The College Football Playoff launched a decade ago with the promise of delivering a true national championship, devoid of the controversies that plagued the Bowl Championship Series and its forerunners, while upholding the traditions that made the sport unique.

So much for that.

We bid the four-team Playoff farewell following Michigan’s defeat of Washington, giving this format some book-ending symmetry. It arrived with a Big Ten team beating Alabama then knocking off a Pac-12 opponent in the title game, it closes the same way.

Whether or not the existence of the Playoff actually improved the sport as was promised 10 years ago, however? That’s subjective.

The 2024 season brings with it another change to the postseason with expansion to 12 bids, and the dirt still fresh on the grave of a former power conference and others seemingly threatened.

But, again, one’s stance on these changes is subjective – and so is the following ranking of every team to reach the Playoff since its inception. Applying the selection committee’s only nebulous formula, which touted subjectivity to justify certain decisions, the 40 final four participants of the past decade stack up as follows:

40. Ohio State, 2016

Ohio State spared the committee criticism, if not outright vindicated it in its first season, when, after jumping TCU and Baylor in the final ranking to make the field, the Buckeyes beat Alabama and Oregon en route to the national championship.

There would be no such vindication two years later when 2016 Ohio State became the first that failed to win its conference while being chosen for the Playoff. The 31-0 blowout loss to Clemson became the first shutout in the Fiesta Bowl since Arizona’s defeat of Miami 23 years earlier.

39. Michigan State, 2015

The Playoff era may not have a more unfortunate figure than Michigan State in 2015. Mark Dantonio’s wildly successful tenure produced 12 wins that year and a second Big Ten championship in three seasons.

Regardless the number of close calls the Spartans survived to get to the Playoff (winning six one-score games, including the improbable defeat of Michigan that October), claiming a conference title is a commendable accomplishment!

And, once upon a time, Michigan State would have been rewarded with a Rose Bowl matchup against Stanford and the opportunity to repeat its finale two years prior. Instead, the Spartans were fed to former MSU coach Nick Saban in a 38-0 Cotton Bowl Classic blowout that could have been uglier.

38t. Notre Dame and Clemson, 2020

College football’s COVID season feels like a fever dream in retrospect, with a variety of oddities only possible in such a peculiar campaign. Some of those were good, like the impromptu Coastal Carolina-BYU game that became an instant classic.

Others, not as much. For example, a 47-40 Notre Dame win over Clemson provided one of the unusual season’s highlights on Nov. 7. However, Clemson was without Trevor Lawrence due to COVID testing.

A rematch played six weeks later — only made possible because Notre Dame’s longtime ACC affiliation was full-fledged membership for that one season — resulted in a Lawrence-led Tigers pounding the Fighting Irish, 34-10.

Either game would have possibly eliminated one or both from Playoff contention under normal circumstances. But in 2020, both advanced to the national semifinals and lost by a combined 38 points to Alabama and Ohio State.

Notre Dame’s loss to Alabama in the first Rose Bowl Game played outside of California since 1942 was noteworthy for Brian Kelly’s postgame comments. In retrospect, they seem to foreshadow his exit for LSU a year later:

“These questions keep coming up like we have to reinvent ourselves. We were physical today. [Alabama was] dynamic on the perimeter, like they have been all year. This is a really good football team.

“And we’re just going to keep recruiting and keep playing and we’re going to keep putting ourselves in this position. And that’s all we can do.”

36. Oklahoma, 2015

Washington reaching the National Championship Game just as the Pac-12 shutters is a cruel twist that reflects the impatience wrought from the Playoff era. The conference so often came oh-so-close to sending other teams to the final four, only for a late-season loss to derail those plans, deny the Pac-12 that all-important additional TV revenue, and create the perception the league was less-than.

Among the beneficiaries of the Pac-12’s cannibalization, Oklahoma was arguably the most frequent. The Sooners were undoubtedly the first, landing the No. 4 seed in 2015 when they jumped into the top four following a Stanford loss to Oregon.

That particular Oklahoma team featured an explosive offense with Lincoln Riley in his first year as coordinator and Baker Mayfield at quarterback – though Mayfield hadn’t yet achieved his final form. A loss to a sub-.500 Texas team in the Red River Shootout would have otherwise prevented the Sooners from advancing to the Orange Bowl, where they lost to Clemson in a game famed Oklahoma fan Jim Ross might call “bowling-shoe ugly.”

35. Ohio State, 2020

In another reminder that the COVID season was bizarre, Ohio State reached the National Championship Game with just seven wins as a result of both the late start to the Big Ten Conference season and a variety of cancellations.

That’s no fault of these Buckeyes, as Justin Fields balled out on his way to a second Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year award. He delivered perhaps the best individual performance of the entire four-team Playoff year with his six touchdowns in the Sugar Bowl romp over Clemson.

For the sake of ranking in a historical context, however, the asterisk weighs heavily.

34. Clemson, 2017

Clemson’s run of five consecutive Playoff appearances produced some of the most dominant performances and a few of the more memorable games of the four-team championship. Between the title-game runs of 2015/2016 and 2018/2019, however, was the odd 2017 campaign.

The Tigers featured a stout defense with All-Americans Dorian O’Daniel and Austin Bryant, the latter of whom was a leading force for an even better Clemson defense the next season. But the 2017 season was also the weird transitional period between Heisman Trophy finalist quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence, with Kelly Bryant behind center.

Bryant took perhaps more than his share of criticism during the 2017 season – though it’s noteworthy Clemson’s lone regular-season loss on a Friday the 13th in Syracuse came after Bryant sustained a head injury.

In the semifinals against an Alabama team that maybe shouldn’t have been in the field, however, the Tigers scored only three points in one of the more forgettable Playoff contests.

33. Ohio State, 2022

While trying not to deal in hypotheticals, it’s difficult not to preface Ohio State’s underwhelming ranking here with the caveat that the Buckeyes arguably were one play away from winning the national championship.

With TCU’s win over Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl, it’s not unreasonable to suggest Ohio State may have beaten the Horned Frogs in the title game.

32t. Michigan and TCU, 2022

Fans who appreciate defense likely disagree, but the 2022 Fiesta Bowl was one of the better semifinals of the four-team Playoff by virtue of being a competitive, back-and-forth contest.

TCU went through the regular season undefeated on the strength of eight games decided by 10 points or fewer – one of which came over Kansas State. K-State knocked off TCU in a Big 12 Championship Game rematch, which is an automatic demerit from the Horned Frogs for the purpose of these rankings.

Nevertheless, TCU deserves credit for winning 13 games and capitalizing on most of its opportunities. That includes in a wild Fiesta Bowl during which the Horned Frogs rushed for 273 yards on what had been a lock-down Michigan defense for most of the season.

Beating Michigan head-to-head in a thriller should arguably give TCU a higher ranking, but the Wolverines get credit as one of only two teams in the 2022 field with a conference championship. In the BCS era, Michigan would have faced Georgia in the National Championship Game.

30. Florida State, 2014

Suggestion Florida State could be left out of the Playoff field as an undefeated power-conference champion was ultimately deemed preposterous in 2014. We’d have to wait another nine years for opinions to shift on that matter.

However, coming off winning the final BCS championship, Florida State navigated the 2014 regular season as the nation’s lone unbeaten…and just felt wildly vulnerable throughout. The Seminoles closed the regular season with wins over unranked Miami, Boston College, and Florida teams by 12 combined points before surviving a 37-35 ACC Championship Game against Georgia Tech.

Coming off winning the Heisman Trophy the previous year, Jameis Winston’s 2014 produced a ton of yards — 3,907 in total — but just 25 touchdowns against 18 interceptions. A regular season most memorable for his suspension after shouting a filthy meme on campus ended with Winston’s most noteworthy moment in a 39-point Rose Bowl loss coming when he slipped on a fumble.

29. Oklahoma, 2019

Oklahoma’s aforementioned benefits from Pac-12 upsets? They became a factor once again in 2019 when, on the eve of a Big 12 Conference Championship rematch against Baylor, Utah lost a slam-dunk spot in the final four when it fell to Oregon.

The Sooners capitalized with a 30-23 overtime win over the Bears, Oklahoma’s fourth win of seven points or fewer in its final five games after a 48-41 loss to Kansas State.

OU took care of business winning so many nail-biters down the stretch, but the reward at the end was being fodder for one of the best teams of the 21st Century.

28. Michigan, 2021

It isn’t unrealistic to suggest that Michigan made it all the way to Thanksgiving weekend 2021 without ever being viewed as a legitimate Playoff contender. The Wolverines were 10-1 and boasted one of the nation’s best defenses behind Heisman finalist Aidan Hutchinson.

However, close calls throughout the regular season – including a 20-13 win over Rutgers and the divine intervention of a Nebraska team that was historically inept in one-score situations – and Ohio State’s precedent of owning The Game loomed large.

That made the 42-27 Michigan win, after eight straight years losing to the Buckeyes, all the more stunning. Hassan Haskins’ five touchdowns earned him a place in Wolverines lore and began Michigan’s run of three straight Playoff appearances.

27. Notre Dame, 2018

Notre Dame is a lightning rod for hate from the college football community, and some of it is the result of Fighting Irish teams being awarded opportunities they perhaps didn’t deserve. Modern-era Notre Dame teams faced perhaps undue criticism for the sins of past generations.

To that end, the 2018 Fighting Irish absolutely deserved their Playoff bid. A 30-3 blowout loss to Clemson doesn’t reflect it, but the Tigers were just at another level that season — evident in beating Alabama by a more lopsided margin just one week later.

Before the Cotton Bowl, Notre Dame beat Michigan and Stanford teams that won 10 and nine games and destroyed a 10-win Syracuse team that game Clemson its closest game of the season. How well the Irish acquitted themselves throughout that fall, only to lose in such deflating fashion at the Playoff, perhaps provided a harbinger of Brian Kelly’s laments two years later.

26. Washington, 2016

An unfortunate reality of football: The sport’s violence means injuries are inevitable. The Washington team that advanced to the Playoff, giving Chris Petersen the chance at competing for a national championship the BCS denied his Boise State teams, was not the same squad as most of the regular season.

Quarterback Jake Browning sustained a shoulder injury down the stretch that plagued him for the rest of his college career. Only in his resurgent play with the Cincinnati Bengals this NFL season did the old Jake Browning really shine through.

Now, whether a full-strength Browning would have been enough for Washington to put up more of a fight in the semifinals against Alabama is debatable. The Huskies defense kept UW within striking distance in the first half, but the Crimson Tide wore down Washington in a 24-7 Peach Bowl final.

25. Alabama, 2023

This past year’s Alabama was fascinating. The Crimson Tide were thoroughly outclassed at home in a loss to Texas, making for a rare combination of a home defeat to a non-conference opponent and with Nick Saban opposite a former assistant.

Alabama struggled in a rain-soaked matchup with USF, held on for dear life to beat Arkansas, and needed a veritable miracle to beat Auburn.

And through all that, the Crimson Tide came a fourth down in the Rose Bowl away from playing for the national championship after handing Georgia its first loss in two years.

24. Oklahoma, 2018

With its second Heisman winner in as many seasons, Kyler Murray, and the third straight Sooners quarterback to be invited to New York for the award ceremony, Oklahoma’s offense was a juggernaut in 2018.

The 48.4 points per game OU scored that season were the most any time produced for a season in the Playoff era until 2020. The Sooners’ lowest-scoring outing came in the Playoff, but the 34 points they produced against Alabama made for one of the more competitive semifinals through the first eight years of the four-team bracket.

23. Cincinnati, 2021

Each of these team rankings factors in only the specific season in question — with this exception. Cincinnati’s appearance in the 2021 season Playoff isn’t possible if the Bearcats didn’t run the table the year prior.

Such is the unfortunate standard the supposedly more fair Playoff system set for outsiders, but Cincinnati needed the cachet built in its undefeated 2020 regular season to garner enough respect to climb the rankings a year later.

For that reason, Cincinnati ranks ahead of teams that were perhaps “better.” None had to run the same gauntlet, though. What’s more, in a stretch when semifinals were often unnecessary blowouts, the Bearcats gave Alabama one of the stiffer challenges in a Cotton Bowl that was a 17-6 game going into the fourth quarter.

22. Ohio State, 2019

Ohio State buzzed through the 2019 regular season going largely unchallenged, featuring a roster that had three viable Heisman Trophy candidates: Justin Fields, J.K. Dobbins, and Chase Young. Two of the three were invited to New York.

The Buckeyes’ Fiesta Bowl loss in what was, until the last two seasons, a rare quality semifinal goes down as one of the biggest what-ifs of the era. What might a showdown between the high-powered Ohio State and LSU offenses have looked like?

21. Clemson, 2019

Three years after Clemson and Ohio State met in what was arguably the worst semifinal of the four-team Playoff, the 2019 rematch made good on a Fiesta Bowl mulligan.

Clemson’s come-from-behind, 29-23 win on Trevor Lawrence’s touchdown pass to Travis Etienne provided one of the enduring moments of the Playoff’s first iteration.

20. Texas, 2023

From January 2010 until some point in 2023, Texas football went missing. We heard repeated promises that Texas Is Back over those 13 years, but they were never true. Not until this season.

While the Longhorns fell shy of reaching the National Championship Game, their 2023 campaign looked reminiscent of past outstanding Texas seasons. The road win at Alabama was impressive, as was the efficiency of the offense.

But with a defense that held opponents to fewer than 19 points per game, Texas showed the chops to contend immediately upon joining the SEC in 2024. Naysayers of Steve Sarkisian’s hire as head coach — a group that includes this author — were proven wrong.

19. Oklahoma, 2017

Of the four Oklahoma teams to reach the Playoff under Lincoln Riley, the 2017 squad was the best. Heisman winner Baker Mayfield produced a season that stacks up statistically with the top from the 21st Century, totaling 4,627 yards with 43 touchdowns and another five scores rushing.

Mayfield’s swan song came in a Rose Bowl for the ages, during which he threw for two touchdowns and caught for another.

Between Mayfield, Trey Sermon and Rodney Anderson carrying the ball and CeeDee Lamb as the primary receiver, this Oklahoma team boasted a collection of skill-position players on par with any ever assembled during the Playoff years.

18. Alabama, 2014

At Pac-12 media days in 2018, newly minted Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said that Alabama’s loss to Oklahoma in the January 2014 provided the impetus for Nick Saban to revamp his offensive approach.

Cristobal was on the staff when Saban brought aboard Lane Kiffin, fresh off a failed tenure as USC head coach, to coordinate the Crimson Tide offense. With Blake Sims at quarterback, Alabama came changing head-long into the modern age.

It would take a few years for the new-look Crimson Tide to perfect their new style, but Sims’ 28 passing touchdowns and seven rushing scores foreshadowed the future. It wasn’t until Alabama ran up against one of the head coaches early to embracing wide-open offense, Urban Meyer, that the Crimson Tide were denied a national championship for a second consecutive year.

That matched the program’s longest such streak under Saban until this year.

17. Georgia, 2017

Narratives flew hot and heavy in 2017. Georgia moved on from Mark Richt, a successful head coach but ultimately unable to deliver a national championship, two years earlier. Richt resurfaced at his alma mater, Miami, and had the Hurricanes in the title conversation for the first time in more than a decade.

Kirby Smart, a longtime Nick Saban assistant tabbed to get Georgia over that hump, appeared to have the Bulldogs primed to do just that. He coached Georgia to its first SEC title since 2005 and had the Dawgs in position for their first national championship in almost 40 years.

A Playoff matchup with Richt and Miami seemed possible; likely, even, before the Hurricanes suffered a Thanksgiving loss to Pitt that segued into a lopsided ACC loss to Clemson.

Instead of a showdown between Smart and Richt, a Richt-Saban championship matchup continued the trend of Saban dominating his assistants in head-to-head meetings. It took Smart until a few years later to finally reverse the trend, and not without a do-over.

Before meeting Alabama in the National Championship Game, however, Georgia’s Rose Bowl win provided perhaps the best game of the Playoff era. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel’s combined ball-carrying efforts were the catharsis for a sect of Georgia fan that, in years prior, rendered themselves hoarse screaming, “Run the dang ball, Bobo!” at then-former-now-current offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.

