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College Football: The Defending National Champions First Loss of the Season

Posted by Andrew McKillop on September 3, 2011

Post Highlights

  • Notre Dame has given the defending national champions their first loss of the season on seven occasions.  The most by any school in college football.
  • Defending national champions have lost their first game of the season on 12 occasions.  The last time it occurred was in 1998, when Notre Dame defeated Michigan 36-20.
  • If Utah State had defeated defending national champion Auburn, it would have been the first time an unranked school from a non-major conference gave the defending national champions their first loss of the season.

 

What a tough opening loss for Utah State against Auburn.  Utah State was on their way to their school’s greatest upset victory ever, but Utah State gave up 14-points in a little over two minutes, and Utah State will start their season 0-1, after a 42-38 loss to Auburn.

If Utah State had won, it would have been the first time an unranked school from a non-major conference gave the defending national champions their first loss of the season.

Checkout the list below to see when defending national champions lost their first game of the season, following their championship.

 

Defending National Champions First Loss of the Season

Year Gm # Rk Defending NC Rk Opponent Score
1937 2 Minnesota at Nebraska 9-14
1938 7 1 Pittsburgh 19 Carnegie Mellon 10-20
1939 1 TCU at UCLA 2-6
1940 9 2 Texas A&M at Texas 0-7
1941 Minnesota the Defending NC Went Undefeated
1942 2 Minnesota Iowa Pre-Flight 6-7
1943 1 Ohio State Iowa Pre-Flight 13-28
1944 6 2 Notre Dame n 6 Navy 13-32
1945 Army the Defending NC Went Undefeated
1946 Army the Defending NC Went Undefeated
1947 Notre Dame the Defending NC Went Undefeated
1948 Notre Dame the Defending NC Went Undefeated
1949 3 1 Michigan 7 Army 7-21
Year Gm # Rk Defending NC Rk Opponent Score
1950 2 1 Notre Dame Purdue 14-28
1951 2 4 Oklahoma at 10 Texas A&M 7-14
1952 2 11 Tennessee at 10 Duke 0-7
1953 5 2 Michigan State at Purdue 0-6
1954 2 6 Maryland at 4 UCLA 7-12
1955 2 8 Ohio State at Stanford 0-6
1955 2 1 UCLA at 5 Maryland 0-7
1956 Oklahoma the Defending NC Went Undefeated
1957 8 2 Oklahoma Notre Dame 0-7
1958 Auburn the Defending NC Went Undefeated
1958 6 5 Ohio State at 11 Northwestern 0-21
1959 8 1 LSU at 13 Tennessee 13-14
Year Gm # Rk Defending NC Rk Opponent Score
1960 6 3 Syracuse Pittsburgh 0-10
1961 1 Minnesota Missouri 0-6
1962 9 1 Alabama at Georgia Tech 6-7
1963 2 1 USC 3 Oklahoma 12-17
1964 5 1 Texas 8 Arkansas 13-14
1965 1 5 Alabama at Georgia 17-18
1966 Alabama the Defending NC Went Undefeated
1966 Michigan St the Defending NC Went Undefeated
1967 2 1 Notre Dame at 10 Purdue 21-28
1968 11 2 USC n 1 Ohio St 16-27
1969 9 1 Ohio State at 12 Michigan 12-24
Year Gm # Rk Defending NC Rk Opponent Score
1970 11 1 Texas n 6 Notre Dame 11-24
1971 Nebraska the Defending NC Went Undefeated
1971 4 3 Texas n 8 Oklahoma 27-48
1972 1 1 Nebraska at UCLA 17-20
1973 7 6 USC at 8 Notre Dame 14-23
1974 12 2 Alabama n 9 Notre Dame 11-13
1974 3 2 Notre Dame Purdue 20-31
1975 9 2 Oklahoma Kansas 3-23
1975 8 4 USC at California 14-28
1976 7 5 Oklahoma Oklahoma St 24-31
1977 1 7 Pittsburgh 3 Notre Dame 9-19
1978 1 5 Notre Dame Missouri 0-3
1979 Alabama the Defending NC Went Undefeated
1979 USC the Defending NC Went Undefeated
Year Gm # Rk Defending NC Rk Opponent Score
1980 8 1 Alabama n Mississippi St 3-6
1981 3 4 Georgia at Clemson 3-13
1982 1 11 Clemson at 7 Georgia 7-13
1983 1 4 Penn State n 1 Nebraska 6-44
1984 3 1 Miami FL at 14 Michigan 14-22
1985 2 8 BYU 20 UCLA 24-27
1986 3 1 Oklahoma at 2 Miami FL 16-28
1987 2 11 Penn State 19 Alabama 13-24
1988 5 1 Miami FL at 4 Notre Dame 30-31
1989 12 1 Notre Dame at 7 Miami FL 10-27
Year Gm # Rk Defending NC Rk Opponent Score
1990 1 1 Miami FL at 16 BYU 21-28
1991 2 12 Colorado 23 Baylor 14-16
1991 1 8 Georgia Tech n 7 Penn St 22-34
1992 12 1 Miami FL n 2 Alabama 13-34
1992 9 1 Washington at 12 Arizona 3-16
1993 9 5 Alabama LSU 13-17
1994 5 3 Florida State at 13 Miami FL 20-34
1995 Nebraska the Defending NC Went Undefeated
1996 2 1 Nebraska at 17 Arizona St 0-19
1997 6 1 Florida at 14 LSU 21-28
1998 1 5 Michigan at 22 Notre Dame 20-36
1998 6 2 Nebraska at 18 Texas A&M 21-28
1999 2 2 Tennessee at 4 Florida 21-23
Year Gm # Rk Defending NC Rk Opponent Score
2000 6 1 Florida State at 7 Miami FL 24-27
2001 8 2 Oklahoma at 3 Nebraska 10-20
2002 13 1 Miami FL n 2 Ohio St 24-31
2003 6 3 Ohio State at 23 Wisconsin 10-17
2004 3 5 LSU at 14 Auburn 9-10
2004 USC the Defending NC Went Undefeated
2005 13 1 USC n 2 Texas 38-41
2006 2 2 Texas 1 Ohio St 7-24
2007 5 4 Florida Auburn 17-20
2008 5 4 LSU at 11 Florida 21-51
2009 13 1 Florida n 2 Alabama 13-32
2010 6 1 Alabama at 19 South Carolina 21-35
2011 ? Auburn ?


