ATHENS, Ga. -- This town is still standing, jaw agape, flabbergasted by what happened in Atlanta in the College Football Playoff championship game on Monday. As I told Georgia fans in my postgame column, it's all going to be OK. But it is certainly not OK right now.
There is no more torturous way to lose a football game, particularly in your dream season, which brings us, again, to the third-annual Tortured College Football Fan Base Rankings. Two years ago, in a nod to our annual Tortured Fan Base Rankings in the NFL, NBA and MLB, we began a new tradition: a look at the 25 college football fan bases who are most desperate for a national championship.
So now, in the wake of that monstrosity, it's time for some new rankings. Some of these teams haven't won a national title in years, or ever; others may have just won a title a couple of days ago. But all of them have coaches constantly looking over their shoulders. You win now, or you're out the door. That's how college football works, and probably will from now on. Every team wants to a win a championship. But these teams need to win a championship. Maybe not this precise year. But very, very soon.
A few things to keep in mind:
- Historical droughts matter. You'll never be truly satisfied. But there's no question that a fan base that has had to wait 30 years is going to be hungrier than one that has had to wait five.
- Current quality is key. Nebraska fans surely believe they should be No. 1 on this list, and if it were just about passion, they might be. But Nebraska is very, very far from a national championship, and has been for quite some time. So the Cornhuskers can't rate at the top of this list, considering, at this point, simply winning their side of the Big Ten would feel like a major step forward. This is why a team like, say, Penn State is making a big jump this year. It darned near made the playoff. A title is now a realistic thought process.
- You gotta get real. Trust me, this Illini alum thinks the school of Red Grange and Dick Butkus should be a football powerhouse. But, uh, it's not. You should probably make a bowl game or two before you receive consideration here. (This is why Kansas, the worst power conference program in the sport by a large margin, isn't on the list either.)
All right, let's do it.
Honorable Mentions: Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Georgia Tech, Mississippi, Purdue, Stanford, Virginia Tech, West Virginia.
25. UCF. (Last title: Never). I'm putting the Knights on here to be nice. But let's not push it, OK?
24. Michigan State (Last title: 1966). Anytime you win in the Big House … things can't be too bad.
23. Clemson (Last title: 2016). All right, so the Tigers aren't repeat champions. But you're all still floating about January 2017, aren't you Tigers fans? And you should be! You've probably got one more year left until you start getting antsy. Enjoy it.
22. Florida State (Last title: 2013). Ha, well, it's tough to say the Seminoles didn't have this year coming. #FSUTwitter sure was quiet this year, no?
21. Washington (Last title: 1991). The Huskies still have the memory of that CFP semifinal appearance last year ... for better or worse. The path for them to return is still set up for them, but it'd be nice if they didn't get embarrassed again when/if they get back there.
20. Auburn (Last title: 2010). The Tigers would have earned themselves a spot in college football history had they beaten UCF -- considering they would have beaten three undefeated teams from November on -- but instead all they did is start a dumb UCF controversy that we're all going to have to hear about forever.
19. LSU (Last title: 2007). I am just going to type a bunch of words here, but trust me, if you read them in Ed Orgeron's voice they will instantly become hilarious.
18. Wisconsin (Last title: Never). All told, unless Nebraska gets going, the Badgers could be in position to play for the playoff essentially ever year. But they do have to actually make it sometime.
17. UCLA (Last title: 1954). Chip Kelly is such a coup of a hire that the next few years will be a blast even if the Bruins don't win the Pac-12 even once. But if they do? With Kelly? Kelly getting UCLA to a College Football Playoff would be a stealth fantastic college football story over the next half-decade.
16. Oklahoma State (Last title: Never). Is this the best historic college football program never to win a national title (beyond the one it just claimed 70 years after the fact)? How much money does T. Boone Pickens need to spend to get one?
