College football has been highlighted by two eras in the 21st century. The controversial BCS era and the change to the current College Football Playoffs format. The BCS operated until 2014 with the last championship game under the system involving Auburn and Florida State. The Seminoles claimed the last BCS championship with a 34-31 win over the Tigers. After years of mounting pressure, the NCAA concocted the four-team playoff format. The playoff system has crowned every champion since 2014.
The SEC has consistently been the most dominate conference spanning over both formats. During the BCS era, the SEC won the most national championships (9), including seven straight at one point (2006-2013) and the most BCS bowl game wins (17). Under the playoff format, the SEC has won two of the four national championships. And during the 2017-2018 season, two schools from the SEC played in the national championship game; Alabama defeated Georgia 26-23 in OT.
But, how many of those SEC teams are in the top ten of best college football teams since 2000? And what school stakes claim to the No. 1 position on our list of the ten best college football teams since the turn of the 21st century? Let’s find out.
10. 2006 Florida Gators
Coach: Urban Meyer
National Championship: Defeated Ohio State 41-14
This was the first national championship during Urban Meyer’s reign at Florida. The Gators were led on offense by quarterbacks Chris Leak and Tim Tebow and the dynamic playmaker Percy Harvin. On defense, the Gators boasted hard-hitting safety Reggie Nelson and a stout front-seven highlighted by Jarvis Moss and Derrick Harvey. The 2006 Florida team overcame the toughest schedule in all of college football to make their way to the national championship game against Ohio State. Going into the championship game, the Buckeyes were heavy favorites, but the Florida defense put the clamps on Heisman winner Troy Smith and OSU’s offense. The championship win began the seven-year streak of SEC schools claiming the national championship.
9. 2016 Clemson Tigers
Coach: Dabo Swinney
National Championship: Defeated Alabama 35-31
Heisman finalist and do it all quarterback Dashaun Watson orchestrated one of the best seasons in school history. Watson finished second in the Heisman voting but took home the Johnny Unitas Award, Davey O’Brien Award, Bobby Bowden Award, and Manning Award. On defense, the Tigers were led by ACC Co-defensive player of the year Ben Boulware who was honored with the Jack Lambert Award. Clemson ended the season beating three top-20 teams, No. 19 Virginia Tech, No. 3 Ohio State, and No. 1 Alabama to claim the national championship.
8. 2009 Alabama Crimson Tide
Coach: Nick Saban
National Championship: Defeated Texas 37-21
The 2009 Alabama Crimson Tide is the first team to win the national championship under Nick Saban at Alabama. The 2009 team also provided the first Heisman Trophy winner in program history with Mark Ingram winning the award over Toby Gerhart from Stanford. Linebacker Ronaldo McClain won both the Butkus Award and Jack Lambert Award, while defensive coordinator Kirby Smart took home the Broyles Award as the nations top assistant coach. The Crimson Tide defeated the Florida Gators in the SEC championship game handily and followed it up with a dominant performance against the Texas Longhorns in the national championship.
7. 2010 Auburn Tigers
Coach: Gene Chizik
National Championship: Defeated Oregon 22-19
The 2010-2011 season was the year of Cam Newton. In his only season at Auburn, Newton led the Tigers to a 14-0 record culminating with a thrilling victory over Oregon in the national championship game. It was the first undisputed national championship in school history. The Newton led Auburn-offense led the SEC in scoring offense, total offense, rushing offense, pass efficiency, first downs and first down conversions. They also scored over 50 points on six different occasions and twice over 60 points. Auburn defeated six top 20 teams including five top-12 teams.
6. 2004 USC Trojans
Record: 11-0 (2 wins vacated)
Coach: Pete Carroll
National Championship: Defeated Oklahoma 55-19 (vacated)
The USC dynasty was in full-swing during the mid-2000’s, and the 2004 team was the best Pete Carroll ever fielded. This USC team boasted two players that finished in the top five of Heisman voting. Quarterback Matt Leinhart won the award and running back Reggie Bush finished fifth in the voting. The Trojans went wire-to-wire holding down the No. 1 ranking the entire season. Overall the 2004 Trojans had six players named to the All-American first team. However, the team’s national championship would be vacated in 2011 amid violations pertaining to Reggie Bush receiving improper gifts. Despite the allegations and subsequent stripping of the national title, the 2004 Trojans were as dominant on the field as anyone.
