Portions of this article may be found at AskMen.com.
Few topics bring about as much passion and debate in this nation as college football. More so than with any other sport in this nation, college football teams represent communities, states and regions. The pageantry, tradition and sense of unity are unmatched. Go anywhere in Ohio, yell “O-H” and see how long it takes to hear an “I-O.” The same goes for “Roll Tide” in Alabama (or “War Eagle depending where you are) or “Go Blue” in Michigan or countless other chants in other areas of the country. As a sports fan, nothing beats the smells, sights and sounds of college football gameday on a major campus.
But for so long, so much of the debate surrounded the lack of a true champion in college football. In 1998, some of that debate was answered with the formation of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), which followed the Bowl Alliance and Bowl Coalition to unify all bowls and ensure that the top two teams, as determined by a combination of computers and human voters, would meet in the national championship. The BCS turned ten years old with the culmination of the 2007 season, won by the LSU Tigers. While it has not been without controversy and a few tweaks, and is not a true playoff, the BCS has been successful at keeping us entertained and spreading the wealth. Half of the championship games have been within a touchdown and, until this season, there had been no repeat champions. With all of the discussions of the relative Miami and USC dynasties, nine different teams representing six different conferences (the “BCS” conferences) have won it all.
But, how strong are these ten teams? Could they have withstood a playoff? Were they worthy of the championship? Where do they rank against other champions? Were any seasons down years? Have the LSU Tigers, the only team with multiple championships, produced two of the weaker or stronger teams in this brief history of the BCS?
This is where WhatIfSports steps in with the answers. We take the BCS to the next level by creating a tournament of all ten champions. To do this in as fair a manner as possible, we “played” all ten teams against all of the other championship teams on neutral field 100 times each. Teams are then ranked by winning percentage from those simulations. The winning percentage is in parentheses next to the team and is followed by an overall team value from our Dream Team feature. This value is not necessarily indicative of how well the team will play against other teams in the sim, but it is a relative measure of the overall talent of the players who contributed that season.
#10: 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes (29.2% winning percentage, 60.35 WIS value)
Usually making these lists at all is a good thing, but in this case it means that the 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes were the worst team of the ten BCS champions. OSU defeated the highly touted Miami (FL) 31-24 in a highly controversial double-overtime game in the Fiesta Bowl. Senior quarterback and Academic All-American Player of the Year Craig Krenzel and senior safety and current Minnesota Viking Mike Doss shared the BCS MVP honors. They may not fare well here, but one can be assured that the computer would not have liked them to defeat Miami either. Often referred to as the “Luckeyes,” Ohio State won ugly that season with seven of its 14 victories coming by a touchdown or less. They prepared better than anyone, played with heart, rarely made mistakes and always found ways to win. Head coach Jim Tressel, the 2002 National Coach of the Year, is exceptional at seeing the big picture with every decision he makes and finding ways to make the most of the strengths on his team – that and wearing obnoxious red vests. In this analysis though, talent (and the numbers that talent produces) wins out and the Buckeyes just cannot hang with the other teams on the list.
Notable Contributors: Craig Krenzel, QB, Mike Doss, S, Maurice Clarrett, RB, Chris Gamble, WR/CB, Mike Nugent, K
#9: 1998 Tennessee Volunteers (35.4%, 62.32)
Peyton Manning was supposed to win a championship in his four years at Tennessee. Jamal Lewis was supposed to be a Heisman frontrunner. Peyton, along with Marcus Nash and Leonard Little, graduated without a ring after being destroyed by Nebraska the year before and Lewis tore a ligament in his knee midway through the season. So, instead, it was Tee Martin and Travis Henry who brought the title to Rocky Top with a victory over Florida State (though the next year’s FSU team beats them here) in first ever BCS Championship Game at the Fiesta Bowl. While Manning had put up big numbers, Martin managed the game, kept turnovers to a minimum (he had just six interceptions to 19 touchdowns) and let the defense and deep running game take over en route to an historic undefeated season. The fans had anticipated a championship for four years with Manning at the helm. With all of their personnel losses and coming off the defeat to the Cornhuskers, many even thought that the pre-season number ten ranking was a little high. This was definitely not supposed to happen and their lack of (statistical) superstars may be what keeps this team from ranking higher, but the beauty of sports is that the "supposed to" rarely happens.
