College Football: 10 Best Moments from the BCS Era
Last month, the NCAA approved a four-team playoff for college football starting in 2014, officially putting an end to the much-maligned BCS system. The BCS understandably won't warrant any tears on its way out the door—it had enough greed and corruption to make Washington look like a nunnery, all while consistently failing to name an undisputed national champion.
But the BCS era hasn't been a total disaster. It's actually given us some great moments over the years despite itself, even if it denied us of potentially a lot more. Now that a better day is dawning and fall camps are beginning all over the country, let's look past all the bad math, money and politics and count down the 10 best BCS moments.
2009 Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State Falls Short Again
The Buckeyes were a BCS punchline after consecutive debacles in the National Championship game, and things weren't looking much better heading into their Fiesta Bowl matchup against Texas. Colt McCoy led an explosive offensive into the desert, one that should've been playing for a national title if it weren't for some more BCS shadiness (even in a top 10 list, we can't avoid bashing it). Ohio State was a ten-point underdog, but the Bucks scored 15 unanswered in the second half to take a 21-17 lead in the final minutes. The curse was about to be lifted, until McCoy delivered a knife to the heart of the entire state of Ohio.
1999 Rose Bowl: Ron Dayne Runs Wild for Wisconsin
His professional career faded in a hurry, but Ron Dayne was the most dynamic player in college football at the turn of the millennium. He's still the NCAA's all-time leading rusher, and he put on perhaps his greatest performance in his first of two Rose Bowls. The Badgers were locked in a back-and-forth battle with UCLA and quarterback Cade McNown, and Dayne had an answer for everything the Bruins threw out. He busted loose for a 54-yard touchdown to kick things off, and never looked back from there. Dayne almost literally was the Badgers offense, and even though everyone in California knew what was coming no one could slow him down. He ended up with 246 yards and four touchdowns, and Wisconsin would need every bit of it en route to a 38-31 win.
2011 Sugar Bowl: The Buckeyes Finally Break Through
Before Jim Tressel brought the program to the ground, Ohio State was finally able to wake up from its BCS nightmare against Arkansas. Terrelle Pryor came out firing, leading the Buckeyes to a 28-10 halftime lead, and it looked as though OSU would cruise home from there. But nothing comes easy for the Bucks in a BCS game, and sure enough, Arkansas came roaring back. A safety early in the fourth quarter brought the Hogs within striking distance, and a shocking blocked punt with a minute left gave Ryan Mallett a chance to win the game. But on second down, Mallett had his pass picked off, and the Bucks were able to hold on and exorcise their BCS (and SEC) demons.
10. 2006 Sugar Bowl: Fake Punt Seals Win for West Virginia
West Virginia had the deck stacked against them heading into the 2006 Sugar Bowl.
The Big East had no national credibility after being gutted by the ACC, and the inexperienced Mountaineers were double-digit underdogs to SEC champ Georgia. Oh yeah, and it was basically a home game for the Dogs after damage from Hurricane Katrina moved the contest from New Orleans to Atlanta.
But West Virginia had a whole bunch of talent—led by a couple big-time freshmen we'd get to know very well in the coming years named Pat White and Steve Slaton—and they jumped all over the favored Bulldogs. The Mountaineers exploded for 28 unanswered points to open the game, putting the crowd back in their seats before they even had a chance to make some noise.
But Georgia would rally behind quarterback D.J. Shockley, and after a 90-yard scoring drive the lead was cut to just 38-35 with over five minutes remaining. The Georgia Dome was about to come unglued, and the Bulldogs threatened to get the ball back as West Virginia's next drive stalled near midfield with a minute and a half left.
But on 4th and 6, Rich Rodriguez decided to take a gamble and steal the win. Punter Phil Brady took the snap, tucked it and ran for his life, picking up enough to let the Mountaineers run the clock out and make a big statement for their conference.
9. 2009 National Championship Game: Major Wright Sets the Tone for Florida
The 2009 Oklahoma Sooners were one of the finest-tuned machines college football had ever seen. Sam Bradford orchestrated a disgustingly talented offense, putting up 60 or more points in five consecutive games en route to setting a new NCAA record for points in a season. They cruised through the Big 12 (well, except for that whole Texas thing) and into the National Championship Game, and everyone just figured they'd run past Florida like they ran past everyone else.
