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May 25, 2012

Random Thoughts: Ranking the BCS Champions II



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 criterion in this list. It's a mixture of talent, level of domination and who would win on a neutral field.

This is the second of a two-part series, going from the seventh-best champion of the BCS era to No. 1. Feel free to debate and deride this list while deciding your own order.

Part I - Counting down No. 14 to No. 8

7) Alabama 2011
Record: 13-1
Claim to fame: 'Bama embarrassed LSU in its backyard, New Orleans, to win the national championship, shutting out the Tigers in a game that bored most of the nation, but was a tour de force defensively.

Unlike the 2009 team, Alabama did not go undefeated, but it's hard to hold that against the Crimson Tide when it avenged its only loss by humiliating LSU 21-0 in the Superdome, the site of the Tigers' two national championship victories. A pedestrian passing game was the only thing keeping Alabama from true greatness. Nick Saban's guys had everything else - a dominant defense and college football's best running back in Trent Richardson. Aside from an awful 9-6 overtime defeat to LSU in Tuscaloosa, Alabama beat everyone by at least 16 points and held every FBS opponents to 14 points or fewer.

6) Auburn 2010
Record: 14-0
Claim to Fame: Cam Newton had one of the most spectacular single seasons in the history of college football, morphing from Florida foolishness to Heisman Trophy winner while making jaw-dropping plays week after week.

Newton and nose guard Nick Fairley elevated an otherwise average team into a champion for the ages. Newton, who had the best single season of the 21st century, shattered the SEC record for rushing yards by a quarterback (1,473) while making every big play the Tigers needed with his feet and his arm.

Alabama found out the hard way after taking a 24-0 lead in Tuscaloosa, then falling victim to a comeback for the ages s the Tigers roared back to win 28-27. They annihilated South Carolina 56-17 in the SEC Championship Game and contained Oregon's high-octane attack in a 22-19 title game victory.

Player for player, Auburn was nowhere near as talented as either Alabama national champion, but the Crimson Tide did not have Newton. No one could stop him when it mattered.

5) Florida State 1999
Record: 13-0
Claim to Fame: Bobby Bowden won his second national title, and this one did not come with an asterisk like his first in 1993 when the Seminoles leapfrogged a Notre Dame team that beat them in late November.

Bowden had better teams during his unprecedented 14-year run of top-four finishes from 1987-2000, but this was the only one that finished undefeated. With 27-year old junior quarterback Chris Weinke throwing for at least 229 yards in every game - most often to dynamic wide receiver Peter Warrick - the Seminoles scored at least 30 points in all but one of their 12 victories. Nose guard Corey Simon led a solid defense. Kicker Sebastien Janikowski, who had one of the strongest legs in NCAA history, was a weapon at a position that had killed FSU in the past.

The Seminoles had one really close call, rallying from a 14-6 second-half deficit to beat Clemson and Bowden baby Tommy 17-14 with a late field goal. They also struggled to finish off Florida, knocking down a desperation pass in the end zone to preserve their 33-26 victory over the Gators in The Swamp. In the Sugar Bowl, they whipped Virginia Tech early and late but still struggled to contain quarterback Michael Vick, trailing 29-28 entering the fourth quarter before outscoring the Hokies 18-0.

Steve Spurrier was not impressed. After UF's loss to FSU, he groused that the Semionles did not have a vintage team and lamented the Gators' missed opportunities.

4) Texas 2005
Record: 13-0
Claim to Fame: The Longhorns won by far the best BCS title game, rallying from a 38-26 deficit in the last 4:30 to beat USC 41-38, snapping the Trojans' 34-game win streak. Vince Young, who rushed for 200 yards and threw for 267 more, scored the decisive touchdown with an 8-yard scamper on fourth down with 19 seconds left.

