I don't usually go in for lists, but the Orlando Sentinel's "Team of the Decade" poll caught my eye, less for their opinion of certain great teams than for the teams that aren't even on their list. (And also the fact that the decade isn't over yet. But I digress.) What the Sentinel is really asking is, "Who is the best BCS champion of the decade (so far)?" This is not the same thing as asking "Who's the best team?"
Unlike titles determined by, say, a standardized playoff format, the BCS championship is a fairly ephemeral honor; there are no set standards. What's good enough one year is not necessarily good enough the next. Hence, Auburn can go 13-0 in 2004 and get a hand in its face, while three years later LSU, in the same division, can lose two games to unranked teams and still (justifiably) hoist a crystal ball at the end because purely external circumstances broke in its favor. Which of those teams was "better"? And why would you want a list that honors hardware over the actual performance?
If you cut away the circumstantial snubs, short-lived "quality points" and bald-faced politics that muscled certain teams out of the spotlight and actually put their resumés side-by-side, fully half of my top-10 list for the last nine years would include teams that didn't win the BCS championship:
The Doc's Top-10 Teams of the Decade
1. Texas (2005). Beat the pants off everybody (highest margin of victory of the decade: 33.8 points per game), then won like the greatest game ever with the performance of the century from -- if not the greatest player ever (or even of the decade) -- the first quarterback I'd pick to run a college offense. (Yes, still.)
2. Miami (2001). Won by 30-plus points per game and blew out four of five ranked teams on the schedule (only Virginia Tech kept it close). Made Nebraska look like Rutgers in the Rose Bowl. In retrospect, the most talented roster of the decade, frighteningly so: Six first-team All-Americans and more than a dozen future NFL mainstays in the starting lineup alone, not including Ken Dorsey, who was the Big East player of the year. Should have won at least two in a row (see below).
3. USC (2004). Won by 25.2 per game and smoked undefeated Oklahoma (a one-point underdog) by 36 in the Orange Bowl.
4. Auburn (2004). Still the only undefeated SEC team of the decade. Beat five ranked teams and led the nation in scoring defense.
5. Oklahoma (2000). Undefeated, and beat four of the AP's final top-12 teams by double digits.
6. Florida (2008). Joins the top two teams on this list as the only BCS champs with an average margin of victory over 30 points. Best team with a loss.
7. LSU (2003). In my head, I've always thought the snubbed Trojans were better this year, but the numbers don't bear that out: LSU was equally dominant against a demonstrably tougher schedule.
8. USC (2003). But the AP's vote means the '03 mythical championship is still split, and rightfully so.
9. USC (2005). The best offense on this list, in terms of yards per game and star power, but vastly overrated at the time in terms of actual dominance. The mediocre defense finally collapsed in the Rose Bowl.
T-10. USC (2008). On the other hand, dominant defenses are less spectacular, but SC actually won by more than a touchdown more per game last year than the '05 Trojans, and outgained opponents by almost twice as much -- in fact, USC's yardage spread in '08 (455 yards per game to 222 yards allowed) was easily the widest on this list. Alas, a narrow loss in the championship to Texas edges a narrow loss at Oregon State.
T-10. Texas (2008). Definitely on par with other championship teams statistically, in terms of big wins and overall dominance, if only they'd caught that freaking interception at Texas Tech.
Again, though, the decade is not over. (There is still time to parachute onto the Sphinx with that chick from "She's All That.") So I'm sure we'll be revisiting this at some point in the very near future.
- - -
Much love for the 2002 Hurricanes, who were legitimately awesome before the Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State, and would be the top one-loss team on this list -- if, that is, I could possibly justify ranking those Buckeyes. There's a reason that was such a colossal upset: On paper, '02 OSU isn't really even close. The '05 and '06 Bucks were both better across the entire season. So sad, 'Canes.