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Top 10 Perfect Seasons

How USC's dominant year stacks up with some of the all-time greatest

Posted: Wednesday January 5, 2005 4:01PM; Updated: Thursday January 6, 2005 9:31AM
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By Mike McAllister, SI.com

  Tommie Frazier
Tommie Frazier and the Cornhuskers ran all over the No. 2 Gators in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.
Mike Powell/Getty Images

Many teams have ended the season with nary a blemish on their record -- including three this season. But which teams have had the most impressive perfect marks? The goal is not to necessarily decide the best teams in college football history, but simply to rank the best of the unbeaten seasons.

To put a different spin on this list, each team must have played (and obviously won) a matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 2. Unfortunately, that leaves out best-of-all-time candidates such as the 1947 Sooners, the 1972 Trojans, the 1979 Crimson Tide and the 2001 Hurricanes. Also, you must have also won the national title outright. Sorry, 1997 Cornhuskers and Wolverines -- you're both disqualified.

1. 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers

Record: 12-0
1 vs. 2: Beat No. 2 Florida 62-24 in Fiesta Bowl
On a CBS list of the 10 greatest teams, this one was voted No. 1. Football computer analyst Jeff Sagarin also ranks this team as the best college football team since 1956. Want to know why? The Huskers offense averaged 52.4 points a game and also led the nation in rushing (399.8 yards per game). They didn't beat opponents, they destroyed them. Think Mike Tyson and Rocky Marciano at the peak of their careers.

2. 1971 Nebraska Cornhuskers

Record: 13-0
1 vs. 2: Beat No. 2 Oklahoma 35-31; Beat No. 2 Alabama 38-6 in Orange Bowl
Winning the Game of the Century is the highlight -- mainly because it's the only close game the Huskers played all year. In every other game, they won by a margin of at least 24 points. Just three opponents scored more than one TD. But the key to the season? Return specialist Johnny Rodgers. "Take Johnny Rodgers out of there on kickoff and punt returns, and it probably wouldn't have gone 13-0," acknowledged Tom Osborne, an assistant coach to then head coach Bob Devaney.

3. 1945 Army Black Knights

Record: 9-0
1 vs. 2: Beat No. 2 Notre Dame 48-0; beat No. 2 Navy 32-13
Mr. Inside (Doc Blanchard) and Mr. Outside (Glenn Davis) spearheaded a team that rolled past its opponents by a collective score of 412-46. Six players were named first-team All-Americas. The only negative was West Point opting to turn down a Rose Bowl invite.

4. 2004 USC Trojans

Record: 13-0
1 vs. 2: Beat No. 2 Oklahoma 55-19 in Orange Bowl
Was this team's true worth underestimated before the Orange Bowl? Apparently. The Trojans had a few close shaves that hinted at vulnerability, but ultimately they beat four teams that finished in the top 20. Add a Heisman winner in QB Matt Leinart and this season goes down as more magical than you might think.

5. 1969 Texas Longhorns

Record: 11-0
1 vs. 2: Beat No. 2 Arkansas 15-14
Rated a top 10 team of all time by some experts, the Longhorns won three games against top 10 opponents, including the other Game of the Century against the Razorbacks. Beating Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl -- the first Irish bowl game after 44 years of self-imposed exile -- was the capper.

6. 1988 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Record: 12-0
1 vs. 2: Beat No. 2 USC 27-10
The Irish beat the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 teams in the country at the time they played them. They also won 10 games by double digits. Notre Dame has had more dominant teams (think Rockne), but Lou Holtz's only perfect season at South Bend might have been the most impressive run.

7. 1999 Florida State Seminoles

Record: 12-0
1 vs. 2: Beat No. 2 Virginia Tech 46-29 in Sugar Bowl
In becoming the first team to go wire-to-wire with the No. 1 ranking, the Seminoles beat five top 20 teams. They outscored opponents by a combined 412-174. The offense was so deep that no running back or receiver gained more than 1,000 yards. Only a relatively easy ACC slate raises the skepticism on this season.

8. 1987 Miami Hurricanes

Record: 12-0
1 vs. 2: Beat No. 1 Oklahoma 20-14 in Orange Bowl
The Hurricanes were expected to be great -- in 1988 and '89. But they peaked faster than anticipated, outscoring opponents 412-125. Sure, the schedule included some gimmes against East Carolina, Miami (Ohio) and Toledo -- which was actually a close game -- but ultimately the Hurricanes beat six top 20 teams.

9. 1968 Ohio State Buckeyes

Record: 10-0
1 vs. 2: Beat No. 2 USC 27-16 in Rose Bowl
Tough to choose between this one and the 2002 Ohio State team that went 14-0. But we'll go old school (especially in light of the destructive aftermath of the '02 team). The '68 version thrashed rival Michigan 50-14 to win the Big Ten, and then rallied from 10 points down to beat O.J. Simpson's Trojans for the national title. Six NFL first-round picks suited up for Woody Hayes' second (and last) perfect squad.

10. 1992 Alabama Crimson Tide

Record: 13-0
1 vs. 2: Beat No. 1 Miami 34-13 in Sugar Bowl
The Tide won the SEC's first championship game in what was arguably the toughest conference that season. The defense allowed more than 13 points on just two occasions, and the Tide beat three top 20 teams during the regular season.

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