Ranking the Most National Championships in College Football History (All-Time)


The National Football Championship has a standing tradition of capturing people’s attention every year. Various organizations name the college football team in the United States with the competition taking place in the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).

Unlike NCAA sports FBS football doesn’t have an annual championship event, which has led to it being informally referred to as a “mythical national championship.”

Defining National Championships in College Football

Determining the champions in college football has always been a topic of debate especially because there is no NCAA recognition in Division I FBS. In the past polls like the AP and Coaches Poll played a role in deciding the champion by ranking the top team.

However, this led to disagreements and split titles due to inconsistencies. Even major bowl games like the Rose Bowl were not entirely reliable due to biases.

To address these issues the College Football Playoff (CFP) was introduced in 2014. It is a four-team playoff system where a selection committee chooses teams based on factors such as conference championships, head-to-head records, and strength of schedule.

While the CFP provides an approach it does not have official recognition from the NCAA. Conference championships still hold importance as they serve as a pathway to the CFP. Some conferences are considered more prestigious than others.

Before the CFP came into existence there were “champions” who were recognized based on polls or subjective arguments as being the best teams.

The evolving landscape reflects a search for a fair and universally accepted method of determining college football’s national champion.

List of College Football Programs with Most National Championships

RankTeamNational Championship Won
1Yale Bulldogs18
2Alabama Crimson Tide16
3Princeton Tigers15
4Notre Dame Fighting Irish13
5USC Trojans11
6Michigan Wolverines9
7Ohio State Buckeyes8
8Harvard Crimson8
9Oklahoma Sooners7
10Minnesota Golden Gophers6
This list of National Championship Numbers only includes championships recognized by the NCAA.
Most National Championships in College Football History

#10. Minnesota Golden Gophers: 6

The University of Minnesota’s football team, even though it isn’t officially recognized by the NCAA for championships, has recorded victories in years.

For instance, they triumphed over Wisconsin in 1904. Unofficial titles were also achieved in 1934, 1935, 1936 1940, 1941, and 1960 which added to the program’s reputation and were acknowledged by polls.

However, there are debates about the validity of these championships due to the lack of a centralized governing body. The Gophers’ impressive legacy extends beyond successes and includes winning a total of 18 conference championships.

Among these achievements are 11 shared across the Big Ten and Western Conference. Seven outright wins, within the Big Ten. All of the program’s historical accomplishments hold significance in its football legacy.

#9. Oklahoma Sooners: 7

The Oklahoma Sooners have won seven championships in college football with victories in the seasons of 1950, 1955, 1956, 1974, 1975, 1985, and 2000.

It’s important to note that there is no recognized governing body in college football for declaring national champions. Instead, unofficial determinations have been influenced by polls like the Associated Press (AP) Poll and systems such as the Bowl Championship Series (BCS).

While there may be some debates regarding the number of championships they’ve won it is undisputed that the Oklahoma Sooners are a force in college football.

Alongside their seven claimed titles they have a record of winning 50 conference championships and producing 167 first team All Americans.

Additionally, they boast seven Heisman Trophy winners which firmly establishes them as one of the programs in the sport.

#8. Harvard Crimson: 8

According to Harvard, they have officially been recognized with seven championships by the NCAA. These championships span from 1875 to 1910.

Additionally, Harvard acknowledges a total of 13 championships, including claims from the era before the NCAA. Rankings from selector polls like the Associated Press (AP) Poll and Coaches Poll.

Sometimes these historical claims overlap with the titles designated by the NCAA resulting in a count. It’s important to note that the current College Football Playoff (CFP) system, which began in 2014 does not recognize any champions.

Only teams that win the CFP championship game are considered champions. Therefore depending on how we define and consider sources Harvard’s total number of championships in college football can vary between 7 and 13.

As per recognition, by the NCAA Harvard currently holds seven championships.

#7. Ohio State Buckeyes: 8

The number of championships that the Ohio State Buckeyes claim is a topic that often sparks debate. According to Ohio State, they officially recognize eight titles, all of which are supported by NCAA-designated “consensus” selectors such as the AP Poll, Coaches Poll, FWAA, and NFF.

However, when it comes to the wire service selectors like the AP and Coaches Polls only six of these championships are acknowledged.

The remaining two titles were selected by organizations; in 1942 the AP Poll chose Ohio State after a 9-1 season; and in 1968 both UPI Poll and FWAA selected them following their Rose Bowl victory over USC.

While these additional achievements may not be universally recognized by all polls they hold value within the Ohio State community and contribute to the program’s rich history and longstanding tradition.

#6. Michigan Wolverines: 9

Michigan has been successful in securing 9 NCAA recognized championships starting from their victory in 1901.

However, the university claims a total of 11 championships, including titles from 1902 and 1903 that were not officially recognized by the NCAA due to the absence of a selection process.

There are differing opinions regarding how championships Michigan should be credited with as various sports entities and publications have counted.

It is important to acknowledge these varying viewpoints and recognize that determining a team’s status as a ” champion” in college football has historically been complex and subjective prior, to the establishment of the College Football Playoff.

#5. USC Trojans: 11

USC is regarded as one of the college football programs sharing the sixth spot, with Michigan for the highest number of national titles at nine. They secured championships in 1928, 1931, 1932, 1939, 1962, 1967, 1972 1974, 1978, 2003, and 2004.

However, there has been some debate regarding their number of titles due to claims made in 1928 and 1939 according to the Dickinson System. The renowned coach John McKay guided them to four championships between 1960 and 1975.

Despite their success, an NCAA investigation uncovered support provided to student-athletes which impacted football, basketball, and tennis programs.

As a result of this investigation, Reggie Bush was disassociated from the university. Nevertheless, the USC title in 2004 was recognized by AP and some NCAA lists.

#4. Notre Dame Fighting Irish: 13

Notre Dame has officially declared that they have won 11 championships, which are acknowledged by the NCAA. These championships were achieved between 1924 and 1988.

They represent eras in the history of the Fighting Irish. However, there are sources, including ranking systems and polls before the BCS era that attribute co-national championships” to Notre Dame.

These extra titles come as a result of split rankings or controversial outcomes. Taking this perspective into account increases the number of championships to 22.

The claimed titles shine a spotlight on periods such as the Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine, and Lou Holtz eras. On the other hand, the unclaimed championships span across years ranging from 1919 to 2012.

The exact count of these titles depends on the source and criteria used for recognition. Nevertheless, Notre Dame holds a position as one of the most successful and prestigious teams in college football history.

Their legacy is built upon championship-winning teams and legendary players.

#3. Princeton Tigers: 15

Princeton’s count of championships can be seen from different perspectives. The NCAA officially acknowledges 15 titles for the university all earned before the introduction of the Division I FBS system in 1936.

However, Princeton claims 28 championships based on the recognition they received from polls such as the AP and Coaches Poll. Disagreements arise due to inconsistencies. Overlaps in these polling systems.

On Princeton’s website, they list a total of 28 championships, including titles recognized by major polls even if other schools contest them.

The NCAA recognizes 15 championships, which is in line with their current criteria for championship recognition.

By considering polls and Princeton’s own claimed titles a broader perspective is taken into account that includes the era of college football when there were no standardized systems for crowning champions.

#2. Alabama Crimson Tide: 16

The number of championships claimed by Alabama’s Crimson Tide is a topic of disagreement between the Associated Press and the NCAA.

Alabama asserts that they have 18 titles, including those won from 1925 to 1941 before Coach Bear Bryant’s time. The debate surrounding these championships revolves around the uncertainty of polling and ranking systems during that era.

Alabama’s claimed titles extend up until 2020 covering years such as 1961, 1978, and 1992, and under Coach Saban’s leadership in 2009 ’11 ’12 ’15, ’17, and 20.

Saban, who had previously won with LSU in 2003 aimed to surpass Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s championship count in January 2019 but faced a setback when Clemson emerged as the victor in that year’s championship.

Similar to Alabama, Ohio State also has a history with eight championships. Their successes include titles in 1942, 1954, 1957, 1961, 1968, and 1970, and their recent one being in the championship of the College Football Playoff back in 2014.

#1. Yale Bulldogs:18

Yale University has a prestigious history in football dating back to 1872. It is one of the best football programs in the world and competes in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision.

The Bulldogs have a track record with 18 championships to their name recognized by the NCAA. They have also produced two Heisman Trophy winners; Larry Kelley in 1936 and Clint Frank in 1937.

Yale’s football legacy includes achievements. They have had 100 consensus All Americans. Are proud to have 28 inductees into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Among them are Walter Camp, known as the “Father of American Football ” who not only played for Yale from 1876 to 1882 but also served as their head football coach from 1888 to 1892.

Additionally, they have had coaches like Amos Alonzo Stagg, Howard Jones, Tad Jones, and Carmen Cozza.

When it comes to wins Yale ranks second in college football history with a total of 865 victories. Only the University of Michigan surpasses them in this regard.

The Bulldogs’ dominance was particularly evident during their years when they secured 27 national championships, including a remarkable stretch of winning titles for 26 out of 38 years, between 1872 and 1909.

Historical Dominance and Dynasties

During the years of college football, Princeton (1869- 1905) played a role in shaping the sport. They proudly claimed 18 championships solidifying their status. Yale (1876 1909) emerged as a rival securing 12 championships and establishing the renowned “Harvard Yale Game.”

Michigan (1901-1905) led by Coach Fielding Yost revolutionized the game with their point-a-minute offense earning them five national championships.

In the war era, Notre Dame (1943-1952) guided by Frank Leahy stood out with their exceptional performance and won five national championships.

This period featured iconic players like Johnny Lujack and the legendary “Four Horsemen” backfield. Oklahoma (1950s) led by Bud Wilkinson achieved a 47-game winning streak along with three championships. Their disciplined approach and effective wishbone offense played a role in their success.

Alabama (1961- 1966) under the guidance of Bear Bryant secured five championships. Built a reputation for their relentless defense.

Moving into the era, Nebraska (1970s 1990s) experienced two periods characterized by five national championships.

Their formidable “Blackshirt” defense combined with a rushing attack proved to be unstoppable, on occasions. Miami (1980s 2000s) famously known as “The U ” showcased a blend of swagger and speed that led them to claim five championships.

During the 1990s and 2000s under the leadership of Bobby Bowden Florida State University achieved success in college football. They won two championships.

Participated in the BCS bowl games an impressive 14 times. The team was renowned for their performance and exciting offensive style of play.

Evolution of Championship Recognition

Determining the champion in college football has always been a sometimes controversial task. Unlike sports, where playoffs are unified the decentralized nature of collegiate athletics has led to ongoing changes in how we determine the “best” team.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries regional powerhouses like Princeton, Yale, and Michigan often relied on assessments by sportswriters to crown champions.

The introduction of the Associated Press Poll in 1936 brought a shift in ranking teams at the end of each season. However, conflicting rankings resulted in ” championships ” revealing the limitations of relying solely on polls.

From the 1950s to the 1990s major bowl games such as the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl gained importance as they frequently hosted matchups that were seen as championship contests. However, conference affiliations and regional biases sometimes prevented “champion vs. Champion” matchups.

The BCS era (1998-2013) introduced computer rankings alongside polls to select participants for designated championship games. This sparked debates about fairness and legitimacy.

The current College Football Playoff (2014 present) features a four-team single elimination bracket determined by a selection committee composed of thirteen members. This system offers a platform, for determining the champion.

However, it’s worth noting that it is not officially recognized by the NCAA.

There are still challenges that we face when it comes to determining the strength of a team’s schedule and how it affects their selection for championships.

Regional bias and historical reputation also play a role in how we perceive champions.

Sometimes teams that are not part of the College Football Playoff (CFP) are referred to as ” champions”, by polls or media sources. This adds to the confusion and leads to debates.

Notable Coaches and Players from Championship Programs

The illustrious past of college football is filled with coaches, legendary players, and unforgettable teams that have left an impact on the sports Hall of Fame.

From the pioneers like Princeton guided by Henry William “Bull” Halsey to the emergence of dominance in the South with Bear Bryant’s Alabama dynasty during the 1960s.

Additionally, we witnessed a West Coast revolution led by John McKay’s USC Trojans in the 1970s. Experienced an era under Howard Schnellenberger at Miami known as “Miami Vice.” Furthermore, we can’t forget the modern-day Cinderella stories exemplified by Boise State in the 2000s.

Princeton played a role in shaping this sports foundation with individuals such as “Big Bill” Edwards and their undefeated team from 1893. Alabama became a powerhouse in the 1960s under Bear Bryant’s guidance propelled by players like Joe Namath and their championship-winning team of 1965.

USC achieved success during the 1970s thanks to figures like O.J. Simpson and their groundbreaking “Orange Crush” defense that revolutionized offensive strategies.

Miami’s legendary dynasty known as “The U,” which spanned from the 1980s to the 2000s was defined by its swagger and dominant “Miami Blitz ” defense. This era showcased talents like Heisman winner Vinny Testaverde. Marked an unforgettable chapter with the Miami Hurricanes undefeated season in 1983.

Lastly, we witnessed Boise State emerging as a captivating underdog story in the 2000s, under Chris Petersen’s leadership. Their success was highlighted by Kellen Moore’s performances and their iconic triumph known as the “Fiesta Bowl Miracle” in 2007.

These glimpses offer a look into the tapestry of college football’s championship history brimming with captivating narratives, iconic personalities, and unforgettable moments that continue to captivate players, coaches, and fans across different generations.


The conclusion highlights the history of championships, in college football ranging from subjective evaluations to the ongoing debate surrounding the College Football Playoff.

Esteemed institutions like Yale, Alabama, and Notre Dame known for their figures and memorable moments have navigated through evolving criteria to earn championship recognition.

Despite facing challenges along the way these programs have made contributions to the sports tapestry constantly striving for fairness and legitimacy.

With Yale’s 18 championships, Alabamas claiming 16 titles, Notre Dame’s esteemed reputation, and differing perspectives, on Michigan’s count of championships it becomes evident that determining champions is a multi-faceted task.

Kshitij Singh
Kshitij Singh
🏈🏀 Meet Kshitij Singh, a seasoned sports writer with 3+ years' experience! 🌟 Known for his insightful NFL and NBA content, he hones his skills at SportzHive, offering in-depth analysis and captivating narratives.


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