Some college football fans like to think of the BCS era (1998 to the present) as the start of modern college football. Those fans also tend to be under the age of 30 and hail largely from the southeastern United States.
Whatever the case, 1998 does mark an interesting delineation point in the history of college football. While some people carp on the BCS’s method for crowning a champion ( nothing short of a playoff is acceptable) there’s no denying that the final showdown between BCS #1 and #2 is far more satisfying than the post-season mayhem that used to produce college football’s National Title.
While not perfect (the BCS produced a split championship in 2003), the frequency of disputed titles has been drastically reduced. 1997, 1991, 1990 were all split title years, while 1994 could have very well been, too, had undefeated Penn State received a few more #1 votes here and there.
The BCS era has also produced an upswing in the number of games played in any given season. Ohio State, Alabama, Boise State and Auburn have all produced 14-0 seasons in the last decade whereas that record is nonexistent in Division 1 football for pretty much the entirety of the 20th Century as conference championship games have become the norm.
Indeed, the BCS era does look different from the previous epoch’s of college football. In that regard it’s interesting to compare and contrast the various teams of this period. I used no scientific methods to come up with my list, just a pouring through of stats and youtube videos. Some fine teams do not make this list — 2002 Georgia, 2010 TCU, Boise State’s undefeated squads of 2006 and 2009, various 1-loss runners-up. With nearly 2,000 football teams to have suited up over the last 13 seasons, boiling them down to what I consider the 25 best was no easy challenge.
#25. 2004 UTAH UTES (12-0)
In 2004 Urban Meyer did something he couldn’t claim as head of the mighty University of Florida. He coached an undefeated team. The only problem was, except for Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl, the Utes didn’t play a single team that finished ranked in the polls. But it wasn’t for a lack of trying by the scheduling gods who lined up Texas A&M, Arizona and BYU for the offing. Unfortunately for the undefeated Utes (and their overall place in college football history) those three teams combined for just 15 wins and 19 losses that year.
But, given what Utah got by way of competition in 2004, they pounded their opponents into pancakes, winning all of their games by no less than 14 points and winning most by four or five touchdowns. The Utes were never challenged in 2004. Not even in the Fiesta Bowl. Granted, a match against USC, Oklahoma or Auburn that year would have been far more interesting. With a coach like Urban Meyer and the 2009 Sugar Bowl as a sort of pilot light on the Utes’ gridiron motor, it’s hard to write Utah off as a mere benefactor of a soft schedule.
#24. 2002 USC TROJANS (11-2)
The 2002 Trojans, led by Heisman winner Carson Palmer, was a harbinger of USC’s domination of mid-decade. With just two respectable losses to Top 10 teams, Kansas State and Washington State, the ’02 Trojans pounded their way through a tough schedule, ending the season with a 44-13 drubbing of Notre Dame and a 38-17 runaway over #3 Iowa in the Orange Bowl.
Signature moment — on USC’s second play of the second half versus arch-nemesis Notre Dame, Carson Palmer tossed a pass to Grant Mattos that ate up half the football field. Two plays later, the Trojans were in the end zone, blowing open what had previously been a tight football game. The 31-point win proved to be the exclamation point on Palmer’s Heisman campaign and a taste of the sort of domination Trojan fans would grow accustomed to in the seasons to come.
#23. 2007 LSU TIGERS (12-2)
The 2007 National Champs have the dubious distinction of being the first college football team to wear a crown with two lumps in it. But that doesn’t mean the 2007 Tigers weren’t still a very formidable football team. Just ask Virginia Tech and Ohio State — two Top 10 teams whom the Tigers managed to dispatch with remarkable ease. LSU powered through a tough SEC schedule that included wins over Florida, Auburn and Tennessee . And those two losses (to Kentucky and Arkansas) came after a combined total of 6 overtimes. Prior to 1996, LSU would have been an undefeated team.
