Ranking the 11 wildest seasons in college football history

College football’s ruling class produces most of the awesome teams in any year, and if you aren’t a blue blood, you’re going to find it difficult. This is frustrating, but it makes it all the more thrilling when the sport veers off course.

Sometimes a batch of coaching hires flips things around. Sometimes an offensive innovation gives also-rans an edge. Sometimes the sport loses its damn mind. All those happened in 2007, but especially the last part.

In addition to 2007, here are 10 other seasons in which this beloved sport completely lost the plot.

11. 1914

Why it was nuts

From 1902-13, Chicago, Michigan, and Yale combined to average 2.8 losses per year. A few came against each other.

In 1914, each lost at least twice, and only one (two-loss Yale) ranked in the SRS top six.

Illinois and Texas went unbeaten, and the center of the universe might have been Colorado, where both CU and Colorado School of Mines dominated.

Why it wasn’t 2007

Chicago, Michigan, and Yale were still good, as was Minnesota, another power. Plus, Texas and Illinois had both been solid for a few years.

10. 1936

Why it was nuts

The first year with an AP Poll featured 12 different teams making top-five appearances, which would prove to be a pretty high number.

Your four major bowls featured Duquesne beating Mississippi State, TCU beating Marquette, Santa Clara beating LSU, and Pitt beating Washington.

Why it wasn’t 2007

Most teams only played opponents within their regions. Fourteen of the final top 20 had either zero or one loss, so a lot of the fluctuation was just: "Who won by a bigger margin this week?"

9. 2000

Why it was nuts

The national champion, Oklahoma, had averaged only five wins over the previous six years. Then, poof, a title.

Sixteen teams made top-five appearances, and 23 showed up in the top 10 at some point, each the fourth-most of all time.

And two of the preseason top four (Alabama, Wisconsin) finished outside of the top 20.

Why it wasn’t 2007

Florida State and Miami started in the top five and stayed there most of the year.

And of the preseason top 10, only Alabama and Wisconsin finished below 20th.

There were lots of matchups of ranked teams, which meant rankings adjustments, but CHAOS was at a minimum.

8. 1959

Why it was nuts

A rash of coaching retirements had shaken up the balance of power, and by the late-1950s, top fives consisted of one or two SEC teams, one or two Big Ten teams, a squad with military ties (Army, Navy, Texas A&M), and Oklahoma.

In 1959, things got weird. Three SEC teams fielded their best squads of the decade (Ole Miss, LSU, and Georgia), Syracuse exploded, the Big Ten elites imploded, and OU lost more than once for the second time since 1947.

In all, 24 teams made top-10 appearances, the same as 2007 and second-most ever.

Why it wasn’t 2007

First of all, segregated teams only played other segregated teams.

LSU, Ole Miss, and Texas were not new to elite football.

And Syracuse’s greatness removed drama. When No. 1 is barely challenged after the first week in November, you only grade out so high on the Chaos Meter.

7. 1983

Why it was nuts

Nebraska hogged headlines, and it seemed the Cornhuskers were going to run away with the title. But when they fell to Miami in the Orange Bowl, the veil was lifted on a crazy season.

Four teams in the year-end top 10 began unranked: No. 1 Miami, No. 6 Florida, No. 7 BYU, and No. 10 Illinois.

Five preseason top-10ers — Oklahoma, Penn State, Notre Dame, Florida State, and USC — lost at least four games each and finished unranked.

Why it wasn’t 2007

This was a wow-in-hindsight season. There were only two No. 1s all year: Nebraska and, in the last poll, Miami. If you don’t notice the chaos until after the fact, how much chaos can you claim?

6. 1943

Why it was nuts

In 1942, Ohio State won the national title, with Georgia and Wisconsin next in the final rankings.

In 1943, those three went 10-19.

The final poll featured Purdue at No. 5, Duke at No. 7, Tulsa at No. 15, Dartmouth at No. 16, Colorado College at No. 18, Pacific at No. 19, and Penn at No. 20. That happened!

Why it wasn’t 2007

Notre Dame was awesome and rolled to the title.

It’s almost cheating to include a war-time season. Football was upheaved by enlistments. The final AP Poll included five military teams, led by No. 2 Iowa Pre-Flight. This was maybe the most unique year, but you can explain it easily.

