Since the clock hit zero during the 2023 CFP National Championship Game at SoFi stadium, the line of questioning for Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs has vastly centered around the idea of a three-peat.
It’s a feat that hasn’t been achieved since the Minnesota Golden Gophers’ powerhouse of the 1930s, a program that captured titles in 1934, 1935 and 1936. Since the team from Minneapolis claimed three straight titles, 14 (including Georgia) have won two straight titles and failed to win a third.
If you’ve scrolled through our site at all, you know we love an oral history. Today’s post is a bit different – it’s just a history of those programs who have tried but ultimately came up short of a three-peat in college football.
How They Got There: The Golden Gophers had a chance to three-peat less than a decade after they secured the only three-peat in the Poll era. Minnesota went a perfect 8-0 during the 1940 season and in Big 10 play before being voted No. 1 in the final AP Poll of the season. The Gophers edged out 9-0 Stanford and 10-0 Tennessee teams to secure the fifth-ever title for Minnesota.
The 1941 season saw continued success as another undefeated season propelled the Gophers to a first-place ranking in the AP Poll, one of 11 polls to pick the team as champion. The 1941 squad outscored opponents 186-38, capturing another Big 10 title, while halfback Bruce Smith captured the Heisman Trophy, the only Gopher to win the award.
The Straw That Broke The Gophers’ Back: After the U.S. entered World War II following the Pearl Harbor attack, head coach Bernie Bierman left the team to fulfill military duties in the U.S. Marine Corps. George Hauser took the helm, but Bierman’s wartime absence was felt. The Gophers went 5-4 – 3-3 in Big 10 play – finishing No. 19 in the final AP Poll of the season.
In an interesting twist to the season, the Gophers lost 7-6 at home to the Iowa Pre-Flight Seahawks, an independent team representing the United States Navy pre-flight aviation training school at the University of Iowa. The team was coached by none other than Bierman himself, who was in charge of the school’s physical conditioning as part of his wartime duties.
How They Got There: “The Army Song” touts that caissons are rolling along, but the U.S. Military Academy’s cadets were rolling on the gridiron in the mid-1940s thanks to an infusion of college-age players due to their service in World War II. The 1944 Army squad finished the season 9-0, capping off the season with a 23-7 victory over Navy. The Cadets recorded 59-0, 46-0, 76-0, and 83-0 shutouts on the season, including one against a fifth-ranked Notre Dame team. Six players on the team were later named to the CFP Hall of Fame.
The 1945 season saw five shutouts en route to a perfect 9-0 season. The Cadets finished with more than 200 more points than second-place Navy in the final AP Poll, capping a season with an offense that averaged more than 450 yards per game and are remembered as one of the greatest teams in college football history..
The Straw That Broke The Cadets’ Back: Polling. Stupid polling. The Cadets again went undefeated, this time posting a 9-0-1 season. Sixth-year head coach Earl Blaik capped a three-season unbeaten streak, but Notre Dame, who accounted for Army’s tie during one of the Games of the Century, took the top spot in the final AP Poll of the season by 71 points (interestingly enough, Georgia finished third in the final rankings that season). Despite the second-place finish, halfback Glenn Davis won the Heisman Trophy.
Notre Dame, 1948
How They Got There: As one streak ended, another began. The 1946 Irish squad was voted No. 1 in the final AP Poll after its 0-0 tie to Army and four shutouts to cap a 8-0-1 season. The T-formation worked well for the Irish, who led the NCAA in rushing yards per game despite having no individual rushing leaders.
1947 saw the continuance of the Notre Dame dynasty, as the team never trailed in a game all season. The Irish went a perfect 9-0, finishing in front of an also-perfect Michigan team in the final AP rankings. Notre Dame finished the season with a 38-7 rout of third-ranked USC in front of more than 104,000 fans. The 1947 season is a point of contention with Michigan fans and college football scholars, as many argued the Wolverines’ wins were more impressive and deserving of the title.
The Straw That Broke The Irish’s’ Back: Perhaps fate has a way of working things out. The Michigan fans who watched their Wolverines finish second in 1947 saw them beat out Notre Dame for the top spot in the final 1948 AP Poll. Despite another undefeated season – this time 9-0-1 – the Irish finished second, an unhappy ending for a team that outscored opponents 320-93 (although only one of those teams were ranked).