15. Alabama (Last title: 2018). Yeah, like five titles in a decade could possibly be satisfying to these people.
14. Ohio State. (Last title: 2014). Well, that snub should fuel them for a while. That said: We all know Alabama would destroy Ohio State, right? There is literally no universe ever created, parallel and otherwise, where Alabama would ever lose to Iowa by more than 30 points. By more than three, really.
13. Florida (Last title: 2008). Well, the bottom has now officially fallen out. But the Gators brought in the right coach to fix it. And they have quite the stalking horse in the SEC East now in Georgia. Does a rising tide really raise all boats? We'll find out.
12. Texas A&M (Last title: 1939). How desperate are the Aggies? They spent every dollar left in Texas to bring in a guy who, yes, has won a national championship but seems like a lousy fit. Does Jimbo Fisher know what he's getting into? Do they?
11. Texas (Last title: 2005). The Longhorns are slowly working themselves back into contention, and ultimately, we may end up appreciating this time in the wilderness more than we realize.
10. USC (Last title: 2004). The fan base is losing its patience with its coach -- especially now that Chip Kelly arrived at UCLA -- and just lost a fun Marlboro Man quarterback.
9. Miami (Last title: 2001). This year was a lovely breakthrough, but also a reminder of just how far Miami has to go to get back to its peak. And Georgia fans will tell you they recognized that Pittsburgh loss vividly.
8. Penn State (Last title: 1986). The Nittany Lions keep hanging around, and one of these years they might break through, especially if Michigan can't take a big step forward. Regardless of any disappointments this year, it is truly remarkable how quickly they have turned this back around. Whether you think it's a good or bad thing is up to you, but it really is quite amazing.
7. Oregon (Last title: Never). The Ducks got the coach they needed to help guide them back to the place they desperately want to be … and then of course he left after one year to a better job that's a better fit. Remember when Oregon was favored in the first-ever CFP championship game? That seems like a lifetime ago.
6. Notre Dame (Last title: 1988). The Irish pulled off one of their stealth title contentions this year, though it's worth noting that still everything has to fall exactly right for them to happen and it still didn't. Is this year as good as gets for Notre Dame? You keep hearing that being Notre Dame will break all ties … but the Irish still haven't made it to the CFP.
5. Tennessee (Last title: 1998). The 41-0 home loss to Georgia is going to linger in the air a while. Also: The Vols jump above in these rankings because it has become clear just how much of this torture is self-inflicted. You guys are all sort of lunatics?
4. Nebraska (Last title: 1997). Scott Frost will let us know either way if Nebraska truly is what it keeps claiming it is … or whether it is truly all over. If he can't do it here, it's not happening. By the way: This next season will mark 20 years since the Cornhuskers last won their conference.
3. Oklahoma (Last title: 2000). If this Oklahoma team -- with a historic offense, a Heisman Trophy winner and, oh yeah, a two-touchdown halftime lead in the CFP semifinal -- can't win a national championship … can any of them? There is a non-zero chance of a nightmare scenario where Oklahoma turns into Nebraska someday, and they talk forever about this season that got away.
2. Michigan (Last title: 1997). Taking a step backward this season drops the Wolverines down in the rankings -- they were No. 1 last season -- and, not for nothing, but certain Important Wolverine Alums are starting to wonder whether Jim Harbaugh is really getting this team closer to that elusive championship than they were before he got there. Imagine if Harbaugh, the ultimate Michigan Man, never gets it done here. Maybe, at that point, it's not the coach who is the problem.
1. Georgia (Last Title: 1980). It doesn't get much worse than having your dream season land perfect in every possible way -- stomping on the SEC East! Invading South Bend! That Rose Bowl! -- and being unable to stick the landing in your home state … to Alabama. no less. And to lose like that no less. That honestly might be the worst possible way a team can lose a football game. This is obviously just the beginning for Kirby Smart; he's building something terrifying in Athens. But it's tough to come much closer than that. Will the Bulldogs ever have an opportunity as tailor-made as this one? You only get a Dream Season once. And Georgia couldn't quite finish it.
Thanks to Matt Brown as always for help with these rankings.
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