The 30 ‘Almost Great’ College Teams of the Last 30 Years

If you grew up in southeast Alabama like me, you were accustomed to living among a rich diversity of winning college football fans.  Only one problem though—some of the fans I grew up with rooted for Georgia.  Nothing is technically wrong with Georgia, but every Georgia fan in world is way way way too proud about their “almost great” seasons.  I don’t blame them though.  If my football team came up short every year, I’d probably relish in the “almost great” as well.

So to celebrate the Georgias of the world and to kick off my 30th birthday blog-a-thon, here is my list of the 30 “almost great” college football teams of the last 30 years.  (Spoiler: Georgia is listed a lot.)

No. 30 – The 2007 #2 Georgia Bulldogs (11-2)

It’s fitting that we start off with Georgia.  This 2007 team was actually really good, but it hit a string of bad luck.  First, it finished second in the division to Tennessee who was nowhere near as good as Georgia.  And second, it finished second in the country to an LSU team that stumbled into the BCS National Championship Game with two-losses.  Georgia had all the ability in the world to have done better, but it just didn’t work out.

No. 29 – The 2012 #4 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (12-1)

Girlfriends weren’t the only thing fabricated by Notre Dame in the 2012 season.  Apparently, the 12 wins on their schedule were fabricated as well.  Unfortunately for the Fighting Irish, their one loss is still real.

No. 28 – The 1987 #2 Florida State Seminoles (11-1)

Florida State went through some brutal years in the 80s and 90s.  But does it get any worse than this season?  Florida State beat the brakes off everyone, but their one loss—a one-point loss at that—was to rival and eventual National Champion, Miami.

No. 27 – The 1993 #4 Auburn Tigers (11-0)

This won’t be Auburn’s last time on this list.  But like most Auburn fans, I won’t say much about this season.

No. 26 – The 2011 #5 Arkansas Razorbacks (11-2)

The Razorbacks’ only flaw is they had to play no. 1 Alabama and no. 2 LSU in this same season.  There is a chance they could’ve beaten every team in the country other than those two teams.

No. 25 – The 1999 #2 Virginia Tech Hokies (11-1)

Is there anything better than college-era Michael Vick?  Vick as a freshman was awarded an ESPY Award as the nation’s top college player, and he won the first-ever Archie Griffin Award as college football’s most valuable player.

No. 24 – The 2010 and 2014 Oregon Ducks

This team would be higher on the list if they ever really had a chance at greatness.

No. 22 – The 2004 #4 Utah Utes (12-0)

Same issue as the Oregon Ducks.  Lots of wins, but no real shots at getting rings.

No. 21 – The 2013 #2 Auburn Tigers (12-2)

Told you Auburn would be back.  I’ll talk more about this specific team later, but know this: Auburn had a chance to win the last-ever BCS National Championship, but it finally ran out of luck against an overrated Florida State Seminoles team.  Florida State’s coach, Coach Jimbo Fisher, even recently admitted his team wasn’t that good.

No. 20 – The 2005-07 West Virginia Mountaineers

These boys were absolute beasts, but they came up short way too often.  Shout out to Pat White.

No. 17 – The 1995-97 Tennessee Volunteers

Of all the Tennessee teams that could easily qualify, why this one with Peyton Manning at the helm? This is the only team that people always mistakenly think won a National Championship.  The Volunteers didn’t win a modern day National Championship until the 1998 season after Manning left for the NFL.

No. 14 – The 2013 #7 Alabama Crimson Tide (11-2)

My wife and I were in a crowded movie theater viewing of the Iron Bowl when the Kick Six happened.  Other than being in Jordan-Hare Stadium in-person, this theater located in Tuscaloosa was probably the next saddest place in the state for an Alabama fan.  But what makes matters worse is that this 2013 Alabama team still had a shot at a split National Championship, but it couldn’t show up to play in its BCS bowl game against Oklahoma.

No. 13 – The 2001 #8 Nebraska Cornhuskers (11-2)

While this team ended up losing its last two games of the season (including the National Championship Game), its existence helped fuel the end of the Bowl Championship Series system and usher in the College Football Playoff system.

No. 12 – The 2002 #2 Miami Hurricanes (12-1)

Some would argue that this is the greatest team to not win a ring.  I disagree.  This same team—more or less—won the National Championship the previous season.  For that, I can’t truthfully call them a second fiddle without putting several others ahead.

No. 11 – The 2012 #5 Georgia Bulldogs (12-2)

Would the 2012 Georgia Bulldogs have beaten the fabricated Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the BCS Championship Game?  It’s fairly likely, but the world will never know since Georgia fell a few yards short of beating Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.

No. 10 – The 2004 #2 Auburn Tigers (13-0)

The “People’s Champions” may not have been recognized in 2004, but they will be recognized here.  This team was full of future NFL players, including Cadillac Williams, Ronnie Brown, Jason Campbell, and Carlos Rogers.  Too bad the 2004 USC Trojans were a bunch of cheaters.

No. 09 – The 2003, 2004, 2008 Oklahoma Sooners

Oklahoma is not a bad team, but they haven’t won anything of any meaning in almost 20 years.  It’s not like they haven’t had a chance.  Other than Ohio State, no one has choked harder in National Championship games than Oklahoma.

No. 06 – The 2006-09 Boise State Broncos

Pick a year.  Any year.  Results are the same.

No. 02 – The 2005 #2 USC Trojans (12-1)

In what is arguably the greatest football game of all-time, the USC Trojans came tumbling down due to a one-man wrecking crew by the name of Vince Young (QB of the Texas Longhorns).  All season long, the Trojans were a lock to win a National Championship for the third year in a row.  Vince Young apparently didn’t like that fate very much and decided to do something about it.

No. 01 – The 2011 #2 LSU Tigers (13-1)

If this LSU team could figure out how to cross the 50-yard line, it might have had a chance at becoming the greatest college football team of all-time.  It beat everyone in 2011, including Oregon when Oregon was actually really good and Alabama in Tuscaloosa.  Unfortunately, LSU fell short against Alabama when it really mattered.

All of this should have just ended up as an interesting footnote in sports history, but LSU had the audacity to create National Championship rings that touted a number 2 end-of-season ranking.  The other teams on this list may have finished second fiddle, but LSU is the only one that commemorated it in gold.  For that, the 2011 LSU Tigers are the greatest “almost great” team of all-time.

Follow me on Twitter @Ben_Baxter or on AL.com here.

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