Notable Contributors: Tee Martin, QB, Travis Henry, RB, Peerless Price, WR, Al Wilson, LB, Raynoch Thompson, S
#8: 1999 Florida State Seminoles (36.7%, 67.89)
The Sugar Bowl that followed the 1999 season as the BCS National Championship game is remembered more for Michael Vick’s single-handed performance as the Virginia Tech quarterback than it is for Florida State’s 17-point win in a game that was rarely in doubt. Truth be told though, the Virginia Tech squad was a one-man band and FSU did not have to play the level of competition that many of these other squads did, 2002 OSU included, to win its championship. On the season though, FSU was fairly impressive. The team was a wire-to-wire number one, outscoring its opponents by an average score of 38-17. That sounds great, but oddly enough, the team looked more like the tenth team on this list in terms of talent than the teams ahead of it on this list. And actually, Ohio State had far more players go on to make names for themselves in the NFL than this Seminoles squad. Just Sebastian Janikowski and Chris Hope remain as starters on Sundays. This was a veteran team that started 21 upperclassmen (including the kicker and punter) and played better together than any of its opponents.
Notable Contributors: Chris Weinke, QB, Peter Warrick, WR/KR/PR, Sebastian Janikowski, K, Corey Simon DT, Tommy Polley, LB
#7: 2006 Florida Gators (38.8%, 67.9)
Urban Meyer took over as the Gators head coach in 2005 and took home the BCS Trophy one season later. Meyer’s blend of creativity, guts and aggressiveness perfectly matched the speed and talent available to Florida in recruiting. The former Bowling Green and Utah leader created an experienced defense, bringing in two transfers, Reggie Nelson and Ryan Smith, to man the defensive backfield. On offense, he added some youth and versatility with Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and a host of other weapons. Add those to smart players like Chris Leak and Jarvis Moss and Florida built itself a champion with relative ease. That being said, the Gators still needed USC to lose to UCLA in the last week of the season to get into the BCS Championship. The rest is history though, as Florida destroyed Ohio State, 41-14, thoroughly confusing Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith.
Notable Contributors: Chris Leak, QB, Percy Harvin, WR, Tim Tebow, QB, Reggie Nelson, S, Ryan Smith, DB, Jarvis Moss, DE
#6: 2000 Oklahoma Sooners (42.1%, 69.19)
Another team that greatly exceeded expectations, Bob Stoops and the Oklahoma Sooners announced their reemergence on the national landscape of college football with authority in 2000, holding Florida State to just two points in the BCS Championship Orange Bowl. Similar to most of the teams already discussed, this OU team had a sound defense that made plays, a deep running game, good return teams and a quarterback who managed the game pretty well. The Sooners started the season at #19 in the AP Poll and actually slipped a spot after the first week before making their ascent to #1 with a 31-14 home victory over then #1 Nebraska. Even before that though, the team put itself firmly in the championship picture with a blowout win over #10 Texas in the Red River Rivalry and a ten point victory at #2 Kansas State, which it later defeated again to win the Big 12 and earn a spot in the championship game. Quarterback Josh Heupel’s numbers were not exceptionally pretty and no running back gained over 850 yards, but the offense got the job done, while the defense and special teams were outstanding.
Notable Contributors: Josh Heupel, QB, Roy Williams, S, Rocky Calmus, S, J.T. Thatcher, S, Torrance Marshall, LB
#5: 2007 LSU Tigers (42.2%, 74.47)
The Tigers lost twice this season, both times to SEC bowl teams in triple-overtime, overcoming more than any other team on this list. Like Florida the year before, LSU needed a ton of help after losing to Arkansas in the last regular season game of the year. First, it had to defeat Tennessee in the SEC Championship. An interception returned for a touchdown provided the difference in the 21-14 game that was started by backup quarterback Ryan Perriloux. Then, LSU had to hope that #1 Missouri lost to Oklahoma and #2 West Virginia lost to Pitt. When both of those events shockingly occurred, LSU still had to jump over #4 Georgia in the final BCS regular season poll to meet Ohio State in the final. Somehow, all of that happened. A month later, LSU took care of the rest on the field. Matt Flynn threw four touchdown passes as LSU rolled over OSU 38-24 in New Orleans. 2007 was a crazy season, full of upsets, intrigue and excitement. In the end though, LSU left little doubt as to which team had the best year.
