Rahul Sharma (Editor)

College football national championships in NCAA Division I FBS

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
First season awarded

Last completed season

College football national championships in NCAA Division I FBS

National championship trophies
AP (since 1936) Grantland Rice (1954–2013) MacArthur (since 1959) AFCA (since 1986) College Football Playoff (since 2014)

Longest continuous selector
Associated Press (1936–present)

A national championship in the highest level of college football in the United States, currently the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), is a designation awarded annually by various organizations to their selection of the best college football team. Division I FBS football is the only National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) sport for which the NCAA does not sanction a yearly championship event. As such, it is sometimes unofficially referred to as a "mythical national championship".


Due to the lack of an official NCAA title, determining the nation's top college football team has often engendered controversy. A championship team is independently declared by multiple individuals and organizations, often referred to as "selectors". These choices are not always unanimous. In 1969, even the President of the United States, Richard Nixon, declared a national champion, by announcing, ahead of the season-ending game between #1 Texas and #2 Arkansas, that the winner of that game would receive a plaque, from the President himself, commemorating that team as the year's national champion. Texas went on to win that game, 15-14.

While the NCAA has never officially endorsed a championship team, it has documented the choices of some selectors in its official NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision Records publication. In addition, various analysts have independently published their own choices for each season. These opinions can often diverge with others as well as individual schools' claims to national titles, which may or may not correlate to the selections published elsewhere. Currently, two widely recognized national champion selectors are the Associated Press, which conducts a poll of sportswriters, and the Coaches' Poll, a survey of active members of the American Football Coaches Association. Since 1992, various consortia of major bowl games have aimed to invite the top two teams at the end of the regular season (as determined by internal rankings, or aggregates of the major polls and other statistics) to compete in a de facto national championship game. The current iteration of this practice, the College Football Playoff, selects four teams to participate in national semi-finals hosted by two of six partner bowl games, with their winners advancing to the College Football Playoff National Championship.


The concept of a national championship in college football dates to the early years of the sport in the late 19th century, and the earliest contemporaneous polls can be traced to Caspar Whitney, Charles Patterson, and The Sun in 1901. Therefore, the concept of polls and national champions predated mathematical ranking systems, but it was Frank Dickinson's math system that was one of the first to be widely popularized. His system named 10–0 Stanford the national champion of 1926, prior to their tie with Alabama in the Rose Bowl. A curious Knute Rockne, then coach of Notre Dame, had Dickinson backdate two seasons, which produced Notre Dame as the 1924 national champion and Dartmouth in 1925.

A number of other mathematical systems were born in the 1920s and 1930s and were the only organized methods selecting national champions until the Associated Press began polling sportswriters in 1936 to obtain rankings. Alan J. Gould, the creator of the AP Poll, named Minnesota, Princeton, and SMU co-champions in 1935, and polled writers the following year, which resulted in a national championship for Minnesota. The AP's main competition, United Press, created the first poll of coaches in 1950. For that year and the next three, the AP and UP agreed on the national champion. The first "split" championship occurred in 1954, when the writers selected Ohio State and the coaches chose UCLA. The two polls also disagreed in 1957, 1965, 1970, 1973, 1974, 1978, 1990, 1991, 1997, and 2003. The Coaches' Poll would stay with United Press (UP) when they merged with International News Service (INS) to form United Press International (UPI) but was acquired by USA Today and CNN in 1991. The poll was in the hands of USA Today and ESPN from 1997 to 2005 before moving to sole ownership by USA Today. Beginning in 2014, Amway became a joint sponsor with USA Today.

Though some of the math systems selected champions after the bowl games, both of the major polls released their rankings after the end of the regular season until the AP polled writers after the bowls in 1965, resulting in what was perceived at the time as a better championship selection (Alabama) than UPI's (Michigan State). After 1965, the AP again voted before the bowls for two years, before permanently returning to a post-bowl vote in 1968. The coaches did not conduct a vote after the bowls until 1974, in the wake of awarding their 1973 championship to Alabama, who lost to the AP champion, undefeated Notre Dame, in the Sugar Bowl. The AP and Coaches' polls remain the major rankings to this day.

