College Football Playoff National Championship - Clemson v LSU
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The 2024 college football season will usher in a new era of access to the College Football Playoff, which moves to 12 team-field with a handful of auto-bids for conference champions after operating in a four-team format for the past 10 seasons. While the changes will allow for more teams to keep the dream of a national championship alive into at least mid-December on an annual basis, gone are the days when near-perfection was required in the regular season to have a shot for the exclusive postseason spectacle. 

In total, 15 schools accounted for the 40 total CFP berths that were awarded during the four-team era, with six programs qualifying three times or more. But while all those teams did enough for the CFP Selection Committee to be deemed among the "four best" in their respective years, not all playoff participants over the years were created equal. Weighing playoff performance, roster talent and plenty more, we set out to rank all 40 teams that have reached the CFP as one chapter closes and a new one begins. 

40. 2015 Michigan State

Result: Lost Cotton Bowl semifinal to Alabama, 38-0 -- A controversial road loss at Nebraska was all that kept Michigan State from going 13-0 in the regular season. But even with a Big Ten title and road win at reigning national champion Ohio State to show, the Spartans' limits seemed clear. They ranked a pedestrian sixth in the Big Ten in scoring on both offense (29.8 ppg) and defense (21.7 ppg). It got ugly in a hurry against an Alabama team that went on to win it all.

39. 2014 Florida State 

Result: Lost Rose Bowl semifinal to Oregon, 59-20 -- Even as the undefeated defending national champion with former Heisman winner Jamies Winston at quarterback, the Seminoles never quite passed the eye test. Seven of Florida State's 13 wins came by one score -- four straight to end the regular season -- before it all came crashing down against the Ducks in the Granddaddy of Them All. Their inclusion in the CFP that season set a longstanding precedent that undefeated Power Five champions be included until none other than FSU was left out in 2023, despite once again sitting 13-0 and as the ACC champion. 

38. 2020 Notre Dame

Result: Lost Rose Bowl semifinal to Alabama, 31-14 -- The Fighting Irish's résumé was bolstered by an overtime home win against Clemson, but the Tigers were without star quarterback Trevor Lawrence in that game due to COVID-19 protocols. With Lawerence back in action, Clemson then beat Notre Dame decisively in the ACC Championship Game, handing the Irish their first loss of the season just a day ahead of the the CFP reveal. Notre Dame still managed to sneak its way in, but it was no match for Alabama come the semis. 

37. 2021 Cincinnati 

Result: Lost Cotton Bowl semifinal to Alabama, 27-6 -- Cincinnati shattered the wall for the Group of Five when the Bearcats reached the College Football Playoff in 2021, but the Group of Five vs. Power Five gap quickly showed itself when the dream season came to an end at the hands of Alabama. There was still plenty of NFL talent on the 2021 Cincinnati team -- nine players were selected in the 2022 NFL Draft -- but that wasn't enough to go toe-to-toe with a blue-chip Crimson Tide roster. 

36. 2017 Clemson 

Result: Lost Sugar Bowl semifinal to Alabama, 24-6 -- The Tigers showed clear limitations on offense amid the transition from Deshaun Watson to Kelly Bryant at quarterback in 2017, yet a 12-1 record and accompanying ACC title was still enough to put them atop the CFP Rankings. When finally matched against a heavyweight in Alabama, it got ugly. Clemson failed to find the end zone even once as Bryant went just 18 of 36 passing with two interceptions in an 18-point loss.

35. 2019 Oklahoma 

Result: Lost Peach Bowl semifinal to LSU, 63-28 -- The quarterback-wide receiver connection between future NFL stars Jalen Hurts and CeeDee Lamb headlined an offense that was enough to propel the Sooners to a fifth straight Big 12 title and third consecutive CFP berth. But for a third straight year, Oklahoma also saw its season end at the hands of an SEC team in the semifinals. The Sooners didn't exactly enter the CFP looking like world beaters after coughing up several sizable leads and posting four one-score victories in the final five weeks of the season. It finally caught up to them in Atlanta. 

34. 2018 Notre Dame 

Result: Lost Cotton Bowl semifinal to Clemson, 30-3 -- Nobody questioned Notre Dame's credentials entering the CFP in 2018. The Fighting Irish ended the regular season 12-0 with four ranked wins and featured a rising star at quarterback in Ian Book. The only red flag was that five of the team's victories were decided in one-score games. The CFP is often all about matchups, and unfortunately for Notre Dame, it ran into a buzzsaw Clemson squad that made quick work of the Irish. Book finished the game just 17 of 34 passing with an interception while Clemson's offense gashed the Irish defense for 538 total yards. 

33. 2016 Washington

Result: Lost Peach Bowl semifinal to Alabama, 24-7 -- For all the talent Washington had in 2016 amid its run to a Pac-12 championship and CFP berth, a Huskies team that averaged a 23-point margin of victory looked human when it finally encountered top-ranked Alabama. Washington was overwhelmed in the trenches, allowing 269 yards rushing to the Crimson Tide while only gaining 44 yards on the ground. It was black eye of sorts for the Pac-12's perception; the league didn't field a CFP team again until the Huskies returned to that stage this past season. 

32. 2016 Ohio State

Result: Lost Fiesta Bowl semifinal to Clemson, 31-0 -- Although Ohio State failed to even reach the Big Ten Championship Game after suffering its lone loss at Penn State in the regular season, the team's upside was clear in wins at Big 12 champion Oklahoma and at home against rival Michigan. Even though the Buckeyes caught a Clemson team that went on to win it all, it was startling to watch a roster with talent among the likes of quarterback J.T. Barrett, wide receiver Curtis Samuel and defensive back Maalik Hooker flatline the way it did against the Tigers. 

31. 2018 Oklahoma 

Result: Lost Orange Bowl semifinal to Alabama, 45-34 -- On one side, Oklahoma boasted the No. 1 scoring offense in college football, headlined by Heisman-winning quarterback and future No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick Kyler Murray. On the other side, the Sooners were bogged down by a woeful defense, finishing outside the top-100 nationally at 33.3 points allowed per game. The latter proved fatal against Alabama, moving to Sooners to 0-3 in CFP games and furthering questions over the ceiling of Lincoln Riley-coached teams. 

Syndication: Tuscaloosa News
Alabama vs. Oklahoma, 2018 Orange Bowl USATSI

30. 2015 Oklahoma

Result: Lost Orange Bowl semifinal to Clemson, 37-17 -- All season, the Sooners flourished on offense. The No. 4 scoring unit in the country was headlined by a budding star quarterback Baker Mayfield, accompanied by wideouts among the likes of Dede Westbrook and Sterling Shepard and a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine. But after scoring 30 points or more in seven straight games entering the CFP, the offense hit a wall when it encountered a stout Clemson defense, bringing the Sooners' season to a close. 

29. 2021 Michigan

Result: Lost Orange Bowl semifinal to Georgia, 34-11 -- Was a Michigan squad that finally broke through for a win over Ohio State, a Big Ten championship and a CFP berth under coach Jim Harbaugh overrated? Or was Georgia, which went on to win it all, just that good? No matter how you cut it, the Wolverines were completely outclassed by the Bulldogs, and the score could have been much worse considering Georgia led 27-3 at halftime. The loss gave way to a quarterback competition that would ultimately see J.J. McCarthy take Cade McNamara's job the following season. 

28. 2020 Clemson

Result: Lost Sugar Bowl semifinal to Ohio State, 49-28 -- It's a bit difficult to judge Clemson's true identity in 2020 given the pandemic and all of the other unique factors that were in play that year. If anything is certain, quarterback and future No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Trevor Lawrence was the team's heart and soul, as evidenced by 400-yard, two-touchdown passing performance against Ohio State in the CFP semifinals. Still, the drubbing the Tigers took against the Buckeyes was nothing like Clemson had previously experienced during its run of six straight seasons with a CFP berth. Fields toyed with the Tigers' secondary all night, passing for 385 yards and a whopping six touchdowns. 

27. 2023 Alabama  

Result: Lost Rose Bowl semifinal to Michigan, 27-20 (OT) -- Was Nick Saban's last ride the most impressive coaching job of his illustrious career? Alabama's flaws -- particularly on offense -- were apparent to all in 2023, yet the Crimson Tide still managed to take eventual national champion Michigan to overtime in Pasadena before their season came to an end. That certainly quieted some of the questions concerning Alabama's worthiness after the 12-1 Crimson Tide controversially received the fourth and final CFP spot over 13-0 Florida State. 

26. 2023 Texas 

Result: Lost Sugar Bowl semifinal to Washington, 37-31 -- There were moments when the Longhorns looked like a bona fide national title contender -- a Week 2 win at Alabama set the tone -- and moments where they had to hang on for dear life against unsuspecting competition. Through it all, Texas showed plenty of resilience en route to its first CFP berth, anchored by one of the deeper passing attacks in the entire country. Although a frantic comeback effort against Washington in the Sugar Bowl fell short, the Longhorns were as close as they've come to truly being "back" in 2023.

