History of Michigan football championships: How many national titles have the Wolverines won?


For the third straight year, Jim Harbaugh has guided Michigan to the College Football Playoff. This time, however, he’s taken the Wolverines to the title game.

There was a time not too long ago that Harbaugh appeared to be on the hot seat. He had lost to rival Ohio State in each of his first five matchups and had never finished a season with fewer than three losses.


Now, the Wolverines have beaten the Buckeyes three times in a row, won three straight Big Ten titles and are back in the playoff. This time, as the No. 1 seed, Michigan topped Alabama in the Rose Bowl, and now will square off against future Big Ten foe Washington, the winner of the Sugar Bowl and the only other undefeated Power Five team.

How many times has Michigan claimed a national championship? Here’s a look back at the history of the Wolverines.

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Michigan football championship history

How many national championships has Michigan won in football?

Michigan has laid claim to nine national championships in the history of its football program. However, most of those titles predate the poll era, and few are in a modern era of the sport.


Year Selecting Organizations Split? Bowl Game Win
1901 HAF, NCF No Rose Bowl
1902 HAF, NCF No
1903 NCF, HAF Princeton
1904 NCF, HAF Penn
1918 NCF, HAF Pitt
1923 CFRA, HAF, NCF Illinois
1933 CFRA, HAF, NCF No
1948 AP No
1997 AP, FWAA, NFF, USA/ESPN Nebraska Rose Bowl

The Wolverines have won a bulk of their national championships before 1997, and have only two in the poll era. Prior to 1936, the NCAA lists a variety of different selecting organizations that name national championship winners.

The most prominent selecting organizations were the Helms Athletic Foundation (HAF) and the National Championship Foundation (NCF). The HAF and NCF both picked retroactive national champions, with the HAF picking retroactively prior to 1936 and the NCF picking retroactively prior to 1979.

When was Michigan’s last national championship?

The Wolverines, ranked No. 1 in 1997, beat No. 7 Washington State in the Rose Bowl, for its most recent title win. However, not everyone calls Michigan the national champion that year.

Big 12 champion and undefeated No. 2 Nebraska beat No. 3 Tennessee in the Orange Bowl. As such, it has led to a contested national championship, with six of the selecting organizations (led by the AP, FWAA, NFF) picking the Wolverines as the title-winner and 13 (led by the coaches poll and USA Today/ESPN) picking Nebraska. Another called the two co-champions.

Only one Michigan team has been the undisputed, unanimous national championship-winning team, and that was in 1948, when all NCAA selecting organizations, led by the Associated Press, dubbed the Wolverines that season’s best team.

Michigan football record in bowl games

Because the NCAA has not always had a specific game designated as the national championship game, not all teams with a claimed title have played in a title-winning game.

Michigan is one such team. It beat the Cougars in 1997, but few would have deemed that a national championship game since there were still five teams ranked between Michigan and Washington State. The Wolverines have not played in a BCS or CFP national championship game before Monday’s title game.

All-time, Michigan has a 22-29 record in major bowl games, most recently beating Alabama 27-20 in overtime of the Rose Bowl.

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