Still, Arkansas and Kentucky were both 8-5 teams and losing to them (albeit after three overtimes a piece) is no badge of honor. The 2007 Tigers were dominant, no doubt, but, among the BCS Champions so far, they were the least impressive.
Signature moment – With the score tied 10-10 in the BCS championship game, LSU defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois smashed through the Ohio State offensive line and batted down a field goal attempt. From there it was all down hill for Ohio State as LSU’s offense and defense simply dominated the top ranked Buckeyes.
#22. 2008 UTAH UTES (13-0)
Call them BCS Busters. Call them party poopers. Call them whatever. Nobody quite knew what to do with the undefeated regular season runs of Utah, Boise State, TCU and BYU in the thick of the BCS’s short existence. Most often post-season schedulers opted to pit these schools against each other (see the 2010 Fiesta Bowl) or stick them in a match versus the least formidable BCS conference champion (see 2005 Fiesta Bowl). But, occasionally, one of the BCS outcaste schools (something Utah no longer has to worry about with its move to the PAC-12) got to prove itself against one of the “Big Boys”. Boise State’s stunning upset of Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl was the first eye-opener. But the most impressive BCS busting happened on January 2, 2009 in New Orleans when an undefeated #6 Utah took on #4 Alabama — an 11-point favorite — in the Sugar Bowl.
The Utes manhandled the Crimson Tide, holding the SEC runner-up to 208 yards of total offense and just 10 points. (Another Alabama touchdown was added by special teams play.) All in all, it was a more impressive victory than the eventual National Champion Florida Gators had already laid upon Alabama and good enough to earn Utah a #2 ranking in the final AP poll.
So why doesn’t 2008 Utah rank a little higher on this list?
The Utes beat four ranked teams, but they also occasionally struggled against lesser teams including 3-9 Michigan and 4-8 New Mexico. One misstep against either of those teams and Utah’s perfect season and BCS invite would have been out the door. I actually think the 2004 team with the complete domination of its schedule and Urban Meyer under the headphones was probably a better team than this one. But the Utes’ Sugar Bowl win was a victory like no other in school history. And that’s what ultimately gives Whittingham’s squad the advantage on this list.
#21. 1999 NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS (12-1)
It could have been a match-up to finish the 1990s right. The two best programs of the decade — Florida State and Nebraska — facing off in the Sugar Bowl for the whole enchilada. But the fates would not allow this pairing as Nebraska made an ill-fated trip to Austin that landed the Huskers a 20-24 setback (despite outplaying the Longhorns for most of the game). Nebraska got its revenge against Texas in the Big 12 Championship, but the lone loss on the season was enough to keep Virginia Tech ahead of the Cornhuskers as the Hokies went on to face the Seminoles for the BCS Title.
While Florida State easily dispatched Tech, Nebraska throttled SEC Champion Tennessee in the 2000 Fiesta Bowl. It was a missed opportunity for a final battle between the two titans of the 1990s. This was also the last Blackshirt defense to be coached by the legendary Charlie McBride. The Huskers was arguably the best defensive unit of that season, posting shutouts against Cal and Texas A&M and holding 10 of their 13 opponents to 17 points or less.
#20. 2002 MIAMI HURRICANES (12-1)
For much of the 2002 college football season, the Miami Hurricanes looked like a continuation of the juggernaut that laid waste to the gridiron landscape the previous year — especially after an early trip to Gainsville left #6 Florida reeling in a 41-16 humiliation. Miami looked virtually unstoppable, putting up a ton of points during their undefeated run through the regular season. But, as the season played out, traditional powers Florida, Florida State and Tennessee all proved subpar, mitigating what were otherwise impressive Miami victories.
Perhaps this was a harbinger for how things might play out in the BCS Championship versus Ohio State. With Miami riding a 34-game winning streak, the Hurricanes entered the game a heavy favorite. But Ken Dorsey’s first play from scrimmage resulted in a three-yard sack, setting the tone for a defense-dominated game that would eventually land the teams in a double-overtime thriller.