The Bowl Championship Series, famous for its use of math, was the successor of the Bowl Alliance (1995–1997), which was itself the successor of the Bowl Coalition (1992–1994). Besides the many adjustments it underwent during its tenure, including a large overhaul following the 2004 season that included the replacement of the AP Poll with the Harris poll, the BCS remained a mixture of math and human polls since its inception in 1998, with the goal of matching the best two teams in the nation in a national championship bowl game which rotated yearly between the Sugar, Fiesta, Rose, and Orange Bowls from 1998 to 2005, and later a standalone game titled the BCS National Championship Game (2006 to 2013). The winner of the BCS Championship Game was awarded the national championship of the Coaches' Poll thus winning the AFCA National Championship Trophy. The BCS winner also received the MacArthur Bowl from the National Football Foundation. Neither the AP Poll, nor other current selectors, had contractual obligations to select the BCS champion as their national champion. The BCS resulted in a number of controversies, most notably after the 2003 season, when the BCS championship game did not include eventual AP champion USC, the only time the two championships have diverged since the advent of the BCS. After many seasons of controversy, the BCS was replaced with the College Football Playoff, a Plus-One system aimed at reducing the controversy involved in which teams get to play in a championship game through use of a tournament.

National championships in the official NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision records

The NCAA maintains an official records book of historical statistics and records for football. In the records book, with consultation from various college football historians, it has created and maintains a list of "major selectors" of national championships throughout the history of college football along with their championship picks for each season.

Major selectors

A variety of selectors have named national champions throughout the years. They generally can be divided into four categories: those determined by mathematical formula, human polls, historical research, and recently, playoffs. The selectors below are listed in the official NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision Records as having been deemed to be "major selectors" for which the criteria is that the poll or selector be "national in scope either through distribution in newspaper, television, radio and/or computer online". The former selectors, deemed instrumental in the sport of college football, and selectors that were included for the calculation of the BCS standing, are listed together.


The mathematical system is the oldest systematic selector of college football national champions. Many of the math selectors were created during the "championship rush" of the 1920s and 1930s, beginning with Frank Dickinson's system, or during the dawn of the computer age in the 1990s. Selectors are listed below with years selected retroactively in italics.


The poll has been the dominant national champion selector since the inception of the AP Poll in 1936. It is notable that the NFF merged its poll with UPI from 1991 to 1992, with USA Today from 1993 to 1996, and with the FWAA from 2014 forward. Selectors are listed below with years selected retroactively in italics.

For many years, the national champion of various polls were selected prior to the bowl games. The national champion was selected before bowl games as follows: AP (1936–1964 and 1966–1967), Coaches' Poll (1950–1973), FWAA (1954), and NFF (1959–1970). In all other latter-day polls, champions were selected after bowl games.

During the BCS era, the winner of the BCS Championship Game was automatically awarded the national championship of the Coaches' Poll and the National Football Foundation.

aAt the request of several schools, the AFCA established a "Blue Ribbon Commission" in 2016 to begin retroactively selecting Coaches' Trophy winners from 1922 through 1949.

bServed as the Coaches' Poll during the designated years, but also conducted their own poll at different times.

cThe Football Writers Association of America merged its poll with that of the National Football Foundation members beginning in 2014; as a result, the Grantland Trophy was retired and the FWAA/NFF national champion now receives the MacArthur Bowl.

dUSA Today took over, from the UPI, the poll of the National Football Foundation's members in 1993, and its winner was designated by the NFF as its national champion and received the MacArthur Bowl. The poll was conducted by USA Today through the 1996 season, although national championship selections in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision Records do not distinguish the NFF from the USAT/NFF poll in 1995 and 1996. Not to be confused with the USA Today/CNN Coaches' Poll, which USA Today conducted separately.

eUPI conducted the Coaches' Poll through the 1990 season, which was subsequently taken over by CNN/USA Today. UPI then conducted a poll of National Football Foundation members in 1991 and 1992, the winner of which was designated by the NFF as its national champion and received the MacArthur Bowl.

fUPI conducted its own poll from 1993 to 1995, after the National Football Foundation Poll was taken over by USA Today.

gUSA Today conducted its own poll of college football sportswriters in 1982, then joined with CNN to do their own joint poll until they took over the Coaches' Poll starting with the 1991 season.


College football historian Parke H. Davis is the only selector considered by the NCAA to have primarily used research in his selections. Davis did all of his work in 1933, naming retroactive national champions for most of the years from 1869 to 1932 while naming Michigan and Princeton (his alma mater) co-champions at the end of the 1933 season.


The Bowl Championship Series used a mathematical system that combined polls (Coaches' and AP/Harris) and multiple computer rankings (including some individual selectors listed above) to determine a season ending matchup between its top two ranked teams in the BCS Championship Game. The champion of that game was contractually awarded the Coaches' Poll and National Football Foundation championships.


