July 15, 2011

Rivals at 10: Ranking the BCS champs

Trying to sort out the best of the best always is asking for trouble.

We decided to rank the BCS champions of the past decade, and the difficulty of putting together this kind of list is obvious. How do you sort out one champion from another? Weren't they all the best in that particular season?

But a closer look at the past 10 champions reveals that a few were much more dominant than others.

And if you're upset about where your favorite national champion ranks on this list, remember this much: Your team already finished atop the only rankings that really mattered.

1. Miami 2001
Record: 12-0
Title-game performance: 37-14 over Nebraska in Rose Bowl
Buzz: There might not have been a more star-studded roster in college football history than this one. Miami's starting lineup for its Rose Bowl rout of Nebraska included 11 eventual first-round picks (CB Phillip Buchanon, WR Andre Johnson, DT William Joseph, DE Jerome McDougle, RB Willis McGahee, OT Bryant McKinnie, S Ed Reed, CB Mike Rumph, TE Jeremy Shockey, LB Jonathan Vilma and LB D.J. Williams). The Hurricanes' starting lineup that night also featured second-round pick Clinton Portis at running back and Maxwell Award winner Ken Dorsey at quarterback. Frank Gore (a two-time Pro Bowler) was a backup tailback. Miami's starting center, Brett Romberg, would win the Rimington Trophy as the nation's top center the following season. No wonder they breezed to a 12-0 record while outscoring teams 512-117. Miami eked out a 26-24 win at Virginia Tech in its regular-season finale, but the Hurricanes won all the rest of their games by double digits. Miami allowed more than seven points in just four games all season.
2. USC 2004
Record: 13-0
Title-game performance: 55-19 over Oklahoma in Orange Bowl
Buzz: This team featured extraordinary talent at the skill positions. The offensive backfield featured 2004 Heisman winner Matt Leinart and 2005 Heisman recipient Reggie Bush as well as second-round pick LenDale White. Leinart's receivers included Dwayne Jarrett, who ended his college career as the Pac-10's career leader in touchdown catches (41). The other starting receiver was Steve Smith, who would go on to reach the Pro Bowl with the New York Giants. The backup quarterback was Matt Cassel, now a starter for the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs. This team did have a few close calls in the regular season. The Trojans won 31-28 at Stanford, 23-17 against California, 28-20 at Oregon State and 29-24 at UCLA. But they ended up outscoring opponents 496-169 and delivered one of the most dominant championship game performances in college football history.
3. Texas 2005
Record: 13-0
Title-game performance: 41-38 over USC in Rose Bowl
Buzz: Although this team was overshadowed by USC up until it upset the Trojans in the Rose Bowl, Texas dominated just about everyone it faced during the 2005 season. Texas won 25-22 at Ohio State in its second game of the season, then won 10 consecutive games by double digits, including a 70-3 demolition of Colorado in the Big 12 championship game. Texas ended up outscoring foes 652-213. Although the Longhorns relied heavily on QB Vince Young, this team also featured Kansas City Chiefs star Jamaal Charles in the backfield and three first-round picks (Michael Griffin, Michael Huff and Aaron Ross) in the secondary. Huff won the Jim Thorpe Award in 2005 and Ross would receive it the following year.
4. Alabama 2009
Record: 14-0
Title-game performance: 37-21 over Texas
Buzz: Alabama made it through the SEC unscathed and delivered wins over No. 7 Virginia Tech, No. 9 LSU, No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Texas on its way to winning the national title. The 32-13 whipping of Florida ended the Gators' 22-game winning streak and ranks among the most impressive single-game performances of the past decade. Alabama outscored opponents by a combined 449-164, though the Tide needed a blocked field-goal attempt as time expired to win 12-10 at home against a Tennessee team that finished 7-6 that season. Alabama's roster featured Heisman winner Mark Ingram and fellow first-round picks Julio Jones, Rolando McClain and Marcell Dareus. McClain won the 2005 Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker, while DT Terrence Cody was a two-time consensus All-American.
5. Auburn 2010
Record: 14-0
Title-game performance: 22-19 over Oregon
Buzz: Auburn arguably had the best offensive player (Heisman-winning QB Cam Newton) and the top defensive player (DT Nick Fairley) of the 2010 season, but the Tigers didn't have quite as much overall talent as the four teams we've ranked ahead of them. Auburn also wasn't quite as good defensively as those other four teams. The Tigers outscored opponents 577-337 and ranked just 60th in total defense. Auburn had quite a few close calls on its way to an undefeated season. The Tigers won 17-14 at Mississippi State, 27-24 over Clemson in overtime, 35-27 over South Carolina, 37-34 over Kentucky, 24-17 over LSU, 28-27 over Alabama and 22-19 over Oregon in the championship game. In seven of their 14 games, the Tigers were tied or behind in the fourth quarter. While Auburn wasn't a dominant champion, there's something to be said for making it through the nation's toughest conference with a perfect record. This team certainly showed its toughness by rallying from a 24-0 deficit to beat defending national champion Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
