The No. 3 TCU Horned Frogs will have a shot at immortality on Monday when meeting the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. A victory at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, CA, would earn the program its first national title since 1938, a feat not foreseen by many considering that it started the preseason unranked.
The last time a team claimed at least a share of the national championship after beginning the season unranked was in 1990, where the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets were declared the champs by the UPI Coaches Poll after an 11-0-1 season. Led by head coach Bobby Ross, that year’s Tech team didn’t get ranked in the AP poll until October 2 after it spanked No. 25 South Carolina to improve to 3-0. Taking down No. 15 Clemson and tying North Carolina in the coming weeks, the Jackets’ signature win of the season came on November 3, where they went into Charlottesville, VA, and upset No. 1 Virginia 41-38.
That victory propelled them into the Top 10, where they eventually rose up to No. 2 and thumped rival Georgia 40-23 to end the regular season. As the ACC Champion, Georgia Tech would cap the season by crushing Nebraska 45-21 in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day. That would be enough to earn respect in the coaches poll as they were declared the UPI champion while Colorado was declared the AP champion.
Earlier that season, Colorado took advantage of a referee blunder by getting an extra down to defeat Missouri in the now infamous “Fifth Down Game”. This clouded the Buffaloes’ legitimacy to be declared the national champion at the end of the season and the coaches poll ultimately punished them by rewarding Tech with the title honor.
Prior to that, the previous time the feat had been done was 1984, where the BYU Cougars ran the table to go from unranked to No. 1 in both polls at the end of the season. The LaVell Edwards-led Cougars upset No. 3 Pitt to start the year and successfully ran right through the WAC before defeating Michigan in the Holiday Bowl to cap their perfect season. The 1984 college football season was filled with chaos and a lack of dominant teams, allowing for the nation’s lone unbeaten in BYU to stand on top.