16. Alabama, 2018

The 2018 Alabama team accomplished a feat rare even among Saban-coached Tide squads with a perfect regular season. The quarterback controversy with Jalen Hurts and the previous year’s title-game hero, Tua Tagovailoa, loomed throughout the offseason and into Week 1 when Saban went on a memorable tirade.

Tagovailoa became a Heisman finalist, but Hurts quarterbacked Alabama in a bit of reversal to lead an SEC Championship Game defeat of Georgia that preserved the Tide’s Playoff hopes.

Going through that regular season unscathed is certainly an impressive accomplishment, and the only thing standing between Alabama and it’s first perfect campaign since 2009 was an absolute powerhouse at the peak of its power in Clemson.

15. Alabama, 2017

Alabama’s 2017 national championship-winning team is this ranking’s lowest-rated champion for the simple reason that the Crimson Tide shouldn’t have been there.

Yes, results dictate otherwise. And Alabama getting into the Playoff provided a thrilling Championship Game. However, the Playoff selecting teams that failed to win their divisions, say nothing of their conferences, became an unfortunate recurring theme.

In 2017, the committee passed on a deserving UCF team that ran the table. Teams like UCF were just the kind of outsiders denied opportunities in the BCS era many fans clamored for having access; and that prompted pressure with lawmakers threatening antitrust suits after Mountain West Conference champion Utah was frozen out in 2008.

14. Oregon, 2014

Hurry-up offense that blended option and air-raid principles didn’t start in Eugene, but the Chip Kelly-coached Oregon offenses perfected the style in the early 2010s. When Kelly exited for the NFL after the 2012 campaign, Mark Helfrich inherited a revolutionary system that was arguably at its strongest in the seven years UO ran it.

Marcus Mariota’s Heisman Trophy win solidified him as the Pac-12’s best quarterback of the expansion era. Despite falling short of delivering the Ducks their first-ever national championship, his 333 yards passing in the National Championship Game sent Mariota out on a high note.

How Oregon might have performed that season with Nick Aliotti as defensive coordinator is a fascinating topic. Aliotti had been a key to the program’s rise before his retirement following the 2013 campaign.

13. Washington, 2023

The Pac-12 didn’t get to end on a high note before the conference as we know it dissolves, but the league went out boasting what was arguably its best team of the decade.

Washington was the conference’s first squad to navigate the regular season unscathed since its expansion to 12 members in 2011, a feat achieved with four wins over teams ranked in the end-of-season AP Top 25. Beating Texas in the Sugar Bowl made it five ranked wins.

Michael Penix Jr.’s resurgence after an injury plagued stint at Indiana offered one of the more positive stories to come from the transfer portal age, and UW coach Kalen DeBoer’s ascent from NAIA became an inspiring subplot of the Huskies’ rise back to prominence.

12. Alabama, 2021

The same rationale dictating that Alabama shouldn’t have been in the 2017 field applies to the Crimson Tide’s 2021 season runner-up finish. There are some key differences, though: Georgia won its division, and no other teams emerged from the regular season as conference champions with one loss or fewer.

Alabama faced a difficult proposition, having to beat the same high-quality opponent twice in on season. To the Crimson Tide’s credit, they nearly did so until Georgia erupted for three touchdowns in the final eight minutes of the National Championship Game.

Though Bryce Young claimed Alabama’s fourth Heisman Trophy in 12 years, a run capped with an electrifying performance in the SEC Championship Game against a Georgia defense that previously looked impenetrable, this Tide team looked more vulnerable than others before it.

Alabama won four one-score games, including a 24-22 classic in the Iron Bowl sent in overtime on a remarkable, 97-yard drive.

11. Clemson, 2015

Notable ups-and-downs mark Dabo Swinney’s tenure at Clemson. From the low of being destroyed in the 2011 season’s Orange Bowl matchup with West Virginia, the Tigers ascended to the high of beating LSU in an excellent Peach Bowl the next season. Swinney gave a postgame interview that sounded like vintage Dusty Rhodes.

In 2013, Tahj Boyd quarterbacked Clemson to Orange Bowl redemption in a win over Ohio State. The 2014 season saw minor regression but showed glimmers of the possibilities in 2015.

