Sometimes it’s the team that didn’t win it all that we remember most. This year marks the 23rd season since the BCS era began in 1998, a system that eventually gave way to the College Football Playoff, but still left us with several teams more remembered for the fact they didn’t win the national title.

Ohio State became the latest team to lose the College Football Playoff championship in Monday’s 52-24 loss to Alabama, but Clemson did not make this list. Ohio State did based on our criteria of picking one team per season that didn’t win it all. Is that debatable? Absolutely given the controversy that surrounded the Buckeyes’ 29-23 loss to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. 

We’re sticking with our choice, and Ohio State joins a list of could-have-been-champions. 

MORE: SN Preason Top 25 for 2021

We did the same exercise for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in March.

So, which teams didn’t win it all but remain in our minds this time of year? Here is a closer look:

  • Record: 11-1
    Points for/against: 34.3 (16th), 21.3 (30th)
    All-Americans: None
    That year’s champion: Miami
    What could have been: We think Oregon would have fared better against the Hurricanes than Nebraska and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Eric Crouch. At least, we would have liked to see Joey Harrington give it a try, especially afterhe led the Ducks to a 38-16 victory against No. 3 Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl. The Buffaloes had beaten Nebraska 62-36 earlier in the season.

  • Record: 11-2
    Points for/against: 32.6 (T-35th), 15.9 (4th)
    All-Americans: TE Fred Davis, T Sam Baker, DT Sedrick Ellis, LB Keith Rivers, S Taylor Mays
    That year’s champion: LSU
    What could have been: There were so many teams in this wild-card season that were close, with Ohio State eventually playing LSU in the BCS national championship game. We still like this USC team better, which lost two games by a combined eight points under Pete Carroll. The Trojans beat Illinois 49-17 in the Rose Bowl, but it was too little, too late.

  • Record: 12-2
    Points for/against: 42.9 (3rd), 15.3 (5th)
    All-Americans: QB Jason White, WR Mark Clayton, T Jammal Brown, DT Tommie Harris, LB Teddy Lehman, CB Derrick Strait, KR/PR Antonio Perkins
    That year’s champions: USC, LSU
    What could have been: The Sooners ran the wire in the regular season as No. 1 under Bob Stoops with a highly decorated team that included Heisman Trophy winner Jason White. The Sooners, however, were routed 35-7 by Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game before losing to LSU 21-14 in the Sugar Bowl. Given that USC and LSU split the title, there isn’t a better choice for this season.

  • Record: 12-1
    Points for/against: 46.8 (1st), 18.7 (12th)
    All-Americans:RB LaMichael James, S Cliff Harris
    That year’s champion: Auburn
    What could have been: This was Chip Kelly’s lone championship shot with the Ducks, and it was led by a high-powered offense with Darron Thomas at quarterback. That run ended in an ugly 22-19 loss in the BCS championship game to Cam Newton-led Auburn.

  • Record: 7-1
    Points for/against: 41.0 (11th), 25.8 (43rd)
    All-Americans: G Wyatt Davis, CB Shaun Wade, DT Haskell Garrett
    That year’s champion: Alabama
    What could have been: Ohio State made the most of a season impacted by COVID-19 behind quarterback Justin Fields, who led a fourth straight Big Ten championship run in Ryan Day’s second season. The Buckeyes demolished Clemson 49-28 in the Sugar Bowl, but Alabama routed Ohio State 52-24 in the CFP championship game. It’s hard to put a true ranking on this team because it didn’t have a chance to play a full season.

  • Record: 12-1
    Points for/against: 49.6 (2nd), 21.6 (25th)
    All-Americans: RB Kenjon Barner, LB Dion Jordan
    That year’s champion: Alabama
    What could have been: We could put Notre Dame here. After all, the Irish beat Stanford that year, and the Ducks did not. Still, we think Oregon was the better team. Would Chip Kelly’s high-powered offense have fared better against the Tide with Marcus Mariota and a backfield that included Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas?

  • Record: 12-2
    Points for/against: 39.5 (13th), 24.7 (48th)
    All-Americans: RB Tre Mason, KR/PR Chris Davis
    That year’s champion: Florida State
    What could have been: Gus Malzahn enjoyed a wild first season with the Tigers that included several thrilling wins before the “Kick Six” in a 34-28 Iron Bowl victory that derailed Alabama’s bid at a three-peat. Florida State, however, beat the Tigers 34-31 in dramatic fashion in the final BCS championship game.

  • Record: 11-1
    Points for/against:35.8 (12th), 12.0 (2nd)
    All-Americans: WR David Boston, G Rob Murphy, CB Antoine Winfield, S Damon Moore
    That year’s champion: Tennessee
    What could have been: This was a loaded team under John Cooper, led by quarterback Joe Germaine and linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer. The Buckeyes stayed No. 1 in the AP Poll until a shocking 28-24 loss to Nick Saban-led Michigan State. Ohio State had to settle for a berth in the Sugar Bowl, where it beat No. 8 Texas A&M, while Tennessee played Florida State for the first BCS national championship.

  • Record: 12-2
    Points for/against: 36.9 (16th), 18.4 (6th)
    All-Americans: WR Amari Cooper, G Arie Kouandjio, LB Trey DePriest, S Landon Collins, P JK Scott
    That year’s champion: Ohio State
    What could have been: New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin brought a record-setting offense to Tuscaloosa, resulting in a breakout year for Blake Sims and Cooper, a Heisman finalist. The Tide, however, lost 42-35 in a thrilling College Football Playoff semifinal that felt like the championship game. That’s why we give Alabama the nod over Florida State and Oregon.

  • Record: 11-1
    Points for/against: 40.3 (1st), 13.5 (5th)
    All-Americans: QB Michael Vick, DE Corey Moore, CB Ike Charlton
    That year’schampion: Florida State
    What could have been: Florida State went wire to wire at No. 1, and Nebraska and Penn State had great teams this season as well. But Virginia Tech took the No. 2 spot on Nov. 7and stayed undefeated until theBCS championship game (which is remembered for the show Vick and Peter Warrick put onmore than the 46-29 final score).

  • Record: 12-2
    Points for/against: 51.1 (1st), 24.5 (57th)
    All-Americans: QBSam Bradford, TE Jermaine Gresham, T Phil Loadholt, G Duke Robinson, DT Gerald McCoy
    That year’s champion: Florida
    What could have been: Bradford won the Heisman Trophy and led a ridiculous offense that averaged more than 50 points per game. The Sooners made the title game despite losing to Texas — because of a three-way tiebreaker with Texas Tech — before losing 24-14 to Florida in the title game.

  • Record: 13-1
    Points for/against: 39.3 (3rd), 16.7 (12th)
    All-Americans: QB Colt McCoy, WR Jordan Shipley, C Chris Hall, LB Sergio Kindle, S Earl Thomas
    That year’s champion: Alabama
    What could have been: If you want to put the 2009 Florida team, whose lone loss was to Alabama in the SEC championship, that’s fine, too. We’re sticking with the Longhorns, and like everybody else, we’re wondering how much closer that 37-21 Rose Bowl loss to the Tide would be if Colt McCoy had played the whole game.

  • Record: 13-2
    Points for/against: 35.4 (20th), 13.2 (4th)
    All-Americans: LB Roquan Smith
    That year’s champion: Alabama
    What could have been: The Bulldogs had a loaded backfield with senior running backs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb and freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, who improved with each week. Smith, who won the Butkus Award, paced the defense. Georgia avenged its only loss of the season against Auburn in a 28-7 SEC championship romp over the Tigers. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs blew a 13-0 lead in a 26-23 loss to Alabama in the championship game.

  • Record: 13-0
    Points for/against: 32.1 (18th), 11.3 (1st)
    All-Americans: RB Cadillac Williams, T Marcus McNeill, CB Carlos Rogers, S Junior Rosegreen
    That year’s champion: USC
    What could have been:The lone undefeated team on this list, Auburn wore down opponents with a backfield that included quarterback Jason Campbell and the running back duo of Williams and Ronnie Brown. The Tigers never got that swing at the USC juggernaut though, and we think this Tommy Tuberville-led team would have kept it closer than the 55-19 beatdown the Trojans put on Oklahoma. How much closer? We’ll never know.

  • Record: 13-1
    Points for/against: 46.9 (3rd), 13.7 (4th)
    All-Americans: RB J.K. Dobbins, G Wyatt Davis, DE Chase Young, CB Jeff Okudah
    That year’s champion: LSU
    What could have been: The Buckeyes spent all of November at No. 2 in the polls before the College Football Playoff pairings were released. The Buckeyes had two Heisman Trophy finalists in Justin Fields and Chase Young and they won every game before the CFP semifinal by double-digits. Clemson beat Ohio State 29-23 in the Fiesta Bowl, but a few bad calls contributed to that list. If you want to put the Tigers on here, that’s fine. This Ohio State team, however, will be kicking itself longer for not winning it all.

