Pac-12 Football: Best and Worst Moments of the BCS Era
The Pac-12's investment in the outcome of this past Wednesday's Rose Bowl was immeasurable. The party celebrated both Granddaddy's 100th birthday and next year's inauguration of the College Football Playoff.
Bidding farewell to the infamous BCS, it's only fitting then that Stanford stabbed West Coast dwellers in the gut as those last few rose petals were plucked. Despite holding the upper hand in experience, Michigan State's No. 4 defense cooked up an upset with superior physicality, two key fourth-down stops and cushioning from freshman Connor Cook's 332 passing yards.
The loss was an eyesore for the Cardinal and the conference, and yet it failed to make our cut in the Pac-12's top-five worst BCS moments. Surprisingly enough, it isn't one of the best either.
The BCS has supplied college football fans with plentiful highs and lows—from thrilling game-clinching performances in the waning seconds to all of the heartbreaking snubs and blasphemous selections. Many a New Year's resolution ceased to exist as a result, and the Pac-12 will surely miss it.
No automatic-qualifying conference not named the SEC posted a better winning percentage in the BCS era. Most of that 13-8 record wasn't vacated and left to wither away in the bushes, so which moments will be remembered dearest in Pacific Standard Time?
No. 5 Worst: 2003 Rose Bowl
No. 7 Oklahoma 34, No. 8 Washington State 14
ACC champion Miami and Big Ten victor Ohio State earned berths in the BCS National Championship hosted by the Fiesta Bowl. The Orange Bowl replaced Miami with the Big Ten's Iowa, the Rose Bowl opted for Big 12 representative Oklahoma, and the Sugar Bowl fought for USC until the Orange exercised priority.
Is anyone still wondering why the NCAA turned to a four-team playoff?
The Cougars mustered just 243 offensive yards in their lowest output of the season, and the meager four yards gained on the ground were reminiscent of the imbalance showcased in this past New Mexico Bowl a decade later. With head coach Mike Price's bags already packed for Alabama, the players performed as though they were ready to see him leave.
Former Michigan man Bo Schembechler stated it best at the proceeding media day. As LA Times' Chris Dufresne relayed: "I didn't watch it. I protested it. When there's no Big Ten team in it, I'm not watching it."
That's okay Bo, because with no Big Ten team in it, Washington State didn't provide much else.
The 86,848 in attendance hardly paid attention either, as it was the smallest crowd since the 1947 inception of this sacred agreement.
No. 5 Best: 2002 and 2013 Fiesta Bowls
2002: No. 2 Oregon 38, No. 3 Colorado 16
2013: No. 4 Oregon 35, No. 5 Kansas State 17
Fortune tellers knew then and there that Colorado would one day perform wonders as the expanding Pac-10's doormat.
On Maurice Morris' rushing touchdown, the stuffed Buffaloes made a nice floor pillow, as well.
Had Nebraska upended unbeaten Miami in the National Rose Champion-bowl (as I'm now ridiculously referring to it), Oregon posed a threat to split championship honors in the final polls. Instead, the Ducks made peace with four touchdowns from Heisman finalist Joey Harrington, three interceptions by defensive player of the game Steve Smith (the other, other one) and 49 rushing yards from an otherwise potent Colorado ground game.
Eleven years later, Oregon confined wildcat phenom Collin Klein with two picks and only 30 rushing yards allowed. De'Anthony Thomas sprinkled breadcrumbs with his opening 94-yard kick return, and freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota and departing head coach Chip Kelly spread the duck sauce with 385 total offensive yards in this confit of a top-10 blowout.
For dessert, this contest served us the FBS' second-ever one-point safety off a blocked extra point. The game had absolutely everything for Pac-12 aficionados.
For years now the Ducks' identity has been high-flying and entertaining, particularly necessary after the Pac-12's previous Tostitos fiasco...
No. 4 Worst: 2012 Fiesta Bowl
No. 3 Oklahoma State 41, No. 4 Stanford 38 (OT)
Looking back, the Cardinal have little to be ashamed of. For everything Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden threw at Biletnikoff winner Justin Blackmon (8 REC, 186 YDS, 3TDS), Stanford's Ty Montgomery (7 REC, 120 YDS, 1 TD) and Stepfan Taylor (a record 35 CAR, 177 YDS, 2 TDS) were able to persistently counter.
Tied at 38-all, Andrew Luck executed the two-minute drill with poise and precision, lining his team up for the potential game-winning field goal. Unfortunately, sophomore Jordan Williamson shanked his attempt for the third time that evening.
It was a hard-fought and respectable effort from two schools deserving the reward of a playoff. With placekicker Quinn Sharp being his own namesake and sharply converting in overtime, the Cowboys proved to be men, and "agony of defeat" never rang truer in the psyche of Stanford.