While the 2015 Tigers fell short of the national championship, that season was the beginning of a climb to a genuine dynasty run.

10. Alabama, 2016

Before its loss to Clemson in the National Championship Game, the 2016 Alabama team won every game but one by double-digit-point margins. The exception was a wild, 48-43 shootout that snapped the Crimson Tide’s losing streak against Ole Miss going into that year’s matchup.

To that end, there’s a case to be made that this Alabama team was just one play away from being the best team of the four-team Playoff era. The defense certainly ranks among the all-time greats across any generation, holding opponents to 13 points and 63.9 rushing yards per game.

Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams, and Ryan Anderson formed an elite pass-rush unit that racked up 54 sacks on the season.

9. Georgia, 2021

Before its SEC Championship Game loss to Alabama, some chatter persisted that the 2021 Bulldogs were among the greatest college football teams of all-time. Despite surrendering 41 points in the first go-around with Alabama, the Jordan Davis-led defense held opponents to a hair more than 10 points per game.

We’re nothing if not consistent, though. And while Georgia got a do-over and showed up in its second shot at Alabama, the 2021 Bulldogs did not win their conference. That counts against their final ranking for this exercise’s purpose.

8. Alabama, 2015

A four-overtime, instant classic decided on a fourth-down lateral was the difference between Alabama winning its first national championship of the Playoff era and going on a three-year drought.

The play in question was Arkansas’ game-winning score to down Ole Miss that November, which knocked the Rebels out of the driver’s seat to win the SEC West. Not that Alabama’s season wasn’t without its own dramatics, however.

An early-season loss to Ole Miss — the Crimson Tide’s second in as many years — left Alabama with no margin for error. Thus, Derrick Henry’s touchdown run in the closing minutes to beat Tennessee in a 19-13 nail-biter was just as significant as the Arkansas win over Ole Miss.

That all combined to set the stage for the ultimate dramatics in a terrific National Championship Game, the first of three between Alabama and Clemson over a four-year span.

7. Clemson, 2016

The sting of losing to Alabama the previous year, 45-40, provided the backdrop for Clemson’s dramatic, 35-31 win to cap the 2016 season.

Clemson trailed almost the entire game before a 21-point fourth quarter, capped with Deshaun Watson’s touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow providing an honest-to-goodness buzzer beater on the gridiron, less than a calendar year after the Men’s Final Four concluded with Kris Jenkins’ 3-pointer to elevate Villanova to the title.

The 2016 Tigers returned to the Playoff after falling just short the year prior with a series of close calls: A 30-24 win against a Troy team that enjoyed a historic 2016 in its own right; a 42-36 defeat of Louisville in a showdown of Heisman contenders, Deshaun Watson and eventual winner Lamar Jackson; a 37-34 win at Florida State one week after going to overtime with NC State; and a 42-35 win over Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game.

Clemson wasn’t perfect in one-score games: A 43-42 loss to Pitt kicked off a run of signature wins for the Panthers in the late 2010s that included the aforementioned 2017 defeat of Miami and ending UCF’s two-year-and-change regular-season winning streak in 2019.

6. Ohio State, 2014

Few results of the Playoff decade are more confounding than Ohio State’s 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech in Week 2 of the 2014 season. It also produced one of the more comical declarative statements made in this age of the hot take.

Ohio State rallied from the Week 2 setback to become a monster by season’s end, tearing through Michigan in The Game, 42-28; destroying Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship, 59-0; then topping Alabama in a Sugar Bowl that provided the ideal semifinal to introduce the Playoff concept to the nation.

The 42-20 win over Oregon in the National Championship Game in which Ezekiel Elliott ran for 246 yards and four touchdowns set a high standard for future Playoff participants.

5. Michigan, 2023

Your humble author will never forget in the summer of 2017 firing up a college football podcast that asked if Jim Harbaugh was on the hot seat headed into that season. Keep in mind, he was entering just his third at Michigan and had exceeded all results in the decade preceding him.

