Ranking the previous College Football Playoff title games from worst to best

The layoff between the College Football Playoff semifinals and title game has been unusually long, but the much-anticipated matchup between No. 1 LSU and No. 3 Clemson will finally be played on Monday night in New Orleans. 

The LSU-Clemson game is just the sixth national championship game since the introduction of the College Football Playoff format, and several of those games have been instant classics. Before we devote our full attention to LSU vs. Clemson, let’s take a look back at the CFP title games we’ve seen thus far and rank them from worst to best. 

5. 2018: Clemson 44, Alabama 16 (Jan. 7, 2019)

The most lopsided CFP title game came just a year ago when No. 2 seed Clemson trounced top seed Alabama 44-16 in Santa Clara, California. Both teams entered the game with identical 14-0 records on the heels of convincing semifinal victories. Clemson dominated No. 3 Notre Dame 30-3 while Alabama handled No. 4 Oklahoma 45-34 in a game that was not as close as the final score may indicate. 

This was the third time Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney’s teams met on this stage, but Swinney’s group dominated this time behind freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence and his assembly of weapons on offense and a star-studded, veteran-filled defense on the other side. Clemson made things difficult for Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa from the jump as A.J. Terrell returned his third throw of the game for a 44-yard touchdown. 

Tagovailoa responded with a 62-yard bomb to Jerry Jeudy, but Clemson would stifle the Tide offense while Lawrence, Justyn Ross and the Tigers offense scored the final 30 points of the game en route to another national title. 

Alabama coach Nick Saban and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney have split four games in the College Football Playoff, but Swinney has the 2-1 edge in title games. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

4. 2014: Ohio State 42, Oregon 20 (Jan. 12, 2015)

After a 59-0 beatdown of Wisconsin the Big Ten title game, Ohio State crept into the College Football Playoff as the No. 4 seed and upset No. 1 seed Alabama in the Sugar Bowl to set up a contest with No. 2 Oregon — led by Heisman-winning QB Marcus Mariota — in the first ever CFP National Championship Game. 

Ohio State had already lost Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett to season-ending injuries, so third-string QB Cardale Jones made this third career start on the sport’s biggest stage. Jones would throw for 242 yards and score two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing), but running back Ezekiel Elliott would steal the show. Elliott reeled off his third straight 200-plus yard effort, compiling 246 yards and four scores in a Buckeyes win. 

OSU led just 21-20 late in the third quarter, but Elliott would put the game out of reach with three touchdowns in the game’s final 15 minutes en route to offensive MVP honors. 

3. 2015: Alabama 45, Clemson 40 (Jan. 11, 2016)

The first of three Alabama vs. Clemson national championship battles was an unexpected shootout. The game pitted two top-10 defenses, but has held up as the highest-scoring CFP title game so far. 

This game is perhaps most remembered for a gutsy special teams call from Alabama coach Nick Saban. His team had just tied the game at 24-24 with 10:34 left in the fourth quarter when the Tide attempted an onside kick from Adam Griffith, who perfectly lofted the ball about 15 yards downfield for Marlon Humphrey to catch in stride. The perfectly executed play put the Alabama offense back on the field. Two plays later, Jake Coker found wide open tight end O.J. Howard for a 51-yard touchdown that put the Crimson Tide ahead for good. 

It was Howard’s second long touchdown catch of the day, but the game was far from over. There would be several more highlight-reel plays, including an electric 95-yard kickoff return by Alabama’s Kenyan Drake and a ferocious comeback attempt led by Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson would throw for 405 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for 73 yards, but he and the Tigers came up just short of knocking off the mighty Crimson Tide. 

2. 2017: Alabama 26, Georgia 23 (Jan. 8, 2018)

Nick Saban turned to a little-known freshman quarterback to win his sixth national championship. Jalen Hurts led Alabama to the CFP title game against SEC champion Georgia, but had struggled as a downfield passer throughout the year. Hurts threw for fewer than 200 yards in all but two Alabama games that season, and Saban made the decision to pull him at halftime of the title game with the Crimson Tide trailing 20-10. 

In came a lefty from Hawaii named Tua Tagovailoa who had earned praise for his play throughout the preseason, but had only seen action late in games. In the first significant action of his career, Tagovailoa came in and provided a spark for Alabama. Sure, he was a little loose with the football, but he was able to lead a miraculous comeback by tossing three touchdown passes. Tagovailoa’s final throw of the night was a 41-yard strike to DeVonta Smith in overtime, giving the Tide a dramatic walk-off victory and cementing his status in college football lore. 

1. 2016: Clemson 35, Alabama 31 (Jan. 9, 2017)

Deshaun Watson made sure he was going to leave Clemson with a national championship. The Tigers star got one more shot to dethrone mighty Alabama and he did so by hitting former walk-on Hunter Renfrow for a two-yard touchdown in the final seconds to give Clemson its second national title in program history. 

The Watson-to-Renfrow connection was one of three touchdowns scored in the final 4:38 of regulation that night in Tampa. After Clemson punted on its previous two drives, Watson almost single-handedly led the offense down the field for a go-ahead touchdown with 4:38 to play. On the ensuing drive, Alabama converted on a fourth-and-short, got into Clemson territory via a trick play and reclaimed the lead on a 30-yard touchdown run by Jalen Hurts, putting the Tide ahead 31-28 with 2:07 to play. 

That turned out to be too much time. Watson, in his final collegiate game, orchestrated a brilliant drive, completing five consecutive passes (to four different receivers) to get the Tigers in striking distance. Clemson took the clock all the way down to six seconds, ensuring it would have a shot to win it or send the game to overtime with a field goal. Clemson looked to the ever-reliable Renfrow, who was wide open thanks to an Artavis Scott pick, and he hauled in the winning score with just one second left on the clock.

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