2) 2006 Rose Bowl
1) 2003 Fiesta Bowl
When we started talking to college football enthusiasts about this poll, there was no doubt what the top two entries would be. Twice the defending national champ took a 34-game winning streak into the BCS Championship game and twice they were rebuffed in dramatic fashion by a heavy underdog. We’re debating two incredible games, so we will first discuss the greatness of Southern Cal/Texas before making the case for Miami/Ohio State as number one.
Both USC and Texas were undefeated heading into the 2006 Rose Bowl, clearly the two best teams in country with win streaks of 34 and 19, respectively. One backfield featured 2004 Heisman winner Matt Leinart and 2005 Heisman winner Reggie Bush, while the other featured 2005 Rose Bowl MVP and 2005 Heisman runner-up Vince Young. For some reason, ESPN decided to run a series leading up to the game comparing USC to the greatest teams of all time, despite the fact A) The Trojans still had to play the Horns and B) They were just 7-point favorites over the Big 12 champs.
It looked like the World Wide Leader was correct early, as USC led 7-0 after the first quarter. At that point, Texas got going, a pair of rushing touchdowns earning them to a 16-10 halftime lead. The offenses were warmed up after the break and the stars started to show off why they had been so decorated on the awards circuit. The Trojans scored touchdowns on four consecutive possessions after the break, going up 38-26 as the Horns offense tried to keep pace.
But Texas had Vince Young, and just as he had dominated Michigan in the same field the year prior, he started to exert his will on an exhausted and overwhelmed opposing defense. He accounted for all 69 yards on a touchdown drive to make it 38-33, capping it off with a 17-yard run. As the Trojans attempted to ice the game, Pete Carroll was well aware of who would get his hands on the ball if the Horns regained possession. With just over two minutes remaining, he went for it on fourth and 2 from the Texas 45, handing it off to burly tailback LenDale White, who had accumulated 123 yards and three touchdowns on the night.
White needed two yards. He got one. And Texas took over again.
Young got the ball back and did everything one more time, accounting for all all 56 yards of the drive. Facing fourth and five at the USC eight-yard line, the Horns quarterback went out and won himself a championship:
Young’s final numbers on the night? 267 yards passing, 200 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns, while sturdy Texas tight end David Thomas had 10 big catches for 88 yards. On the other side, Leinart threw for 365 yards and a score, Dwayne Jarrett had 10 catches for 121 yards and a touchdown and the Bush/White backfield combined for 301 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns.
So how is the Miami/Ohio State game ranked above that epic?
Because the Buckeyes were even bigger underdogs, going against a Hurricanes team that would send a dozen first round picks to the NFL draft. The 2001 Miami team is perhaps the finest team ever assembled, but the 2002 team was no slouch. They had Heisman finalist Ken Dorsey and his 38-1 career record at quarterback. His weapons on offense included Willis McGahee, Andre Johnson and Kellen Winslow II. On the other side of the ball, the Canes had Jonathan Vilma, Antrel Rolle, Sean Taylor, D.J. Williams, Jerome McDougle and Vince Wilfork.
The Canes were favored by 11.5 against an undefeated Buckeyes team that had survived November by the skin of their teeth, winning their final three games by a total of 16 points. Jim Tressel’s squad had leaned all season on an impressive defense, strong special teams and an offense that came through when needed. Against the Canes, that’s exactly the formula they relied on to ground the heavy favorites.
It was not a rosy start for the Buckeyes. After trading punts, Miami rolled down the field for a touchdown, with Dorsey finding Roscoe Parrish for a 25-yard score. On the first play of the ensuing drive, Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel was picked off by Taylor and it seemed like the rout was on. But the Buckeyes settled down, with safety Mike Doss intercepting Dorsey and setting Ohio State up inside the Miami red zone. It took a Krenzel fourth down sneak to tie it at 7, but they were on the board.
On the next drive, Dorsey was sacked on the first two plays, the second time coughing up the ball. Again given amazing field position by their defense, it took the Buckeyes offense just three plays to score from the Canes 14, a Maurice Clarett touchdown putting them up 14-7 at the half.
Perhaps the most absurd sequence of the game happened in the third quarter, when a Krenzel bomb to Chris Gamble got the Buckeyes down to the Canes six-yard line, but Sean Taylor picked off Krenzel in the end zone. As he was returning it down the left sideline, Clarett made perhaps the best defensive play of the game, ripping the ball away from Taylor and keeping the Ohio State offense on the field. They settled for a Mike Nugent field goal, and now had to protect the improbable 17-7 lead.
A McGahee touchdown made it 17-14, but the Canes’ star tailback would not finish the game. Early in the fourth quarter, McGahee’s knee was turned the wrong way on a hit from Buckeye safety Will Allen (it’s on the internet if you want to find it, but this is not a recommendation), rupturing three ligaments in the tailback’s leg. The two teams traded field goal misses, and Miami looked to get one last shot to tie it up as the Buckeyes were forced to punt (after the officials ruled a Gamble catch incomplete and missed the defensive holding earlier in the route) with less than three minutes remaining.
A 50-yard return from Parrish set the Canes up at the Ohio State 26 and it looked like the upset would be averted, but they couldn’t move the ball against the Buckeye front and settled for a 40-yard field goal attempt. Kicked Todd Sievers was good as time expired, and the game plunged into overtime.
Dorsey and the Canes scored easily to start the session, using a 7-yard scoring grab by Winslow. The Buckeyes’ possession was considerably more dramatic. A penalty and a sack immediately put Krenzel in a fourth and 14, but he found Michael Jenkins along the sideline to convert the first down. Facing another fourth down, Krenzel looked for Gamble in the corner of the endz one, but the ball fell incomplete. The Hurricanes started to storm the field and fireworks began booming in Sun Devil Stadium, but a late flag fluttered in, canceling the celebration. (Terry Porter’s call is still the source of considerable bitterness from Hurricane fans, and it would be wise to not mention it if you’re visiting the Coral Gables area.)
Given an extra life, Krenzel punched it in and pushed the game to a second bonus frame. The Buckeye scored with relative ease, a 5-yard Clarett touchdown giving OSU a 31-24 lead and putting the pressure on Miami. Dorsey converted a fourth and three to Winslow, and after a pair of Buckeye penalties, the Canes had a first and goal from the two. After an incompletion sandwiched between two stuffed runs, the Canes had one more shot at the end zone. Dorsey dropped back for the pass, but was immediately pressured by linebacker Cle Grant. He flung the ball towards the end zone but it fell harmlessly to the ground (with no flags thrown), giving Ohio State the upset win.
Continue Reading: BCS Top 50: Best of the era, 5-1 (Dr. Saturday)