Unlike all selectors prior to 2014, the College Football Playoff does not use math, polls or research to select the participants. Rather, a 13-member committee selects and seeds the teams. The playoff system marked the first time the top-level NCAA football championship was determined by a bracket competition.

Yearly national championship selections from major selectors

Below is a list of the national champions of college football from 1869 to present (with the exception of 1871, in which no games were played) deemed to be chosen by "major selectors" as listed in the official NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision Records. Many teams did not have coaches as late as 1899. "Consensus" selectors in the official NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision Records correspond to the period from 1950 to present which began with the introduction of the two poll system upon the appearance of the Coaches Poll in 1950. Selectors used to determine teams listed as "Consensus National Champions" in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision Records include the AP Poll, Coaches' Poll, Football Writers Association of America, and the National Football Foundation/College Football Hall of Fame.

The first contemporaneous poll to include teams across the country and selection of a national champions can be traced to Caspar Whitney in 1901. The last retroactive selection was made by Clyde Berryman in 1989 (Notre Dame). The tie was removed from college football in 1995 and the last consensus champion with a tie in its record was Georgia Tech in 1990. The 1947 Michigan Wolverines are often credited with a national championship on the basis of a "free poll" conducted by an AP sportswriter after the 1948 Rose Bowl, though that poll was unofficial and it is not recognized in the official NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision Records.

Note that the Harris Interactive Poll (2005–2013) was contracted by the BCS to help formulate its standings, and although its final ranking which occurs prior to the bowl games is listed in the official NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision Records, it does not conduct a final poll or award or name a national champion on its own.

As designated by the official NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision Records, the table below shows:

  • Teams listed in italics indicate retroactively-applied championships.
  • Teams listed in bold reflect the NCAA's designation as "Consensus National Champions" by virtue of their selection from 1950 onward by one or more selectors from Associated Press, United Press/UPI, Football Writers Association of America, NFF/College Football Hall of Fame, and USA Today.
  • A letter next to any season, team, record, coach or selector indicates a footnote that appears at the bottom of the table.

    aParke Davis' selection for 1901, as published in the 1935 Spalding's Foot Ball Guide (which he himself edited until his death), was Harvard.
    bThe NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision Records book lists Sagarin as having selected Tennessee, while Sagarin's official website gives Ohio State as its 1998 selection.
    cThe FWAA stripped USC of its 2004 Grantland Rice Trophy and vacated the selection of its national champion for 2004. The BCS also vacated USC's participation in the 2005 Orange Bowl and USC's 2004 BCS National Championship, and the AFCA Coaches' Poll Trophy was returned.
    dRecord does not count wins against UCLA, or against Oklahoma in the BCS Championship game on January 4, 2005, as they were vacated by the NCAA.
    eThe NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision Records book lists Dunkel as having selected LSU, while Dunkel's official website gives USC as its 2007 selection.

    Total championship selections from major selectors by school

    The national title count listed below is a culmination of all championship awarded since 1869, regardless of consensus or non-consensus status, as listed in the table above according to the selectors deemed to be major as listed in the official NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision Records (minus the Harris Interactive poll, 2005–2013, that is listed but does not conduct a final poll or award a championship).

    The totals can be said to be disputed. Individual schools may claim national championships not accounted for by the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision Records or may not claim national championship selections that do appear in the official NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision Records (see National championship claims by school below). For an alternative independent view of national championship totals for each team, please see the College Football Data Warehouse recognized national champions or Poll era (1936–present) selections in the tables below.

    National championship claims by school

    The following is a table of known schools' claims on national championships at the highest level of play in college football. Several of these schools no longer compete at the highest level, which is currently NCAA Division I FBS, but nonetheless maintain claims to titles from when they did compete at the highest level.

    Because there is no one governing or official body that regulates, recognizes, or awards national championships in college football, and because many independent selectors of championships exist, many of the claims by the schools listed below are shared, contradict each other, or are controversial. In addition, because there is no one body overseeing national championships, no standardized requirements exist in order for a school to make a claim on a national championship, as any particular institution is free to make any declaration it deems to be fit. However, all known national championship claims are for seasons in which a National Championship, or share of a championship, was believed to be awarded to that particular school by at least one independent third-party selector. The majority of these claims, but not all, are based on championships awarded from selectors listed as "major" in the official NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision Records. Not all championships awarded by third party selectors, nor those listed in the official NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision Records, are necessarily claimed by each school. Therefore, these claims represent how each individual school sees their own history on the subject of national championships.