How They Got There: Ninth-year head coach Bud Wilkinson led the Sooners to an undefeated 11-0 season (6-0, Big 7) and No. 1 finish in the AP Poll during the 1955 season. Winners of the Orange Bowl, the 1955 team finished more than 300 points ahead of No. 2 Michigan State.
The Sooners were perfect again in 1956, finishing 10-0 and undefeated in Big 7 play. Despite the successful season, the Sooners didn’t play in a bowl game because of the Big 7’s no-repeat rule. The Sooners still managed to outscore opponents by 415 points and record shutouts in their two nationally-televised games against Notre Dame and Texas, combining for 85 points in both contests.
The Straw That Broke The Sooners’ Back: A home loss to Notre Dame didn’t help the Sooners’ chances at a third-straight title. Oklahoma dropped the game to the unranked Irish 7-0 but won every other game to finish 10-1. The Sooners emerged as conference champions but finished at No. 4 in the final AP Poll, relinquishing the title to the undefeated Auburn Tigers.
How They Got There: Joe Namath quarterbacked a 1964 team that finished with a perfect regular season. The Crimson Tide won the Southeastern Conference championship after a perfect 8-0 finish in the SEC. Alabama finished the season ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll, winning the title, before falling to Texas 21-17 in the Orange Bowl. The final AP Poll was released before bowl games were held – meaning the bowl games didn’t have an impact on the champion – a practice held until 1968.
Alabama suffered an opening-game defeat to Georgia before rallying to a 9-1-1 finish. A tie with Tennessee didn’t affect the Tide’s eventual conference championship and later second-straight national title after being voted ahead of Michigan State and Arkansas. Alabama avenged the prior season’s Orange Bowl defeat with a win over Nebraska in Miami, 28-9.
The Straw That Broke The Crimson Tide’s Back: Well, polls, again. Alabama seemingly put together its most impressive finish of the three-year stretch – a 10-0 record and a share of the conference title with Georgia. Six games ended in shutouts, and the Crimson Tide thumped No. 6 Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl 34-7. Despite the success, Alabama was voted No. 3 in the final AP Poll, finishing behind a 9-0-1 Notre Dame and Michigan State of the same record, in a move that some speculate came from the state’s stance against integration.
Michigan State, 1967
How They Got There: If you’ve been paying attention, the math doesn’t add up for Michigan State to three-peat in 1967. Enter the fun of multiple polls. The Spartans claim a title in 1965 after being recognized by the UPI Coaches Poll and 11 other selectors as the national champion. Michigan State went 10-1, only dropping the Rose Bowl Game against UCLA in a 14-12 game. After a 7-0 conference finish, the Spartan’s Big 10 Championship was the first undisputed title in the university’s history.
The boys from East Lansing tallied a 9-0-1 record, capturing a second-straight Big Ten title in the process. When it came down to the final AP Poll, the Spartans finished second behind Notre Dame, finding a similar fate in the Coaches Poll. It received the title from the College Football Research Association (along with four co-champion distinctions from other polling bodies), giving the Spartans the ability to claim another national title.
The Straw That Broke The Spartans’ Back: Not even the polls could help Michigan State in 1967. In head coach Duffy Daughtery’s 14th season, the Spartans went 3-7, beginning a downward spiral that ultimately led to Daughtery’s retirement in 1972.
How They Got There: Texas’ 1969 team wrote itself in the history books not only for its perfect 11-0 season and Southwest Conference title. The Longhorns came from behind in games against Arkansas and Notre Dame before being named No. 1 in the final AP Poll.
The 1970 team was near perfect, falling only to Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl. The Longhorns posted a 10-1 record, winning the Southwest Conference and its de-facto title game against powerhouse Arkansas 42-7. Texas was voted No. 3 in the final AP Poll behind Nebraska and Notre Dame, but it claims a national title from the Coaches Poll.
The Straw That Broke The Longhorns’ Back: An October stretch against ranked teams proved to be too tough for the Longhorns, who fell to No. 9 Oklahoma and No. 16 Arkansas. Texas would still win the Southwest Conference, but the Longhorns finished at No. 18 in the final AP Poll, ending the season with a loss in the Cotton Bowl against Penn State.
