BCS Top 50: Best of the era, 20-11

·Senior Writer

The 2013 season is the last of the BCS era, an experiment that began in 1998 and proceeded to enrage nearly every college football fan along the way. Despite the flaws in the process, the underlying awesomeness of college football shined through time and time again, gifting us memorable games, plays and athletes over the last decade and a half.

Over the course of the week, we’re going to present you with the BCS Top 50, the best plays, players, storylines and games of the BCS era.

A few points of order:

  • Yes, there is another season of football still to be played, but the BCS will be buried and forgotten without ceremony at the conclusion of this season. This is our chance to honor it while it still lives.

  • There was an attempt to be as thorough as possible with opinions coming from a host of different college football fans, but there will probably be something you thought definitely needed to be on the list that won’t appear. We’ll have a whole post at the end of the week where you can vent about the best stuff that was left off. We’re looking forward to that – seriously.

Without further delay, numbers 20 through 11:

20) Seneca’s wild run

Watch this Seneca Wallace run from Texas Tech/Iowa State in 2002 then join me on the other side to talk about why it’s awesome:

Just the setting itself is fantastic: the Cyclones are 11th in the nation and playing a primetime contest against Mike Leach on TBS. Wallace takes the snap on the left hash at the Red Raiders 12-yard line, then almost immediately sprints over 20 yards backwards to the other sideline, at which point he starts to put the moves on. Then, just when one Tech defender maybe had a line on him, Cyclone receiver Michael Wagner helps out with a vicious block, freeing Wallace to walk into the end zone. Goodness.

Iowa State would stumble in the second half of the season, finishing 7-7 and unranked, but my, my, that run.

19) 13-9

In order to talk about the magnitude of 2007’s Pittsburgh/West Virginia game, we need to first address how damn good the Mountaineers were. On October 15, 2005, Rich Rodriguez unleashed the Pat White/Steve Slaton backfield on Louisville in a triple overtime win, and along with fullback Owen Schmitt, they ran wild over the Big East for the next two and a half seasons. Along the way they also managed to terrorize the Peach State, downing Georgia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl (the Bulldogs were heavy favorites) and Georgia Tech in the 2007 Gator Bowl.

Going into the ’07 Backyard Brawl, the Mountaineers were 10-1 and ranked second in the country. All they had to do was beat woeful Pitt, a 28.5-point underdog who only had four wins going into the game. West Virginia was playing in front of the faithful in Morgantown and had scored 45 points each of the prior two seasons against Pitt, meaning that many considered this more of a coronation than a contest.

Then things fell apart. White dislocated his thumb in the second quarter and was ineffective for most of the game. Mountaineer kicker Pat McAfee missed a pair of field goals. The high-powered offense turned it over three times. The Pitt rushing defense was phenomenal, holding West Virginia to 104 yards on 21 carries, and completing taking Slaton out of the game (nine carries, 11 yards). On offense, Dave Wannstedt turned to a young running back you may have heard of by the name of LeSean “Shady” McCoy, who carried the ball 38 times for 148 yards, setting up the Panthers’ only touchdown of the game, a 1-yard rush by quarterback Pat Bostick. Pitt took a safety as time expired to clinch the monumental upset.

In the weeks following, Rodriguez would leave to take the Michigan job, earning himself Most Hated Son status in West Virginia. Would RichRod have left if his team was playing for the national championship? Seems unlikely. The Mountaineers went on to play another heavy favorite in the BCS, but had little trouble dispatching Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, winning 48-28. Their overall record from 2005 to 2007 was 33-5.

18) House of Spears

Few players have had performances as dominant as Ndamukong Suh’s in the 2009 Big 12 Championship, and few games have had as many lasting ramifications as Texas’ 13-12 victory over Nebraska. Coming into the game, the Longhorns had ridden a down Big 12 and cupcake-y non-conference schedule to a 12-0 record and No. 3 ranking. With No. 1 Florida going down earlier in the day, Mack Brown’s team knew that a win would send them to the BCS title game against Alabama. After just missing out on a shot at the title the previous year (our #25 moment, the Crabtree catch), the Horns just had to take care of the No. 22 Huskers.

Texas was a two-touchdown favorite, but both the bookmakers and Colt McCoy were not quite prepared for the show Suh was about to put on. The Nebraska defensive lineman was unstoppable, totaling twelve tackles (seven for losses) and 4.5 sacks, tossing McCoy around like a rag doll most of the night and gently encouraging the Horns quarterback to throw three picks. Suh got no help from his offense, which mustered a grand total of five first downs against a stout Texas front, but Alex Henery’s fourth field goal of the night gave the underdogs a 12-10 lead with 1:44 remaining in the game.