The 24-31 loss kept the Hurricanes from being the rare back-to-back champion, but the domination displayed in the regular season and the hairs-breadth miss in Tempe are enough to make the 2002 Canes among the best of the BCS era.
#19. 2010 OREGON DUCKS (12-1)
The best team in Oregon history came agonizingly close to giving the University (and the state of Oregon, for that matter) its first national title ever as the Ducks fell to 2010 BCS Champions, Auburn, in the final two seconds of the game. But that heartbreaker of an ending couldn’t squelch what the Ducks had done during the regular season, winning the final PAC-10 crown on the strength of a 49.3 points per game average thanks in no small part to Doak Walker Award winner, LaMichael James.
Oregon put up gaudy points on its conference foes — 52 points against Stanford (who, incidentally, finished #4 in the final polls) and 53 on USC at the Coliseum, handing the Trojans their worst loss in a decade. In all, Oregon scored 40 or more points in 10 of their 13 contests.
#18. 2003 OKLAHOMA SOONERS (12-2)
It might have been after the 65-13 demolition of the Longhorns or the 77-0 annihilation of Texas A&M but, at some point during the 2003 college football season, I turned to one of my buddies and said, “This may be the best college football team ever.” Then came the Big 12 championship game. It wasn’t the first time a Big 12 also-ran overturned a conference opponent’s national title run. But Kansas State’s 35-7 domination of the Sooners was nothing short of jaw-dropping. Oklahoma would still end up in the title match against LSU, but it was clear that the F-5 tornado that ravished the plains during the regular season was nowhere to be seen in New Orleans.
With regular season stampedes of Alabama, Fresno State, UCLA, Colorado and Texas Tech, in addition to the Longhorns and Aggies, if it weren’t for the north division Wildcats, the 2003 Sooners would have likely been a Top 5 team of the BCS era, win or lose against LSU.
#17. 2006 FLORIDA GATORS (13-1)
For much of the season, 2006 looked to belong to the Big 10, but the post-season took the veil off what was — until then — the most parity-laden season of the decade. (2007’s carousel of teams at the top beats it.) Thanks to their domination of Ohio State, Florida showed they were slightly better than everybody else. While they saved the best for their last two games, Florida often struggled during the season, most notably against Auburn.
Signature moment — Chris Leak to Dallas Baker, 14 yard touchdown pass on the Gators’ opening possession of the BCS championship. You might think Ohio State’s 97 yard kick-off return to open the game would have had the Gators reeling. And maybe it did the bench-warmers. But Urban Meyer’s starting unit answered the Buckeye’s opening salvo with a fine kick return of its own that, with the aid of a face mask penalty, put Florida at midfield. As if nothing had gone wrong just minutes before, Leak took his team 46 yards in 7 plays capping it with a toss to a wide-open Baker from 14 yards out. The Buckeyes probably didn’t know it at the time, but they were cooked.
#16. 2008 USC TROJANS (12-1)
Uh-oh. There she goes again. On a brisk September night in Corvallis, the USC Trojans found themselves on the wrong end of yet another epic upset. It was the fourth such upset for USC in the last three seasons and, as was the case with the others, it was enough to keep the Trojans out of the National Title match.
But 2008’s USC team was a little different than the others of this decade. Whereas Pete Carroll’s teams usually blast away the opposition with ten yards and cloud of dust, this team achieved its 12 win record by stuffing opposing offenses into the dirt. Some wondered if perhaps this was the best college football defense to ever take the field. Maybe, maybe not. But ten of USC’s 13 opponents could muster no more than 10 points against the Trojans and three were shut out completely. In all, only 14 touchdowns were scored against the Trojan defense the entire season. And four of those happened with the games well out of hand.