6. Florida 2008
Record: 13-1
Title-game performance: 24-14 over Oklahoma
Buzz: The numbers speak to this team's dominance. Florida ranked fourth in scoring offense and fourth in scoring defense while outscoring opponents by 611-181. All 13 of Florida's wins were decided by double digits, though the 31-20 SEC championship game victory over Alabama and the BCS championship game triumph over Oklahoma were competitive. The Gators became the first team in SEC history to win six consecutive league games by at least 28 points, including a 30-point victory over No. 4 LSU, a 39-point rout of No. 8 Georgia and a 50-point beatdown of No. 24 South Carolina. This team featured a Heisman winner (QB Tim Tebow), a Rimington Trophy recipient (C Maurkice Pouncey) and a John Mackey Award winner (TE Aaron Hernandez). First-round picks from this team included Tebow, Maurkice Pouncey, G Mike Pouncey, WR Percy Harvin and CB Joe Haden. The loss was 31-30 at home to Ole Miss.
7. Ohio State 2002
Record: 14-0
Title-game performance: 31-24 over Miami in double-overtime in Fiesta Bowl
Buzz: We give the Buckeyes plenty of credit for going undefeated and repeatedly showing they could win close games, but this wasn't a dominant team by any stretch. Ohio State leaned heavily on its outstanding defense because the Buckeyes ranked just 70th nationally in total offense. Six of its wins were decided by seven or fewer points. That included a 23-19 win over a Cincinnati team that went 7-7 that season, a 19-14 victory over a Wisconsin team that finished 8-6, a 10-6 triumph over a Purdue team that went 7-6 and a 23-16 overtime escape of an Illinois team that went 5-7. Ohio State stunned a talent-laden Miami team in the Fiesta Bowl, a game that always will be remembered for an interference call in the end zone in the first overtime.
8. LSU 2003
Record: 13-1
Title-game performance: 21-14 over Oklahoma in Sugar Bowl
Buzz: This LSU team boasted one of the best defenses of the past decade. The Tigers led the nation in total defense (252.0) and scoring defense (11.0), and 11 Tigers made at least 40 tackles. In addition, the Tigers had 44 sacks, with six players having at least four, and 21 interceptions. LSU outscored opponents by a combined 475-154, and WRs Devery Henderson and Michael Clayton combined to catch 21 TD passes. But this team also fell 19-7 at home to a Ron Zook-coached Florida team that lost five games that season. LSU played the BCS championship game against Oklahoma, which was coming off a 35-7 loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 title game. USC, which ended the season as the AP national champion, likely would have offered a much tougher challenge.
9. Florida 2006
Record: 13-1
Title-game performance: 41-14 over Ohio State
Buzz: Florida looked so impressive in whipping previously unbeaten Ohio State in the BCS championship game that it's hard to remember that the Gators were far from dominant in the regular season. Florida recorded one-point wins over Tennessee (21-20) and South Carolina (17-16) and was tied with Florida State in the fourth quarter before winning 21-14. Florida beat South Carolina after blocking a field-goal attempt in the final seconds. South Carolina finished 8-5 and Florida State was 7-6 that season. Florida lost 27-17 at Auburn, which went on to finish 11-2. The Gators got a shot at the national title only because USC closed the regular season with a stunning loss to UCLA. Florida didn't have a great offense that season, but it did have an exceptional defense that played its best in the biggest possible moment. That defense featured first-round picks Derrick Harvey, Jarvis Moss and Reggie Nelson; in all, eight defenders off this team were drafted, including five linemen.
10. LSU 2007
Record: 12-2
Title-game performance: 38-24 over Ohio State
Buzz: The only two-loss team in this group naturally finishes last on our list. While it's worth noting both losses went to overtime, it wasn't as if the Tigers fell to powerhouse squads: Kentucky and Arkansas both lost five games that season. LSU sneaked into the national title game only after Missouri lost to Oklahoma and West Virginia fell to Pittsburgh the night the Tigers were beating Tennessee in the SEC championship game. LSU also had a few narrow escapes. LSU beat Florida and Auburn at home after trailing in the fourth quarter, and the Tigers also needed to come from behind in the final period to beat Tennessee in the SEC championship game.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.


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