But the ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, then a horse collar penalty on Nebraska moved Texas all the way up to the Huskers’ 26. Unable to muster offense and letting a lot of time drain off the clock, McCoy took the snap with seven seconds left and rolled right, with Suh (who probably should have won the Heisman a week later) in hot pursuit. The Horns quarterback threw the ball away out of bounds … and watched the clock hit zero. Nebraska began to celebrate, but a review by the Big 12 gave the Horns a single second and an extra chance. Hunter Lawrence knocked through the field goal, giving Texas the win, the Big 12 title and a spot in the BCS championship game. (You can watch the closing seconds of chaos here.)

Two very big things happened due to the extra second and Lawrence kick:

1) The decision to put time back on the clock didn’t hurt the belief of many in Lincoln that the Big 12 was becoming too Texas-centric for their liking. Seven months later, Nebraska – one of the most important members in the founding of the Big 12 - left the league to join the Big Ten.

2) Sitting behind Texas were three more undefeated teams: Cincinnati, Boise State and TCU. A Longhorns loss would have resulted in a mess to end all messes. If the Bearcats had made the championship game, does Brian Kelly leave to take the Notre Dame job? And if not Cincinnati, then we were within a second of seeing WAC champion Boise State or Mountain West champion TCU playing Alabama for the BCS title in Pasadena.

17) Making amazing catches out of household materials

I feel like MacGyver would be proud of Tyrone Prothro’s 2005 touchdown catch against Southern Miss. The Alabama receiver had a goal (get in the end zone in the waning moments of the first half) and he had some tools to use (the football, his hands, the back of Golden Eagle defender Jasper Faulk), but only seconds to take advantage. The resulting play is one of the most absurd catches you’ll ever see, and additional credit to the officials for getting the call right because they don’t teach you this stuff at referee school:

Alabama came back to win the game 30-21, but Prothro would suffer a horrific leg injury later in the season against Florida that ended his football career. He is currently one of the co-plaintiffs in Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit against the NCAA.

16) Holy Buckeye

Ohio State’s 2002 success was predicated on great defense, great special teams and running the ball. But when it was needed, quarterback Craig Krenzel could uncork one. The Buckeyes were 10-0 and ranked second in the country when they traveled to West LaFayette, Ind., and despite Purdue’s unimpressive record (4-5), the Boilermakers played a brilliant defensive game and held a 6-3 lead late in the fourth quarter. (See, kids: Really good Ohio State teams struggling against Purdue is a long tradition, not some new-fangled fad.)

I will now turn it over to Mr. Musburger:

This started a dramatic stretch run for the Buckeyes, who finished the season with a 23-16 overtime win at Illinois, a 14-9 victory vs. Michigan and a double-overtime victory against Miami in the Fiesta Bowl to win the BCS title.

15) He stumbled and fumbled

Tennessee (8-0) ascended to No. 1 in the country in early November 1998, their first time with the top ranking since 1956. It looked like their time at the top would be short lived as they welcomed 8-0 Arkansas to Knoxville and quickly fell behind 21-3 to the 10th-ranked Razorbacks. Tennessee’s Tee Martin, Peerless Price and Travis Henry rallied to get Rocky Top within two points in the fourth quarter, but after turning it over on downs, it looked like Arkansas was going to be able to run out the clock en route to a 24-22 victory.

That didn’t happen, as Arkansas quarterback Clint Stoerner – who was really good on the day, throwing for 274 yards and 3 touchdowns in front of 106,000 frothing Vol faithful – slipped on a sprint pass and fumbled, turning the ball over to Tennessee with 1:43 remaining. At that point, Tennessee just handed the ball to Henry (filling in for an injured Jamal Lewis), who only needed five carries to chew up 43 yards, reaching the end zone to give Rocky Top a 28-24 win.

Enjoy Sean McDonough’s amazing call on the fumble and the Vols’ final drive here:

Tennessee would go on to win the inaugural BCS title in the Fiesta Bowl over Florida State.

14) Three years of 'Noles and 'Canes

For the first five years of the BCS, the championship game featured either Florida State or Miami. The Sunshine State rivals were near the top of every poll, and going into the 2000 game, the Seminoles had won five straight, their longest streak in the series since the early 70’s. The Seminoles trailed 20-10 entering the fourth quarter, but eventual Heisman winner Chris Weinke – who threw for 496 yards on the day – put together two late touchdown drives, giving Florida State a 24-20 lead.