How They Got There: The 1970 Nebraska squad shared the national title with Texas after an 11-0-1 campaign. The Big Eight champion’s lone tie came in L.A. Memorial Coliseum against No. 3 USC in Week 2 of the season. Afterwards, the Cornhuskers rattled off 10 straight wins including an Orange Bowl victory over LSU en route to becoming the No. 1 team in the final AP Poll of the season. Ninth-year head coach Bob Devaney rotated quarterbacks throughout the season, a strategy that paid off for the Cornhuskers.
The wins only became more plentiful during the 1971 season. Nebraska finished a perfect 13-0, posting seven conference wins before winning the Big Eight and national championships. The Cornhusker defense held 10 opposing teams to single-digit or fewer scores, including Alabama in the Orange Bowl. Nebraska finished ahead of two fellow Big 8 teams, Colorado and Oklahoma, in the final AP Poll. Twelve of Nebraska’s 13 games were won by 24 points or more.
The Straw That Broke The Cornhuskers’ Back: The opening and closing regular season games weren’t kind to the Cornhuskers, who fell to UCLA, 20-17, and Oklahoma, 17-14, respectively. Nebraska tied with Iowa State in Ames, finishing the season 9-2-1 with a share of the Big Eight title. The opening game loss ended a 32-game unbeaten streak, but the Cornhuskers recovered to thump Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl 40-6 and finish No. 4 in the AP Poll.
How They Got There: Eight All-Americans led the 1974 Sooner team to an 11-0 season and Big Eight Conference title. In his second season, Barry Switzer ran a wishbone offense that led the nation in scoring. Oklahoma’s closest game came in the Red River Shootout, as the Sooners knocked off Texas by three points in Dallas. The only undefeated team left in the country, Oklahoma claimed the No. 1 spot in the final AP Poll, unable to play in a bowl game after being placed on probation for recruiting violations.
A slip-up to an unranked Kansas squad didn’t prove too harmful for the 1975 team. Despite a 23-3 loss to the Jayhawks at home, Oklahoma finished the season at 11-1, sharing the Big Eight title with Nebraska. After beating Michigan 14-6 in the Orange Bowl, the Sooners were voted No. 1 in the AP and Coaches Polls, partially thanks to Ohio State and Texas A&M’s losses in their respective bowls.
The Straw That Broke The Sooners’ Back: A competitive Big Eight Conference dashed the hopes for a three-peat. The 1976 team lost conference games to Oklahoma State and Colorado, the same teams that took a share of the Big Eight title. The 9-2-1 season ended on a four-game win streak, including a victory in the Fiesta Bowl against Wyoming, but the AP Poll placed the Sooners at No. 5, turning the page on a three-peat opportunity.
How They Got There: Alabama’s second three-peat attempt came with Bear Bryant wearing the headset once again. The SEC champion team went 11-1 overall, only falling to USC in late September. In a season that saw the arrival of mascot “Big Al,” the Tide beat four top-25 teams, including No. 1 Penn State in the Sugar Bowl. The final AP Poll placed Alabama at No. 1, giving the Crimson Tide their fifth championship under Bryant.
The 1979 team saw improvement from the year prior, as the Crimson Tide went 12-0 and 6-0 in conference. The program’s seventh perfect season in its history, Alabama recorded five shutouts en route to a Sugar Bowl trophy against Arkansas. The Crimson Tide offense rolled, scoring at least 30 points seven times, including a 66-3 win over Vanderbilt.
The Straw That Broke The Crimson Tide’s Back: Low-scoring games down the stretch. The Tide were 0-2 in games with a combined score under 10 points, falling to Mississippi State and Notre Dame. The 10-2 season saw an end to a 27-game conference winning streak. After a victory in the Cotton Bowl against Baylor, Alabama finished No. 6 in the AP Poll, five spots behind consensus national champion Georgia.
How They Got There: Nebraska made another appearance on our list after posting back-to-back perfect seasons in 1994 and 1995. The 1994 campaign included a 24-17 Orange Bowl win over Miami in Tom Osborne’s 22nd season as head coach. Tommie Frazier started under center for Nebraska, propelling the offense to score 459 points on the season. The Cornhuskers won the Big Eight title before being named the consensus national champion.