25. 2022 Ohio State 

Result: Lost Peach Bowl semifinal to Georgia, 42-41 -- Ohio State's 2022 season may be viewed as a disappointment by some given the Buckeyes started 11-0 before losing their two most important games of the season vs. Michigan and then against Georgia in the CFP semis. Still, they gave the eventual national champion Bulldogs all they could handle for four quarters. Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud dazzled with a 348-yard, four-touchdown passing performance, though it still wasn't enough for the Buckeyes to hold on to a 14-point fourth-quarter lead before Ohio State's last shot on a 50-yard, game-winning field goal attempt sailed wide left. 

24. 2022 Michigan 

Result: Lost Fiesta Bowl semifinal to TCU, 51-45 -- Michigan looked the part of a national title contender after reaching the CFP as the undefeated Big Ten champion, complete with an emphatic road win over fellow playoff-participant Ohio State in the final week of the regular season. Lo and behold, the physical and mistake-free version of football that propelled the Wolverines to success all season evaporated against TCU, putting Michigan on the wrong end of the biggest upset in CFP history. Looming large for the Wolverines were a trio of turnovers, including two J.J. McCarthy interceptions that were returned for pick sixes. 

23. 2022 TCU 

ResultLost CFP National Championship to Georgia, 65-7 -- The only thing keeping TCU from finishing considerably higher on this list is the historic drubbing it endured against Georgia in the title game. The Horned Frogs proved to be the proverbial "Cinderella" of the four-team era, defying all the odds just one season removed from a 5-7 finish and the exodus of longtime coach Gary Patterson. Quarterback and Heisman finalist Max Duggan will go down as the heart and soul of a team that won seven games by 10 points or fewer, including a defining upset win against Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl semifinal.

Syndication: USA TODAY
Michigan vs. TCU, 2022 Fiesta Bowl USATSI

22. 2017 Oklahoma 

Result: Lost Rose Bowl Semifinal to Georgia, 54-48 (OT) -- Few teams from the four-team CFP era boasted a more imposing offense than the 2017 Sooners. With Heisman-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield in command and a plethora of future NFL stars among the supporting cast, Oklahoma could put up points on anybody -- even a Georgia defense that ranked sixth nationally in scoring. If not for a pedestrian Sooners defense that allowed 27.1 points per game, Oklahoma's offense alone may have packed enough force and firepower to deliver the program its first national title since 2000.

21. 2020 Ohio State 

Result: Lost CFP National Championship to Alabama, 52-24 -- There's a reasonable debate over where the Buckeyes should rank since they only played eight games in 2020 -- six during the regular season -- thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, four of their seven victories came against ranked competition, and their rout of Clemson in the Sugar Bowl was anything but a fluke. The talent was there, including an offense that boasted multiple future first-round NFL Draft picks. It just wasn't enough to overcome an all-time Alabama team in the title game. 

20. 2014 Oregon

Result: Lost CFP National Championship to Ohio State, 42-20 -- The Ducks showcased the 2014 Heisman winner in quarterback Marcus Mariota, who set then-single season Oregon records with 4,454 yards and 42 touchdowns passing. Leading the defense was a pair of fellow future first-round draft picks in defensive ends Arik Armsted and DeForest Buckner. While Oregon ran all over a suspect Florida State team in the semis, it didn't prove to be much of a match against Ohio State in the national title.

19. 2019 Ohio State 

Result: Lost Fiesta Bowl semifinal to Clemson, 29-23 -- The 2019 Buckeyes certainly sit among the better CFP teams that failed to advance to the championship tilt. Quarterback Justin Fields and defensive end Chase Young -- both future first-round draft picks -- were among stars to headline the roster of a team that had a serious case for a No. 1 overall ranking after entering the CFP as the undefeated Big Ten champion. Unfortunately, the Buckeyes didn't have enough in the tank to preserve a 16-0 first half lead before Clemson came marching back. 

18. 2014 Alabama 

Result: Lost Sugar Bowl semifinal to Ohio State, 42-35 -- There's no denying that the 2014 Crimson Tide had all the right pieces in place to win the inaugural CFP National Championship. The offense alone boasted future NFL talent among the likes of wide receiver Amari Cooper and running backs Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon, and the defense had its own set of stars with safety Landon Collins and defensive lineman Xzavier Dickson and Jonathan Allen. Instead of potentially delivering Alabama's fourth title in a span of six seasons, that group will be forever haunted by the semifinal loss to a red-hot Buckeyes team. 

17. 2023 Washington

Result: Lost CFP National Championship to Michigan, 34-13 -- A show-stopping offense is what the 2023 Huskies will be remembered for as they flirted with a national title in just their second season under coach Kalen DeBoer. Quarterback and Heisman finalist Michael Penix Jr. lit up the sport with 4,903 yards and 36 touchdowns passing, and the trio of Rome Odunze, Ja'Lynn Polk and Jalen McMillian helped make for one of the most lethal wide receiver rooms in the country. In the end, Michigan's "bully ball" was too much for Washington to overcome. 

