Photo courtesy of Petre Thomas/Ole Miss athletics
Since the Big 12 Conference revived its conference title game in 2017, every Power 5 conference now has a conference championship game. During the College Football Playoff era, it hasn’t been a prerequisite to be part of the 4-team playoff, but it certainly helps.
Some schools would simply be happy to get there. Below is a list of Power 5 teams that have yet to play for their conference’s title.
The ACC went from nine teams to 11 in 2004. In 2005, Boston College joined the conference and the 12 teams were split into two divisions. Since then, the conference has held a title game every year. Originally in Jacksonville, the game has been played in Charlotte in 11 of the last 12 seasons.
Louisville has only been a member of the ACC since 2014, but has yet to win the Atlantic division. The Cardinals won the Big East in 2006 and 2012. Louisville finished tied atop the Atlantic standings in 2016, but lost the tiebreaker to Clemson.
NC State is the only team to be a member of the ACC since the inception of a championship game that has yet to play in it. The closest that NC State came was in 2010. The Wolfpack needed only to beat Maryland in the regular season finale, but lost, 38-31. The loss propelled Florida State to the ACC Championship game.
Syracuse has only been a member of the ACC since 2013, but hasn’t won a division title. The best season for the Orange as a member of the ACC came in 2018 as they finished 10-3. That season, Syracuse held a 23-13 lead over Clemson in the fourth quarter. Travis Etienne scored two touchdowns for the Tigers, including the game-winner with 41 seconds left in a 27-23 Clemson victory. Had the Orange held the lead, it would have been Syracuse and not eventual national champion Clemson that represented the ACC Atlantic in Charlotte.
The first Big 12 Championship came in the conference’s first year of 1996. Nebraska and Missouri left the conference after the 2010 season and from there, the conference went without a title game for six years. Despite only having 10 teams, it was revived in 2017. With Texas and Oklahoma leaving for the SEC, it won’t be long before the Big 12 is unrecognizable from its current form.
Among Power 5 teams, Kansas has the longest bowl drought. Since the inception of the Big 12, the Jayhawks have just three winning seasons. In 2007, Kansas started 11-0, but fell 36-28 to Missouri in the “Border War”. That contest would ultimately decide the North division.
As a member of the Big 12, Texas Tech has just one 10-win season. That was the 2008 campaign under Mike Leach. That season, the Red Raiders finished in a 3-way tie atop the Big 12 South standings. With Texas Tech, Texas and Oklahoma all at 7-1 in conference, the Sooners won the tiebreaker and ultimately, the conference.
One of the newer members of the Big 12, West Virginia has gone just 22-22 in conference since it brought back the title game. The Mountaineers had won the Big East three times in seven years, including in the year prior, when they joined the Big 12 in 2012.
The Big Ten added a conference title game in 2011. Each of the 11 Big Ten Championships have been played at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. In 2014, the Big Ten switched from Legends and Leaders divisions to East and West.
Illinois has just one bowl appearance since 2014, but the Fighting Illini haven’t had a winning conference record since 2007 under Ron Zook. The last Big Ten title for Illinois came in 2001 under Ron Turner.
Indiana has just three winning seasons in the last 28 years. During the 2020 season, the Hoosiers made their best bid for a conference title. A hard-fought 42-35 loss to Ohio State in Columbus ultimately gave the division to the Buckeyes. The last Big Ten title for the Hoosiers came in 1967.
Maryland did not join the Big Ten until 2014. Last season, Maryland finished 7-6 for its first winning campaign since its first as a member of the conference. A charter member of the ACC, the Terrapins last won that conference in 2001. Maryland never participated in the ACC Championship.
Under head coach P.J. Fleck, Minnesota has had three winning seasons in the last four years. Its best bid for a Big Ten West title came in 2019. After a 9-0 start, the Golden Gophers fell in November to both Iowa and Wisconsin. Had Minnesota won one of those games, it would have won the Big Ten West. Prior to that, Minnesota finished with a winning Big Ten record just once since the inception of a Big Ten Championship in 2013. Last season, a November loss to Iowa ultimately decided the division.
Last season, Purdue finished with a winning record in conference play for just the second time since 2007. The Boilermakers have never finished higher than a second-place tie in their division. The last Big Ten title for Purdue came in 2000 under Joe Tiller and with a quarterback named Drew Brees.
A member of the Big Ten since 2014, Rutgers hasn’t had a winning season since its first year in the conference. After going a combined 0-18 in Big Ten play in 2018 and 2019, things seem to be going in the right direction in head coach Greg Schiano’s second stint. Rutgers’ only conference championship was a shared Big East title in 2012 as four teams finished tied atop the standings.
With the additions of Colorado and Utah, the Pac-12 has held a conference title game since 2011. The first three games were played at the home stadium of the team with the best conference record. Since 2014, it’s been played at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
Since the inception of Pac-12 Championship, California has not had a winning record in conference. The Golden Bears last shared the then Pac-10 title in 2007. Its last Rose Bowl appearance came in 1958.
Oregon State seems to be making headwinds under head coach and former quarterback Jonathan Smith. The Beavers enjoyed their first winning season since 2013 last year. Still, Oregon State’s last conference title came in 1964. The Beavers did share the title with Washington and Oregon in 2000, but lost the tiebreaker.
Washington State has won at least six Pac-12 games five times since 2016, but the Cougars have yet to appear in the title game. In 2018, Washington State finished tied atop the Pac-12 North standings with rival Washington, but the loss in the Apple Cup showdown ultimately gave the Huskies the division. The last Pac-12 title for Washington State came in 2002 under Mike Price.
The SEC was the first conference to implement a championship game when it did so in 1992. The first two SEC Championships were played in Birmingham. Since 1994, the contest has annually been played in Atlanta.
Kentucky has had two 10-win seasons since 2018, but the Wildcats haven’t really come close to representing the SEC East in Atlanta. 5-3 SEC marks in 2018 and 2021 is the best Kentucky has done since the conference went to divisions. Kentucky’s last conference title came in 1950 under Paul “Bear” Bryant.
Ole Miss has finished second in the SEC West several times since 1992 and has even won major bowl games. The Rebels however, have finished tied for first place in the division just once. That came in 2003. Ole Miss ultimately lost the tiebreaker to the eventual national champion LSU Tigers.
Just a member of the SEC since 2012, Texas A&M’s best season since joining the conference came in 2020 as the Aggies won their first New Year’s Six bowl and finished ranked No. 4 in the country. Texas A&M has been making waves on the recruiting trail but only time will tell whether that will be enough to get the Aggies to Atlanta. It should be noted that as a member of the Big 12, Texas A&M played for the conference crown in 1997 and won it in 1998. The Aggies rallied to beat No. 2 Kansas State in overtime that season, 36-33.
Since 1983, Vanderbilt has had a winning record in conference just once. That came in 2012 under James Franklin. That year, the Commodores finished 5-3 in the SEC and 9-4 overall. That was still only good enough for fourth in the SEC East.