5. 1967

Why it was nuts

In the 1960s, nations and parties experimented with socialism and Communism. So did the Big Ten.

With Woody Hayes’ Ohio State struggling in recruiting and Michigan battling inconsistency, everybody got a shot.

  • Iowa and Minnesota fought over the national title in 1960.
  • Northwestern reached No. 1 in 1962 before Wisconsin stole the conference.
  • Illinois came out of nowhere in 1963.
  • Michigan State surged in 1965.
  • Purdue had three straight top-10 finishes.
  • In 1967, Indiana made the Rose Bowl. As tends to be the case with energetic movements, things had gone too far.
  • In 1968, Ohio State became Ohio State again. In 1969, Michigan followed. History always asserts itself.

Why it wasn’t 2007

It was fun, not chaos. Notre Dame and Alabama met high expectations, and while ‘67 had Wyoming and Oregon State in the year-end top seven, national champ USC tamped down the crazy.

4. 1985

Why it was nuts

Only three seasons had five different No. 1 teams each. This was one.

  • With No. 1 OU not playing until Week 4, Auburn moved to No. 1 and lost at unranked Tennessee by 18.
  • Iowa moved to the top for the first time in 24 years and won a classic over No. 2 Michigan before falling at Ohio State.
  • Florida, banned from the postseason, moved to No. 1 despite having tied Rutgers. UF celebrated with a 24-3 loss to rival Georgia.
  • Penn State moved to No. 1 despite unappealing wins over Boston College, Rutgers, and Temple but would be an underdog against No. 3 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.
  • If not for a loss to defending national champion BYU (1984 is next), Air Force would have positioned for a title claim. Instead, No. 2 Miami, unranked before late October, moved to steal another title. But the Hurricanes got destroyed by Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl.
  • Oklahoma began and ended at No. 1. Very little in between made sense.

Why it wasn’t 2007

You get a deduction when your preseason No. 1 wins the title. Plus, a lot of the wild movement happened early in the year.

But 1985 shares one trait with 2007: a lot of fan bases look back on it fondly, if with wisps of regret: Oklahoma, Air Force, Florida, Iowa ...

2007’s 10 weirdest AP Poll facts

From the full list of 36 strange rankings facts:

10. West Virginia reached No. 2 for the only time ever.

9. The other two WILDEST SEASONS EVER had two (1990) and three (1984) teams visit the top five after not making the top 10 in the prior decade. 2007 had four teams do that (Boston College, Kansas, Missouri, and USF).

8. Kansas reached No. 2 for the only time ever.

7. In the AP Poll’s first 64 years as a 20-plus-team ranking (it’d also only ranked 10 teams in a few years), the record for unranked upsets of top-five teams was eight. 2007 had 13.

6. Appalachian State became the first I-AA/FCS team to ever receive AP votes and tied former No. 2 USF (USF was No. 2) for final No. 34.

5. Boston College, Kansas, Missouri, Oregon, and USF went from unranked to the top two. (KU and Mizzou then played for a title shot. Oregon and USF then played in a sad bowl.)

4. 2007 had three top-10 visitors who hadn't been ranked at all in the previous five years (Kansas, Kentucky, and USF). 1984 and 1990, the other top contenders for WILDEST SEASON EVER, had one combined.

3. Former No. 2 USF. The Bulls reached No. 2 in their eighth FBS season. They wouldn't finish another season ranked until 2016.

2. Since Sept. 1996, the No. 1 and No. 2 teams have lost in the same weekend only four times. Three happened within eight weeks in 2007.

1. Seven times in nine weeks, the team with the No. 2 ranking lost, with more top-two upsets in two months than the 2013-2016 regular seasons combined. 2007 spawned its own "Curse of No. 2" internal logic. Losses by second-ranked teams became the only things that made sense ... and then No. 2 LSU won the national title.

3. 1984

Why it was nuts

Preseason No. 16 Georgia won the title in 1980, preseason-unranked Clemson won in 1981, preseason-unranked Miami won in 1983, and 1985 was No. 4 on this list. None of those featured a WAC team winning it all, though, did they?

