Is Clemson the Greatest College Football Team Ever? Tigers Become First 15-0 Team in over 100 Years

Clemson made history on Monday night by becoming the first FBS team to win 15 games in a season for 121 years.

The Tigers' 44-16 rout of Alabama saw them clinch a second national title in three years and a third overall, as they became the first major college football team since Penn Quakers in 1897 to go 15-0.

Read more: Twitter went wild as Clemson thrashed Alabama in the national championship

Penn was inspired by a dominating defense, which saw the Quakers record 12 shutouts and concede a paltry 1.3 points per game, while scoring 30.9 points per game.

In the three games when opponents did score, they never manage to rack up more than 10 points.

Amazingly that was not the best defense in the country, an honor that fell to Princeton's defense, which allowed only 0.5 points per game.

To put things into context, Mississippi State had the best defense among FBS teams this season and conceded 13.2 points per season. By contrast, the Big 12 alone had five teams with a more prolific offense this season than the Quakers in 1897.

When modern college football is taken into account, none of the great football programs can match Clemson's record. Under Nick Saban, Alabama has won six national titles in 12 years but went unbeaten only once—in 2009—when it won 14 games.

Similarly, the Texas Longhorns were unbeaten on their way to the national title in 2005, but won 13 games to Clemson's 15. Since the College Football Playoff (CFP) was introduced in 2014, no team has remained unbeaten throughout the season.

Best team ever?

Best team ever.#ALLIN

— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) January 8, 2019

Clemson also became the 13th program to win at least three national titles since The Associated Press Poll began in 1936.

As usual when it comes to college football, determining where each team ranks among the sport's greatest is a difficult task, given the NCAA does not sanction a yearly championship event for FBS teams—which represent the sport's upper echelon.

Tigers' head coach Dabo Swinney, however, was left in doubt his team had earned the right to be recognized as the greatest team ever in the history of college football.

"There was a lot of talk about 'best ever' all year long," he was quoted as saying by ESPN.

"We were never in that conversation. But tonight, there's no doubt. First 15-0 team to beat Notre Dame and to beat Alabama to do it. This team won 13 games by 20 points or more [...] led by an unbelievable group of seniors. Amazing group, and I'm just thankful to be a part of it."

Tigers' cornerback Trayvon Mullen echoed Swinney's thoughts, pointing out the record of Clemson's senior class spoke for itself.

"I feel like it's not really up for debate," he said.

"I feel like we're the best team ever—15-0, most wins by a senior class and we beat the team that was considered the best team in the history of college football."

Over the last four years, Clemson and Alabama had gone a combined 106-4 before the game and their respective senior classes have finished 55-4, tied for the most wins by a class in FBS history.

Clemson's 15-0 record wasn't the only statistically significant outcome either. Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence became only the second true freshman to win a national championship, since Jamelle Holieway did the same for Oklahoma in 1985.

Meanwhile, the result was Alabama's biggest losing margin since they were beaten 38-7 by Virginia Tech in the 1998 Music City Bowl. The rout also marked the first time a Crimson Tide team led by Nick Saban lost by more than 14 points since he took charge of Alabama in 2007.

Dabo Swinney, Clemson Tigers
Dabo Swinney, head coach of the Clemson Tigers, celebrates his team's 44-16 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide with the trophy in the CFP National Championship presented by AT&T at Levi's Stadium on January 7 in Santa Clara, California. Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images


Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts