In the first 19 seasons of the 2000s, there have been 18 FBS college football teams finish with undefeated records. Last season, it was Clemson running the table, completing the feat with a rout of then-undefeated Alabama in the national championship game.
In 2017, it was UCF going undefeated, though the Knights didn’t make the College Football Playoff so they didn’t play for the national championship.
As the 2019 season grows ever closer, the question is whether another team can run the table and win the national title with an undefeated record.
Let’s take a look at the factors that go into whether or not a team can go undefeated, then we’ll see which team is the most likely to escape the season without a loss or tie.
While losing a non-conference game isn’t debilitating to a college basketball team’s chances of winning a national championship, so it’s not a problem to schedule tough opponents, it can end a college football team’s title chances. So, college football doesn’t get as many great non-conference matchups, and many teams simply avoid scheduling opponents that could give them a loss.
Alabama has been the most successful team in college football in the past few years, but Nick Saban makes sure to schedule a few cupcakes so as to keep his team high in the polls. This season, the Crimson Tide will take on Duke, New Mexico State, Southern Miss, and Western Carolina, with those last three matchups being played in Tuscaloosa.
Clemson is another team with a good chance at going undefeated, though the defending national champs will open with SEC foe Texas A&M and finish with another SEC team in South Carolina, giving the Tigers some non-conference tests.
Other top teams also have some easy non-conference schedules, though many teams play nine conference games and only three non-conference contests. Ohio State will play Florida Atlantic, Cincinnati and Miami (Ohio) — not exactly a dangerous non-conference slate — but the Buckeyes will face nine conference foes.
Most Power 5 Conference teams are going to have some tough matchups when they play conference rivals, and those will be the biggest obstacles to an undefeated season.
Looking at the Big Ten and Ohio State, the Buckeyes get will go on the road to face Nebraska and Michigan and will host Michigan State, Wisconsin and Penn State, with all five teams expected to be ranked in the first Top 25 of the season. Getting through that gauntlet without a loss will likely prove very difficult for OSU.
Alabama has been able to get through the vaunted SEC schedule without a loss a few times over the last few years, partially because of the talent on the Crimson Tide and partially because teams are a little intimidated in playing Alabama.
Alabama has road tests against Texas A&M and Auburn this season, though the Crimson Tide will likely be favored in both contests.
Clemson’s biggest test in conference play will be a trip to Syracuse. The Orange upset the Tigers two seasons ago and led Clemson in the fourth quarter on the road a year ago before the Tigers rallied for the win.
So Who Accomplishes The Feat?
To me, Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State are the three most likely teams to go unbeaten this season, though the Buckeyes’ Big Ten schedule, as well as a new head coach in Ryan Day and a new quarterback, means OSU is the first team out.
That leaves last season’s two finalists. It’s hard to see either one losing a game, but gun to my head, I’m taking Clemson to run the table — at least until the College Football Playoff. If these two teams play again, the Tide will have plenty of motivation to make up for last season’s loss to give Clemson its best game of the season.