BCS Top 50: Best of the era, 40-31

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 40 through 31:

40) The high and low of Penn State’s 2005

In the early part of the millennium, the Nittany Lions suffered some hard times, falling all the way to 4-7 in 2004 while taking part in one of the worst football games of all time, a 6-4 loss to Iowa. But under dynamic quarterback Michael Robinson and a tough defense, the Lions worked their way to 5-0, earning a visit from “College Gameday” as the No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes rolled into town. The atmosphere for the game was incredible, as a white out blanketed the stadium and “Zombie Nation” boomed over the PA. Penn State contained Troy Smith (who would win the Heisman the following year) and walked out with a 17-10 win. During the game PSU defensive end Tamba Hali stripped Smith, resulting in one of the better game action photos you’ll ever see.

The euphoria in State College would only last another week, as they traveled to Ann Arbor to face off against a scuffling 3-3 Michigan team. The Wolverines led 10-3 going into the fourth quarter before chaos erupted, the two previously inept offenses combining to score 39 points over the final 15 minutes. With the Wolverines trailing by 4 and the ball at the Nittany Lion 10, Chad Henne had one last snap:

That was Penn State’s only loss on the 2005 season, the Wolverine upset denying us a chance to see the giant BCS disaster of undefeated Penn State, undefeated USC and undefeated Texas.

39) TCU makes a run for the roses

During the summer of 2009, the BCS made a slight tweak to its rules: If the Big Ten or Pac-10 champion wasn’t playing in the Rose Bowl between 2010 and 2013 and there was a team from a smaller conference eligible, they would get to play in the Granddaddy of Them All. With Oregon going to the 2010 BCS title game, TCU immediately cashed in on the opportunity, taking their undefeated record to face No. 5 Wisconsin, the 11-1 Big Ten champions. They even made a slight-but-awesome addition to their helmet, putting a rose in the mouth of the Horned Frog.

The game was a fun one, as TCU took a 21-13 third quarter lead, only to watch the Badgers march down the field for a late fourth quarter touchdown. Needing a big play from the defense, lineman Tank Carradine stepped up, knocking down Scott Tolzien’s 2-point conversion pass attempt and sealing a 21-19 win for the Mountain West champions. Despite going 13-0 with a victory over the Big Ten champs, the Horned Frogs received no national title recognition, making this one of the games you can point to as an example of why we’re moving to a playoff.

38) Johnny Football visits Tuscaloosa

The defending champion Crimson Tide were a war machine in 2012, reaching a 9-0 record and No. 1 ranking with only one victory coming by less than 19 points, a late escape at LSU. They got home from Baton Rouge and prepared to face one of the SEC newcomers, an upstart group from College Station with a new coach, a new quarterback and a new offensive system. Johnny Manziel ran Kevin Sumlin’s spread to perfection, and whether it was fatigue or a lack of preparedness for the quick-strike attack, the Aggies were able to race out to a 20-0 first quarter lead.

But the Tide adjusted, closing it to 20-14 at halftime and 20-17 at the end of the third. Those watching the game assumed an Alabama comeback was inevitable, as their rushing attack appeared too formidable for A&M to stop while the Aggies offense seemed to have run out of gas. But Manziel struck back, leading a pair of drives that ended with field goal attempts (only one was good) and then tossing a 24-yard touchdown to make it 29-17 with 8:37 remaining.

The drama wasn’t close to being finished, as A.J. McCarron quickly found freshman receiver Amari Cooper for a 54-yard touchdown to slice it to 29-24. The Tide quarterback watched his defense get a much-needed three-and-out, then immediately got his team to the doorstep, setting up first and goal at the Aggies six. But Sumlin’s defense held, intercepting McCarron at the goal line on fourth down. With the help of a Tide offsides, A&M was able to run out the clock, sealing one of the biggest wins in school history and propelling Manziel to the Heisman.

37) Haaaaaave you met Jadeveon?

I don’t think many words are needed here. Let’s just let the moving pictures, Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden do the talking:

Poor, poor Vincent Smith, although credit him for reaching out to recover his own fumble despite the fact he had just been maimed by a monster.

36) LaDainian runs and runs and then runs some more

UTEP and TCU were tied 17-17 at the half of their 1999 match up, mainly due to the Miners ability to contain LaDainian Tomlinson, holding the star back to a mere 119 yards and 2 touchdowns. In the second half, things did not go as well, to put it mildly. LT totaled 287 yards and 4 touchdowns in the final 30 minutes of action, helping the Horned Frogs cruise to a 52-24 victory. Tomlinson set two records that day, for most yards in a game (405) and most in a half (287, tied with Northern Illinois’ Stacey Robinson). In 2000, LT rushed for over 2,000 yards, led the nation in rushing (for the second consecutive year), won the WAC Offensive Player of the Year award (for the second consecutive year), finished 4th in the Heisman voting and went 5th overall in the NFL draft.