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Washington at Michigan
Washington vs. Michigan, CFP National Championship USATSI

16. 2015 Clemson 

Result: Lost CFP National Championship to Alabama, 45-40 -- Clemson wasn't far from making it back-to-back national titles against Alabama from 2015-16. A 2015 team featuring some key faces from the 2016 championship squad held a 24-21 fourth-quarter lead against the Crimson Tide in the CFP National Championship before a surprise Alabama onside kick several minutes later changed all the momentum. Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson dazzled with a 405-yard, four-touchdown passing performance in a losing effort. 

15. 2017 Georgia 

Result: Lost CFP National Championship to Alabama, 26-23 (OT) -- Even with multiple championships now to show in the Kirby Smart era, "second-and-26" will forever haunt a 2017 Georgia team that could smell its first national title since 1980 -- the Bulldogs led 20-7 in the third quarter -- before the Crimson Tide pulled off the improbable. Georgia went on to have six players from the 2017 team drafted the following spring, including linebacker and SEC Defensive Player of the Year Roquan Smith to the Chicago Bears at No. 8 overall. 

14. 2021 Alabama 

Result: Lost CFP National Championship to Georgia, 33-18 -- It's easy to speculate how things may have unfolded in the championship rematch between Alabama and Georgia had wide receiver and future first-round draft pick Jameson Williams not left the game due to injury. The connection between Williams and quarterback Bryce Young -- the 2021 Heisman winner and the future top pick in the 2023 NFL Draft -- was the bread and butter for Alabama's passing game all season. A team that featured four future first-round draft picks across both sides of the ball still held its own for much of the game before the Bulldogs pulled clear late. 

13. 2018 Alabama

Result: Lost CFP National Championship to Clemson, 44-16 -- Simply put, nobody saw the Crimson Tide getting blown off the field against Clemson after going unblemished up to that point -- not with a top-5 scoring offense accompanied by a top-15 scoring defense, at least. The talent was abundant on a team that produced 10 draft picks the following spring (three of them first-rounders), and that group didn't even include star quarterback and Heisman finalist Tua Tagovailoa. As dangerous as the Tigers were, there isn't much debate that Alabama saved its worst performance of 2018 for last. 

12. 2016 Alabama 

Result: Lost CFP National Championship to Clemson, 35-31 -- Can you come any closer to winning it all without actually doing so than the 2016 Crimson Tide? While Hunter Renfrow will give that team eternal nightmares, the talent Alabama boasted that season was glaring. The Tide defense led the country at an average of just 13 points allowed per contest, bolstered by defensive tackle and SEC Defensive Player of the Year Johnathan Allen. Six players from the team went as top-50 picks in the 2017 NFL Draft, including four in the first round. 

11. 2019 Clemson 

Result: Lost CFP National Championship to LSU, 42-25 -- Take Clemson's loss to LSU with a grain salt if you wish. Nobody was touching the Bayou Bengals in 2019. The defending national champions rode a 29-game winning streak into the matchup, boasting both a top-five scoring offense and top-five scoring defense nationally. Four players on the roster were future first-round draft picks, with linebacker Isaiah Simmons going No. 8 overall to the Arizona Cardinals the following spring. In any other year, the Tigers may very well have captured their third title in a span of four seasons. 

10. 2015 Alabama

Result: Beat Clemson in CFP National Championship, 45-40 -- Of the six Alabama teams that won a national championship under coach Nick Saban, this was the last to be powered by an unstoppable rushing attack. Running back Derrick Henry became the first SEC player to rush for 2,000 yards or more in a single season. The 2015 Heisman winner showed up big time in the national title by rushing for 158 yards and three touchdowns in 36 carries. Good luck stopping that. 

9. 2014 Ohio State

Result: Beat Oregon in CFP National Championship, 42-20 -- Linebacker Joey Bosa and running back Ezekiel Elliott made for just some of the future NFL talent on the 2014 Ohio State roster, but the Buckeyes' national title run that season will forever by synonymous with the improbable rise of third-string quarterback Cardale Jones. It's unlikely Ohio State would have even snuck into the CFP field without his breakout performance in a stunning 59-0 rout of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship, and he didn't show any sings of being fazed by Alabama or Oregon come the CFP as the Buckeyes captured their eighth national title. 

