In the poll-era which began in 1936 and includes teams finishing the college football season at #1 on the AP Poll or Coaches poll, later including the BCS championship and now the College Football Playoff, there are only seven programs with five national titles or more: Alabama, Miami, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Ohio State and USC.
Nebraska Cornhuskers – 5
The Cornhuskers have five claimed national titles, all before the BCS: 1970, 1971, 1994, 1995 and 1997. The first two titles were won under Bob Devaney, with the 1970 title being given by the AP alone, going 11-0-1 that season, ending with a win over LSU in the Orange Bowl. Texas got the coaches poll title, although they lost their bowl game. The 1971 team won it outright on both polls with a 13-0 record. The wait of 23 years was over under Tom Osborne, as Nebraska went 13-0 in 1994 and 12-0 in 1995. In 1997 they split the title with Michigan (coaches) while going 13-0, finishing the season with a win against Tennessee in the Orange Bowl.
Miami Hurricanes – 5
Miami follows Nebraska which is interesting, because the last title the Hurricanes won came in 2001, already into the BCS era, and was an impressive Rose Bowl victory against the Cornhuskers to take the national title with a 12-0 record. Along with Nebraska and perhaps Florida State, the ‘Canes were the most dominant program in college football in the 20 years that preceded the fifth title. They won championships in 1983 under Howard Schnellenberger (11-1), in 1987 under Jimmie Johnson and going undefeated, in 1989 under Dennis Erickson and in 1991 under Erickson again. That year the AP awarded them the championship, going 12-0. Washington were undefeated as well, and got the title on behalf of the Coaches poll.
Ohio State Buckeyes – 6
The Buckeyes have one BCS-era championship, one (the inaugural) Playoff championship and four in the poll-only era. The first came in 1942 with Paul Brown as the head coach. In 1954 they finished undefeated 10-0, including beating USC in the Rose Bowl, but that was enough just for the AP title, while UCLA took the Coaches trophy. Three years later, again with Woody Hayes, the Buckeyes finished 9-1 and beat Oregon in the Rose Bowl. This time it was the Coaches poll picking them as champions, while Auburn, going 10-0, won the AP title. In 1968 came Ohio State’s third championship under Hayes with another perfect season and a Rose Bowl victory against USC. Then came a 34-year wait until Jim Tressel led them to a win over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl, finishing 14-0 and with the BCS trophy. A year ago, Ohio State, with one loss, stunned Alabama in the college football playoff semifinal before cruising against Oregon to win their first under Urban Meyer.
USC Trojans – 7
The list of USC titles in the poll era begins in 1962 under John McKay with an 11-0 year and a win in the Rose Bowl. Five years later, still under McKay and one season before the move to the Pac-8, came a 10-1 season, a Rose Bowl victory and the double #1 ranking in the polls. In 1972 McKay picked up his third title as head coach following a 12-0 season and Rose Bowl victory, and in 1974 it was a fourth under McKay, although only on behalf of the Coaches Poll. Oklahoma went 11-0 and won the AP title that year. In 1978 came the first and only championship under John Robinson, again with a coaches-AP split. USC on behalf of the coaches and Alabama from the AP. In 2003 LSU were the BSC champions, but USC, with one loss like the Tigers, got the title from the AP Poll. In 2004 USC won the BSC championship but it was later revoked. However, the AP Poll title still remains, with the two last ones coming under Pete Carroll.
Oklahoma Sooners – 7
The Oklahoma national championship run begins in 1950 under Bud Wilkinson, followed by the impressive mid-50’s run of three undefeated seasons, although only for the 1955 and 1956 ones Oklahoma were awarded with the AP & Coaches titles. In 1974 Oklahoma won the title on behalf of the AP without even playing in a bowl game, being the nation’s only undefeated team. In 1975, they won their second championship under Barry Switzer, going 11-1 and beating Michigan in the Orange Bowl to claim the championship. In 1985, again with Switzer, came the sixth title, beating Penn State in the Orange Bowl. In 2000, the BCS era, with Bob Stoops as the head coach, Oklahoma went 13-0 and beat Florida State to claim the national title in the Orange Bowl.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish – 8
The ancient kings, who haven’t won a national championship since 1988. Notre Dame won four of them in the 1940’s, all under Frank Leahy: In 1943, 1946, 1947 and 1949, with a perfect record in the last two. In 1966 came the fifth national title with Ara Parseghian as the head coach. Number six also came under Parseghian, although just from the AP Poll. Notre Dame finished the season in 1973 with an 11-1 record, winning the Sugar Bowl, but it was only good enough for the AP Poll title, while the Coaches #1 went to Alabama. In 1977 it was Dan Devine head coaching the Irish, leading them to the championship with a win in the Cotton Bowl. In 1988 it was Lou Holtz, leading Notre Dame to a perfect 12-0 season, ending with a Fiesta Bowl win and the championship.
Alabama Crimson Tide – 11
The first poll-era national title begins, as with everything for Alabama, under Bear Bryant, in 1961, winning the Sugar Bowl and going 12-0 that season. Three years later came another championship under Bryant, despite losing to Texas in the bowl game. In 1965 came an AP-only title after beating Nebraska in the Bowl game, while Michigan State picked up the Coaches Poll. In 1973 they won the national title despite losing their Sugar Bowl to Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish won on behalf of AP, Alabama on behalf of the Coaches Poll. In 1978 came another split championship, going 11-1 and winning the Sugar Bowl, while USC won the coaches poll. In 1979 came their final championship under Bryant, going 12-0 and beating Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, not having any issues with another dominant team. Then came a 13-year wait, going 13-0 under Gene Stallings to win it in 1992 with a Sugar Bowl victory against Miami. The next age of dominance began only in 2009 under Nick Saban: Beating Texas in the BCS championship game to finish the season 14-0. In 2011 again under Saban, going 12-1 and controversially making it into the title game, beating LSU 21-0. In 2012 came the third title under Saban (and so far the last), crushing Notre Dame to finish the season 13-1, with a 10th claimed national title. In 2015, Alabama beat Clemson in the College Football Playoff championship game, making it four in seven years under Saban.