An Alabama win on Monday night would have meant the Crimson Tide could join an exclusive club as one of the best teams in college football history. Nick Saban's team was dominant for the entire season but stumbled in the national championship game thanks to another virtuoso performance from Deshaun Watson.
That means the Tide are thrown into another, less desirable pile. They're among the greatest teams in college football history who lost either a national title game or a major bowl game with a national title at stake.
These are the best teams to fit that bill. They are not the best teams that failed to win it all, but the best teams who lost with a national title on the line.
1. 1983 Nebraska (12-1): Tom Osborne and Turner Gill take the top spot with one of the greatest offenses in college football history. The Huskers scored 42 points or more in nine of 13 games, and this was not a hurry-up, pass-heavy spread offense. This was the option, college football's signature offense, being run as well as it has ever been run. It was a down year for the Big 8, but the Huskers beat defending national champion Penn State by 38 points in the season opener. Only Oklahoma and Oklahoma State came within three touchdowns of the Huskers, who lost 31-30 to Miami in the Orange Bowl after Osborne elected to go for two and the win instead of settling for a tie. Before Vince Young put USC at No. 2 on this list, that was one of the greatest college football games ever played.
2. 2005 USC (12-1): I consulted the NCAA record books to check on this team, but I couldn't find anything. I thought I remembered the Trojans being pretty good, though. Sanctions aside, Pete Carroll's USC is one of the college football's most fun dynasties. Nick Saban has The Process. Carroll had Snoop Dogg and Will Ferrell at practice. There's more than one way to hoist a trophy. Reggie Bush won the Heisman (and later vacated it) and Matt Leinart was a Heisman finalist again after winning the year before for the 12-1 Trojans, who carried an unbelievable 34-game winning streak and a 2004 national title into their matchup with Texas. A three-point win in the Bush Push game at Notre Dame and an overlooked, late-night 50-42 thriller against an 8-1 Fresno State team were USC's only wins that season by single digits. Vince Young was the runner up to Bush in the Heisman voting that season but ended his career with the trophy that counted. (And unlike USC's Heisman and 2004 title, he got to keep it.)
3. 2002 Miami (12-1): Like USC, most of Miami's roster already had a national title under their belt, and the 2002 team was a wire-to-wire No. 1 before losing in double overtime to Ohio State in the title game, thanks to a controversial, late pass interference call that extended the first overtime for the Buckeyes. Miami had four top-20 wins and produced a staggering amount of NFL talent. Andre Johnson, Willis McGahee, Kellen Winslow, Vince Wilfork, Jonathan Vilma and Antrel Rolle were among the stars on the roster.
4. 2016 Alabama (14-1): The Crimson Tide were nearly the first team to win 15 games since 1897, but a dominant defense was among the best in college football history. The Crimson Tide beat Ole Miss by five on the road and beat LSU 10 on the road. They won every other game by at least 17 points before losing in the final seconds to Clemson and Deshaun Watson's 420-yard passing performance. Lane Kiffin revitalized the offense but "mutually" parted ways a week before the game, handing the keys to the offense to another ex-USC coach, Steve Sarkisian. True freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts struggled to move the offense in the second half as Alabama coughed up a double-digit lead heading into the fourth quarter. Before that, Nick Saban was 97-0 when leading by 10 or more after three quarters. This may have been Saban's best team ever at Alabama, but it couldn't validate that status by closing the season with another national title.
5. 2011 LSU (13-1): The Tigers had major offensive issues, which were on full display in a 21-0 loss to Alabama in the title game. That's even more staggering considering Odell Beckham, Spencer Ware and Reuben Randle were the chief offensive weapons on the roster. It's almost criminal, really. But don't lose sight of what put LSU on this list: It had the greatest resume of any BCS title game participant in history. LSU beat the Pac-12 champion by two touchdowns at an neutral site. It beat the Big East champion by 26 on its home field. It beat national champion Alabama on its home field, 9-6, in the worst Game of the Century of the millennium. It closed the regular season with a 41-17 beatdown of No. 3 Arkansas and beat No. 10 Georgia by 32 in the SEC title game. Then, in the rematch against Alabama, it didn't even cross midfield until the fourth quarter. When LSU found a team it couldn't bully at the line of the scrimmage, it struggled to move the ball, but you can't argue with a resume that would get the Tigers an executive job at any number of Fortune 500 companies.
6. 1971 Alabama (11-1): Bear Bryant's team won two games by seven points and won the other nine by 17 points or more. All that gets washed away by history when you get routed in a de facto national title game. Bob Devaney's Nebraska team beat Alabama 38-6 in the Orange Bowl, proving why they had been No. 1 since Week 2 of the season and why Alabama had never ascended to the top spot in the polls.
7. 1986 Miami (11-1): Ten of the Hurricanes' 11 wins came by double digits, including a 12-point win over then-No. 1 Oklahoma (who went on to go 11-1, win the Big 8 and the Orange Bowl) and an 18-point win over rival Florida State, then ranked No. 20. They met No. 2 Penn State in a game that helped launch the Fiesta Bowl into the conversation as one of college football's major bowls. It was billed as a game of Good vs. Evil, thanks to the program's embraced reputation as a cocky team devoid of discipline that embraced the Miami party scene under Howard Schnellenberger and continued to do so when Jimmy Johnson took the reins. The Hurricanes famously got off the plane in Arizona wearing fatigues, and relished being one of the most hated teams in college football history. Thirty years later, though, that "Good vs. Evil" billing feels uncomfortably ironic with Jerry Sandusky coordinating the Nittany Lions' defense. Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde had a Shane Falco-esque nightmare game, throwing five interceptions in a 14-10 loss. The fifth and final pick sealed the Penn State victory and turned a dream season into a footnote of school history, rather than a second of what would be six national titles for the program.
8. 2008 Oklahoma (12-2): The Sooners are the lone two-loss team on this list because of their overwhelming offense. They closed the season with five consecutive 60-point outings and were only two points away from six after scoring 58 in a road win at Kansas State on Oct. 25. The Sooners were a controversial choice to face Florida in the national title game because their first loss came on Oct. 11 to a national title-caliber Texas team that would reach the BCS title game a year later. The Big 12 South ended in a three-way tie with Texas Tech, which meant the BCS rankings settled the tie instead of Texas' 45-35 victory. The Gators' Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes were too much in the national championship game. Florida stonewalled Oklahoma on the goal line twice and held the Sooners to just 14 points in the 24-14 win. Oklahoma broke the NCAA record for scoring that season, and Sam Bradford won the Heisman Trophy. A year later, three Sooners on this team were picked in the top four of the NFL Draft and another, Jermaine Gresham, went No. 21 despite missing all of 2009 with a knee injury. The Sooners accomplished a lot, but the biggest prize eluded them.