The SEC dominated the second half of the BCS era, winning seven championships and firmly establishing itself as the premier conference in college football. That has led to an expansion of its footprint, added riches from television contracts and a nascent network to be launched this August.
But none of it happens without the biggest upset in BCS history, a game that took place on the West Coast on the final day of the 2006 regular season. The end of one dynasty begot another.
USC entered its annual rivalry game in 2006 ranked No. 2 in the BCS standings. The Trojans were poised to appear in an unprecedented third consecutive BCS title game, and all they had to do was handle their downtrodden 6-5 crosstown rival. And why not? USC had won seven straight in the series and mauled the Bruins the year before, 66-19.
A simple USC victory would've set up a BCS title game against Ohio State, leaving Florida (and the SEC) on the sideline. It would've been an eighth consecutive season without an undisputed national title for the conference. After Tennessee won the first championship of the BCS era in 1998, the SEC only appeared in one title game in the subsequent seven seasons, and that resulted in LSU's split title with USC in 2003.
|Season||Conference Champion||BCS Rank||Result|
|1998||Tennessee||1||Won BCS Championship|
|1999||Alabama||4||Lost Orange Bowl|
|2000||Florida||7||Lost Sugar Bowl|
|2001||LSU||UR||Won Sugar Bowl|
|2002||Georgia||3||Won Sugar Bowl|
|2003||LSU||2||Won BCS Championship*|
|2004||Auburn||3||Won Sugar Bowl|
|2005||Georgia||7||Lost Sugar Bowl|
* Split title with USC (AP Champion)
There was little doubt that USC would go on to trounce the Buckeyes in the BCS title game, as Florida eventually did. The Trojans would've won their third national title in four years and left little doubt as to who truly rules the BCS. They likely would've gone to another one or two BCS title games in the following two seasons.
But that dynasty inexplicably got derailed on that December afternoon at the Rose Bowl by the underdog Bruins. USC's high-powered offense was totally stifled and shut out in the second half. It was the only time in Pete Carroll's final eight seasons at USC that his team would be held under double digits.
Biggest final-day regular-season upset in BCS era?
USC's 13-9 loss not only opened the door for the SEC to return to the BCS title game, but it gave birth to a new narrative. After Florida ascended to No. 2 and then routed undefeated Ohio State for the national championship, the argument that the SEC as "the toughest conference" began to take hold.
That in no small part contributed to the SEC's earning of a spot in the BCS championship game for both 2007 and 2008. In both seasons, the SEC won the title after sending a second-ranked team that edged teams from other conferences with the same number of losses.
In both seasons, one of those teams was USC. Had the Trojans won the 2006 title, it's easy to see how the narrative and argument would've gone very differently. USC probably would've been the one that beat out the other two-loss teams for No. 2 in 2007. And in 2008, the one-loss Trojans might've gone on to play in their fifth consecutive BCS title game.
The SEC can thank Karl Dorrell and DeWayne Walker, whose game plan in that fateful 2006 game teed up the conference's enduring run in the second half of the BCS era. They're both actually working in the neighborhood now, as Dorrell is the offensive coordinator at Vanderbilt and Walker the defensive backs coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
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