Eleven schools won FBS national championships in the first two decades of the 21st century. That seems like a good cutoff to ask the question: Who will be next?
You could set that cutoff all the way to the beginning of college football. You could cut it off at World War II, which shifted the competitive landscape dramatically, or when the sport fully integrated in the 1970s.
But 2000 is a nice round number, coincides with the beginning of life for a bunch of current fans and players, and puts a spotlight on some champs from the ‘90s and earlier who haven’t done much in a while.
Based on title odds for 2020 alone, the likeliest fresh champs are Georgia, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Wisconsin, or Penn State.
And if the race is to be #12, well:
Texas A&M, by Spencer
Money doesn’t guarantee national titles. If it did, Georgia’s $3.7 million annual recruiting budget would have bought them a championship by now, or at least prevented a 20-17 loss at home in 2019 to a 4-8 South Carolina team playing its third-string quarterback. That example wasn’t necessary to make my case here, but it was immensely satisfying anyway.
Money does help a lot, though. In the race to be the next new champion of this century, Texas A&M has committed to that most important of factors: Spending a deranged amount of cash on facilities, coaches, and recruiting. The Collie Mafia dropped $485 million on Kyle Field’s renovation, a whopping $75 million guaranteed on head coach Jimbo Fisher’s 10-year deal, and upped their recruiting budget to well over $2 million a year.
The M.O. in College Station right now is very much “In for a penny, in for a pile.” That cash won’t make tackles, but it takes care of most everything else. A&M pulled the sixth-ranked recruiting class in 2020 and is waiting on more high-grade talent in the pipeline. The product on the field isn’t drastically better yet, but Jimbo’s showing up in velour sweatsuits with a three-day scruff this spring. That might look like a man who has given up completely, but maybe it’s the mark of a mafia don ready to hustle — a capo in the irrationally down-for-the-cause Collie Mafia, to be specific.
Oregon, by Alex
Much of what powered Oregon’s rise is no longer unique. Every contender now has a spread offense, a palatial facility, and cool uniforms. The state does not produce much blue-chip talent, and the California pipeline has been declining for several years. The Pac-12 is the poorest power, leaving Oregon at a financial disadvantage.
There are reasons to think Oregon will never get as close (literally) as it did in the 2010s. I’m talking myself out of this pick in real time.
But the Ducks have enough going for them that I expect them to get over the hump. USC is a mess of epic proportions and seems disinterested in reestablishing itself as the Pac-12’s power. Even once USC gets back on track, the Ducks should be able to recruit in the top two of the conference. There is no Clemson, Oklahoma, or Ohio State. They don’t recruit to Blue-Chip Ratio levels, but they’ve been close over the past few years, and they seem less doomed on the trail than other Western teams. In all likelihood, 2021 will bring their third-straight class atop the Pac-12.
This leaves the Ducks positioned to get back to the Playoff. Making it and winning it are different, but Oregon’s reinvention as a defense-first team gives them a chance to grit out a win against someone more talented.
Washington, by Floyd
For many of the same reasons Alex argued for Oregon, one could argue for Washington. Despite conceding a good chunk of the last 20 years to their neighbors, the Huskies reemerged under Chris Petersen, finally beat Oregon again, and put together the most successful recent run by a Pac-12 school: a Playoff appearance and two more New Year’s Six bowls in a row (all losses).
They have money and the ability to recruit up and down the West Coast with relative ease. USC being down helps Washington maintain a foothold in Southern California, and the Huskies and Ducks have recruited on par with each other.
The Pac-12 hasn’t made the playoff since 2017, but it was Washington that made that appearance. And they’re still the Pac-12’s most recent non-USC national champ (though it’s been a while). The ingredients are there, and there’s nothing stopping the Huskies from making another run.
Georgia, by Jason
Here are the top recruiters of the internet ratings era (2002-2020), ranked by average 247Sports Composite class ranking. I’ve bolded the ones without any football national titles since 1980.
- Florida State
- Alabama (yeah, Bama had a couple old classes ranked in the 40s)
- Ohio State
- Notre Dame
#16 Clemson, #19 Penn State, #20 Nebraska, #24 Washington, #48 Colorado, #52 Georgia Tech, #63 BYU, and #70 UCF have also claimed national titles since 1980. I think #43 TCU, #53 Utah, and #71 Boise State should claim a title each.
Anyway, the #1 Dawgs got this! Any year now!
(It would be simple for the University of Georgia to fold its football program and spend $3.7 million per year on gymnastics recruiting. There would be no shame in this.)
Any member of the 1990s nostalgia trio, by Richard
I grew up in the 1990s, but I’m still old enough to have actual nostalgia (have you ever seen my hair?). Since ‘90s stuff is in — take 30 seconds and search for vintage clothing on Instagram — it would only be fitting for Michigan, Nebraska, or Tennessee to finally win another championship sometime soon. There are fairly unique hurdles for each team, however.
For Michigan, it’s Ohio State. The Buckeyes have really never been bad, but they were get-able in the ‘90s. Michigan went 7-2-1 against Ohio State, including the win in 1997, when the Wolverines won a piece of a national title.
Since 2000, things have been different:
In 2006, 2016, and 2018 Ohio State derailed legitimate Michigan title runs. Without question, the Wolverines are the closest of this bunch to another natty, but Ohio State is the Big Ten’s Death Star, so good luck with that.
For Tennessee, it’s the modern SEC. The late-‘90s SEC provided some wiggle room. LSU was bad, yearly opponent Alabama yo-yo’d between good and terrible, Florida took a slight step back from back-to-back title berths, and Georgia had yet to shift into its Mark Richt-era gear. The league was there for the taking, and Tennessee took it in 1997 and in 1998’s title year. The Vols have since been lapped by all four of those teams. Combine that with general disfunction and the fact that Tennessee is in Tennessee, and ... hey, at least you’re not Nebraska.
How’s the Big Ten treatin’ ya, Big Red? Maybe the real hurdle is modernity. You can no longer ride a distinct offense, a strength-training advantage, Prop 48, or Great Plains talent. There’s a little bit to be said about ‘90s Nebraska housing a Big 12 that had a rudderless Texas and an Oklahoma team waiting for Stoops, but the Huskers of that era were capable of beating anybody. Maybe they’ll get it figured out by 2040? I’ll be explaining Beanie Babies to my kids right after I’m done with Tommie Frazier.
Princeton, by Jason
I still believe in college football’s first-ever national champion.