All of that would change very, very quickly thanks to Gators safety Major Wright.
On Oklahoma's first offensive play of the game, Sam Bradford lofted one up the sideline for Manny Johnson. Johnson had a step on his man, and it looked as though things would go about as expected. But all of a sudden, Wright came flying in, absolutely destroying Johnson and breaking up the play.
Wright's shot sent a loud and clear message: the Sooners had never faced a team as big and fast and the SEC's best, and they were in for a fistfight. Florida would out-muscle Oklahoma 24-14 to take home the title.
8. 2000 Orange Bowl: Pflugner Flubs PAT to Give Michigan the Win
The 2000 Orange Bowl featured offensive weapons all over the plays, which makes the game's ending even more ironic.
Tom Brady and David Terrell led an explosive Michigan offense against Alabama and tailback Shaun Alexander in a game that had fireworks all over the place, and the stars would not disappoint.
Alexander went off early and often against the Wolverine defense. But Michigan managed to erase two different 14-point deficits in regulation behind three touchdowns from Terrell and 367 passing yards from Brady, setting up the first overtime game in BCS history.
The scoring wouldn't let up in the extra session, as both teams scored almost immediately on their possession. But after the Crimson Tide thought they had forced double-overtime on a 21-yard touchdown pass, kicker Ryan Pflugner (really, with a name like that, we should've seen this coming) stunned everyone in the stadium by shanking the extra point to end the game.
It wasn't the way anyone wanted the game to end, but who knows, those offenses might still be scoring if not for Pflugner's miss.
7. 2012 Fiesta Bowl: Jordan Williamson Chokes Twice to Rob Andrew Luck
The 2011-2012 season was Andrew Luck's swan song before he went on to NFL greatness. He wasn't even supposed to come back for his junior year, but he wanted to earn his degree and finish the transformation he had started with the Cardinal. It was an admirable move, but unfortunately that swan song would have a brutal end.
Luck had an All-American regular season, leading a rock solid Stanford team into the Fiesta Bowl against Brandon Weeden and high-octane Oklahoma State. Stanford shredded the Cowboys for much of the night, with Luck playing at a near-flawless level.
But OSU had an answer for everything Luck and his running game threw at them thanks to the man-beast known as Justin Blackmon, and no matter how many drives Stanford put together they just couldn't bury the Cowboys. The teams went back and forth into the Arizona night, and it became clear that the first team to blink would lose. That blink would come in the form of Stanford freshman kicker Jordan Williamson, who had actually been one of the more reliable kickers in the country in the regular season.
Stanford had the ball last, and with Luck at the controls everyone expected the Cardinal to send their star off with a win. After getting his team down the field with ease, coach David Shaw decided to run off as much clock as he could and put the game on the foot of his kicker. Williamson lined up for 35-yard chip shot as time expired, and just about everything went downhill fast from there.
Williamson shanked it badly, the nerves clearly getting to him, and the game went to overtime. And because the football gods are just a bunch of big jerks, the freshman hooked another one wide left in the extra session to give the Cowboys the win.
6. 2011 Rose Bowl: TCU's Tank Comes Through
The BCS did just about all it could to keep non-Big Six schools out of the party (including having Boise State and TCU play each other when they were forced to put them in a BCS bowl). But David kept knocking on the door, and in the 2011 Rose Bowl, the Horned Frogs finally kicked it in.
TCU ran through a perfect regular season behind Andy Dalton and a tough-as-nails defense, and they proved up to the task of slowing down a Wisconsin rushing attack that featured three tailbacks (John Clay, Montee Ball and James White) with at least 13 touchdowns.
After the two teams combined for 24 first-quarter points, TCU and their top-ranked defense settled in. Wisconsin threatened often, but had to settle for a field goal twice over the next two quarters. The Horned Frogs got just enough offense from Dalton to take a 21-13 lead into the fourth, and simply tried to hold on from there.
The Badgers showed very little life until the final minutes, when Scott Tolzien led one final drive to try and force overtime. Montee Ball scored with two minutes remaining, but with only one timeout left, Wisconsin had to go for two and the tie.
Tolzien had a man wide open in the end zone, but out of nowhere middle linebacker Tank Carder (is there any better name for a middle linebacker than Tank Carder?) jumped into the passing lane and knocked the pass down. TCU had earned a 13-0 season and a lot of respect, and one more underdog had proven that they belonged on the national scene.
