If the Tide topped the Tigers, it would’ve been a big feather in Bama’s cap in a “greatest ever?” debate. They would’ve officially be the third No. 1 team to go wire-to-wire in the top AP spot.
That means that from the preseason poll in August to the post-bowl poll in January, the Tide were always on top. They’d have joined 1999 Florida State and 2004 USC if they could’ve pulled it off.
Alas, Clemson won by the shocking score of 44-16.
History has two other full-season No. 1 teams: 1943 Notre Dame and 1945 Army. But the preseason poll as we know it didn’t begin until 1950, and the champ was declared before the bowls back then.
The ‘43 Notre Dame team actually lost to a two-loss team (albeit a Great Lakes team that lost two other top-10 teams) to end the season. The ‘45 Army team was properly unblemished all season, but was 2-0 by the time the first AP Poll was released.
But now that Bama lost to Clemson, they join a different group of teams.
Those are the teams that tripped up right at the finish line. Four previous teams also came agonizingly close to getting the job done.
2016 Alabama came one second away ... until Deshaun Watson had his say.
2005 USC also got to the doorstep of immortality before Vince Young vanquished them.
1983 Nebraska infamously lost by going for two and the win instead of settling for the tie against then No. 5 Miami.
But the absolute closest a team’s come to going wire-to-wire is 2002 Miami. The Canes forced an incompletion on fourth down in overtime, but a bad call gave Ohio State new life after we all thought the game was over.
Other notables didn’t get quite that close.
- Florida’s 2009 team got all the way to the conference championship game undefeated before running into Alabama. 2003 Oklahoma also made it to the Big 12 title game before getting blown out by Kansas State.
- 2006 Ohio State got blown out by Florida in the title game.
- 1993’s Florida State started as No. 1 and ended as No. 1, but didn’t go wire-to-wire. In fact, they only spent one week out of the top spot. The Noles lost to No. 2 Notre Dame in Week 11, but were back in the top spot by Week 13. 1952 Michigan State also had one week outside of the top spot, but didn’t lose.
- 1972 USC actually did go wire-to-wire ... if you don’t count the preseason poll. The Trojans went 12-0, but assumed the top spot after Week 1.
- 1971 Nebraska did the same thing.
- 1956 Oklahoma also deserves a brief mention here because in the midst of 47-game winning streak and en route to a repeat national championship the Sooners the Sooners were No. 1 in 10-12 polls.
Going wire-to-wire has never been tougher.
First of all, you’ll have to go undefeated at 15-0 to do it, something no FBS-equivalent team has done in more than a century.
That’s undefeated through a 12 game regular season, a conference championship game against at least a decent team, a Playoff semifinal against a really good team, and a national title game against an elite team.
Stifling expectations come when you play 15 games as the No. 1 team. It means you’ve gone through an offseason when everyone assumes you’re going to win it. Then you have to actually go and do the thing for four months avoiding upsets, injuries, and all other pitfalls.
Going wire-to-wire No. 1 is that impressive, but the Tide had to actually pull it off first. Instead, Clemson becomes the first team to claim that 15-0 honor in the modern era.