Johnny Vaught coached Ole Miss team named the best college team ever that did not win the national championship
Which college football team is the best ever to not win the national championship? That’s the kind of debate the offseason is great for and one that will never truly be answered, but it’s fun to discuss either way.
ESPN’s Bill Connelly recently attempted to answer the question using his historical SP+ rankings and mentioned several Southeastern Conference teams among the best ever to not win it all.
Alabama was featured three times on the list, as the 2018, 2016 and 1966 teams were all mentioned. During the 2018 and 2016 seasons, the Crimson Tide went 14-1 in each campaign, losing to Clemson in those respective title games.
General Neyland’s 1940 Tennessee team also made the list as the Volunteers went 10-1 that season and outscored its opponents 319-26 before falling to Boston College in the Sugar Bowl.
LSU’s 13-1 team in 2011 also made the list, as the Tigers went into the BCS National Championship Game against Alabama undefeated that season.
While all those teams deserve their individual respect, according to Connelly, the best team in college football history that didn’t win a national championship was Johnny Vaught’s 1959 Ole Miss squad.
Here’s what Connelly had to say about that team and why they topped the list after going 10-1 in 1959, losing only to LSU:
When Ole Miss lost to LSU by a 10-7 score in 1961, the Shreveport Times headline read, “Tigers Upset Ole Miss To Maintain Four-Year Jinx.” Ole Miss went 38-5-1 from 1958 to 1961 — 0-3-1 against LSU and 38-2 against everyone else. This list is full of teams that lost the one game they couldn’t, often to the team they hated losing to the most. It’s fitting, then, that a “jinxed” team leads the way.
How good was this Ole Miss team? The Rebels gave up 21 points all year — three touchdowns off either special teams or a turnover. No one scored on a drive of double-digit plays all season. The Rebels also averaged 31.8 points per game, third in the country. My historical SP+ ratings rank this team the third best of the 20th century. LSU needed multiple red zone stands and maybe the greatest punt return of all time to win 7-3 in Baton Rouge. Ole Miss got its revenge with a 21-0 win in the Sugar Bowl, but the damage was done. Syracuse won the national title, and Johnny Vaught’s Rebels were left to secure the Best Team Not To Win It All crown.
What’s the best college football team you’ve ever seen that failed to win it all?