Notre Dame has given the defending national champions their first loss of the season on seven occasions.  The most by any school in college football.

In 1983, Nebraska defeated defending national champion Penn State 44-6 in the opening game of the season.  It’s the greatest margin of defeat a defending national champion has ever suffered in their first loss of the season.

Defending national champions have lost their first game of the season on 12 occasions.  The last time it occurred was in 1998, when Notre Dame defeated Michigan 36-20.

Defending national champions usually lose their first game of the season by their fifth game.

Defending national champions lost their first game of the season to an unranked opponent on 23 occasions.


On ten occasions, the eventual national champion gave the defending national champion their first defeat of the year.

Year Gm # Rk Defending NC Rk Opponent Score
1954 2 6 Maryland at 4 UCLA 7-12
1968 11 2 USC n 1 Ohio St 16-27 Rose Bowl
1977 1 7 Pittsburgh 3 Notre Dame 9-19
1981 3 4 Georgia at Clemson 3-13
1988 5 1 Miami FL at 4 Notre Dame 30-31
1989 12 1 Notre Dame at 7 Miami FL 10-27
1992 12 1 Miami FL n 2 Alabama 13-34 Sugar Bowl
2002 13 1 Miami FL n 2 Ohio St 24-31 Fiesta Bowl
2005 13 1 USC n 2 Texas 38-41 Rose Bowl
2009 13 1 Florida n 2 Alabama 13-32 SEC Championship


Reference: James Howell’s College Football Scores, College Football Data Warehouse, College Football at Sports-Reference.com


One Response to “College Football: The Defending National Champions First Loss of the Season”

  1. Tex Noel said

    Awesome timing with this post, Andrew! Utah State almost made your list as the team that pulled-off the shocker!!

    Very informative.

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