LSU has always been one of the proudest programs in the SEC.
In 2003, Nick Saban built the Tigers into a national champion for the first time in 45 years. Les Miles followed Saban and has overseen seven of the program’s 14 double-digit winning campaigns. Together, the pair has combined to coach LSU to 15 consecutive winning seasons.
This is the golden era for the Fighting Tigers.
But many LSU teams have brought great joy to Baton Rouge, including at least one team that finished ranked in the top 12 of the final Associated Press poll in each decade since the poll came into existence in 1936.
With that in mind, here are the five greatest football teams in school history, along with some honorable mentions.
1996: 10-2 (6-2), No. 12 Final Ranking
The 1990s were one of the darkest periods in LSU history, as the Tigers suffered six losing seasons during the decade. However, Gerry DiNardo’s best LSU team, headlined by running back Kevin Faulk, was just the second LSU team since 1961 to win 10 games.
1987: 10-1-1 (5-1), No. 5 Final Ranking
The first 10-win team at LSU in more than a quarter century, the 1987 Tigers tied No. 7 Ohio State early in the season and beat ranked opponents Texas A&M, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. The only thing standing in the way of an SEC title was a 22-10 loss to Alabama at Tiger Stadium.
1970: 9-3 (5-0), SEC Champions, No. 7 Final Ranking
Legendary LSU head coach Charlie McClendon led the Tigers to a 9-1 record in 1969, but the 1970 squad was Cholly Mac’s lone SEC title team. LSU beat No. 6 Auburn, No. 16 Ole Miss and No. 19 Alabama, but lost the season opener to Texas A&M as well as a mid-season matchup at No. 2 Notre Dame. The Tigers also fell 17-12 to No. 3 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
1961: 10-1 (6-0), SEC Co-Champions, No. 4 Final Ranking
If not for a 16-3 upset loss to Rice in Week 1 of the 1961 season, LSU might have earned its second national championship in a four-year period. The Tigers played dominant defense the rest of the season, recording five shutouts and allowing more than seven points just once. The Tigers swept the SEC schedule – including victories over No. 3 Georgia Tech and No. 2 Ole Miss — and beat No. 7 Colorado, 25-7, in the Orange Bowl.
1959: 9-2 (5-1), No. 3 Final Ranking
LSU entered the 1959 season as the No. 1 ranked team in the country on the heels of a perfect record and national championship the previous season. Running back Billy Cannon helped the Tigers post a 9-1 record in the regular season, with a one-point loss to No. 13 Tennessee the only blemish. Cannon won the Heisman Trophy – the only Heisman in school history – but LSU lost a rematch with No. 2 Ole Miss 21-0 in the Sugar Bowl.
1946: 9-1-1 (5-1), No. 8 Final Ranking
Bernie Moore, who also served as the head track and field coach at LSU (and won the first national championship with any SEC athletic program and the first for LSU in any sport in 1933) and was eventually the commissioner of the SEC, put together one of his best Tigers football teams in 1946. LSU’s only loss came against a solid Georgia Tech squad, and the Tigers fought No. 10 Arkansas to a scoreless tie in the Cotton Bowl.
1936: 9-1-1 (6-0), SEC Champions, No. 2 Final Ranking
Moore’s second team at LSU was his best, and came as close as possible to being the first team ever to be crowns national champions by the Associated Press. However, a 6-6 tie with Texas was deemed to be a bigger blemish than Minnesota’s 6-0 loss to No. 3 Northwestern. The Tigers won the SEC and beat their league opponents by a combined score of 143-20, but lost to No. 5 Santa Clara in the Sugar Bowl to spoil an undefeated season.
The first great team in LSU football history, the Tigers posted a perfect 10-0 record in 1908 and beat their opponents by an average score of 44.3-1.1 with eight shutouts. The numbers themselves are impressive, and LSU beat current rivals Texas A&M, Auburn, Mississippi State (then known as Mississippi A&M) and Arkansas, as well as Louisiana Tech and Baylor. But the Tigers also feasted on the New Orleans Gym Club, Jackson-Barracks New Orleans and Southwestern Tennessee (now known as Union University).
