College Football Longshots: 5 Biggest Underdogs To Win National Title

Written By Brett Gibbons on August 2, 2021
college football longshots

When it comes to college football longshots, perception often outweighs reality. The FBS system is consistently criticized for being a two- or three-team race with Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State winning the title seemingly every year. While Nick Saban’s Alabama teams have won their fair share of titles in the past two decades, there has only been two betting favorites to win the championship since 2002.

Below, we’ll look at the five biggest college football longshots to win the national title since 2002. College football has gone through both the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) and College Football Playoff (CFP) eras over this duration.

All odds are pulled from data at Sports Reference.

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5. Ohio State Buckeyes, 2002: +1900

2001 was a tough year for Ohio State. The Buckeyes welcomed Jim Tressell as head coach, who went just 7-5 in his first year in Columbus. Naturally, Ohio State wasn’t heavily favored for the 2002 BCS Championship, though they did place 13th in the preseason AP poll. Instead, they rattled off a 14-0 perfect season and sealed the program’s first title since 1970.

Going into the title game, the Miami Hurricanes were on a 34-game win streak and featured one of the most talent-heavy rosters in college football history. As a result, they were strong 12-point favorites in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl (serving as the BCS Championship game). Ohio State pulled off the upset – deemed one of the biggest in college football history – after two overtimes.

4.USC Trojans, 2003: +2000

The Trojans lost 2002 Heisman winner Carson Palmer to the NFL and promote talented quarterback Matt Leinart. They also were scheduled to face a tough schedule, starting the season at No. 6 Auburn. USC went in and shut the Tigers out en route to a 12-1 finish and a Rose Bowl victory over No. 4 Michigan. Leinart threw 38 touchdowns that season, third in the nation. He would also go on to win the 2004 Heisman following the Trojans’ championship season.

The preseason favorite, Oklahoma (+450), produced the Heisman winner of 2003, Jason White, but dropped their final two games of the season. USC was dominant all year long, ranking fifth in scoring offense (41.1 points per game) and 17th in scoring defense (18.4 points allowed per game). But like many others, they were written off as college football longshots following the departure of Palmer.

Related: 2021 College Football championship odds

3. LSU Tigers, 2019: +3300

The 2019 LSU Tigers roster wasn’t too dissimilar to their 2018 squad that finished 10-3 and 15th in the AP poll. They had most of the pieces in place, including Joe Burrow. However, the offensive philosophy led Burrow to throw just 16 touchdowns on the season. Enter Joe Brady. Brady pushed Burrow and the offense to new levels and Burrow would throw for record 60 touchdowns the following season.

Everything about the 2019 LSU Tigers was dominant. Following their 41-16 decimation of Clemson in the national championship, that LSU team would be mentioned in the same breath with other all-time great teams. When it comes down to it, this was one of the best college football teams of all time. Unlike the other all-timers, no one saw this team coming.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes, 2014: +4000

The inaugural College Football Playoff was one to remember (unless you’re a fan of Alabama). Star quarterback Braxton Miller announced his change to receiver after suffering an injury the year before. In comes freshman J.T. Barrett, who also went down late in the season. Ohio State controversially made the fourth seed in the CFB over Baylor and TCU, both of which were loudly decried as being the better teams.

The Buckeyes were down to their third string QB, Cardelle Jones, and the rest is history. Superstar Ezekiel Elliott led OSU to a major upset over No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, who was favored by 7.5 points. They would then go on to boat race Marcus Mariota and Oregon in the National Championship off Elliott’s 264 rushing yards and four touchdowns. It’s one of the great underdog stories in all of sports.

1. Auburn Tigers, 2010: +5000

The only team capable of topping the 2014 Buckeyes in terms of underdog story is the 2010 Auburn Tigers. The ’10 Tigers started transfer quarterback Cam Newton after an 8-5 campaign. Newton wasn’t listed on the preseason Heisman odds, but exploded onto the scene. He combined for 51 touchdowns (21 rushing) and took home the Heisman Trophy.

Auburn ran over No. 12 South Carolina, No. 12 Arkansas, No. 6 LSU, No. 9 Alabama, No. 18 South Carolina (SEC Championship), and finally No. 2 Oregon. It was a run rivaled with the 2019 LSU schedule and unmatched since. While the BCS Championship Game was hardly a fireworks show, Auburn got the job done on the back of a tough defense and pulled off the biggest underdog championship in college football of the last two decades.

2021 College Football Playoff Futures

Past National Championship winner preseason odds

YearTeamPreseason odds
2020Alabama+240
2019LSU+3300
2018Clemson+400
2017Alabama*+250
2016 Clemson+700
2015Alabama+700
2014Ohio State+4000
2013Florida State+1600
2012Alabama+550
2011Alabama+600
2010Auburn+5000
2009Alabama+1200
2008Florida+600
2007LSU+800
2006Florida+1000
2005Texas+800
2004USC*+300
2003USC+2000
2002Ohio State+1900

*Indicates preseason favorite

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Written by
Brett Gibbons

Brett is an avid sports traveler and former Division-I football recruiter for Bowling Green and Texas State. He’s a graduate of BGSU and works as an auditor for Google content curation products. He’s also contributed to Sports Illustrated and Fansided during his young writing career.

View all posts by Brett Gibbons