8. 2016 Clemson 

Result: Beat Alabama in CFP National Championship, 35-31 -- Without a truly masterful season from quarterback Deshaun Watson, it's unlikely that the Tigers would have broken through in 2016 for their first national title since 1981. He ended the season passing for a career-high 4,593 yards and 41 touchdowns, padding those numbers with an additional 629 yards and nine touchdowns rushing. Of those 41 passing touchdowns, none mattered more than Watson's go-ahead strike to Hunter Renfrow with one second left in regulation of the national championship game, cementing both of their names in CFP lore. 

7. 2017 Alabama 

Result: Beat Georgia in CFP National Championship, 26-23 (OT) -- Alabama prided itself on the top-ranked scoring defense in 2017 -- the Crimson Tide held opponents to just 11.9 points on average -- but it was a pivotal gamble on offense by Nick Saban that ultimately paid dividends with all the marbles on the line. When quarterback Jalen Hurts was replaced by true freshman Tua Tagovailoa in the national title game, the rest was history. It all ended with Tagovailoa orchestrating one of the most iconic plays in CFP history: a walk-off touchdown pass in overtime to future Heisman-winner DeVonta Smith on second-and-26. 

6. 2023 Michigan 

Result: Beat Washington in CFP National Championship, 34-13 -- After falling short in the CFP semifinals each of the previous two years, the Wolverines flipped the script in 2023, proving that veteran roster combined with a smash-mouth style of football was indeed enough to produce a national champion. Michigan's running back tandem of Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards saved their best for last; both went north of 100 yards and scored two touchdowns apiece in the Wolverines' national title game triumph over Washington. The nation's top scoring defense also forced its will against a typically prolific Huskies defense, holding Washington to a season-low 13 points. 

5. 2021 Georgia 

Result: Beat Alabama in CFP National Championship, 33-18 -- The Georgia squad that finally broke through for the program's first national title since 1980 wasn't flawless, but the Bulldogs roster was as imposing as they come. It produced a single-school record 15 selections in the 2022 NFL Draft, including five first-round picks that all came on defense. In total, seven players from the 2021 Georgia defense became first-round draft selections after defensive tackle Jalen Carter and linebacker Nolan Smith joined that group in 2023. That's a doozy. 

4. 2018 Clemson

Result: Beat Alabama in CFP National Championship, 44-16 -- No Clemson team of the Dabo Swinney era had an ability to overwhelm opponents quite like the 2018 squad, and it showed when Tigers blew out an equally capable Alabama team. Clemson boasted the No. 1 scoring defense and the No. 4 scoring offense in the country, the latter of which averaged 44.3 points per game behind a breakout season from true freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence. In 11 starts after taking over for Kelly Bryant, Lawrence passed for 3,280 yards and 30 touchdowns, setting the tone for a decorated collegiate career that would give way to him going No. 1 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2021 NFL Draft.

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama
Alabama vs. Clemson, CFP National Championship USATSI

3. 2022 Georgia 

Result: Beat TCU in CFP National Championship, 65-7 -- Even with a wealth of talent lost to the 2022 NFL Draft, Georgia didn't miss a beat in repeating as national champions. It boasted a top-five scoring offense and top-five scoring defense that fueled a perfect 15-0 finish. Quarterback Stetson Bennett IV solidified himself as a Bulldogs legend by taking Georgia to the promised land twice after initially arriving as a walk-on, ending his career with a six-touchdown night in a historic rout of TCU. Ten Bulldogs players went on to be drafted in 2023, further cementing Georgia's status as a national powerhouse. 

2. 2020 Alabama

Result: Beat Ohio State in CFP National Championship, 52-24 -- Amid the craze of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alabama was still its normal, dominant self. The Crimson Tide rattled off 11 straight SEC wins before beating Notre Dame and Ohio State in the CFP for what would mark the last national title of Nick Saban's illustrious coaching career. In a departure from past Saban-coached championship teams, Alabama rode a pass-heavy offense that ranked second nationally in scoring. A total of six players -- five from that offense -- went as first-round picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, including quarterback Mac Jones, running back Najee Harris and Heisman-winning wide receiver DeVonta Smith. 

1. 2019 LSU

Result: Beat Clemson in CFP National Championship, 42-25 -- Untouchable. That's perhaps the only word that describe 2019 LSU, which played with a level of flash and firepower on offense that might not be replicated anytime soon. While the roster featured seven future first-round draft picks, quarterback Joe Burrow was the center of the team's identity. Burrow ended the season passing for 5,671 yards and an FBS single-season record 60 touchdowns as he ran away with the Heisman Trophy, solidifying his place among the sport's all-time greats. If any CFP team from the four-team era had true "superteam" vibes, these Tigers were it.