If only USC had an offense in 2008 to match. Now, virtually any team in America would have loved to have had the Mark Sanchez-led offense. But, by Southern Cal’s standards, the 2008 scoring machine was in dire need of an oil change. Turnovers and lack of a ground game cost USC the game in Corvallis. The same problem in Tucson nearly produced the same result. But a stop on 4th and inches with just 6 minutes left — followed by a three-and-out just two minutes later, preserved the win for USC.
USC’s offense did show signs of life at some points during the season. Most notably against Ohio State, Oregon and Penn State. But lack of consistency kept the 2008 Trojans from going undefeated and playing for the National Title.
#15 1998 TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS (13-0)
The first champion of the BCS era saw a somewhat slow start to the 1998 season as the Vols outscored their first two opponents by a combined one point in regulation. Granted the first game was a 34-33 squeaker in the Carrier Dome against a Donovan McNabb-led Syracuse team. The other was an overtime victory against defending National Champions, Florida.
But the rough start soon turned into a string of impressive dominations as Tee Martin and company were rarely challenged the remainder of the season. In all, Tennessee would knock off four Top 10 teams including #2 Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl. 1998 marked just the third undefeated and untied season in school history and was Tennessee’s second National Title.
#14. 2002 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (14-0)
2002’s national champs put together a solid run, with victories over four ranked opponents including in what was arguably the most spectacular national championship game ever played — a 31-24 double overtime win against defending champs, Miami.
But you’d be hard pressed to call the 2002 Buckeyes dominant. Or, at least, not on par with some of the juggernauts of the Top 10. With the exception of Washington State, Ohio State’s victories over ranked opponents were narrow wins. A blown opportunity here and there could have spelled a different track for each team involved. Additionally, the Buckeyes squeaked by several unranked opponents including, Cincinnati, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Purdue and Illinois, beating those five teams by an average of only 6 points.
Buckeye fans may argue that a win is a win and that the gaudy scores put up by other powerhouses are nothing more than “running up the score”. That might be. But I don’t believe for a second Ohio State wouldn’t love to hang 50 points on a Florida or LSU or USC. The issue is can they? Great teams win all their games, true. But juggernauts don’t blast formidable opponents with 40, 50, 60 points just to show off. They do it because they can’t help themselves. That just wasn’t the case for the 2002 Buckeyes who needed a bad second quarter by Ken Dorsey to pull off a National Title upset.
Signature moment — The last play of the season. After a controversial first overtime, the Buckeyes found the endzone in the second extended period with remarkable ease. Down 31-24, the Hurricanes needed to answer. A pair of Buckeye penalties almost escorted Miami over the goal line, setting Larry Coker’s team up with a first and goal at the two. But a goal line stand was the order of the day and a fierce pass rush on 4th and 1 left the most indelible image of the evening.
#13. 2003 USC TROJANS (12-1)
When it came to blasting opponents for 40 or 50 points, it seemed like the 2003 co-champion Trojans couldn’t help themselves. USC scored 40 points or more eight times during the 2003 season including lop-sided victories over Notre Dame, Washington State and UCLA. USC dominated every team it played that year except for a 34-31 loss to Cal.
Aside from that one overtime loss, the 2003 Trojans were darn near perfect and an ominous foreshadowing (for the rest of the PAC-10 anyway) of USC’s dominance yet to come.
Signature moment — a 5 yard touchdown pass from Matt Leinart to Mike Williams against Auburn. Sound not so spectacular? Well, consider that this was against the sixth-ranked team in the country on their home turf and it was Matt Leinart’s first pass attempt as USC’s starting quarterback. The pass across the middle for an easy six was an auspicious start for both Leinart and USC. The Trojan’s glory days were only then truly beginning.
#12. 2003 LSU TIGERS (13-1)
2003 was a tumultuous and confusing year in college football. Who were the most deserving one-loss teams to play for the national title? USC, Oklahoma or LSU? The polls would never fully decide, splitting the title between the Tigers and Trojans.