The National Championship Foundation has retroactively awarded the 1908 LSU squad with a co-national championship, but the school does not officially recognize it.
Often referred to as “The Year of the Upset,” the 2007 college football season was one of the craziest of all-time. It started with perhaps the greatest upset in the history of the sport – Appalachian State’s 34-32 victory over No. 5 Michigan – and included five teams ranked No. 1 losing (including LSU and Ohio State twice each), and losses by seven squads ranked No. 2.
Fortunately, the Tigers were able to take advantage of the mayhem. LSU was the last team standing after a 38-24 victory over Ohio State in the BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans. LSU became the first and (to date) the only consensus national champion to finish the season with two losses, having been beaten twice in triple overtime.
Led by two-time All-American defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, LSU beat six ranked teams, including No. 9 Virginia Tech in Week 2, No. 17 Alabama in Tuscaloosa and No. 14 Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game – after which the No. 5 Tigers jumped all the way to the second spot in the polls for a shot at No. 1 Ohio State.
If the Tigers were the beneficiaries of extraordinary circumstances in 2007, they were on the wrong end in 2011. Led by arguably its most talented defense ever, which featured Chuck Bednarik Award winner Tyrann Mathieu and Jim Thorpe Award winner Morris Claiborne, LSU raced through a difficult schedule with a 13-0 record prior to the BCS National Championship rematch with Alabama, which the Crimson Tide won 21-0.
The Tigers ranked No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense (10.6 points allowed per game) and total defense (252.1 total yards allowed per game) heading into the national title game. Only No. 3 Oregon, who finished the season with the nation’s third highest scoring offense (46.1 points per game), scored more than 21 points against LSU this season.
LSU also beat No. 3 Arkansas, 41-17, in the regular season finale and whooped No. 12 Georgia, 42-10, in the SEC Championship Game. But, as luck would have it, Alabama was ranked No. 2 by the BCS, which earned the Crimson Tide a shot at a rematch in New Orleans.
The 2003 LSU Tigers faced modest expectations following an 8-5 record the previous season, and ranked No. 14 in the preseason AP Top 25. Beginning the season on a tear, LSU climbed to No. 6 after a 17-10 upset victory over Georgia and a 41-6 blowout of Mississippi State, but suffered a 19-7 loss to Florida that seemingly knocked the Tigers out of the national championship picture.
Of course, Nick Saban then led LSU to six straight wins to close the regular season, including a 31-7 victory over No. 17 Auburn
and a 17-14 win on the road against No. 15 Ole Miss, to earn a rematch with Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. A 34-13 win over the Bulldogs was enough to secure a spot in the Sugar Bowl with the BCS National Championship on the line.
Though controversial because the Associated Press voted USC as No. 1, the Coaches Poll crowned LSU national champions after the Tigers beat the Oklahoma Sooners, 21-14, in New Orleans.
Freshman running back Justin Vincent, quarterback Matt Mauck and wide receivers Michael Clayton and Devery Henderson were the stars of the offense, but the Tigers also boasted the nation’s stingiest defense having allowed an average of 11.0 points per game.
The only undefeated consensus national championship team in school history, the 1958 LSU Tigers stand alone as the greatest team in program history.
Led by legendary head coach Paul Dietzel, who employed a radical platoon system that utilized three separate 11-man units in order to keep the team fresh late in games, the Tigers raced to a perfect 10-0 regular season record, an SEC Championship, and a victory over Clemson in the Sugar Bowl to secure the national title.
One of the platoon groups – the backup defense – was the famed “Chinese Bandits.” The plan paid off as the Tigers allowed just 4.8 points per game, giving them the best scoring defense in the country. LSU recorded four shutouts, including a 14-0 victory over No. 6 Ole Miss.
The offense was also stellar, and ranked among the nation’s top 10 in scoring with an average of 25.6 points per game. Billy Cannon, the star, led the team with 686 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. Johnny Robinson added 480 rushing yards and was the team’s leading receiver with 205 yards on 14 catches. Quarterback Warren Rabb threw for 505 yards, 7 TDs and 5 interceptions.