35) Iowa State’s Friday night miracle

The Oklahoma State Cowboys have never won a national title, but in 2011, they were on the precipice. They sat at 10-0 and No. 2 in the country when they arrived to Ames to face 5-4 Iowa State on a Friday night. The Cowboys were 27-point favorites but were playing with heavy hearts after a plane crash had claimed the life of Oklahoma State women’s basketball coach Kurt Budke and three others the day before.

Although they trailed 24-7 early in the third quarter, Paul Rhoads’ Cyclones kept chipping away, forcing 5 Cowboys turnovers on the night as they rallied to force overtime. In the second bonus frame, OSU quarterback Brandon Weeden threw his third interception of the game and watched as Iowa State scored on three plays, concluding with a 4-yard touchdown plunge by backup running back Jeff Woody that secured the 37-31 upset.

Oklahoma State would go on to rout Oklahoma in Bedlam and win the Fiesta Bowl against Andrew Luck and Stanford, the loss in Ames the only blemish on the best season in school history. The win over the second-ranked Cowboys is the only victory over a top-five team in the history of Iowa State’s program.

34) “The Tigers on the lateral, oh my goodness, it is over.”

This play had no effect on the BCS race. In fact, it didn’t even take place in an FBS game, instead coming between Division III Trinity and Millsaps back in 2007. However, since the play is so awesome (15 laterals!) and did take place during our allotted time frame, I feel like it would be a shame to leave it off the list:

Bonus points for inspiring an equally great video over at Slate, where they map out the lateral-laden final play. (Please watch this video, it is seriously one of the best things to ever appear on the internet.)

33) Larry and Calvin, Calvin and Larry

Due to the limitations of their teams, Pittsburgh’s Larry Fitzgerald and Georgia Tech’s Calvin Johnson didn’t get to appear in many big games. That did not step them from leaving their mark on highlight reels and the memories of college fans in the mid-2000’s.

Fitzgerald was only at Pitt for two years, but while he was there he won the Biletnikoff, set the NCAA record for consecutive games with a touchdown (18) and led the nation in both receiving yards and touchdowns in 2003. He should have won the Heisman, but narrowly lost out to Jason White when some voters submitted their ballots before White’s implosion in the Big 12 title game. You can see Fitzgerald’s ridiculousness on display with this Insight Bowl catch or on this longer highlight reel.

Johnson was more of a physical freak than Fitzgerald but his numbers were limited by having human restrictor plate Reggie Ball at quarterback. Even with the ever-erratic Ball targeting him, he still led the ACC in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in 2006, good enough to bring home the Biletnikoff. In Johnson’s final game as a Yellow Jacket, Ball was ineligible, thrusting Taylor Bennett into the starting role. Unshackled, Johnson caught 9 balls for 186 yards and 2 touchdowns against West Virginia. Here’s a brief summary of his greatness:

Unsurprisingly, both players were top-three selections in the NFL draft and continued to dominate in the pros.

32) Five hours and 17 touchdowns later

There wasn’t anything particularly special about the 2003 Arkansas/Kentucky game before it started. The teams were a combined 8-7, although they featured two interesting quarterbacks, with future NFL wide receiver Matt Jones guiding the Razorbacks and the Round Mound of Touchdown Jared Lorenzen running the Wildcats’ offense. The game wasn’t particularly special (although both teams did score on a blocked punt) through the end of the fourth quarter, when the game entered overtime tied at 24.

Then it went into double overtime, then triple, and on they went until it finally concluded in the seventh bonus stanza, when Lorenzen fumbled on a QB keeper at the goal line, giving the Razorbacks a 71-63 lead. The game clocked in at just under five hours, and while it wasn’t the first septuple overtime affair (Arkansas battled Ole Miss for through seven overtimes in 2001), it set the record for longest game and most points scored. Jones and Lorenzen combined for 9 touchdowns on the night. And yes, the whole thing is available over on YouTube.

31) The difficulties of kicking against large men in the SEC

In 2006, Florida sat at 8-1 and still had hopes of playing for the BCS title in Urban Meyer’s second season as head coach. They would need to get by Steve Spurrier, who was coaching his first game in Gainesville from the South Carolina sideline. The Gamecocks would have escaped The Swamp with a victory but six-foot-six Gator defensive lineman Jarvis Moss blocked two fourth quarter kicks. He swatted an extra point earlier in the frame before tipping a 48-yard game-winning field goal attempt as time expired. That sealed a 17-16 win for Florida, who went on to win the BCS title.

In 2009, in Lane Kiffin’s only season as Tennessee head coach, the Volunteers were trying to pull off the upset in Tuscaloosa, where Alabama sat undefeated and number one in the nation. They trailed 12-10 after a valiant effort, and had a 44-yard field goal attempt lined up for the win…but there was a mountain named Terrence Cody in the way:

It was Cody’s second field goal block of the game. Alabama went on to win the BCS title.

Tomorrow in Moments 30-21: Crouch, Crabtree, Bush and Dyer

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