Friday, September 18, 2009

Legendary Near Misses, Fair and Unfair

It’s time to take a break from political invective and write about something that is all fun and passion: college football.

Okay, I guess college football is political in some respects. And it is no stranger to invective. But whatever.

The first couple weeks of this season have been very intriguing. Here is a look back at the five best teams in history that did not take the national championship.

1. 2004 Auburn Tigers

They are the only team ever to finish 13-0. Including the Sugar Bowl, they won six games against ranked teams and two of those were against BCS qualifiers. They defeated prestigious foes in blowouts (34-10 over Tennessee) as well as last-minute nail-biters (10-9 over LSU). Two of their running backs got drafted in the top five picks of the NFL draft, and their quarterback finished with a 62.9 completion percentage. The Tigers’ curse was that the pollsters had them ranked near the bottom of the Top Twenty at the beginning of the season, and because the two teams ranked atop the preseason standings never lost, they were left out of the title game.

2. 1986 Miami Hurricanes

Part of me thinks this was the greatest team of all time, and another part of me thinks it is only the second best team on this list, and that is what makes college football so much fun. What made the ’86 Canes great was their mix of fearsome talent and unapologetic swagger, led by such future NFL stars as Michael Irvin, Jerome Brown, and Bennie Blades. Their 28-16 pasting of Oklahoma -- in a virtually unheard of regular season meeting of #1 vs. #2 -- brought about the end of the wishbone era. Unfortunately for the Canes, however, Heisman Trophy-winning QB Vinny Testaverde suffered brain cramps during the national title showdown in the Fiesta Bowl, and threw five interceptions…resulting in a loss to Penn State.

3. 1995 Ohio State Buckeyes

The ’95 Bucks returned Ohio State to a position of national prominence by barreling like a tsunami through a regular season filled with big games. They started with four straight victories against good non-conference competition, including a 19-point crushing of Notre Dame. Then they edged Penn State, and then they rolled through the rest of their schedule…until they met their Waterloo, which was playing arch rival Michigan on the road to close the season. They lost 31-23, and disheartened, went on to lose to Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl more than a month later. Three of their players were drafted in the first fifteen picks of the NFL draft.

4. 1994 Penn State Nittany Lions

Coach Joe Paterno was 67 years old and considered conventional and out of-date. But he opened up a pass-laden playbook that had QB Kerry Collins throwing the ball over the field. They finished the regular season undefeated, then cruised past Oregon in the Rose Bowl. But Nebraska also finished undefeated, after having started the season ranked higher…and because of that, Nebraska got the national crown while Penn State was relegated to “honorable loser” status, despite never losing.

5. 1993 Auburn Tigers

How can a team go undefeated in America’s toughest conference and not get a chance to play for the national championship? Well, that’s happened to Auburn twice. Before the 2004 team mentioned above, Auburn fielded another magical squad in 1993. Under first year coach Terry Bowden, they rolled through the season knocking off the likes of Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, and they even won during a snowfall in Arkansas. The 38-35 victory over Florida ranks as one of the most exciting contests in the history of Jordan-Hare Stadium. But limited exposure -- previous NCAA sanctions resulted in this team being banned from TV and from bowl games -- caused them to finish #2 behind a one-loss Florida State squad.

Of course, this list is just my opinion. Surely there are other teams -- the 1983 Nebraska Cornhuskers and 1991 Florida State Seminoles, to name just two -- that also deserve consideration for it. Bring ’em on.

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