Note: This ranking is based on the actual seasons that these teams enjoyed, not how they would fare against each other in a one game match-up. For this reason, you will not see teams such as the Carson Palmer led 2002 USC squad (finished strong, but started out with 2 losses). Stronger weight was given to National Champions and undefeated seasons.
10. Ohio State (2006) – I hesitated including this team on my list after the pasting they received in the National Championship game, but it seemed nobody else really deserved this spot. This team looked unbeatable during the regular season, led by a explosive offense and Heisman trophy winning quarterback Troy Smith. The defense was surprisingly dominant, leading the nation in scoring defense before the last two meltdowns. However, too much partying and confidence (and time between games) ultimately led to the Buckeye’s catastrophic demise…although I’m sure that if the game were played again, we might have seen drastically different results.
9. Florida (2006) – The Florida Gators earn the title of worst National Champion over the last five years – it would be hard to argue any differently. Although this team overcame a horrendous conference schedule, Urban Meyer’s squad never looked the part of a BCS champion. Close wins against South Carolina, Georgia, LSU, and Vanderbilt, and a loss at Auburn didn’t inspire much confidence in the hearts of poll voters. However, a combination of late season victories, schedule strength, and Urban’s whining got them into the title game, where they finally put it all together and dominated. While the team might not be that memorable, the fantastic coaching job and game planning by Meyer might be regarded by the history books as legendary.
8. LSU (2003) – The BCS title game champs of 2003 (and only “true” national champs, according to Bayou Bengal fans) got it done with defense. The Tigers had a championship team very similar to the Buckeyes of the previous year, in that they had a serviceable offense led by a senior QB (Matt Mauck) and star freshman RB (Justin Vincent…among others) and a nasty, nasty defense. The Tigers started out strong, slipped up against Florida in an ugly, double digit loss, then finished strong, demolishing Georgia in the SEC Championship game. They were then voted in to the BCS title game, despite being ranked #3 in the major polls. Although that Sugar Bowl game was technically close, all who watched that game saw a ferocious Tiger defensive line harass Oklahoma’s Heisman trophy winning quarterback Jason White all day en route to a hard fought victory.
7. Auburn (2004) – The undefeated Auburn Tigers, poster child for anti-SEC bias, represent the only team on this list to not play in the BCS title game or win a National Championship. Auburn’s team was led by two stud top-5 draft pick running backs in Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown, a big game senior quarterback in Jason Campbell, and a swarming defensive unit led by All-American CB Carlos Rodgers. The Tigers dominated their tough SEC schedule, with the only close game being a 10-9 home victory over LSU early in the year. However, luck was not on their side as preseason 1 & 2 USC and Oklahoma also rolled through their schedules undefeated. This Auburn team closed out the year with an uninspired victory over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl to go 13-0 and finish #2.
6. USC (2003) – The first of three Trojan teams on the list, this USC team accomplished the unthinkable – a split national title in the BCS era. USC featured a rising star at QB in Matt Leinart, who was helped by a supporting class which included Mike Williams and Keary Colbert at wide receiver. Don’t forget about this team’s defense, though with DE Kenechi Udeze causing terror off the end. The Trojan’s one blemish on the season was a triple overtime loss at Cal, but they rebounded to win the remainder of their games and earn a #1 ranking in the AP and Coaches’ polls. However, this was not enough, as an outdated BCS formula awarded title game entry to Oklahoma and LSU, and the Trojans faced #4 Michigan in the Rose Bowl. After a dominating performance, Southern Cal prevailed 28-14 and claimed the AP National Championship.
5. Miami (2002) – Had this team not been flagged for pass interference in the late stages of the Fiesta Bowl, they would have easily grabbed one of the top 3 spots on the list. However, as fate would have it, one of the most talent rich programs in recent memory did not finish off its season as national champions. The ridiculous offense included QB Ken Dorsey, RB Willis McGahee, WR Andre Johnson, and TE Kellen Winslow, Jr. The defense included too many NFL draft picks to count. The Canes rolled through their Big East schedule undefeated and entered the National Championship game as heavy favorites. However, a surprising performance by the Buckeyes handed Miami the defeat in double overtime.
4. Ohio State (2002) – The Buckeyes are this high on the list solely because they beat an outstanding Miami team in the title game. The rest of their season left little to be desired. The “Luck-eyes” had close wins over Cincinnati, Wisconsin, Penn State, Purdue, Illinois, and Michigan. Not nearly as flashy as their Fiesta Bowl counterparts, Ohio State featured a wily veteran at quarterback in Craig Krenzel and an outstanding freshman RB in Maurice Clarett. Running with the same theme, the strength of this team was the defense, led by hard hitting safety Mike Doss. That defense confused the high-octane Hurricane offense in the National Championship game, and the usually anemic offense put up 31 points and the first National Title since Woody was roaming the sidelines.
3. USC (2004) – This Trojan team will be remembered for the title game smackdown over Oklahoma. However, most fans don’t remember the up and down regular season, where the Trojans dominated at times, but barely survived close games against Virginia Tech, Stanford, Cal, Oregon State, and UCLA. Like the Ohio State team before them, they will only be remembered for the last game, the one that counts. In that game, in the Orange Bowl, they showcased their true talent. Leinart, Bush, Jarrett, and company rolled the Sooners 55-19, creating an uproar down on the plains of Auburn, who believed that they should had the opportunity to play against the Men of Troy.
2. USC (2005) – How can a team without a National Championship ring finish so high on my list? …When they lose a thriller to the #1 team on my list in one of the greatest college football games of all time. The 2005 version of the Trojans was billed as one of college footballs best teams from the opening kickoff of their first game. After Matt Leinart decided to stay in school following a Heisman trophy and 1.5 National Championships, this team was thought to be infallible. Although they went through the regular season undefeated, close games with Fresno State and Notre Dame proved the Trojans were mortal. However, at the end of the day, the only thing standing in the way of USC and the history books was one final game, the Rose Bowl Game. A battle of epic proportions. The game pitted Texas, the underdog, against these Trojans, the heavy favorites. True to legendary form, if an underdog is to win, it must have a hero step forth and deliver an incredible performance…
1. Texas (2005) – That hero was Vince Young. Although recognized as a special talent throughout his career, Young was not given the same recognition as a Leinart or Bush. His steady play helped the Longhorns navigate the regular season unbeaten, including memorable victories at Ohio State, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M. Young and the Longhorns won most of their games in blowout fashion, but did not receive the same attention as their title game opponents, in part because of some Trojans enjoying mainstream celebrity status in the world’s media capital of Los Angeles. The ‘Horns were underdogs in the Rose Bowl, but everyone knew #10 gave them a fighting chance. Fight On he did indeed. After throwing for 267 yards, rushing for an additional 200 and three touchdowns, and leading Texas on a memorable final drive for the winning touchdown, VY was named MVP and the Texas Longhorns finish as the #1 team of the last five years.