    This table below includes only national championship claims originating from each particular school and therefore represents the point-of-view of each individual institution. Each total number of championships, and the years for which they are claimed, are documented by the particular school on its official website, in its football media guide, or in other official publications or literature (see Source). If a championship is not mentioned by a school for any particular season, regardless of whether it was awarded by a selector or listed in a third-party publication such as the official NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision Records, it is not considered to be claimed by that institution.

    aUSC's January 4, 2005 win over Oklahoma in the BCS Championship Game was vacated as mandated by the NCAA, its 2004 BCS National Championship vacated by the BCS, and its AFCA Coaches' Trophy returned. NCAA sanctions mandate that "any reference to the vacated results, including championships, shall be removed." USC still retains the 2004 Associated Press National Championship and has not abandoned its claim to a 2004 National Championship.
    bIn an online list of the university's national championships, Georgia lists only two for football (1942 and 1980). However, in Georgia's football media guide, although these years (1927, 1946, 1968) are highlighted as consensus championships, each of the five championships are described separately and those seasons are highlighted as national championships in the year-by-year results.
    cIowa lists the awarding of the 1958 Grantland Rice National Championship in various publications, but describes championship selections from 3 other years as well in its annual media guide.
    dAuburn's 1913, 1983, and 1993 (Auburn was disqualified from post-season play in 1993 and did not play in a bowl game) championships are not recognized by the school.

    College Football Data Warehouse recognized national champions

    College Football Data Warehouse (CFBDW) is an online resource and database that has collected and researched information on college football and national championship selections. It provides a comprehensive list of national championship selectors and has itself recognized selectors that it has deemed to be the most acceptable throughout history. These include the National Championship Foundation (1869–1882), the Helms Athletic Foundation (1883–1935), the College Football Researchers Association (1919–1935), the Associated Press Poll (1936–present), and the Coaches Poll (1950–present). From its research, it has compiled a list of Recognized National Championships for each season. Some years include recognition of multiple teams for a particular season. Please note that the CFBDW list of Recognized Champions does not confer any additional legitimacy to the titles. In this regard, some universities claim championships not recognized by CFBDW or do not claim championships that are recognized by CFBDW. Please consult the above table of National championship claims by school or individual team articles and websites for possible additional or alternative national championship claims.

    Below is a list of all of the CFBDW recognized national championships from 1869 to present.

    Poll era (1936–present)

    The polling system first gained widespread consistency with the introduction of the AP poll in 1936, followed by the Coaches' Poll in 1950. National championships are often popularly considered to be "consensus" when both of these polls are in agreement with their national championship selections, although other selectors exist and do make alternative selections. A more modern incarnation, the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), was a consortium of college football conferences that uses a combination of various computer rankings and human polls to mathematically determine a post-season matchup between the two top teams as determined by its formula. The USA Today Coaches' Poll was contractually obligated to name the BCS champion as its national champion.

    AP Poll

    The AP college football poll has a long history. The news media began running their own polls of sports writers to determine who was, by popular opinion, the best football team in the country at the end of the season. One of the earliest such polls was the AP College Football Poll, first run in 1934 (compiled and organized by Charles Woodroof, former SEC Assistant Director of Media Relations, but not recognized in the official NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision Records) and then continuously from 1936. Due to the long-standing historical ties between individual college football conferences and high-paying bowl games like the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl, the NCAA has never held a tournament or championship game to determine the champion of what is now the highest division, NCAA Division I, Football Bowl Subdivision (the Division I, Football Championship Subdivision and lower divisions do hold championship tournaments). As a result, the public and the media began to take the leading vote-getter in the final AP Poll as the national champion for that season.

    While the AP Poll currently lists the Top 25 teams in the nation, from 1936 to 1961 the wire service only ranked 20 teams. And from 1962 to 1967 only 10 teams were recognized. From 1968 to 1988, the AP again resumed its Top 20 before expanding to 25 teams in 1989.

    Until the 1968 college football season, the final AP Poll of the season was released following the end of the regular season, with the exception of the 1965 season. In 1964, Alabama was named the national champion in the final AP Poll following the completion of the regular season, but lost in the Orange Bowl to Texas, leaving Arkansas as the only undefeated, untied team after the Razorbacks defeated Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl Classic. In 1965, the AP's decision to wait to crown its champion paid off, as top-ranked Michigan State lost to UCLA in the Rose Bowl, number two Arkansas lost to LSU in the Cotton Bowl Classic, and fourth-ranked Alabama defeated third-ranked Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, vaulting the Crimson Tide to the top of the AP's final poll. Michigan State was named national champion in the final United Press International poll of coaches, which did not conduct a post-bowl poll. At the end of the 1947 season, the AP released an unofficial post-bowl poll which differed from the regular season final poll. The AP national championship had been awarded before bowl games were played.

