College football decided its national champions during the 2010s without any major controversy compared to previous decades, thanks to the tail end of the Bowl Championship Series and the advent of the College Football Playoff.
(Well, except for 2011, when Oklahoma State was left out in the cold as Alabama and LSU met in a rematch. Or in 2016 and 2017, when two non-conference champions were included the national semifinals. This still pales in comparison to previous postseason controversies.)
And now the decade is complete, with LSU closing the door with a win against Clemson to become only the second team to finish 15-0 in more than a century. With its unbelievably potent offense, the Tigers have made a case for being included among the best teams of any decade, let alone the 2010s.
The decade saw championships split among six programs: Alabama with four, Clemson with two and Auburn, Florida State, Ohio State and LSU each with one. And the best national champion of the decade is …
1. 2019 LSU (15-0)
The Tigers’ place in college football history is secure. LSU’s offense is the best to ever come out of the SEC. Quarterback Joe Burrow had an unbelievable senior season. The schedule features several hugely impressive wins, the last coming against a Clemson program aiming to join the shortlist of college football’s top dynasties. There’s no doubt that 2019 LSU will join 2001 Miami (Fla.), 1995 Nebraska and 2018 Clemson in the conversation for the best teams of the past 30 years.
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2. 2018 Clemson (15-0)
Part of Clemson’s legacy is as first major-college team to go 15-0 since Pennsylvania in 1897. Another is how the Tigers fared in matchups against the best of the best, with Playoff wins against Notre Dame and Alabama by a combined 55 points. For some perspective, Clemson beat Alabama by 28 points while all of the Tide’s losses in the previous decade had come by a combined 81 points. From October through January, the Tigers went 10-0 with an average margin of victory of 30.7 points per game.
3. 2013 Florida State (14-0)
The final team of the BCS age fits snugly into the pantheon of the great teams during the modern era. The second highest-scoring team in FBS history with 723 points – just three points behind this year’s LSU squad — also allowed only 170 points. Florida State destroyed teams during the regular season, with only one win coming by fewer than 30 points. It was closer in the championship, with a late touchdown pulling out the 34-31 win against Auburn, but the Tigers were the only opponent to even sniff the Seminoles.
4. 2015 Alabama (14-1)
This team deserves credit for playing one of the most difficult schedules imaginable: Alabama played 13 bowl teams, six teams with 10 or more wins and eight teams ranked in the final Amway Coaches Poll. In all, opponents went 134-49 in games excluding the head-to-head matchup with the Tide. Alabama dominated Michigan State in a 38-0 win in the semifinals before kicking off its historic cross-conference rivalry with Clemson by handing the Tigers a 45-40 loss.
5. 2011 Alabama (12-1)
One of the best defenses in college football history allowed no FBS opponent to score more than 14 points. (Georgia Southern, then in the Football Championship Subdivision, dropped 21 points on the Crimson Tide.) The lone blemish came in a 9-6 overtime loss to LSU caused by faulty kicking, though Alabama atoned for the loss by swamping the Tigers 21-0 in the rematch to claim the national championship.
6. 2012 Alabama (13-1)
The star power on this team was outrageous, as the following few NFL drafts would show. The only team to trip up the Crimson Tide was Johnny Manziel-led Texas A&M, which pulled off a 29-24 upset in one of the decade’s most memorable games. The Tide had a second brush with a disaster in the SEC championship against Georgia, winning 32-28 in another instant classic, and then walloped Notre Dame 42-14 in one of the most unbalanced title-game matchups of this or any decade.
7. 2016 Clemson (14-1)
The Tigers’ first title under Swinney came via a last-second win against Alabama, avenging the previous year’s heartbreak. Clemson was led by quarterback Deshaun Watson and several underclassmen who would form the backbone of the 15-0 team that won another title two seasons later. Along the way, Clemson lost by a single point to Pittsburgh and had single-possession wins against Auburn, Troy, Louisville, North Carolina State, Florida State and Virginia Tech.
8. 2014 Ohio State (14-1)
It’s hard to overlook that September loss to Virginia Tech, which finished 7-6 and 3-5 in ACC play. A month later, the Buckeyes needed two overtimes to beat a young Penn State squad on the road. By November, however, Ohio State had rounded into a team that stood heads and shoulders above the rest of the FBS. After making a grand statement with a 59-0 win against Wisconsin behind backup quarterback Cardale Jones to win the Big Ten and join the playoff field, the Buckeyes topped favored Alabama in the semifinals before dismantling Marcus Mariota and Oregon in the championship.
9. 2017 Alabama (13-1)
Alabama reached the playoff despite not winning the SEC West, thanks to a loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl, and is the only team to reach the playoff despite dropping its final game of the regular season. After beating up on Clemson in the semifinals, the Tide were sparked by a halftime quarterback change and beat Georgia 26-23 in overtime on Tua Tagovailoa’s game-winning touchdown pass. But the regular-season schedule wasn’t too impressive: Alabama beat just two teams ranked in the final Amway Coaches Poll in No. 18 LSU and No. 20 Mississippi State.
10. 2010 Auburn (14-0)
It wasn’t always easy, even if few college quarterbacks were ever smoother than Cam Newton in 2010. Seven wins were decided by a single possession, including the famous comeback against Alabama in the Iron Bowl and the 22-19 defeat of Oregon that secured the national championship. Auburn still put together six wins against ranked opponents and won the SEC title in style with a 56-17 demolition of South Carolina.