BCS Top 50: Best of the era, 50-41

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 ado, the first ten.

50) East Lansing Magic

Michigan State trailed by three in overtime during their 2010 matchup with Notre Dame. Dan Conroy lined up for the 46-yard field goal, needing a make to force a second bonus frame:

By itself the play was pretty cool, but the next part of the story etched it into Spartan lore forever: Dantonio suffered a heart attack (we can presume from all the excitement, but our doctorate is only in college football) after the game and was rushed to the hospital. Dantonio thankfully recovered fully, and “Little Giants” (the name of the play) went down as one of the most memorable trick plays of the BCS era.

The following year, Michigan State was hosting Wisconsin, who was 6-0 and ranked sixth in the country. With the game tied and seconds remaining, overtime loomed, but Kirk Cousins had one last heave from the Badgers 44. I think you know how this ends:

It’s great how the drama of the review gives the crowd an opportunity to celebrate twice.

49) Red River Ridiculousness

The early part of the 21st century equaled Oklahoma dominance in the Red River Shootout, but in 2001, Texas had a chance to avenge the 63-14 beatdown that was put on them the previous year. Chris Simms went under center trailing 7-3, a long field ahead of him but enough time on the clock for some Longhorn magic. Roy Williams and Teddy Lehman had other ideas:

48) Run DMC rolls through Baton Rouge

Due to the chaos that reigned over the 2007 season, that year’s Arkansas/LSU match up had little effect on the final BCS standings. That doesn’t mean the game wasn’t entertaining as hell, featuring one of all-time great performances from Darren McFadden. The Bayou Bengals went on to play and win the SEC and BCS championships, but they had no answer for McFadden on that November afternoon. The Razorbacks running back did everything, running the wildcat offense for much of the game to the tune of 206 yards and 4 touchdowns, including one passing. His backfield mate Peyton Hillis also chipped in 4 scores on the afternoon, while Felix Jones had nearly 200 total yards rushing, receiving and returning kicks. LSU quarterback Matt Flynn matched the Arkansas rushing attack for much of the game before finally falling short in the third overtime, dropping a 50-48 decision. There are over ten minutes of highlights from this game available on YouTube, if that is a thing that might interest you.

47) “You bred raptors?”

There are many things that spring to mind when watching Colin Kaepernick’s unique style of play. Many liken him to an ostrich, and while that isn’t wrong, I can’t help but think of Dr. Alan Grant’s concerned question when touring Jurassic Park for the first time. How could you think of unleashing a beast like this on the football world? Kaepernick was a monster from the moment he stepped on the field, nearly knocking off Boise State on the Smurf turf in his second ever start as a freshman and only getting better from there. Perhaps the finest execution of Chris Ault’s Pistol offense was in the 2009 game against Idaho, when Kaepernick totaled 6 touchdowns, rushing for 230 yards and throwing for another 178 in a 70-45 win. His success in the NFL doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who watched his assault on college football for four years.

46) Boise and Louisville give a taste of what’s to come

Before the Broncos and Cardinals broke through to earn BCS wins during the 2006-2007 season, they gave us a preview of the heights both programs would reach during the 2004 Liberty Bowl. Boise State brought an 11-0 record and 22-game win streak into Memphis against the 10-1 Cardinal, and the two teams proceeded to put up points all New Year’s Eve afternoon.

The Broncos took advantage of a quartet of Cardinals turnovers – including a 92-yard pick six – to build a 34-21 second half lead, but that was an extremely manageable deficit for quarterback Stefan LeFors and Bobby Petrino’s offense. LeFors and the Cardinals scored 23 of the final 29 points, picking off Boise quarterback Jared Zabransky’s in the end zone as time expired to clinch a thrilling 44-40 win.

Boise head coach Dan Hawkins would leave the following season, but offensive coordinator Chris Petersen was promoted to the role and has since accumulated a rather decent 84-8 record. Louisville would suffer through some dark times following Petrino’s departure for the Falcons job in 2007, but Charlie Strong has righted the Cardinals ship.