A hypothetical match-up between that year’s co-champs would’ve been an exciting game and a tough one to call. I give a slight edge to LSU. Both teams dominated their schedules, but LSU’s was tougher, facing 5 foes ranked in the final poll, including 4 in the top 10. LSU lost to Top 25 finisher, Florida, while USC’s loss came at the hands of unranked Cal.
Signature moment – First play from scrimmage in the Sugar Bowl. Justin Vincent breaks free in the secondary for a 64 yard gain. The butterflies had to be circling Bob Stoops’ stomach after seeing this run. While LSU did not score on the opening drive (quarterback Matt Mauck fumbled on the OU 1), Vincent’s run was a prelude to the rushing success LSU used to set up a balanced run-pass attack against the Sooners. Something the vaunted Oklahoma offense could not do itself against the Tigers. Balance, a stingy defense and clock control put LSU atop the BCS standings in a performance that was more dominant than the 7-point margin would suggest.
#11. 2004 AUBURN TIGERS (13-0)
This team got no respect in 2004. Even after scorching Tennessee – twice! With four teams undefeated in 2004, Utah and Auburn found themselves on the outside looking in for the national title. USC and Oklahoma hogged the spotlight. And then, eventually, just USC. Fans cried foul of the BCS after the Trojans flogged the Sooners and left a total of three teams unblemished when all was said and done.
Would the Auburn Tigers have been a better opponent for USC than the Sooners? I think probably, although I just don’t see a victory in the cards against Leinart and Bush. Still, 2004 Auburn was an impressive team, beating five ranked opponents and dominating nearly every team they played.
Signature moment — A 53 yard pass from Jason Campbell to Anthony Mix in the Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech. It was the longest play of the night for Auburn in what turned out to be a tight defensive struggle. The play led to the Tigers’ only touchdown which put them up 16-0. Auburn needed that cushion as Virginia Tech caught fire in the 4th quarter, finding the endzone twice, including an 80-yard pass play with two minutes left in the game. The 16-point cushion and an onside kick recovery was enough to preserve Auburn’s undefeated season. Which is why this, to me, is the signature play. The Tigers had a more spectacular game against Tennessee in the SEC championship, but the close-call against the Hokies on the night before USC’s demolition of Oklahoma showed why the BCS snub may have produced the best outcome for Auburn after all.
#10. 2008 FLORIDA GATORS (13-1)
Darn those special teams! As head coach at Utah, Urban Meyer had one undefeated team and zero National Championships. As coach of the Florida Gators, Meyers had two one-loss teams and two National Titles. Which do you think Meyers prefers? Well, the two National Titles, of course, but an undefeated champion would undoubtedly be nice, too. And the 2008 Gators came so close to giving one to him. A blocked extra point was all that stood between Florida and shaking off a pesky Ole Miss team which Florida had dominated in all statistical categories except turnovers and points.
In a press conference afterward, Tim Tebow vowed that nothing like that would happen again while he was the quarterback at Florida. And, for 2008 at least, he was a man of his word.
Behind Tebow’s firey leadership, the Gators were never again challenged in ten straight games, until they met up with #1 Oklahoma in the BCS title game. The 2008 National Champions pulverized all comers with an 11-point win over then #1 Alabama, a 30-point win over #20 Florida State and a 39-point victory over #6 Georgia.
The BCS Championship went differently than the high-scoring affair many expected. Oklahoma brought in the highest scoring offense of all time. Florida claimed that it had a defense that could slow it down and an offense good enough to keep up. They were right on both counts, holding the Sooners to just 14 points — OU’s lowest total of the season by three full touchdowns. Oklahoma helped the Gators some by blowing two first-half drives inside the Florida 5 yard line. But, to Florida’s full credit, the Gators proved to be the only defense against which Sam Branford and the Sooners could never find traction. Oklahoma was averaging 54 points going into the BCS title match and brought in an NCAA record 5 consecutive 60-plus point game streak to boot. But when the Gators held the Sooners to a mere 14 points, that 54-point average dropped by nearly three full points.
