power Five programs.
The sport has radically shifted in that time. It's pretty clear that the group of teams that can capture an FBS national championship is smaller today. The last 40 years have seen 22 different programs that have claimed titles.
It is unclear how much more that group will shrink. However, the top tier of college football is a pretty limited number of teams.
The College Football Playoff does give four teams a shot to win at the end of the year. However, through four seasons, just nine different schools have participated, with three different winners.
How much smaller will the group of national champions get? Odds are that the vast majority of fan bases, even those in what are now the Power Five conferences, will never see a title.
Here are the 20 schools that can realistically win a national championship in our lifetimes, from here on out.
Alabama Crimson Tide:
Life after Nick Saban is a legitimate question. With Saban, perhaps the greatest coach in the history of the sport, at the helm, Alabama is unquestionably the sport's biggest superpower. There's no guarantee the next coach can replicate that success.
That being said, it would be a serious surprise if this year's national championship wound up being Saban's last. The team continues to bring in blue-chip talent by the busload. Saban will more than likely win it all at least one more time, and no one would be shocked if that number was far greater. Even after Saban, Alabama has the history and resources to compete for just about any coach that it wants.
Alabama's in-state rival has never been a superpower at the same level as the current Crimson Tide. However, Auburn has often been a very competitive college football program, with multiple national titles, and plenty of other seasons in which they were very close.
Gus Malzahn may not be the guy to win another. However, Auburn is usually in the mix every few years. The Tigers should get back to the promised land.
Clemson is probably the newest true college football power to break onto the scene. The Tigers had captured a national championship back in 1981. However, in between that season and the more recent title at the end of the 2016 season, Clemson spent some time as an also-ran.
Dabo Swinney has elevated the team to new heights. Clemson is recruiting incredibly well, especially at the quarterback position. The team has gone to three straight College Football Playoffs. The Tigers will likely win again, and it may be in the next few years.
Quite simply, any major college football program in Florida will be a factor in the long-term. Assuming there isn't a drastic shift in where football talent comes from, Florida is among the most dominant bases of power in the sport. Urban Meyer proved just how dominant UF can be by cultivating it a few years ago.
That doesn't mean just any coach can step in and dominate at Florida. Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain proved that. However, with Dan Mullen coming in, the school is making a move back to the Meyer tree, which should get thinks moving back in the right direction.
Florida State Seminoles:
The same advantages that apply to Florida apply to its rival Florida State. FSU also used its recent coaching opening to grab a hot young coach with serious in-state roots.
Willie Taggart previously coached at USF, and after a rocky start to his tenure, had the Bulls rolling in his final two years in Tampa. He spent one year at Oregon, where he was recruiting extremely well, before heading to his "dream job" at Florida State. Taggart is a strong offensive coach and an ace recruiter, and that's a scary combination at a place like FSU, which competed for talent as well as any school in the country under Jimbo Fisher.
It is strange that Georgia has not won a title since 1980. During his lengthy tenure, Mark Richt came close a few times, but never quite got the Bulldogs in true contention. Kirby Smart nearly ended the drought in just his second year.
Smart has signed a historic 2018 recruiting class. He's taking full advantage of his state's crazy football talent. After last year's breakout, this seems more about "when" than "if."