The top five teams under Joe Paterno

In honor of Joe Paterno, I'm taking a look today at the top five teams of the Paterno era at Penn State. Narrowing the list down is no easy task.

Paterno's Nittany Lions won two national championships. They could have and should have had more, recording five undefeated seasons and 23 Top 10 finishes in his 46 years as head coach.

Here are my picks for Paterno's top five teams of all time:


11-1, national champions

Paterno's first national championship team lost to Alabama in midseason but reeled off seven straight victories to end the year, capped by a 27-23 win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. The team had four All-Americans, highlighted by tailback Curt Warner. Quarterback Todd Blackledge won the Davey O'Brien Award. These Lions beat teams ranked No. 2 (Nebraska), No. 5 (Pitt) and No. 1 (Georgia).


12-0, National champions

Paterno's second and last national championship team didn't play quite as tough a schedule as the 1982 team, though it did beat No. 2 Alabama and pull off the upset of then-No. 1 Miami 14-10 in the Fiesta Bowl. Not wildly talented on offense, the '86 Lions rode a dominating defense that allowed only 11 points per game.


12-0, Big Ten and Rose Bowl champions

Paterno's best year in the Big Ten should have earned him a shot at the national title, but voters went with Nebraska instead. The best offense in school history was led by Kerry Collins, Ki-Jana Carter and Bobby Engram and averaged 48 points per game. Penn State had five first-team All-Americans in 1994. The Nittany Lions beat Oregon in the Rose Bowl.


12-0, Orange Bowl champions

Another team that deserved a chance to play for the national title, this one notched Paterno's second straight undefeated season and finished No. 2 in the polls. The team had future Hall of Famers on the roster with Jack Ham, Lydell Mitchell, Franco Harris and Mike Reid. The best regular-season wins came over No. 20 Kansas State and No. 17 West Virginia before a 10-3 victory against No. 6 Missouri in the Orange Bowl.


11-1, No. 4 final ranking

This Penn State team earned the school's first No. 1 ranking, a title it would hold going into the Sugar Bowl against No. 2 Alabama. The Crimson Tide made a famous goal line stand near the end of the game to beat the Nittany Lions 14-7. This team had five All-American selections, led by Matt Millen. I picked this team over the undefeated teams of 1969 and 1973 because it played a harder schedule than those. The '78 Nittany Lions convincingly beat No. 6 Ohio State on the road and No. 5 Maryland at home.

Now it's your turn to vote in our poll for which Paterno team was the best of all time. And if you want to make a case for a team that wasn't included in my Top 5, feel free to do so in the comments section.