College Football: 5 Greatest One Loss Teams over the Past 30 Years
The advent of the superconference era in collegiate athletics will soon be upon us. As a result, there will be numerous implications to its evolution including the introduction of new rivalries, larger TV network deals and perhaps eventually (gasp!) a playoff system.
Moreover, a superconference system may increase competitiveness in a way unseen since the introduction of the 85-scholarship rule. As a result, the likelihood that future FBS national champions will finish undefeated will dramatically deteriorate in the years to come. In fact, we are already witnessing the momentum shifting in this direction. Over the past decade, only 60 percent of the eventual FBS national champs finished undefeated. Compare that with the previous 10 years, when 80 percent of the champs finished with such a feat.
Given this trend, we as fans should take a minute to celebrate the accomplishments of the greatest “one-loss” teams over the past 30 years. They’ll likely soon have company.
5. 2003 LSU Tigers
Nobody was talking about LSU at the beginning of the 2003 season. Sure, the Tigers were a Top 15 preseason team who squeaked into the Top 10 after a close but impressive win over No. 7 Georgia, but they continued to fly under the radar, especially after an extraordinarily sloppy home loss to an unranked Florida team in early October. (I remember watching that game. One of the ugliest I’ve ever seen.)
However, the Florida loss flipped a switch. Led by QB Matt Mauck, freshman phenom RB Justin Vincent and DE Marcus Spears, the Tigers came alive the following week on the road against a solid South Carolina team, and didn’t let up for the rest of the season winning the remainder of its games by an average score of 33-12.
The scores themselves aren’t enough to accurately reflect the magnitude in which the Tigers dominated their opponents. LSU had the top defense in the SEC that got hot at just the right time. They decimated a 10-win Georgia team by a three-touchdown margin in the SEC title game, and followed it up with a 21-14 victory in the BCS championship against an Oklahoma team that just a few weeks prior had been in discussion as one of the greatest teams of all time.
4. 2008 Florida Gators
The 2008 Florida Gators will forever be the poster children for a team that used their one loss as motivation to win out in dramatic fashion. After a disappointing 31-30 loss at home to a visiting Mississippi Rebels team, QB Tim Tebow became immortalized in Gator lore through his speech known simply as “The Promise.” In his speech, Tebow was apologetic to the Florida fans, and demonstrated genuine sentiment in his disappointment of the loss and fiery passion in his desire to make it right.
After the loss to the rebels, Tebow and the Gators went on an absolute tear, clobbering their remaining victims by an average of 34 points per game. This dominance was capped off by double-digit wins over Alabama in the SEC championship game and Oklahoma in the BCS title game.
3. 1993 Florida State Seminoles
Have expectations ever been higher for a team than those of the 1993 Seminoles? From the Scott Bentley SI cover to the Charlie Ward Heisman campaign, the ‘Noles were ready to take the college football world by storm.
And that’s exactly what they did! Through its first eight games, Florida State won by an average score of 45-7, which included a 28-10 whipping of a No. 3 Miami team, ending the Hurricane’s 31-game regular-season winning streak, and getting the monkey off of coach Bobby Bowden’s back.
The perfection came to an end on November 13th, when FSU traveled to South Bend to take on No. 2 Notre Dame in what was being dubbed as the “Game of the Century.” Although they rallied late, Notre Dame rode RB Lee Becton’s 100-plus rushing yards to a convincing and decisive victory.
After the game, it appeared that Notre Dame was headed to play the undefeated Nebraska Cornhuskers for the national title. However, the Irish experienced a letdown the following week against No. 12 Boston College in the annual “Holy War,” opening the door for Florida State, who took advantage by beating No. 7 Florida to make its final case for consideration and subsequently beat Nebraska 18-16 in the Orange Bowl to win the school’s first national championship.
2. 1985 Oklahoma Sooners
The Oklahoma Sooners entered the 1985 season full of hope and purpose. After struggling against the Washington Huskies in the Orange Bowl the previous year, the Sooners felt they had something to prove.
Led by sophomore QB Troy Aikman and a scary-talented defense, anchored by nose tackle Tony Casillas and linebacker Brian Bosworth, the outlook was promising for the Sooners leading up to their Week 3 matchup with the Texas Longhorns in the Red River Shootout. Although the Sooners dominated Texas on defense, they barely squeaked by with a 14-7 victory, and lost Casillas to injury for the next week, which was a home clash with a young and talented Miami Hurricane squad.
Miami came into Norman unranked, but with four straight victories and a shutout of Cincinnati the week prior. The Hurricanes arrived with the nation’s most potent offense led by QB Vinny Testaverde and WR Michael Irvin. After a second-quarter sack by Miami’s Jerome Brown rendered Troy Aikman out for the season with a broken ankle, Miami proceeded to roll both on the ground and through the air to a 27-14 victory.
After the loss, Oklahoma quickly regrouped and proceeded to destroy their next four opponents by a combined score of 189-26. Furthermore, a 27-7 home victory over No. 2 Nebraska for the de facto Big 8 championship as well as a 15-point victory over No. 1 Penn State in the Orange Bowl gave the Sooners their sixth national championship.
1. 2003 USC Trojans
The USC Trojans began the 2003 season with a lot of uncertainty. They had finished the 2002 season on an eight-game winning streak, capped off by a decisive victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Orange Bowl, and a Heisman Trophy win for QB Carson Palmer.
However, with Palmer off to the NFL, questions arose as to who would lead this talented squad at quarterback. In the spring, a heated race for the position took place between unknowns Matt Leinart, Matt Cassel and highly touted freshman John David Booty, who were all vying for the starting job. None of them emerged as the clear front-runner, so coach Pete Carroll made Leinart the starter, recognizing that he may have to make a change if things got ugly. Plus, they had to open the season on the road against a preseason Top 10 Auburn team, who many believed to be dark-horse contenders for the national title.
As it turned out, Matt Leinart and freshmen RBs Reggie Bush and Lendale White were ultra-dynamic right out of the starting gate, thoroughly drubbing the Auburn Tigers 23-0 on their home turf. Their one hiccup came on a road game at Cal, where it took QB Aaron Rodgers and RB Adimchinobe Echermandu three OTs to best the Trojans with a staunch and deliberate downhill running game.
After the contest, the USC coaching staff indicated that the Cal game exposed a minor weakness in the Trojan’s defensive scheme, which they were able to fix the following week and overwhelm their remaining opposition by an average score of 43-17, including an impressive 28-14 victory over Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
Honorable Mentions: 1982 Penn State Nittany Lions, 2000 Miami Hurricanes, 1996 Florida Gators, 1994 Colorado Buffaloes and 1983 Auburn Tigers
Let the debate begin!