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The AFCA National Championship Trophy

When the curtain falls on the college football season, one team is left to celebrate with the AFCA: American Football Coaches Association Trophy. Handed out every year since 1986, at first after the final Coaches’ Poll was released, it has been awarded to the top-rated team in the BCS standings since the new format came into existence in 1998.  One of the largest and heaviest trophies any athlete could win, it stands nearly three feet tall and weighs 45 pounds.  It is also one of the most complex to make, requiring an individual artist from Waterford Crystal almost three months of work to finish.

History

Starting during the 1950-51 school year, the Coaches’ Poll began as a way for the top 20 programs in football and basketball to be ranked every week by those who know the game best.  Some 35 years later, what is now known as the AFCA National Championship Trophy debuted as the ultimate prize for teams on the gridiron.

The design is very distinct, with an intricate crystal football with four slim posts to support it resting on top of a large black base.  The ball is slightly larger than regulation size and somewhat rounded on the ends, making it easier to hold when it is lifted by the winning coach, as is tradition during the post-game ceremony.  The base itself is engraved with the university’s name, as well as the year and – after the creation of the BCS system – location of the championship game.  When the two parts of the trophy are together, like when on display, the AFCA National Championship Trophy is 34 inches tall and weighs in at an astonishing 45 pounds.

One of the most interesting aspects of the trophy’s history is the diverse range of naming sponsors who have sought to attach themselves to it.  Pepsi joined up for the 1988-89 seasons, followed by McDonald’s from 1990-92.  Sears took over for the 1993 season and remained so on both trophies (football and basketball) until 2001, when Circuit City took over for one season.  ADT Security Services signed on for 2003-05, before ending their agreement.  At that point, the AFCA decided the current name for the $30,000 trophy would be permanent.

Best Teams

Notre Dame (1988)

The Fighting Irish, with charismatic head coach Lou Holtz at the helm, stormed to their first title in XX years based on a punishing defensive unit and lightning-fast collection of receivers.  Raghib Ismail led the charge with a comprehensive performance in the Fiesta Bowl, returning kicks and catching a 29-yard touchdown pass to pace the Golden Domers in their victory over the West Virginia Mountaineers.

Nebraska (1994-95)

Led by Tom Osborn, this group of Big Red rumbled to two straight victories and a third title in the final season before the BCS Championship Game took over.  Known for “power football,” these Cornhusker squads featured strong running backs with running quarterbacks balanced by tough defenses.  The change in format that followed makes it unlikely the back-to-back triumphs will be repeated.

Florida State (1999)

Though perhaps not the most desirable matchup in the history of the trophy, the Seminoles matched up against Michael Vick and the Virginia Tech Hokies in the title game.  Facing the added pressure of having been the top-ranked team in the country for the entire season, FSU and quarterback Chris Weinke ran out to an insurmountable lead thanks to Peter Warrick, taking home the prize for the first time since 1993.

Texas (2005)

The strong-armed and fast Vince Young lined up in the backfield for this Longhorn team, often willing Mack Brown’s program to victories with timely throws and brave scrambles for extra yardage to keep drives alive.  Coming into the BCS Championship Game, the Burnt Orange were considered a heavy underdog to the defending champion University of Southern California, yet Young found a way to score a late touchdown to secure victory in perhaps the greatest game in the system’s history.

Florida (2008)

Some programs are defined by an individual player, and Tim Tebow would be the face of this squad, if you asked most.  However, that would hide the excellence among the skill positions – particularly a speedy and talented group of receivers – and the dominance on the defensive side of the ball.  In the end, head coach Urban Meyer lifted the crystal ball off the AFCA National Championship Trophy after a hard-fought triumph over the Oklahoma Sooners.

Winners

Alabama (5; 1992, 2009, 2011-12, 2015)

Florida (4; 1996, 2006, 2008, 2013)

Miami (3; 1987, 1989, 2001)

Nebraska (3; 1994, 1995, 1997)

Ohio State (2; 2002, 2014)

LSU (2; 2003, 2007)

Florida State (2; 1993, 1999)

Auburn (1; 2010)

Texas (1; 2005)

USC (1; 2004; vacated)

Oklahoma (1; 2000)

Tennessee (1; 1998)

Washington (1; 1991)

Georgia Tech (1; 1990)

Notre Dame (1; 1988)

Penn State (1; 1986)