No small feat.
#9. 2000 MIAMI HURRICANES (11-1)
After dominating much of the 1980s and 1990s, the Miami Hurricanes found themselves in a late-90s slump. A 5-6 season sandwiched between stints as the Carquest Bowl and Micron PC Bowl champions, weren’t exactly the swagger-producing campaigns the folks in Coral Gables had gotten use to. But the turn of the Century came like a reset button for the Hurricanes as three of the best teams of the BCS era would emerge out of da U.
2000 Miami (the first of those teams) blasted through a schedule that included three opponents that would finish the season among the top 6 teams in the nation: #3 Washington, #5 Florida State and #6 Virginia Tech. Along with #10 Florida in the Sugar Bowl, Miami faced a tough schedule indeed.
If it were not for a narrow loss to Washington (the only team the Hurricanes did not dominate), Miami would have found itself in the title game against the Sooners — another resurgent college football powerhouse.
Signature moment – Ken Dorsey to Jeremy Shockey for a 13-yard touchdown in the waning seconds against Florida State. This was the end to a game in which Miami had blanked the Seminoles in the first half for a 17-0 lead. Florida State came back furiously to take a 24-20 lead in the 4th quarter. But the pass to Shockey gave the Hurricanes the head-to-head in what should probably have been the deciding factor in who played Oklahoma.
#8. 2010 Auburn Tigers
An euphoric ending to a season of controversy. It’s hard to imagine a more up and down year for a single football program. It’s also hard to imagine a bigger blessing shackled to a more nagging curse in having Cam Newton run the offense.
But, contentions aside, the 2010 Auburn Tigers were a magnificent team to watch barrel through the gauntlet of SEC titans. Particularly those in the West — home to now three of the last four BCS Champions. The Tigers started the season fairly inauspiciously with near-losses to Mississippi State, Clemson and South Carolina. But a 65-43 thumping of #12 Arkansas followed by a solid win over LSU (in which the Newton-led offense slammed the Bayou Bangles for 526 yards) had fans and pundits nation-wide taking stark notice.
Even when the distractions of the Newton controversy hit full swing, Gene Chizik’s team only seemed to become more formidable with every game, proving their mettle in a spectacular comeback win over Alabama in the Iron Bowl and culminating in the slaughter of the SEC East Champion, South Carolina — a rematch of a much tighter regular-season game.
Auburn appears to have weathered the NCAA storm surrounding its star player. What ever happens in the future, much like the 2004 USC Trojans, the images of a spectacular championship season cannot be blotted from memory.
#7. 2005 USC TROJANS (12-1)
Matt Leinart made the astonishing announcement shortly after USC’s pounding of Oklahoma to end 2004. He would forgo the NFL draft and stay his senior season to lead his team to a third straight national title. And into the history books.
It looked like his plan would work, too. If it weren’t Vince Young and those meddling Longhorns.
Before the 38-41 loss to Texas in the Rose Bowl, USC laid waste to defenses up and down the West Coast. The high-octane offense never scored fewer than 34 points and, in fact, scored 50 or more in an astounding 7 of their 12 regular season games.
But the chink in USC’s armor was their own defense. Arizona State, Notre Dame and Fresno State showed that it was possible to put some points on the Trojan D. Something Vince Young and the Texas Longhorns would do with remarkable ease.
Leinart complained after the loss that the best team had not won that night. With scores like 70-17 over Arkansas and 66-19 over UCLA, I can see why he might think that. 2005 USC was the best non-championship team of the BCS era.
#6 2009 ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (14-0)
The 2009 Crimson Tide used the nation’s stingiest defense and a power rushing attack to nearly cruise through a slate full of pitfalls. While showing occasional vulnerability against teams it perhaps shouldn’t have (Tennessee and Auburn), Alabama was absolutely crushing in its defeats of it toughest opponents — Florida and Texas.
