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May 18, 2012

Random Thoughts: Ranking the BCS Champions



GUERRY SMITH RANDOM THOUGHTS: Lose the 'all or nothing' mentality | The great Tebow debate | It's no lie, under Urban Meyer winning mattered most | Pease is an improvement over Weis | Gator Nation - Be thankful for Donovan

The BCS era is about to end with the almost certain creation of a four-team playoff starting in 2014. Few people will regret its demise, but this is a good time to review its history and rank the 14 BCS champions in ascending order of quality.

Don't look for a set criteria in this list. It's a mixture of talent, level of domination and who would win on a neutral field.

This is the first of a two-part series, going from the worst champion of the BCS era to No. 8. I'll rank the top seven next week.

14) LSU 2007
Record: 12-2
Claim to fame: The Tigers became the only team with two losses to reach the BCS title game, and they made the most of their fortunate opportunity.

LSU lost at Kentucky, which went 3-5 in the SEC, and at home to Arkansas, which went 4-4. Both defeats were in overtime, leading to coach Les Miles' laughable proclamation that LSU was the only team undefeated in regulation. The Tigers also needed a series of fourth-down conversions to get past Florida at home and a touchdown pass with one second left to rally past Auburn at home. After sneaking into the title game thanks to a bizarre string of upsets, the Tigers spanked rebuilding Ohio State in the Louisiana Superdome, an hour away from Baton Rouge. Florida had drubbed a much better Buckeyes' team - this one lost to Ron Zook and Illinois - a year earlier in the BCS championship.

13) Tennessee 1998
Record: 13-0
Claim to fame: The Vols won a national championship the year after Peyton Manning left, with Tee Martin at quarterback.

The luckiest undefeated team of the BCS era capped off a perfect season by beating quarterback-bereft FSU in the title game. With Chris Weinke sitting out due to injury, the Seminoles started borderline stiff Marcus Outzen, a sophomore who never played another significant down. Tennessee beat Syracuse 34-33 on a last-play field goal to open the year, upset Florida in overtime in Knoxville despite finishing with seven first downs and scored a last-minute touchdown to beat Arkansas after quarterback Clint Stoerner fumbled with no one around him as the Razorbacks tried to run out the clock.

12) LSU 2003
Record: 13-1
Claim to fame: Nick Saban won his first national championship with his trademark style of a dominant defense and a workmanlike offense.

Like Tennessee in 1998, Saban's best LSU team did not wow anyone, but got the job done. Well, except once. In their only loss, the Tigers failed to score on offense while losing 19-7 at home to Florida and true freshman quarterback Chris Leak. Just as in 2007, the BCS championship game was in the Louisiana Superdome, and LSU caught a huge break when the idiotic BCS formula spit out Oklahoma as the opponent instead of USC. The Sooners were coming off a 35-7 loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game. USC had lost in triple overtime to California and beaten every other opponent by at least 17 points. Freshman Justin Vincent, who was mediocre for the rest of his career, ran wild on the demoralized Sooners.

11) 2002 Ohio State
Record: 14-0
Claim to fame: The Buckeyes stunned loaded Miami 31-24 in double overtime to take the title, halting the Hurricanes' 34-game win streak.

The undefeated Buckeyes were the least impressive team on this list - but they come in at No. 11 because of the quality of their opponent in the BCS championship game. They beat heavily favored Miami and were ahead most of the way before winning thanks to a dubious, late interference call after a fourth-down pass fell incomplete in overtime. With star freshman running back Maurice Clarett hobbled for part of the regular season, Ohio State edged Cincinnati thanks to a late end zone interception, rallied past Purdue (6-6) with a fourth-down TD pass in the final minute and needed overtime to survive Illinois (5-7). Ugh.

10) Oklahoma 2000
Record: 13-0
Claim to fame: Two years after leaving Florida, where he was the defensive coordinator, Bob Stoops returned the Sooners to their former glory.

Stoops' second Sooners team began the year ranked No. 19 in the Associated Press poll, climbed into the top 10 by the beginning of October and rose to No. 1 by the end of the month after drubbing No 11 Texas 63-14, beating No. 2 Kansas State 41-31 and burying No. 1 Nebraska 31-14 in consecutive games. Oklahoma did everything well but nothing spectacular, riding the precision passing of Josh Heupel, the hard running of Quentin Griffin and the intensity of linebacker Rocky Calmus to a perfect record. The Sooners caught a break in the national title game when FSU suspended leading wide receiver Marvin Minnis and Seminoles' offensive coordinator Mark Richt was distracted after accepting Georgia's coaching job. The result was an ugly 13-2 victory in the lowest scoring BCS championship game ever.

9) Florida 2006
Record: 13-1
Claim to fame: Derided for having no business playing in the game, the motivated Gators used that criticism as fuel for a furious rout of huge favorite Ohio State.

The Gators rarely looked the part of a national champion under second-year coach Urban Meyer, needing a blocked field goal to get past South Carolina in The Swamp and losing to good, but not great, Auburn team on the road. Boy, did they make up for it in Glendale, Ariz., dismantling undefeated Ohio State 41-14. With defensive ends Jarvis Moss and Derrick Harvey wreaking havoc, the numbers were mind boggling. UF limited Heisman Trophy-winner Troy Smith to four completions in 14 attempts for 35 yards, sacking him five times. Florida out-gained Ohio State 370-82, with Chris Leak passing for 213 yards, Tim Tebow rushing and throwing for touchdowns and Percy Harvin making nine receptions.

8) 2009 Alabama
Record: 14-0
Claim to fame: The Crimson Tide was brilliant in beating undefeated Florida in the SEC Championship Game, preventing the Gators from winning their third national title in Tebow's career.

Alabama would be higher on most lists, but take out the stunning 32-13 SEC Championship Game victory over the Gators and what do you have? Well, a team that struggled to beat reeling Tennessee 12-10 and mediocre Auburn 26-21 before inexplicably keeping Texas in the BCS title game well into the fourth quarter despite knocking out quarterback Colt McCoy early in the first. That should have been a 30-point rub-out after Longhorns' freshman quarterback Garrett Gilbert entered early in the first quarter. He turned out to be a stiff the following year, but he threw a scare into Alabama before Texas succumbed 37-21. Alabama's parts were better than the whole. With Mark Ingram rushing to the Heisman Trophy and the defense excelling against the run and the pass, Saban's crew should have been more dominant.


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