    Beginning in the 1968 season, a post bowl game poll was released and the AP championship reflected the bowl game results. The UPI did not follow suit with the coaches' poll until the 1974 season.

    Coaches' Poll

    The Coaches' poll began selecting the top 20 teams on a weekly basis during the 1950–1951 college football season. It is conducted among selected members of the American Football Coaches Association. In 1990 the poll expanded to a top 25, and it has retained this format since. The Coaches' Poll took their final poll prior to the bowl games from 1950–1973, and since 1974, has taken their final poll after bowl games. The Coaches' Poll does not include teams on either NCAA or conference-sanction probation, which also differentiates it from the AP poll. The poll has been released through various media outlets and with differing sponsors over its history, and thus has taken a succession of different names, including United Press (UP) from 1950 thru 1957, the United Press International (UPI) from 1958 thru 1990, USA Today/CNN from 1991 thru 1996, USA Today/ESPN from 1997 to 2004, and USA Today from 2005 to present.

    During the era of the BCS, the Coaches' Poll was under contractual obligation to award its national championship selection to the winner of the BCS Championship Game or its predecessors—who was presented with the AFCA National Championship Trophy during a post-game presentation. The College Football Playoff is not tied to the Coaches' Poll in this manner.

    Poll era national championships by school (1936–present)

    The following table contains the National Championships that have been recognized by the final AP or Coaches' Poll. Originally both the AP and Coaches' poll champions were crowned after the regular season, but since 1968 and 1974, respectively, both polls crown their champions after the bowl games are completed. The BCS champion was automatically awarded the Coaches' Poll championship. Of the current 120+ Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS, formerly Division I-A) schools, only 30 have won at least a share of a national title by the AP or Coaches' poll. Of these 30 teams, only 19 teams have won multiple titles. Of the 19 teams, only 7 have won five or more national titles: Alabama, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, USC, Miami (FL), Nebraska, and Ohio State. The years listed in the table below indicate a national championship selection by the AP or Coaches' Poll. The selections are noted with (AP) or (Coaches) when a national champion selection differed between the two polls for that particular season, which has occurred in twelve different seasons (including 2004, for which the coaches selection was rescinded) since the polls first came to coexist in 1950.

    *USC's 2004–2005 BCS National Championship was vacated by the BCS and the AFCA Coaches' Trophy returned.
    **Retroactively awarded by AFCA Blue Ribbon Panel

    BCS championships

    The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) was a selection system designed to give the top two teams in NCAA Division I-A (now known as the FBS) an opportunity to compete in a "national championship game". This championship was intended as a surrogate for a playoff system since the NCAA does not formally determine a champion in this category. It began during the 1998 season, but a number of controversial selections spurred changes to the format over the years. Prior to the 2006 season, eight teams competed in four BCS Bowls (the Orange, Sugar, Rose, and Fiesta). The BCS replaced the Bowl Alliance (in place from 1995–1997), which itself followed the Bowl Coalition (in place from 1992–1994). One of the main differences was that the Rose Bowl participated in the BCS; previously, the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions automatically played in the Rose Bowl regardless of their poll rankings. However, after the change, those teams played in the BCS National Championship Game if they finished #1 or #2 in the BCS standings.

    The BCS formula varied over the years, with the final version relying on a combination of the Coaches' and Harris polls and an average of various computer rankings to determine relative team rankings, and to narrow the field to two teams to play in the BCS National Championship Game held after the other college bowl games. The winner of this game was crowned Coaches' Poll national champion winning the AFCA National Championship Trophy and was also awarded the MacArthur Bowl by the National Football Foundation.

    BCS National Championships by school (1998–2013)

    *USC's victory in the 2005 Orange Bowl and subsequent 2004–05 BCS National Championship was vacated by the BCS.

    College Football Playoff championships

    The College Football Playoff (CFP) was designed as a replacement for the BCS. While the NCAA still does not officially sanction the event, organizers sought to bring a playoff system similar to all other levels of NCAA football to the Football Bowl Subdivision.

    The College Football Playoff relies on a 13-member selection committee to choose the top four teams to play in a two-round single-elimination playoff bracket. The winner of the final game is awarded the College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy.


    College football national championships in NCAA Division I FBS Wikipedia

    Similar Topics