  • Record: 14-1
    Points for/against: 38.5 (16th), 20.2 (22nd)
    All-Americans: QB Deshaun Watson, TE Jordan Leggett, DE Shaq Lawson, CB Mackensie Alexander, S Jayron Kearse
    That year’s champion: Alabama
    What could have been: We were tempted to put Ohio State here, which might have had more talent than the Tigers but never quite played like a No. 1 team until it was too late. Clemson, meanwhile, finished the season undefeated and stood up to Alabama in a 45-40 loss in the College Football Playoff championship.

  • Record: 12-1
    Points for/against: 34.1 (8th), 10.4 (2nd)
    All-Americans: QB Troy Smith, T Alex Boone, DE Quinn Pitcock, LB James Laurinaitis, KR/PR Ted Ginn Jr.
    That year’s champion: Florida
    What could have been: Jim Tressel led this team to a perfect regular season that included No. 1-vs.-No. 2 showdowns against both Texas and Michigan. Smith won the Heisman Trophy and the Buckeyes ran the wire at No. 1 before — a 41-14 loss to Urban Meyer’s Florida team in the BCS championship game.

  • Record: 11-1
    Points for/against: 42.2 (3rd), 15.8 (7th)
    All-Americans: Joaquin Gonzalez, Bryant McKinnie, Dan Morgan, Ed Reed, Santana Moss
    That year’s champion: Oklahoma
    What could have been: An early-season loss to Washington (which finished the season ranked No. 3) kept this loaded Butch Davis team out of the BCS championship game, despite beating No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Virginia Tech during the season. In a four-team playoff, this team might have easily won it all given all Miami’s NFL talent. The Hurricanes had to settle for a 37-20 victory over No. 7 Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

  • Record: 13-1
    Points for/against: 35.7 (17th), 11.3 (2nd)
    All-Americans: GWill Blackwell, DE Sam Montgomery, CB Morris Claiborne, CB Tyrann Mathieu, P Brad Wing
    That year’s champion: Alabama
    What could have been: The 21-0 championship game loss to Alabama takes away from a team that finished the regular season undefeated and dominated up until the title shot under Les Miles. The Tigers allowed more than 20 points in just three games that season, which saw them beat eight ranked opponents, including three top-three teams.

  • Record: 14-1
    Points for/against: 38.8 (16th), 11.8 (1st)
    All-Americans: T Cam Robinson, TE O.J. Howard, DE/DT Jonathan Allen, LB Reuben Foster, CB Minkah Fitzpatrick, S Marlon Humphrey
    That year’s champion: Clemson
    What could have been:Nick Saban had this team one drive — one second — away from winning another national title. That team would have been on the list of greatest all-time teams. Clemson, however, had other ideas. Deshaun Watson put on a masterful performance in the final minutes of a 35-31 victory. Would this game have played out differently had Kiffin stayed on for the championship game?

  • Record: 14-1
    Points for/against: 45.3 (3rd), 18.1 (10th)
    All-Americans: QB Tua Tagovailoa, WR Jerry Jeudy, T Jonah Williams, DL Quinnen Williams, DB Deionte Thompson
    That year’s champion: Clemson
    What could have been: The Crimson Tide had the chance to be the first 15-0 team since 1897, but they suffered a 44-16 blowout loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff championship game. Still, the offense with Tagovailoa and Jeudy showed Nick Saban’s evolution to the offensive game, and they earned a fifth Playoff berth in five seasons.

  • Record: 12-1
    Points for/against: 40.5 (4th), 19.1 (22nd)
    All-Americans: QB Ken Dorsey, RB Willis McGahee, C Brett Romberg, DT Jerome McDougle
    That year’s champion: Ohio State
    What could have been: The Hurricanes had a 34-game win streak before a 31-24 double-overtime loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. How loaded was this team? Kellen Winslow II and Sean Taylor weren’t All-Americans. The Hurricanes had two Heisman Trophy finalists in Dorsey and McGahee under coach Larry Coker, and you still wonder might have happened had McGahee not suffered a game-ending injury against the Buckeyes.

  • Record: 12-1
    Points for/against:50.2 (1st), 22.3 (27th)
    All-Americans: QBMatt Leinart, RB Reggie Bush, WR Dwayne Jarrett, G Taitusi Lutui, T Sam Baker, LB Darnell Bing
    That year’s champion: Texas
    What could have been: Remember the buildup? USC was being put against the greatest teams in college football history. The Trojans took a 34-game win streak into the BCS championship game against Texas and had two Heisman Trophy winners in Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. The Longhorns won a 41-38 instant classic which kept Pete Carroll’s team from winning a third consecutive national title. They simply ran into one of the greatest teams of all time in Texas.