45) Ed Reed will take that, thank you very much

Boston College was driving for the upset on Miami in 2001 when Hurricane Matt Walter snagged an interception. Displeased with the speed of Walter's return, Ed Reed took over:

44) A-Train goes off the rails

What makes the 2000 Northwestern/Michigan game so memorable wasn’t the 104 combined points (which were awesome) or the last-second Wildcats score (which nearly shook Ryan Field apart), but how so often the incredible doesn’t happen. How many games have you watched where the team with the lead has the ball, runs it a few times, gets the first down and the clock ticks out as the helpless opponents stand by. That almost happened in this one, but as Wolverines tailback Anthony Thomas (who was magnificent on the day, toting the ball 37 times for 199 yards) broke for daylight in the waning moments, he just…dropped the ball.

The Wildcats scored a few plays later to knock off the 12th-ranked Wolverines, with Thomas’ fumble standing out in a game that featured brilliant offensive play from both teams.

43) RG3’s Heisman performances

Robert Griffin III was amazing for his entire career at Baylor, but I think you can point to two games that were paramount to him winning the Heisman in 2011. First was the Friday night opener against TCU, where Griffin went 21 of 27 for 359 yards and 5 touchdowns, surviving a furious Horned Frogs comeback to win 50-48. If that game put RG3 on the map, it was his November upset of the fifth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners that basically assured him the trophy. Griffin was transcendent again, going 21 of 34 for 479 yards and 4 touchdowns, with 72 yards rushing tacked on for fun. His final touchdown went to Terrance Williams with 8 seconds remaining, breaking a 38-all tie and giving the Bears the win.

42) Seventh time is the charm

The record for most touchdown receptions in a game belongs to Rashaun Woods, who tallied 7 in an Oklahoma State win over SMU in 2003. The Mustangs offered little resistance in the 52-7 loss, as Woods scored 5 times in the first half before breaking the record in the third quarter with a pair of grabs in the end zone. The previous mark was held by San Diego State’s Tim Delaney and was set in 1969 against New Mexico State. You have to wonder how many scores Woods would have ended up with if Les Miles, the Cowboys coach at the time, hadn’t taken his foot off the accelerator in the final period. Woods finished the game with 13 receptions for 232 yards, with scoring plays of 2, 5, 10, 11, 25, 32 and 34 yards.

41) Stanford clips the Ducks’ wings

There is a strong case to be made that save for perhaps Boise State, no program improved its stature more in the BCS era than Oregon. Fueled by Phil Knight’s deep Nike pockets and incorporating a deep closet full of uniforms that made them favorites of fans and potential recruits alike, Chip Kelly took the reins from Mike Bellotti and didn’t look back, elevating the program to a 36-4 stretch from 2010 to 2012.

The losses were:

  • The BCS title game to Auburn, by a field goal

  • A season opener in Texas against an extremely formidable LSU team that would play in the BCS title game

  • A close shootout loss to Southern Cal on a missed field goal

  • The 2012 Stanford game

We are here to discuss that 2012 game. Oregon was playing at home, ranked first in the AP and second in the BCS. They were 10-0 and 20-point favorites over the Cardinal, who had found no answer for the Ducks offense previously in the Jim Harbaugh/David Shaw era. Kelly’s offense was humming with quarterback Marcus Mariota, tailback Kenjon Barner and all-everything De’Anthony Thomas, having scored at least 42 points in each of their first 10 games.

But it didn’t matter. The Stanford defense was immaculate, holding Oregon to a pair of touchdowns and no big plays save for one lengthy Mariota run. On offense, the Cardinal leaned on workhorse tailback Stepfan Taylor (33 rushes for 161 yards) and behemoth tight end Zach Ertz (11 catches for 106 yards and a late game-tying touchdown). Oregon’s kicking woes continued, as they missed two field goals, including one in overtime that opened the door for Stanford’s 17-14 win.

The victory helped Stanford win the Pac-12 North, then the league’s championship game and eventually the Rose Bowl. That was Oregon’s only loss of the year, as they demolished Oregon State and Kansas State en route to a 12-1 season. Kelly would leave for the Philadelphia Eagles a few weeks after their Fiesta Bowl win.

(Bonus ridiculousness from that same night: Kansas State, who was ranked first in the BCS and second in the AP, got blown out by Baylor, moving No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 4 Alabama into the top two spots, positions they held until the Tide/Irish BCS title game.)

Tomorrow in Moments 40-31: LT, Megatron, Mount Cody and Johnny Football.

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