For a good, long way, opining on Harbaugh’s imminent firing was perhaps the easiest form of all college football clickbait. He’s now coached Michigan to three straight Playoff appearances, capped with the final national championship of the four-team era.

The 2023 Wolverines weren’t without flaws, most notably the inconsistent passing of quarterback J.J. McCarthy. But a reliable rushing attack operating behind an outstanding offensive line and an all-around nasty defense accomplished a feat only half of the champions from the Playoff years reached with a perfect record.

4. Alabama, 2020

One could make a compelling case that this Alabama team deserves top billing. The Crimson Tide offense evolved into an unstoppable machine at 48.5 points per game, producing three players worthy of Heisman consideration with quarterback Mac Jones, running back Najee Harris, and the actual recipient, DeVonta Smith.

Steve Sarkisian’s efforts as coordinator landed him the Texas job and powered the Crimson Tide to their first undefeated national title since 2009.

In in his postgame press conference after dispatching Ohio State in the National Championship Game with the Tide’s seventh game scoring 52-plus points that season, Nick Saban said:

“This team accomplished more almost than any team. No disrespect to any other teams that we had or any championship teams. But this team won 11 SEC games. No other team has done that.

“They won the SEC, went undefeated in the SEC, then they beat two great teams in the Playoffs with no break in between. This is our fifth game in a row, from LSU to Arkansas to Florida to Notre Dame to here. Played 13 games, went undefeated with all the disruption that we had in this season.

“I think there’s quite a bit to write about when it comes to the legacy of the team.”

3. Clemson, 2018

Deeming this the end of a dynasty that produced two more Playoff appearances and another run to the National Championship Game the very next season feels a bit hot takey. That said, the benefit of hindsight suggests that may well be the case for Clemson’s 2018 season.

The Tigers completed their only perfect season of the Dabo Swinney era with a 44-16 blowout of Alabama that frankly didn’t feel as competitive as a 28-point margin.

Clemson ended the season with the nation’s best defense at 13.1 points allowed per game, with five players who racked up from 9.5 to 19.5 tackles for loss: Isaiah Simmons, Xavier Thomas, Austin Bryant, Christian Wilkins and Clelin Ferrell.

This also marked the coming-out party season for Trevor Lawrence, the Playoff period’s parallel to Andrew Luck as standout quarterbacks who were so good, the expectations placed on them belied how excellent they truly played.

The National Championship Game ended with a memorable celebratory homage to Suge Knight’s 1995 Source Awards speech. Again, with the benefit of hindsight, it’s a prescient moment: Death Row Records began a decline not long after with the death of Tupac Shakur and the exodus of Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and others away from the label.

Clemson’s slide has certainly not been as drastic, but the Tigers have been well removed from this pinnacle in the half-decade since.

2. Georgia, 2022

The only program to go back-to-back in the decade of four-team Playoffs did so in historic fashion. The 63-3 destruction of TCU put a fitting exclamation point on one of the most impressive seasons of the 21st Century.

With a 14.3-point per game scoring allowance, 77 rushing yards allowed per game and just seven touchdowns yielded on the ground, the Bulldogs claimed their spot among all-time great defenses.

And while the offense lacked a 1,000-yard rusher and started a quarterback in Stetson Bennett widely considered a game manager, Georgia scored a remarkable 41.1 points per game en route to its repeat championship.

1. LSU, 2019

If one were to draw parallels between BCS and Playoff era champions, the 2019 LSU Tigers are this era’s 2001 Miami Hurricanes. Both steamrolled their way to the title with rosters loaded with NFL talent on both sides of the ball, and ran the table with a captivating swagger.

Likewise, the fanbases of each quickly soured on head coaches Larry Coker and Ed Orgeron — the latter much sooner than the former.

The head coaches were immaterial, however. These were both teams that won big and won with flair. Joe Burrow and the combination of Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson might be the best pairing of quarterback and 1A/1B receivers ever in college football.

And while the offense commanded the spotlight with Burrow rolling to the Heisman, Derek Stingley Jr. delivered an all-time freshman year with six interceptions for a solid Tigers defense under Dave Aranda’s direction.

About Kyle Kensing

Kyle Kensing is a sports journalist in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @KyleKensing and subscribe to his newsletter The Press Break at