1995 saw continued success as the Cornhuskers defended their national championship. A season of high offense, Nebraska’s average margin of victory was 38.7 points, including a 62-24 victory over No. 2 Florida in the Fiesta Bowl. Frazier won Player of the Year awards by several outlets, and Nebraska beat four top-25 teams en route to their second national championship in a row.
The Straw That Broke The Cornhuskers’ Back: Conference title games. The Cornhuskers dropped an early game to Arizona State in Tempe before winning nine straight contests. In the first year of the Big 12 title game, Nebraska won the North Division before being upset by an unranked Texas team, 37-27. The Cornhuskers went bowling, winning the Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech, and, a season later, won their third national championship in four years.
How They Got There: A talented 2003 team took a share of the title after some computer controversy in the new Bowl Championship Series (BCS) system. The Trojans went 12-1 on the season, with the lone loss coming in a triple-overtime game at California. Ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll, Pete Carroll led the Trojans to a Pac-10 Title Game victory, but the BCS computers picked a LSU-Oklahoma matchup for the title. Ultimately, the Coaches Poll ranked LSU No. 1, but USC claimed the title from their distinction as No. 1 in the final AP Poll.
Carroll and his team used the mantra “leave no doubt” after the previous year’s title game controversy and finished the season a perfect 13-0. The Trojans rolled through the regular season before beating UCLA in the Pac-10 title game. A month later, USC beat Oklahoma 55-19 in the BCS National Championship, as quarterback Matt Leinart captured the Heisman Trophy for the surging Trojans (Reggie Bush finished fifth).
The Straw That Broke The Trojans’ Back: The best game of the 21st century. The Trojans scored more than 50 points in seven games under first-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. Reggie Bush would win the Heisman Trophy, but USC fell to Texas in a 41-38, Rose Bowl-BCS National Title game that saw Longhorn quarterback Vince Young find the endzone late in the fourth quarter to seal the game. USC finished the season 12-1, winners of the Pac-12.
Or were they? Commentators and other college football minds have branded the 2005 team as one of the best of all-time despite the end-of-season loss, but the NCAA record books tell a different story – 0-0. No conference title.
After the NCAA found improper gifts were given to Bush, it delivered sanctions, vacating the 2005 season’s wins, losses and titles, along with the final two victories in 2004 – the national title game and Pac-10 title game. Since the AP Poll still recognizes USC as the 2004 national champion, the Trojans can stay on our list of almost-three-peaters.
How They Got There: Alabama avenged an SEC Western Division loss to take the title in 2011. The Crimson Tide cruised through the first eight games of the season, scoring 315 points to opponents’ 55. LSU came into Tuscaloosa and beat Alabama 9-6 in overtime, but the Crimson Tide would get its revenge in the BCS National Championship Game. Alabama won 21-0 as the No. 2 seed, capping a 12-1 season with a national title.
2012 followed a similar pattern, as the Crimson Tide recorded a home loss in the stretch of the season against a SEC West foe. Texas A&M upset Alabama 29-24 on November 10, but Alabama would still represent the West in the SEC Championship, where the Crimson Tide defeated No. 3 Georgia 32-28. Alabama finished the season 13-1, defeating Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game to claim its second straight title.
The Straw That Broke The Crimson Tide’s Back: Two words: Kick Six. Alabama entered rivalry week with an 11-0 record, opening the season with a Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game victory against Virginia Tech and avenging the last year’s loss to the Aggies. The season’s Iron Bowl ended in a moment for the Tigers that still lives on today – a missed field goal returned for a walk-off touchdown. The Tide wouldn’t recover, losing the Sugar Bowl to Oklahoma and finishing the season No. 7 in the AP Poll.
Will history repeat itself?
Coaching changes, conference realignments, big games and plenty of polling differences of opinion have made it tough for teams to get that historic third title in a row.
Georgia’s 2023 team brings its fair share of uncertainties – a new quarterback, young defense and a different offensive coordinator – but its favorable schedule gives the Bulldogs a chance for the trifecta.