The Gators and Longhorns each received their only losses of the season against Alabama and finished third and second in the final polls, right behind the Tide.
Running back Mark Ingram became Alabama’s first ever Heisman-winner while shaking off the curse that usually faces the teams of such winners in National Title games.
While the BCS Championship game was still tight late in the fourth quarter, (Texas trailed 21-24 with two minutes left in the game) Alabama’s relentless defense forced turnovers to quickly kill any hopes of a Texas comeback, winning 37-21.
Alabama won 14 games playing in the nation’s toughest conference. But those moments of vulnerability against Auburn, Tennessee and even Texas (despite the final margin) prevents them from cracking the Top 5.
#5 1999 FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES (12-0)
The first and ONLY wire-to-wire AP #1 team. If you ever have a conversation with a Seminole fan that last more than five minutes, you’ll be sure to hear this bit of college football trivia. While I’m not too sure that particular stat amounts to anymore than a simple twist of fate, one thing that’s not random chance is that the 1999 Seminoles remain one of the best teams of the BCS era.
Led by Chris Weinke and Peter Warrick on offense, Florida State scored less than 30 points only once that season, gashing teams like Miami and Virginia Tech who were otherwise know for stingy defenses. Bobby Bowden’s best team saved their greatest performance for the Sugar Bowl where first half and fourth quarter dominance of the Hokies killed whatever false hope Virginia Tech mustered in the third quarter.
Remarkably, the only Florida State team to ever finish a season undefeated, the 1999 Seminoles capped a decade in which the program compiled an incredible 109-14 record — the meat of an unprecedented run of 14 consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins.
#4. 2000 OKLAHOMA SOONERS (13-0)
Oklahoma emerged from its worst decade of football since the 1930s to become one of the Top 5 programs of the last decade. And it all started with the 2000 Sooners who came into the season with high-expectations, but none nearly to the extent of what the team actually accomplished.
Oklahoma clobbered four ranked opponents on their way to nearly blanking Florida State in the Orange Bowl, including an impressive 31-14 win over then top-ranked Nebraska. Oklahoma scored gaudy points over the likes of Texas and Kansas State, beating the Big 12 north champs twice with a combined total of nine touchdowns.
Miami fans argue that their team was a better match for OU than Florida State in 2000 and, as my #9 team of the BCS era, I tend to agree. Another shameful missed opportunity.
Signature moment — Oklahoma linebacker Rocky Calmus knocked lose the football as Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke tried to scramble away. The fumble recovery set the Sooners up on the Seminole 15 yard line allowing Oklahoma to score the only touchdown of the night. Oklahoma’s spectacular defensive play heralded the return of a dormant superpower.
#3. 2005 TEXAS LONGHORNS (13-0)
Some say the 2005 Longhorns were all Vince Young. I say one man alone, no matter how gifted, could put up the kind of points this team did, outscoring their opponents 652 to 203 in 13 games. In that onslaught were four ranked teams, including top 5 finishers Ohio State and USC. Indeed, none of the Longhorn’s Big 12 rivals proved worthy including Oklahoma which lost 45-12 and the north division champion Colorado which had 16 touchdowns scored upon them in two games. Texas scored 40 points or more in all but one game (a win against Ohio State) and scored 60 or more points five times.
Even though it was a close game, 2005 Texas’ most remarkable achievement was handing defending National Champion USC (the seventh best team of the decade) its only loss of the season. Few teams this decade could have handled the two-headed Heisman Trophy beast of Southern California. But this one could. And did.
Signature moment — 4th and five.
#2. 2004 USC TROJANS (13-0)
Despite what’s happened recently with NCAA sanctions, the Pete Carroll years had been good for USC football. Two National Championships, three Heisman winners, seven straight seasons of 11 or more wins and five USC teams ranked on this list — with two of those teams residing in my top 7.
