Heading into week 5 of the 2017 college football season, there are still 24 undefeated teams, including the top 10 ranked teams in the nation, consisting of Alabama, defending national champions Clemson, Oklahoma, Penn State, USC, Washington, Georgia, Michigan, TCU and Wisconsin.
Last year, we didn’t have any undefeated teams in division I; Clemson went 14-1. Alabama didn’t go undefeated the previous season as well, finishing with a 14-1 record too as they won the national championship. In 2014, Ohio State ended up winning the title, beating Oregon in the first ever college football championship game. They too lost one game along the way, at home to Virginia Tech.
In fact, the last season with an undefeated team was 2013, when Florida State, led by Jameis Winston on the field in his Freshman year, went 13-0 en route to the national title. Surprisingly, or not, this is the longest “undefeated drought” there has ever been.
More often than not, there’s at least one undefeated team. It’s not rare to have more than one. In 2010, Auburn won the national title with Cam Newton steamrolling defenses, finishing the season at 14-0. In the same season TCU, then still not in the Big 12, went 13-0, concluding the season by beating Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. In 2009 both Boise State (winning the Fiesta Bowl) and Alabama (winning the BCS championship game) finished undefeated. In 2004, we even had three teams without a loss: USC (winning the national title), Auburn (taking the Sugar Bowl) and Utah (winning the Fiesta Bowl). That Utah team was coached by Urban Meyer, the current Ohio State coach. He is the head coach of the last team to go undefeated without winning the national title, the 2012 Buckeyes, who were banned from playing in the postseason or picking up any silverware, although they did finish the season at 12-0.
Before this current stretch without undefeated teams, the longest we’ve had is two consecutive years without a team posting a perfect season. Between 1988 (Notre Dame) and 1991 (Miami & Washington), we had Miami finishing on top of both polls in 1989 with an 11-1 record. And in 1990 there was Colorado topping the AP Poll (11-1-1) and Georgia Tech on top of the UPI/Coaches Poll. The Yellow Jackets didn’t lose, but they didn’t sweep the field, winning 11 games and tying one against North Carolina. The team won the coaches poll by a single point over Colorado.
To find another case of tow consecutive seasons without a perfect undefeated team we go to 1982 and 1983, sandwiched between Danny Ford’s Clemson in 1981 and Lavell Edwards’ BYU in 1984. In 1982 Penn State under Joe Paterno were on top of both polls, losing one game (to Alabama) but beating number one Georgia in the Sugar Bowl to win the championship. In 1983, Miami were 11-1 en route to the title, crushed by Florida on the opening week before winning 11 in a row, including the Orange Bowl vs #1 ranked Nebraska.
And this year? Too soon to tell. Projecting Alabama to go undefeated is never out of the question – last season Clemson, in the national title game, were the only team that managed to stop them. Considering the state of the SEC, it won’t surprise anyone if they go that far without losing once again. But perhaps the next undefeated, perfect undefeated that is, will comes from a completely new direction, one that we’re not expecting.