Sophomore Ken Dorsey responded, finding Jeremy Shockey for the go-ahead touchdown with 46 seconds remaining. That was plenty of time for Weinke to set up a 49-yard field goal for kicker Matt Munyon. But just like in 1991 and '92, when the Noles lost on a field goal to the right, Munyon’s kick slid just outside the goal post. (You can watch highlights of the game here.) In one of the earliest BCS controversies, 10-1 Florida State ended up playing for the title over 10-1 Miami, who lost earlier in the season to 10-1 Washington. Florida State would lose the BCS championship to Oklahoma.

In 2001, Florida State had no answer for the Hurricane juggernaut, as Miami got touchdowns from – it never ceases to amaze me these guys were all on the same team – Andre Johnson, Jeremy Shockey and Willis McGahee, while Clinton Portis ran for 122 yards. On defense, Philip Buchanon and Ed Reed both had two interceptions off Chris Rix in the 49-27 win. Miami went on to win the BCS championship against Nebraska.

The Noles looked to get revenge in 2002, taking a 27-14 lead on the defending champs behind 189 yards from running back Greg Jones that put Miami’s 27-game winning streak in jeopardy. Dorsey led another comeback, guiding the Canes to a 28-27 lead with a little more than 5 minutes remaining. The teams traded punts, and Rix took over with 2:05 on the clock. He worked the 'Noles down to the Miami 25, setting up a game-winning attempt by Xavier Beitia who flipped the script … and missed it to the left. Miami went on to lose the BCS championship to Ohio State.

13) Midwest Armageddon

For the first time in the history of the series, Ohio State and Michigan met ranked as the top two teams in the nation in 2006. Both teams had dominated Big Ten play and notched major non-conference wins (the Buckeyes had won in Austin, the Wolverines in South Bend) to earn their 11-0 marks. The game was such a big deal that ESPN featured a countdown clock on their bottom line the week before, the minutes ticking down until the showdown in Columbus that would earn the winner an outright Big Ten crown and a spot in the BCS title game. Adding yet another storyline to the proceedings, former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler passed away the day before the game because of heart failure.

The match up lived up to the hype, producing and up-and-down affair not exactly reminiscent of old school Big Ten play. Ohio State led 28-14 at the half, and while Michigan kept clawing back, they could never get that late break against the Buckeyes offense, eventually succumbing 42-39. It looked like the Wolverines had the stop they needed in the fourth quarter when a third-and-15 pass fell incomplete, but linebacker Shawn Crable was flagged for going helmet-to-helmet against OSU quarterback Troy Smith, extending the drive. Smith found Brian Robiskie for a touchdown three players later, making it 42-31 and all but sealing the victory.

Smith was great in the game, clinching the Heisman with his 316 yards and 4 touchdowns. Antonio Pittman dominated on the ground (139 yards and a score) and Ted Ginn Jr. did his thing on the outside, catching eight passes for 104 yards and a touchdown while adding 105 yards on kick returns. In his final Big Ten game, Michigan's Mike Hart did not disappoint, churning out 142 yards and 3 touchdowns.

There was considerable talk of a potential rematch in the BCS title game after UCLA knocked off No. 2 USC, but Florida ended up jumping Michigan with their SEC Championship Game victory. The Buckeyes would get blown out by the Gators 41-14, while Michigan never led in a 32-18 Rose Bowl loss to the Trojans.

12) Drew Tate comin’

Nick Saban had announced he was taking the Miami Dolphins job, but was coaching one final game at LSU: The 2005 Capital One Bowl against Iowa. The Hawkeyes took a 24-12 lead early in the fourth, but JaMarcus Russell put on a rally for his departing coach, connecting with Skyler Green for two touchdowns and a one-point lead with 46 seconds remaining.

Drew Tate and the Hawkeye offense sputtered, only managing to reach their own 46-yard line as the clock ticked down. That was close enough:

11) Bluegrass Miracle

We went back and forth on which Hail Mary to put here, but decided on Marcus Randall’s bomb against Kentucky in 2002. The reasoning:

  • Distance. The LSU scoring play was 75 yards, versus 54 for Iowa.

  • Difficulty of catch: The ball was tipped, then Devery Henderson juggled it to gain control as he ran out of the crowd of defenders.

  • Situation: This is the most entertaining part, as Kentucky had already doused head coach Guy Morriss with Gatorade after going up 30-27 with 11 seconds remaining.

  • Aftermath: As you can see here, Kentucky fans were already storming the field and tearing down the goal posts in the opposite end zone from where LSU was celebrating their win.

Enough with the words, watch and enjoy:

Tomorrow in moments 10-6: Championship games, Heismans and historic upsets aplenty.

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