And yet, I make no equivocation in declaring that the 2004 team would’ve mopped the floor with any of those other Trojan squads.
The list of victims on USC’s 2004 schedule include such worthy opponents as Virginia Tech, Cal, Arizona State and Notre Dame. But the 2004 Trojans would take on legendary status by manhandling second-ranked Oklahoma 55-19 in the Orange Bowl, blasting its way to a 38-10 halftime lead.
Along with Oklahoma, USC beat three top 10 teams in all. Like other USC teams, the 2004 team often let less worthy opponents hang on, only to demolish them in the second half. But even in these games, the threats rarely looked serious. It was as if the Trojans were merely toying with their opponents.
And they probably were.
Signature moment — There’s a lot to choose from here. One of the many Leinart to Jarrett touchdowns. Maybe a run by LenDale White or Reggie Bush. Or possibly a defensive stop in close games against Cal or UCLA. The 2004 season was filled with spectacular moments for the Trojans. But the most seminal moment, in my opinion, came off-field ten days after the Orange Bowl. Heisman winner, Matt Leinart announced his return to USC for his senior season and a chance to help the Trojans become the first team ever to win three consecutive National Titles. The news chilled the spines of opponents up and down the 2005 USC docket. While it has since become fashionable for undergrad stars to stick around for their senior seasons, Leinart’s decision came as a surprise to many. That a Heisman-winning quarterback on the heels of a blow-out National Title victory and an undefeated season would postpone millions of dollars to come back to help his University make history speaks to the kind of supercharged atmosphere that enveloped the program at mid-decade.
#1. 2001 MIAMI HURRICANES (12-0)
Are the 2001 Hurricanes the best college football team in the history of the Universe? That’s for another article, but there’s no denying that they are the best of the BCS era. I’m sure the USC fans who were captivated by Leinhart and Bush will object, but the stats speak for themselves.
Miami played six teams that finished ranked in the Top 25 of 2001. #8 Nebraska, #18 Virginia Tech, #19 Washington, #14 Syracuse, #21 Boston College and #15 Florida State. Tough schedule? Well for just about any other team, it would be, but Miami bulldozed those teams by a combined score of 254 to 79. Or a 42-13 average. Miami made some of these top tier opponents look no better than the Rutgers and Troy States of their schedule, slamming Syracuse and Washington for a combined 17 touchdowns while allowing them only one.
The culmination of the 2001 season came on January 3rd, 2002 in Pasadena when Miami shot to a 34-0 half-time lead over then #4 Nebraska. The 2001 Huskers were themselves no creampuffs, having lead the nation in rushing offense steered by the explosive Heisman winner, Eric Crouch. But Miami dominated their opponent from the opening series on. A tough fight from Nebraska in the second half kept the game from being a total debacle, but the final outcome was never in doubt.
A direct comparison of the era’s top two teams shows why 2001 Miami beats 2004 USC. Both teams demolished their schedules up and down except for two games a piece. Miami nudged past Virginia Tech 26-24 and beat Boston College handily but not spectacularly 18-7. But both VT and BC were ranked opponents and were reasonably tight games. USC, on the other hand, had close calls against two unranked opponents. Stanford 31-28 and UCLA 29-24. Edge Miami. Both teams demolished formidable bowl opponents. But USC’s opponent was tougher and they won by a wider margin than the Canes. Edge USC. USC played four teams ranked in the final poll. They beat two soundly and demolished two. Miami played six teams ranked in the final poll. Edged one. Beat another soundly. They destroyed the other four and had no close calls against unranked opponents (unlike USC). Big edge to Miami.
While some may argue that the domination level of USC and Miami are too close to call, I just don’t see it. To sum. An undefeated season, a loaded schedule (matched only by the 2001 Florida schedule) and an unequivocal domination of opponents makes the 2001 Miami Hurricanes the best college football team of the BCS era.