1984 featured six No. 1 teams and 25 top-10 teams, each the most ever. Greatness was a hot potato, with preseason No. 1 Auburn falling to Miami in the Kickoff Classic, No. 1 Miami losing at Michigan two weeks later, No. 1 Nebraska falling at unranked Syracuse in late-September, and No. 1 Texas tying Oklahoma (and then losing at home to unranked Houston).

After one of the zaniest opening months ever, Washington emerged, then lost at No. 14 USC. That pushed Nebraska back up, but the Huskers lost at home to Oklahoma. No. 2 South Carolina lost by 17 at unranked Navy.

Given no other choice, voters placed unbeaten BYU, which had one win over a ranked team (preseason No. 3 Pitt, which had plummeted to 3-7-1), at No. 1.

No. 2 Oklahoma might have stolen the title after BYU's Holiday Bowl win over 6-5 Michigan, but the Sooners fell to Washington in the Orange Bowl, in part because of an incident with a schooner.

Yeah, that was a weird damn year. And I didn’t even mention Doug Flutie.

Why it wasn’t 2007

One of the few seasons that competes. You had two-loss Nebraska finishing fourth, Boston College and Oklahoma State posting top-10 finishes, and BYU not only winning a title, but winning a title with Robbie Bosco. Not Jim McMahon, Steve Young, or Ty Detmer. Bosco.

The things that put 2007 ahead are the massive upsets and new names. There was no Appalachian State-Michigan or Stanford-USC in ‘84, and while 1990 included an AP No. 1 (Virginia) that hadn’t been top-10 since the ‘50s, all of 1984’s No. 1s had been contenders in recent years.

(But Syracuse was a 24-point underdog to Nebraska, Navy was a two-TD dog to South Carolina, and ‘84 had a lot of No. 1s. 1984 was elite-level crazy.)

2. 1990

Why it was nuts

  • The most impactful game was Georgia Tech at Virginia.
  • The most impactful play was a fifth down.
  • The second most impactful play was a clipping penalty.

That might say it all.

1990 brought the ruckus from the opening kickoff. Preseason No. 1 and defending champion Miami not only began at BYU, the Hurricanes began by losing to BYU. Notre Dame moved to No. 1, then lost at home to unranked Stanford. Michigan moved to No. 1 and lost to Michigan State.

George Welsh's Virginia, ranked in the preseason for the first time, coming off of its first-ever 10-win season, and hosting its first-ever game as the top-ranked team, lost an all-time classic.

1990 was just revving up. Notre Dame moved back to No. 1 but lost at home to Penn State. Despite two blemishes (a loss to Illinois and a tie against Tennessee) and one of the most controversial wins ever — needing a fifth down to beat Missouri — Bill McCartney's Colorado Buffaloes moved to No. 1.

Preseason-unranked Georgia Tech finished 11-0-1. And when Notre Dame star Rocket Ismail's last-minute punt return against CU was wiped out by of a clip, the Buffaloes and Yellow Jackets split the title.

In all, 18 different teams made top-five appearances, the most ever, and that included Houston and Illinois.

The oddity was memorialized by the split title and Fifth Down. You can hide 2007’s weirdness with "National champion: LSU," if you ignore the Tigers’ number of losses. Oklahoma’s 1985 ring deceives. But there’s nothing deceiving about 1990. It laid its weirdness out for the world to see.

Why it wasn’t 2007

1990 had two teams visit the top five after not entering the top 10 in the previous 10 seasons: Georgia Tech and Virginia.

2007 had four: Boston College, Kansas, Missouri, and USF.

1990 didn’t have any top-10 visitors that hadn’t been ranked at all in five years.

2007 had three: Kansas, Kentucky, and USF.

But the main thing was legitimacy. 2007 ended with a single game (that was itself weird), tying together threads and leaving nobody but college football to blame for the chaos.

1990’s controversies — if the Fifth Down is called correctly, if replay review confirms there’s no damn way Charles Johnson got the ball across the line before he landed on his back, or if Ismail isn’t called back, then Georgia Tech is your champ — made 1990 slightly less exhilarating and slightly more frustrating. Unless you’re a Colorado fan.

1. 2007

Why it was nuts

It was 2007.

This story's author and Podcast Ain't Played Nobody co-host Steven Godfrey talk the 2007 season's madness and the year's actual best teams: