LSU and Alabama have earned their tickets to New Orleans for the BCS Championship primarily thanks to stifling defense, a crucial ingredient (usually) to a national championship-caliber season.
As the countdown to the big game continues, it's always entertaining to celebrate past championship games in anticipation of the upcoming renewal of the traditional meeting between the top two teams in the country.
Dominating defense has been a consistent trait of past BCS Title victors, who capitalized on momentum-generating plays to obtain an edge.
To whet your appetite for the impending slugfest between the Tigers and the Tide, here are the 10 best defensive plays in the history of the BCS Championship game.
Although it didn’t have an impact on the outcome of the game, Miami linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s sheer ferocity against Nebraska in the 2002 Rose Bowl earns him a place on this list.
The Canes had dominated the Huskers the entire game, leading 37-14 in the twilight of the fourth quarter. Nebraska, perhaps naively, decided to test Miami’s defense by running a reverse with Ben Zajicek, who would surely regret agreeing to participate in the play.
Vilma didn't take the bait and delivered a bone-crushing hit to Zajicek, forcing him to cough up the pigskin. The Hurricanes recovered, adding an exclamation point to their dominating season and dissection of the Cornhuskers and earning their fifth national championship in school history.
On USC’s first drive in its 2006 epic title clash with Texas, Longhorn safety Cedric Griffin left an indelible mark on Trojan fullback David Kirtman. Literally.
Griffin’s collision with Kirtman was so serious that the fullback lost his helmet and showed visible rug burn from the turf on the side of his head following the play.
Amazingly, he still managed to make the catch, a remarkable display of both focus and fearlessness, and the completion set up the first touchdown in what would become one of the most entertaining games in the history of college football.
Chris Weinke, who had led his team to a national championship victory in 1999 and won the Heisman Trophy in 2000, made a clutch play early in the fourth quarter of the 2001 Orange Bowl against Oklahoma.
Clutch, that is, for the Sooners.
Struggling to generate offense in a surprisingly low-scoring affair that had OU up 6-0, the Seminoles had their work cut out for them, facing a 3rd-and-6 from their own 10-yard line.
Evading a blitzing Sooner with a pump fake and bolting up the middle, running by several Sooners in the process, Weinke closed in on the first down.
OU linebacker Rocky Calmus, in the defensive play of the game for Oklahoma, skillfully punched the ball out of Weinke’s grasp.
Safety Roy Williams recovered, and two plays later, Sooner tailback Quentin Griffin ran in for six to make it 13-0 and pave the way to Oklahoma’s championship win.
Buckeye running back Maurice Clarett, after a phenomenal freshman campaign, continued his success in the 2003 national championship against Miami. His most impressive play against the Hurricanes, however, was unexpected and is often underappreciated in its impact on the game.
With his team down seven to OSU with their backs against the wall at their own 6-yard line, the late Sean Taylor delivered in the clutch for the Hurricanes, intercepting Buckeye quarterback Craig Krenzel in the end zone.
Taylor’s decision to refrain from taking a knee proved to be crucial.
Clarett, epitomizing the lesson “don’t quit until the whistle blows,” chased Taylor down and literally stole the ball from him around the Miami 26-yard line.
Ohio State would cash in on a field goal, and Clarett’s magic act cannot be underestimated considering the game came down to a crucial stop by the Buckeyes in double overtime.
With the game knotted at seven in the 2009 title tilt between Oklahoma and Florida, Heisman winner Sam Bradford and the OU offense looked poised to take the lead right before halftime.
On 1st-and-goal from the 6-yard line, the highest-scoring offense of all time, which had converted roughly 90 percent of its red zone possessions into points over the course of the season, was destined to score.
Instead, OU was stopped cold in the red zone for the second time that night by the stingy Gator defense when Bradford’s pass to a slanting Manuel Johnson was batted away, bobbled and finally intercepted by safety Major Wright.
The stop was crucial in that it denied OU the lead and a chance to generate momentum going into the half, and OU would not see the red zone again that night in a dominating performance by the Florida D, which held the Sooners 41 points below their season average.
On the very first Oklahoma possession of the 2009 BCS Championship, the Florida defense asserted itself boldly and set a tone for the rest of the game.
On 1st-and-10 from their own 37-yard line, the Sooners looked to be in business when Sam Bradford threw to a seemingly open Manuel Johnson streaking down the sideline.
Again, Gator fans can thank Major Wright for his jaw-dropping pummeling of Johnson.
He eliminated any chance of a completion by slamming into the wideout at the UF 30-yard line, separating him from the football with impeccable timing and bone-crunching accuracy.
It was a hit that Florida and Oklahoma fans alike will remember for a long time.
The first defensive touchdown in BCS Championship history was as smooth as it gets.
Early in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl between Florida State and Tennessee, Volunteer defensive back Dwayne Goodrich read Seminole quarterback Marcus Outzen like a comic book, picking off Outzen’s pass to the right sideline and taking it 46 yards to the house, putting the Vols up 14-0 and swinging the momentum completely in their favor.
FSU fought resiliently until the end, but Tennessee held on for a 23-16 win to become the first-ever BCS champion, thanks in no small part to Goodrich’s momentous contribution.
LSU defensive end Marcus Spears may have had the play of the game in the Tigers’ 2004 Sugar Bowl victory over Oklahoma.
After a low-scoring, defensive first half, Heisman-winning quarterback Jason White and the Sooners began the third quarter down 14-7 and in need of a spark.
After a sack on first down, White fired a strike over the middle, overlooking Spears, who had dropped back in coverage. Spears took full advantage of White’s mistake, picking off the pass cleanly and rumbling 20 yards for a touchdown.
The score was pivotal in putting LSU up 21-7 and turning the tide in favor of the Tigers, who would edge out the Sooners 21-14 for their second national championship.
In a play reminiscent of Spears’ in terms of setup and impact, this time it was an Alabama defensive end that stuck a dagger in a Big 12 team at a crucial point in the BCS Championship between Texas and Alabama.
Longhorn backup quarterback Garrett Gilbert, in a proverbial initiation by fire, had struggled to find rhythm after replacing the well-seasoned Colt McCoy in the middle of UT’s first drive after McCoy suffered a shoulder injury.
Gilbert had managed to keep his team within reach of the Tide, however, as Texas trailed 17-6 with 29 seconds to play in the first half.
That’s when Dareus took over.
Gilbert attempted to flip a shovel pass to Tre’ Newton, who bobbled the ball, setting off a juggling contest that ended with the 6'3", 319-pound defensive lineman chugging down the field with the pigskin.
Dareus showed no lack of gracefulness en route to a 28-yard touchdown return that put 'Bama up 24-6 going into the locker room. The Tide would hang on and best Gilbert and the Horns 37-21.
Vince Young’s last-second heroics to top the Trojans would not have been possible if not for the amazing effort of the Longhorn D in stopping the vaunted USC offense on fourth down late in the fourth quarter of the 2006 Rose Bowl.
Up 38-33 at the Texas 45 with 2:13 to play, all the Men of Troy needed was two yards from LenDale White, who had been absolutely dominating the whole game, rushing for 123 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries.
Naturally, Pete Carroll decided to give his bruising tailback the chance to pick up the two yards that would give his team its third straight title.
After taking the handoff from Matt Leinart, White pounded straight into the heart of the Texas defense.
Thanks largely to a surge from cornerback Michael Huff, he was unable to get the crucial second yard, and the Longhorn faithful went wild. White had averaged almost 6.5 yards per carry in the game up to that point, yet Huff and Company stopped him cold when it mattered most.
Vince Young would take it from there.