5. 2011 Alabama Crimson Tide
Coach: Nick Saban
National Championship: Defeated LSU 21-0
The 2011 Alabama Crimson Tide is the best team ever to take the field under the tutelage of Nick Saban. Bama did lose one game during the season, a defensive struggle with LSU 9-6, but they got revenge on the Tigers in the national championship game. In the rematch, the Crimson Tide enforced their defensive will on LSU for a resounding 21-0 victory. The 2011 Tide led the nation in every major defensive statistical category. They were the first team to accomplish the feat since 1986. The 2011 Alabama team is arguably the best defensive team in college football history holding nine teams to ten or fewer points during the season.
4. 2005 Texas Longhorns
Coach: Mack Brown
National Championship: Defeated USC 41-38
The 2005 Texas Longhorns supplied us with one of the most iconic moments in college football history. Vince Young led the Longhorns over the USC Trojans 41-38 in what most consider the greatest national championship game ever. The Longhorns offense accounted for 652 points on the season, a school and NCAA record at the time. Texas scored over 60 points four times including the largest margin of victory in a Big 12 championship game with a 70-3 win over Colorado. Overall 24 players from the 2005 team would enter into the NFL.
3. 2008 Florida Gators
Coach: Urban Meyer
National Championship: Defeated Oklahoma 24-14
The talent level on the 2008 Florida Gators roster and coaching staff makes this one of the best-assembled teams ever. The team was littered with future NFL players on both sides of the ball. On offense, the Gators trotted out Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, the Pouncey Brothers, Phil Trautwein, Aaron Hernadez, Riley Cooper, and a backfield that featured speedsters Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey. The defense might boast an even more impressive collection of players with a secondary that featured Joe Haden, Janoris Jenkins, Major Wright, and Ahmad Black. In the middle of the defense was the heart and soul linebacker Brandon Spikes and upfront Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunnigham were unstoppable on the edge. The Gators had no weaknesses even when it came to special teams with kicker Caleb Sturgis and punter Chas Henry. The coaching staff consisted of Urban Meyer and three future college head coaches in offensive coordinator Dan Mullen, defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, and assistant head coach Steve Addazio. The Gators did have one hiccup on the season which keeps them out of the top two spots, but that loss provided us with an all-time college football moment the Tebow “Promise” speech.
2. 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes
Coach: Jim Tressel
National Championship: Defeated Miami 31-24
The 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes national championship team was the first program in D1 (FBS) history to finish the season with 14 wins and zero losses. The Buckeyes had talent all over the field. The offense operated under the steady quarterback play of Craig Krenzel, who finished his career with a 24-2 record as a starter. Incoming freshman Maurice Clarett burst onto the scene with a school record rushing season churning out 1,237 yards and 18 touchdowns. Clarett was instrumental in securing the national championship victory for the Buckeyes, scoring the game-winning touchdown and earlier in the game stripping Miami safety Sean Taylor after Krenzel threw an INT. Ohio State took down the mighty Hurricanes of Miami in a controversial double OT game 31-24 denying Miami of back-to-back titles. Other key players included two-way do it all player Chris Gamble and senior safety Mike Doss.
1. 2001 Miami Hurricanes
Coach: Larry Cocker
National Championship: Defeated Nebraska 37-14
The “U” part two claims the No. 1 spot on our list of top college football teams since 2000. In fact, the 2001 Miami Hurricanes are arguably the best team in college history. Although, the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers might have something to say about that. The 2001 Hurricanes possessed swagger and confidence that was reminiscent of the late 80’s, early 90’s Miami teams. Playing with a chip on their shoulder from being held out of the national championship game the year before, the Hurricanes came out swinging and never looked back as they cruised to a 12-0 record and 37-14 win over Nebraska in the Rose Bowl. The Hurricanes on the season averaged 42.6 points per game and only gave up 9.7 points a game. Miami put together a remarkable 32.9 points per game margin of victory while setting the school scoring record on offense and leading the nation in scoring defense. The talent level on this team of future NFL players is unmatched by any other team in history. In total, 38 players went on to be selected in the NFL draft. A list that includes Ed Reed, Clinton Portis, Andre Johnson, Jeremy Shockey, Jonathan Vilma, Frank Gore, Vince Wilfork, Willis McGahee, Ken Dorsey, Sean Taylor and so many more that would give me carpal tunnel typing it all out. We may never see a team with the talent and personality of the 2001 Miami Hurricanes.