The pretenders are out of the way. The top four teams on this list are clearly better than the rest. Young (3,036 passing yards, 1,050 yards) was transcendent all year in 2005, setting the tone with several key throws on a late TD drive as Texas rallied for an early-season 25-22 victory at No. 4 Ohio State. The Longhorns never looked back, clobbering Oklahoma 45-12 to end a five-game losing streak to the Sooners and mauling Colorado 70-3 in the Big 12 Championship Game. Texas was more than just Young, though. Safety Michael Huff won the Thorpe Award, and defensive tackle Rodrigue Wright was a first-team All-America selection. A team and a coach (Mack Brown) with a reputation for underachieving silenced all the critics, culminating in the dramatic win over USC in the Rose Bowl. The Trojans, with former Heisman winner Matt Leinart and current Heisman winner Reggie Bush, had labeled the greatest team ever before the defense broke down late in the year.

3) Florida 2008
Record: 13-1
Claim to Fame: After a stunning home loss to Ole Miss, Tim Tebow vowed that he and his teammates would do everything in their power to make sure they never lost again. He did not guarantee they would win them, but his words got twisted and the interview was played oh, about a thousand times as the Florida wiped out the competition the rest of the way.

If not for that sloppy, inexplicable 31-30 defeat to Ole Miss in early October, the best team in Florida history might be even higher. This was a special group, routing every other regular-season opponent by 23 points or more and beating undefeated Alabama 31-20 in the SEC Championship Game even though the scintillating Percy Harvin sat out with a leg injury.

Tebow, coming off a Heisman Trophy in 2008, threw for 30 touchdowns with only four interceptions and rushed for 673 yards and 12 more scores. Harvin caught 40 passes for 644 yards and averaged an absurd 9.4 yards on 70 carries. Linebacker Brandon Spikes led a defense with a terrific, ball-hawking secondary featuring Janoris Jenkins, Joe Haden and Ahmad Black and talented ends Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap.

Oklahoma, which had scored at least 35 points in every game and averaged 62 in its last six, found out just how good that defense was in the BCS title game. Florida won 24-14, shutting down Heisman-winning quarterback Sam Bradford.

2) USC 2004
Record: 13-1
Claim to Fame: USC massacred undefeated Oklahoma 55-19, leading 38-10 at the half. Almost no one would have beaten that team on that night.

A stats geek would wonder how USC could be ranked ahead of Texas, which beat a more heavily hyped Trojans' team the following year. Despite playing only two ranked teams, USC was nowhere near as dominant during the regular season as '05 Texas, beating California 23-17 despite getting out-gained 424-205, trailing 4-7 Stanford 28-17 at the half and sleepwalking past 6-6 UCLA 29-24.

Clearly, USC did not bring it every week, but when they came to play, the Trojans were better and more balanced than their '05 edition. The defense finished No. 1 against the run, yielding 79.4 yards per game.

Tackles Mike Patterson and Shaun Cody, the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, were first-team All-America picks. The offense was less prolific than the record-setting unit of 2005, but Leinart won the Heisman Trophy, throwing 33 touchdowns with only six interceptions. Lindell White rushed for 1,103 yards and 15 touchdowns. Bush had more than 1,400 rushing and receiving yards combined.

1) Miami 2001
Record: 12-0
Claim To Fame: This Miami team produced an unheard of 17 eventual first-round NFL draft picks, including Jonathan Vilma, Ed Reed, Sean Taylor, Clinton Portis, Jeremy Shockey, Bryant McKinney and Phillip Buchanon. Willis McGahee and Kellen Winslow were backups.

Preposterously talented, Miami did not get to prove itself against a worthy opponent in the BCS championship game. The Hurricanes hammered Nebraska, which had lost 62-36 to Colorado in its last regular season game and failed to win its division in the Big 12. Still, no one in the BSC era could match up with those Hurricanes player for player. First-year head coach Larry Coker, benefiting from awesome recruiting by Butch Davis, just had to keep his all-star team on autopilot.

Ken Dorsey, a system quarterback who was virtually untouched in the pocket, threw for 3,029 yards and 26 touchdowns.

The Hurricanes were more than just a collection of talent, though. They played hard, too, averaging 42.6 points while allowing 9.75. Eight of their 12 opponents scored seven or fewer points. The secondary allowed five touchdown passes and had 27 interceptions.

When Miami was on its A game, no one in the BCS era could contend with its array of playmakers.


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