Luck, of course, would be well-advised to travel back in time another year to cheer himself up.
No. 4 Best: 2011 Orange Bowl
No. 4 Stanford 40, No. 13 Virginia Tech 12
This is the kind of victory in the trenches Stanford supporters expected on New Year's Day. The Cardinal gashed the Hokies in the ground game by a tally of 247 to 67 yards, while Tyrod Taylor was pecked throughout the entire contest by Shayne Skov and company as they compiled eight sacks.
Of course, Luck was always on 12-1 Stanford's side during its most prolific campaign ever, and reincarnation from college football irrelevancy and contributions from tight end Coby Fleener completed the transformation.
The now-Indianapolis Colts duo set both school and Orange Bowl records that day, as three of Luck's four passing touchdowns and 173 yards were collected by Fleener. Virginia Tech (and modern-day Kevin Hogan in Luck's footsteps) barely stood a chance.
Though this concluded the tenure of head coach Jim Harbaugh, who flew to the 49ers on his magic parrot umbrella when the California winds changed, Stanford would not be the perennial Pac-12 power it is today without that hurdled hump in the Orange Bowl.
Had the Tree vs. Turkey sideline subplot developed differently, this would be ranked higher on the list.
No. 3 Worst: 1999 and 2000 Rose Bowls
1999: No. 9 Wisconsin 38, No. 5 UCLA 31
2000: No. 7 Wisconsin 17, No. 22 Stanford 9
Here's a riddle: How many Pac-10 defenses does it take to tackle Ron Dayne?
Give up? Understandable, because the Bruins and Cardinal sure did.
As the Tournament of Roses welcomed the age of the BCS, UCLA and Stanford allowed the Badgers and Big Ten to control the rivalry and procure back-to-back triumphs for the first time in conference history. Heisman running back and Rose Bowl MVP Dayne manipulated each outcome, propelling a shootout against UCLA (27 CAR, 246 YDS, 4 TDS) and resolving a defensive impasse with Stanford (34 CAR, 200 YDS, 2 TDS), respectively.
What uniquely immortalizes the latter matchup is not the fact that Dayne is the sole Big Ten player to ascertain multiple Rose Bowl Player of the Game recognitions.
Those of you who religiously watch Futurama might know that the contest is referenced in three separate episodes.
It's the slightest of jabs popular culture can make, but the distinct demographic flipping channels between Comedy Central and ESPN is assuredly laughing at the Pac-12, right?
No. 3 Best: 2012 and 2013 Rose Bowls
2012: No. 5 Oregon 45, No. 10 Wisconsin 38
2013: No. 6 Stanford 20, Wisconsin 14
Twelve years later on Futurama...the Angry Birds of the Pac-12 exact their revenge on Philip J. Fry and the Wisconsin Badgers of Wisconsin...
Unlike Dayne, Doak Walker recipient Montee Ball was unable to influence the result of either Rose Bowl.
In a back-and-forth bout with Oregon, most of Ball's damage was delivered early, with 122 of his 164 rushing yards coming in the first half. He had absolutely zero effect on the fourth quarter (three carries for no gain).
Conversely, "Black Mamba" De'Anthony Thomas gashed the opposing defense with record-breaking touchdown runs of 91 and 64 yards, and a controversial spike to end regulation validated the highest-scoring Rose Bowl in history and garnered the first such win for the Ducks in 95 years.
Accredit 45 Oregon first downs and 1,129 combined yardage to the 83-degree weather, but the Ducks officially perched themselves among national prominence.
In the sequel against Stanford, a defensive struggle identical to 2000 manifested. Although Ball managed to score in his third-straight Rose Bowl, points were at a minimum in the second half when needed most. A go-ahead interception by Defensive Player of the Game Usua Amanam sent the ultimate message that 8-6 Wisconsin was lucky to even play in Pasadena.
It was a gratifying way to bookend the overtime demise versus Oklahoma State and cement the resurgence of Stanford, who hadn't won a Rose Bowl in 40 years. It's the one accomplishment Kevin Hogan and David Shaw—the first black head coach to win a BCS bowl game, according to the LA Sentinel's Jason Lewis—can flaunt in the faces of Andrew Luck and Jim Harbaugh.
No. 2 Worst: 2011 National Championship
No. 1 Auburn 22, No. 2 Oregon 19
This title game will predominantly be remembered for the magical season Auburn and junior college transfer Cam Newton strung together, rather than as an Oregon loss.
Nevertheless, considering how it was the Pac-12's lone shot at dethroning the SEC (as the Tigers notched the conference's fifth in a current seven-game streak) and the agonizing manner in which the Ducks let it slip through their feathers, it stings so much more than realized.
From Nick Fairley's goal-line stand to Michael Dyer's mastered escapology in a 37-yard blooper on the final drive, destiny seemed to be tipping in Auburn's favor throughout the evening. Oregon still managed to tie it at 19-all with its second two-point conversion at the 2:33 mark, but "War Eagle" chants subsequently drove the Tigers to the one-yard line, and a Wes Byrum field goal as time expired sealed the deal.
Hollywood endings aside, Oregon's limited ground attack (only 75 yards compared to Auburn's 254 yards) defined the defeat. Auburn denied Chip Kelly his preferred rhythm and characteristic offensive balance, evidently wresting tempo and control away from him.
It's nothing a shopping spree in Lady Gaga's hamper won't heal, Oregon. At least you're not No. 1.
Before I get to that, here's the good news first.
No. 2 Best: 2007-2009 Rose Bowls
The Lakers aren't the only Los Angeles sports team that can three-peat, but USC's feat is unparalleled in regards to the Rose Bowl.
No football program has inherited more Granddaddies—neither total (24) nor consecutively (three)—than the Trojans. They made a mockery out of the Big Ten, outscoring them 119-59 within that span, and many of them would know no greater glory.
In 2007, Dwayne Jarrett stole the show with 11 receptions, 205 yards and two touchdowns before bolting for his bust of a professional career.
In 2008, USC recorded the most offensive yardage (633) and points (49) in the history of the tournament, while quarterback John David Booty tallied his seventh career Rose Bowl touchdown—the Rose Bowl record—as he faded into the sunset.
In 2009, Mark Sanchez manufactured five scores of his own and completed a record-breaking 80 percent of his passes. His future autobiography will forever conclude short of any other butt of a joke he became.
USC feasted on domination but would soon learn that these Rose Bowls were all meaningless one-night stands in the quest to fill an unfillable void in its heart.
Despite three straight years suffering championship-driving upsets by lowly UCLA, Stanford and Oregon State squads (respectively), Trojan Pride often felt disrespected by the BCS, most notably in 2007-08:
Certainly, a better test could have come against Georgia or Virginia Tech, or maybe next week against Ohio State in the national title game.
But the Rose Bowl presented by Citi wanted a Pac-10-Big Ten matchup, and the national title game didn't want Southern California.
They have arguably been the country's best team over that span, and might have been the best this season, too. Lacking the playoff that coach Pete Carroll favors or the trip to the title game he lobbied for, the Trojans (11-2) will have to take this overwhelming display in Pasadena.
USC would grow to cherish the three-peat as its lone prized possession of this century.
No. 1 Worst: 2006 Rose Bowl/National Championship
No. 2 Texas 41, No. 1 USC 38
Still a delicate topic amid the fanbase. If the Trojans defense refuses to touch Vince Young, I suppose I'll venture.
The Longhorns quarterback and Heisman runner-up at long last removed the title of "second fiddle" from his resume. To accompany efficiency throwing the football (30-of-40 for 267 yards), Young added an unheard-of 200 rushing yards for three scores, none more crucial than his iconic eight-yard scamper into the end zone on fourth down with 19 seconds remaining.
No Rose Bowl witnessed more first downs (60) or regurgitated more inner turmoil at the expense of stars Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and LenDale White. Five hundred and seventy-four yards from scrimmage went to waste, and the Trojans' 34-game winning streak and sought-after national championship three-peat were each snapped.
Adding insult to injury, the NCAA abstained from vacating this classic catastrophe from the books along with Bush's Heisman, USC's previous BCS title against Oklahoma, 13 other victories and 30 docked scholarships.
It's an era to ultimately forget both on and off the field for Southern California, hence why a simple eight-yard gallop tops BCS infamy for the Pac-12.
No. 1 Best: 2001 Rose Bowl
There were no outside legal scandals surrounding this day. All it took was eight fourth-quarter comebacks and a visit from paralyzed safety Curtis Williams to hoist the 11-1 Huskies atop the conference's most satisfying memories of the BCS.
Sometimes feel-good stories purely override highlights and statistics, although Purdue's Drew Brees saw his 275 yards and two touchdowns voided by six first-quarter penalties, a costly turnover in the fourth and the resiliency of Marques Tuiasosopo (16-of-22, 138 YDS; 15 CAR, 75 YDS) after an apparent shoulder injury.
In remembrance of the achievement, Seattle Times' Adam Jude recounted former Washington head coach (and 1984 Rose Bowl MVP) Rick Neuheisel sharing: "It's not about the trophy. It's about the climb to the trophy."
That being said, Washington would love to clinch another Rose Bowl berth. Burying a winless 2008, its latest 9-4 campaign is the most triumphant one for the Huskies since then, so 2001 is understandably what it strives for.
It shall be interesting to watch the Huskies and former staff members Tuiasosopo and Steve Sarkisian (now with USC) vie for Pac-12 representation in the College Football Playoff, along with Stanford and Oregon.
For winners and losers alike, the BCS' bon voyage very well could have come sooner.