5. 2011 National Championship Game: Michael Dyer Refuses to Go Down
Auburn and Oregon rode dynamic offenses to the national title game, but a game most thought would be played in the 30s or 40s turned out to be somewhat of a defensive struggle.
Both defensive fronts held up better than expected, and the teams played to a scoreless first quarter. Then everyone started to settle in, though, and the fireworks began. Two long Cam Newton touchdown passes and a safety gave Auburn a 16-11 lead at halftime, and Nick Fairley and company looked like they just might make that hold up.
Oregon was almost held in check, but Darron Thomas and LaMichael James led a game-tying drive in the final minutes to pull the Ducks even at 19-19.
The game and the national championship were Cam Newton's to lose, and he would get some help from one of the most memorable plays of the 2010-11 season.
Freshman phenom Michael Dyer took a handoff with two minutes to go, and he appeared to be brought down by linebacker Eddie Pleasant after a solid six or seven yard gain. But the whistle never blew because he had landed on top of Pleasant, and Dyer (with some helpful encouragement from the Auburn sideline) kept running. 37 yards later, the Tigers were in field goal range, and Cam Newton had his national title.
4. 2005 Rose Bowl: Vince Young Introduces Himself to the Nation
Given the speed with which his pro career went up in flames, it may be hard to remember just how special Vince Young was.
He would just glide past people, eating up yards with every effortless stride. He somehow made a sport as violent as football graceful, and it was unlike anything we'd seen from a quarterback before. With all due respect to Tim Tebow, VY was the greatest college football player I've seen in my lifetime, and the 2005 Rose Bowl introduced him to the country.
Young made a Michigan defense with future pros all over the place look like they were standing still, seemingly scoring whenever he wanted to.
And Texas would need every bit of it because of the play of Braylon Edwards, who torched the Longhorn secondary for three touchdown catches. The Wolverines looked like they were going to finally bury Texas, building a 31-21 lead heading into the fourth despite a truly ridiculous 60-yard touchdown run from Young (for the record, that's future Pro Bowl cornerback Leon Hall that he straight-up outran to the end zone).
Over those final fifteen minutes, though, Young would make himself a household name. He single-handedly carried Texas back into the game with two more electrifying scoring runs, and when Michigan had to settle for a field goal to put them up 37-35, the rest was a foregone conclusion.
VY led his team back down the field one more time, setting up Dusty Mangum's winning field goal at the gun. Just like that, the Rose Bowl legend of Vince Young was born (don't worry, we'll cover part two of that legend in a bit.)
3. 2003 Fiesta Bowl: The Pass Interference That Wasn't
On paper, this may have been one of the most lopsided title game matchups the BCS has ever produced. Miami had future pros all over the field on both sides of the ball, including Willis McGahee, Andre Johnson, Jonathan Vilma, Antrel Rolle and Kellen Winslow. They had breezed through the ACC on their way to a perfect record in their quest for a second straight championship.
All that stood in their way was an Ohio State team that may be one of the least impressive undefeated squads in history. The Buckeyes won six games by seven points or fewer, but they managed to ride Maurice Clarett (pre-weight gain and felony conviction), a dominating defense and Craig Krenzel's inexplicable fourth quarter magic. Krenzel kept finding a way to make plays and OSU kept winning, but the Fiesta Bowl seemed like no more than a coronation for the 'Canes.
Turnovers can be a great equalizer, and Ohio State capitalized on every opportunity, picking off Ken Dorsey twice and recovering a fumble on the way to building a stunning 14-7 lead at the half. They were also a bit lucky—McGahee left with a knee injury, and a Krenzel interception was wiped out when Clarett forced a fumble on the return.
But the Bucks never wilted, slowing things down and turning the game into a Big Ten slugfest. Miami eventually mustered up enough to force overtime, and what followed was one of the most controversial calls in college football history.
The Hurricanes scored easily on their possession, and their defense forced Ohio State into a fourth down with the game on the line. Krenzel looked for Chris Gamble in the end zone, but the pass fell incomplete. Everyone, including the official closest to the play, thought the game was over.
But a solid three or four seconds after the play was over—Larry Coker and his team had already started rushing the field—a flag came in from the back of the end zone, and cornerback Glenn Sharpe was whistled for pass interference. Dan Fouts immediately started ranting in the booth, and instant replay showed that the call was probably a bad one.
Ohio State would score on that possession and the next, and their defense held on fourth down to win the national title. But a decade later, everyone is still talking about that phantom interference call.
2. 2007 Fiesta Bowl: Boise State Stuns Goliath
For sheer entertainment value, this probably tops the list.
Boise State had been on the outside looking in on the BCS for years, but a perfect 2006-07 season gave the Broncos their chance. Oklahoma had been a minor disappointment, stumbling to a 3-2 start before winning the Big 12, but they were still Oklahoma, and this felt like more than just one game.
Things started out well for America's underdog. Jared Zabransky came out firing, and Boise played like a team with nothing to lose on their way to a shocking 28-10 lead early in the third quarter.
But Oklahoma still had Adrian Peterson, and they wouldn't go quietly. The Sooners finally woke up, rattling off four straight scores capped by a back-breaking pick six off Zabransky to take a 35-28 lead in the final minute. It looked like we were headed for a heart-breaking ending, but we underestimated just how many lives the Broncos had—and how clinically insane their head coach was.
They say necessity is the mother of invention, and that's an axiom Chris Peterson definitely believes in. Boise was running out of time on their final drive, the ball sitting at midfield with half a minute left. So Peterson drew up one of the most memorable trick plays in NCAA history, a hook-and-ladder that worked like a charm. Drisan James lateraled to Jerard Rabb, who raced into the end zone and sent things into overtime. Little did we know, things were just getting started.
Oklahoma scored easily on their possession, meaning Boise needed a touchdown to stay alive. Peterson—who had to just be drawing up plays in the dirt at this point—lined up halfback Vinny Perretta at quarterback, who rolled out and tossed a touchdown to keep the Broncos alive. All they needed was a PAT to keep things going, but that just wasn't to be.
Boise was playing with house money anyway, so Peterson decided to go all in. He went even further into the sandlot, dialing up a statue of liberty play that fooled everyone in the stadium. Ian Johnson had the entire left side of the field to himself, and the Broncos walked off with the most improbable win in the most improbable fashion anyone had ever seen.
Oh yeah, and Johnson proposed to his girlfriend after the winning score. You know, in case things needed to get closer to a Hollywood script.
1. 2006 Rose Bowl: Vince Young Puts the 'Horns on His Back...Again
With all due respect to Boise State, you knew this had to be number one.
Texas and USC were so good in 2006 that not even the BCS could screw it up. They were 1-2 for the entire season, seemingly on a collision course since October.
The Trojans were the kings of college football, reigning national champions and owners of a 34-game winning streak. Their backfield had two Heisman winners and there was talent all over the field. But the 'Horns weren't very far behind, with a 19-game winning streak themselves and the nation's top offense behind Vince Young.
More importantly, Texas was motivated. ESPN had spent the better part of the holiday season putting SC among the best college football teams ever, and Young himself felt slighted when he finished a distant second to Bush in the Heisman voting.
The usually well-oiled Trojan machine struggled to get going early, as USC turned it over twice in Texas territory and spotted the 'Horns a 16-10 lead at the half.
But Leinart started turning it on, leading consecutive scoring drives. Young was single-handedly keeping his team in it—he finished with an astonishing 200 rushing yards on the night—but Texas's defense couldn't stop anything, and midway through the fourth the Trojans took a commanding 38-26 lead. Then VY decided he would go ahead and win a national championship by himself.
Vince accounted for all 69 yards on the next drive, pulling Texas within a score. Their defense needed to make a play to give their star a chance, and finally they did. On 4th and 1 with SC threatening to put the game away, the Longhorn front stoned Lendale White in the backfield. As soon as Young got the ball back, everyone knew how it would end.
He was an unstoppable force, and even though everyone in the country knew what was coming no one on the Trojan defense could do anything about it. Methodically Texas moved down the field, until they faced a 4th and 5 on the SC 14-yard line. With the game on the line, there was only one man who could get the ball, and he didn't disappoint.
Young scored, because of course he did, and there wasn't enough time for Leinart to do anything. Texas earned a national championship, and the legend of Vince Young was written in roses.