Notable Contributors: Matt Flynn, QB, Jacob Hester, RB, Glen Dorsey, DT, Craig Steltz, S, Early Doucet, WR, Ali Highsmith, LB
#4: 2003 LSU Tigers (60.2%, 74.17)
It looks like this list is more about the top four and then several teams that caught lightning in a bottle (well, as we will see later, it may be more like one amazing team, three great teams and then the rest). Ironically, the biggest winning percentage gap between teams on this list falls between two teams from the same school. This version of the LSU Tigers featured even more talent across the board than the most recent version and was coached by Nick Saban, now back in the SEC with Alabama. Three one-loss teams all staked a claim at the national championship game bid in 2003. After defeating Georgia for the SEC Championship, LSU got in to face Oklahoma even though USC was #1 in both human polls (USC would get its revenge the next season, helping to keep SEC champion Auburn out of the game). Again, LSU answered many critics with its play on the field at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. The Tigers defeated Oklahoma 21-14. LSU, the nation’s top scoring defense, shut down Jason White and the OU offense; while, freshman Justin Vincent earned MVP honors with 117 rushing yards and one touchdown.
Notable Contributors: Matt Mauck, QB, Justin Vincent, RB, Joseph Addai, RB, Michael Clayton, WR, Chad Lavalais, DT, Corey Webster, CB
#3: 2005 Texas Longhorns (60.8%, 77.38)
The 2005 USC Trojans were considered one of the greatest college football teams that had ever been assembled. That was at least until they met up with Vince Young and the Texas Longhorns in the Rose Bowl. Young made the right plays when it mattered, notably a touchdown scramble on fourth-and-eight in the last minute, leading UT to the 41-38 victory. There may not be as many “notable contributors” on this list as many of the other champions, yet this team was big, physical and deep. Of course, and most importantly, it also had one of the best athletes and big-game performers to ever play the game at quarterback. Vince Young may not have won the Heisman Trophy (Reggie Bush did), but he was clearly the most valuable player on the best team in the land. Young finished the season with 3,036 yards passing and 26 touchdowns while completing 65.2% of his passes. On the ground, he added 1,050 rushing yards. After defeating then #4 Ohio State 25-22 in the second week of the season, Texas rattled off 11 straight games of scoring 40 or more points. In total, the Longhorns outscored their opponents by an average score of 50-16.
Notable Contributors: Vince Young, QB, Michael Huff, S, Rodrique Wright DT, Jamaal Charles, RB
#2: 2004 USC Trojans (69.7%, 78.43)
The only true national championship (thus far) in USC’s dynastical run under Pete Carroll, the 2004 USC Trojans made a huge statement in the national championship game, destroying Oklahoma 55-19 in the Orange Bowl. Even with Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart, fellow Heisman finalist Reggie Bush, 1,000 yard rusher LenDale White and two wide receivers taken in the first 51 picks of the latest NFL draft, this offense was not as (statistically) dominant as some of the others on this list. It did not have to be. Despite all of those names, the USC defense may have even been better than its offense in 2004. Led by Shaun Cody, Mike Patterson, Lofa Tatupu and Matt Grootegoed, the Trojans held eight of their 13 opponents under 14 points, which is almost unheard of in the pass-offense happy Pac-10. The year before, Oklahoma probably considered itself very fortunate to make it into the national championship with an opportunity to face LSU for the title. In 2004 however, OU may have preferred to forsake that chance and let the also undefeated Auburn Tigers attempt to stand in the way of the machine that was the 2004 USC Trojans. That game can be played using our college football SimMatchup. We have run it a few times and Auburn shares a similar outcome to the Sooners.
Notable Contributors: Matt Leinart, QB, Reggie Bush, RB, LenDale White, RB, Dwayne Jarrett WR, Shaun Cody, DT, Lofa Tatupu, LB, Mike Patterson DT
#1: 2001 Miami Hurricanes (84.5%, 85.99)
Dominance. As if the “notable contributors” list below does not say enough about this team, consider the backups who got a little playing team on this squad: Sean Taylor, S, Najeh Davenport, RB, Kellen Winslow II, TE, Vince Wilfork, DT, Antrel Rolle, CB, Eric Winston, OT, Vernon Carey, OG. In total, 16 players from this team were drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft. On the season, Miami outscored its opponents by an average score of 43-10, including wins by 59 and 58 over #14 Syracuse and #12 Washington respectively as well as a 37-14 thumping of Nebraska in the championship.
Notable Contributors: Ken Dorsey, QB, Clinton Portis, RB, Frank Gore, RB, Willis McGahee, RB, Andre Johnson, WR, Jeremy Shockey, TE, Bryant McKinnie, OT, Joaquin Gonzalez, OT, William Joseph, DT, Jonathan Vilma, LB, D.J. Williams, LB, Ed Reed, S, Phillip Buchanon, CB, Mike Rumph, CB