College football decided its national champions during the 2010s without any major controversy compared to previous decades, thanks to the tail end of the Bowl Championship Series and the advent of the College Football Playoff.
(Well, except for 2011, when Oklahoma State was left out in the cold as Alabama and LSU met in a rematch. Or in 2016 and 2017, when two non-conference champions were included in the national semifinals. This still pales in comparison to previous postseason controversies.)
LSU closed the door with a win against Clemson to become only the second team to finish 15-0 in more than a century. With its unbelievably potent offense, the Tigers made a case for being included among the best teams of any decade, let alone the 2010s.
Alabama is back on top as the first champion of 2020 after running away from Ohio State in the national title game. It’s not surprising the Crimson Tide are champs again, considering they won four titles in the 2010s (and closed out the 2000s with a championship).
When it comes to the best college football teams of the past decade, where does this Alabama team slot in? Without further ado…
1. 2020 Alabama (13-0)
This year’s team might not have had the same defensive stinginess as the Alabama teams of the early 2010s, but that’s less a statement about Alabama than a representation of how the sport has changed in the past decade. Now offense rules, and this year’s team did offense better than any group in program history. (And there was never a group better than the three-headed machine of Mac Jones, DeVonta Smith and Najee Harris.) As proven in the championship game against Ohio State, this offense was unstoppable. And this squad did it all in unprecedented circumstances amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced a league-only regular season schedule and a number of curveballs (including Nick Saban testing positive for the coronavirus at one point). Amid it all, the Tide still ran the table, only the second undefeated season Saban has had at ‘Bama.
2. 2019 LSU (15-0)
The Tigers’ place in college football history is secure. LSU’s offense was the best to ever come out of the SEC (though 2020 Alabama ended up clipping them on a points per game basis). Quarterback Joe Burrow had an unbelievable senior season. The schedule featured several hugely impressive wins, the last coming against a Clemson program that was aiming to join the shortlist of college football’s top dynasties.
3. 2018 Clemson (15-0)
Part of Clemson’s legacy is as the first major-college team to go 15-0 since Pennsylvania in 1897. Another is how the Tigers fared in matchups against the best of the best, with playoff wins against Notre Dame and Alabama by a combined 55 points. For some perspective, Clemson beat Alabama by 28 points while all of the Tide’s losses in the previous decade had come by a combined 81 points. From October through January, the Tigers went 10-0 with an average margin of victory of 30.7 points per game.
4. 2013 Florida State (14-0)
The final team of the BCS age fits snugly into the pantheon of the great teams during the modern era. The second highest-scoring team in FBS history with 723 points — just three points behind this year’s LSU squad — also allowed only 170 points. Florida State destroyed teams during the regular season, with only one win coming by fewer than 30 points. It was closer in the championship, with a late touchdown pulling out the 34-31 win against Auburn, but the Tigers were the only opponent to even sniff the Seminoles.
5. 2015 Alabama (14-1)
This team deserves credit for playing one of the most difficult schedules imaginable: Alabama played 13 bowl teams, six teams with 10 or more wins and eight teams ranked in the final Amway Coaches Poll. In all, opponents went 134-49 in games excluding the head-to-head matchup with the Tide. Alabama dominated Michigan State in a 38-0 win in the semifinals before kicking off its historic cross-conference rivalry with Clemson by handing the Tigers a 45-40 loss.
6. 2011 Alabama (12-1)
One of the best defenses in college football history allowed no FBS opponent to score more than 14 points. (Georgia Southern, then in the Football Championship Subdivision, dropped 21 points on the Crimson Tide.) The lone blemish came in a 9-6 overtime loss to LSU caused by faulty kicking, though Alabama atoned for the loss by swamping the Tigers 21-0 in the rematch to claim the national championship.
7. 2012 Alabama (13-1)
The star power on this team was outrageous, as the following few NFL drafts would show. The only team to trip up the Crimson Tide was Johnny Manziel-led Texas A&M, which pulled off a 29-24 upset in one of the decade’s most memorable games. The Tide had a second brush with a disaster in the SEC championship against Georgia, winning 32-28 in another instant classic, and then walloped Notre Dame 42-14 in one of the most unbalanced title-game matchups of this or any decade.
8. 2016 Clemson (14-1)
The Tigers’ first title under Dabo Swinney came via a last-second win against Alabama, avenging the previous year’s heartbreak. Clemson was led by quarterback Deshaun Watson and several underclassmen who would form the backbone of the 15-0 team that won another title two seasons later. Along the way, Clemson lost by a single point to Pittsburgh and had single-possession wins against Auburn, Troy, Louisville, North Carolina State, Florida State and Virginia Tech.
9. 2014 Ohio State (14-1)
It’s hard to overlook that September loss to Virginia Tech, which finished 7-6 and 3-5 in ACC play. A month later, the Buckeyes needed two overtimes to beat a young Penn State squad on the road. By November, however, Ohio State had rounded into a team that stood heads and shoulders above the rest of the FBS. After making a grand statement with a 59-0 win against Wisconsin behind backup quarterback Cardale Jones to win the Big Ten and join the playoff field, the Buckeyes topped favored Alabama in the semifinals before dismantling Marcus Mariota and Oregon in the championship.
10. 2017 Alabama (13-1)
Alabama reached the playoff despite not winning the SEC West, thanks to a loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl, and is the only team to reach the playoff despite dropping its final game of the regular season. After beating up on Clemson in the semifinals, the Tide were sparked by a halftime quarterback change and beat Georgia 26-23 in overtime on Tua Tagovailoa’s game-winning touchdown pass. But the regular-season schedule wasn’t too impressive: Alabama beat just two teams ranked in the final Amway Coaches Poll in No. 18 LSU and No. 20 Mississippi State.
Follow USA TODAY Sports colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg