Every Power 5 Conference Team's Greatest Moment from BCS Era
On Monday we got our first glimpse of the hardware that's going to be given out to the winner of the College Football Playoff, the new system created to determine the FBS national champion.
The 26.5-inch, 35-pound trophy, that may or may not resemble a fountain pen holder, replaces the crystal football that was given out to the winner of the Bowl Championship Series title game each year from 1999 to 2014. That iconic award has been retired, along with the system that gave us 16 years of great championships and plenty of other memorable moments.
And that got us thinking: During the just-completed BCS era, what stood out the most for every power-conference program during that time? It couldn't always be something related to a BCS bowl, as only 45 of the teams currently in the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 or SEC have earned an invite to one of the top-tier games.
We've culled through the history of all teams from the power conferences, as well as noted independents BYU and Notre Dame, to chronicle each program's greatest moment from the now-complete BCS era.
Alabama Crimson Tide
What: Defeating LSU in all-SEC national championship game
A rule of thumb is that the sequel is never as good as the original. In the case of the Alabama-LSU meetings during the 2011-12 season, the rematch was far better than the first time around.
After the SEC rivals slugged through a 9-6 overtime result during the regular season (won by LSU), Alabama ended up in second place in the West Division and was shut out of the conference final. LSU won that game in convincing fashion, 42-10 over Georgia, to lock up a spot in the BCS championship game.
For Alabama, to get a chance at a rematch required the Tide to finish second in the final BCS standings. That happened, thanks to other teams losing late in the season, and we had our first (and only) national title game in the BCS era matching teams from the same league.
Overtime wasn't needed this time around. Instead, Alabama rolled to a 21-0 win over LSU to win its second title in three years.
What: Upsetting No. 2 Oregon at home
Arizona is the only school from the Pac-12 (other than newcomers Colorado and Utah) never to have represented the conference in the Rose Bowl, so the program has had to look upon lesser accolades for its greatest moments. Most of them involve major upsets of highly ranked teams at home, something the Wildcats have become known for over the past decade.
Last year they knocked off Oregon in dominating fashion to keep the Ducks out of the Pac-12 title game, but the most notable of these upsets actually came a few years earlier against the same team.
Oregon was ranked second in the country and sported an 8-1 record, while Arizona was 4-6 but had won its last two games. The contest was a Thursday night affair on ESPN, and a large crowd added to the atmosphere of what resulted in a 34-24 triumph over the Ducks.
Arizona State Sun Devils
What: Winning Pac-12 South Division, hosting conference title game
The best season in Arizona State history came just before the BCS era, when the Sun Devils won the Pac-10 title and played in the Rose Bowl in 1996. Replicating that season had been in the minds of every player and coach in the program since then, and the 2013 version came as close as any of them to do so.
ASU used the mettle forged from early losses to Stanford and Notre Dame to go on a seven-game winning streak to end the regular season. A road victory over UCLA clinched the Pac-12's South Division, which was followed by a blowout of rival Arizona at home, on the same field where it would get to host the conference title game a week later.
The Devils faced Stanford again, hoping to avenge the earlier loss, but instead were knocked off by the Cardinal. Instead of another Rose Bowl, ASU went to the Holiday Bowl but still managed to record its first 10-win campaign since 2007.
What: Upsetting defending national champion Tennessee
Arkansas has made a BCS bowl game, reaching the Sugar Bowl after a 10-win season, but the Razorbacks lost that contest to Ohio State. A more memorable moment was when Tennessee came to Fayetteville, Arkansas, for a mid-November tilt that went a lot like the one played the year before in Knoxville.
The main difference? Instead of Clint Stoerner and the Razorbacks slipping late, they rallied from a 24-21 deficit with a touchdown pass from Stoerner to Anthony Lucas in the final moments to knock off the defending national champions.
What: Winning BCS national championship
Auburn had a very love-hate relationship with the BCS during that era, as the Tigers not only participated in two of the series' best championship games but were also part of one of the biggest controversies related to title-participant selection.
Auburn was 12-0 in 2004, but because Oklahoma and USC were also unbeaten the Tigers were the odd team out and had to play in the Sugar Bowl. They won that game over Virginia Tech to set up a split-national championship scenario with USC, leading to changes in how the BCS system worked.
Six years later Auburn was unbeaten again but this time didn't have to worry about being left out as it faced Oregon in the BCS championship game. Tied at 19 in the final minutes, the Tigers got the ball all the way down to the Ducks' 1-yard line then ran the clock down before kicking a championship-winning field goal as time expired.
The Tigers would reach another BCS final after the 2013 season, losing to Florida State in the last minute of play.
What: Robert Griffin III winning the Heisman Trophy
While 2013 was the best season in Baylor football history, with the Bears winning the Big 12 and reaching the Fiesta Bowl, the team's performance isn't as significant to the program's future success as quarterback Robert Griffin's Heisman win was.
By claiming the trophy following a superb 2011 season, Griffin set the tone for the Bears' program when it came to in-state and national recruiting success. Players on the fence about playing in Waco, Texas, before Griffin beat out Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck for the Heisman suddenly looked at Baylor with more interest. As a result, the Bears went from a top-50 recruiting class in 2011 to a top-30 haul in 2012, per 247Sports.
Griffin will have a statue out in front of Baylor's new stadium, a field his Heisman effort helped bring in the donations used to build it, this fall.
Boston College Eagles
What: Playing in first ACC championship game
The ACC has 14 schools in it, yet amazingly since the league expanded enough to hold a conference championship game in 2005 only seven different schools have participated in that final. Boston College happens to be one of those, reaching the final in back-to-back years in 2007 and 2008.
The Eagles' best shot to win it was in 2007, when they started the season 8-0 and were bolstered by a fifth straight win over Notre Dame. BC ran into a wall in November, though, dropping two straight but still winning the Atlantic Division to get a second game with Virginia Tech in the final.
BC beat the Hokies earlier in the year, rallying from a 10-0 hole to win 14-10. But this time around it was Virginia Tech that got the better of the matchup, winning 30-16 and sending BC to the Champs Sports Bowl, where it would beat Michigan State.
What: Winning 16 straight games
Before BYU decided to go off on its own and attempt to be the Western version of Notre Dame as an independent, it was a regular contender for Mountain West titles as it tried to become one of the BCS busters that earned at-large bids to the big bowl games.
That never happened—though it was likely to in 2001 had the Cougars not lost in Hawaii after a 12-0 start—but the Cougars still put together plenty of great seasons during the BCS era.
BYU had 10 or more wins on six different occasions, including every season from 2006 to 2009. In the middle of that run was a 16-game winning streak that featured victories over Pac-10 schools Washington and UCLA, the latter coming in the 2007 Las Vegas Bowl.
California Golden Bears
What: Garnering most wins, first bowl victory in 10 years
California was 1-11 in the 2001 season when it made a coaching move that would change the program forever. Jeff Tedford was hired from Oregon's staff, and two years later the Golden Bears were ending all sorts of futility fueled droughts.
In 2003 Cal won eight games, which included an overtime victory over USC—the only game the Trojans would lose that season—as well as an exciting 52-49 win over Virginia Tech in the Insight Bowl. The bowl win was the program's first in a decade, while the eight wins were also a high-water mark for the past 10 years.
What: Winning Orange Bowl over Ohio State
Clemson had been making a gradual climb up the college football ladder ever since Dabo Swinney took over as coach midway through the 2008 season. Save for a 6-7 record in 2010 it's been nothing but positives for the Tigers under Swinney, culminating in a second trip to the Orange Bowl in three seasons after the 2013 campaign ended.
The previous trip to South Florida for a bowl was a disaster for Clemson, as it was crushed 70-33 by West Virginia in the 2012 Orange Bowl. Facing another powerful opponent this time in Ohio State, the Tigers put in a game plan that threw lots of pressure toward OSU quarterback Braxton Miller and resulted in a lot of mistakes from the mobile passer.
The back-and-forth game was one of the most exciting in the BCS era, with Clemson triumphing 40-35 for its second consecutive 11-2 season.
What: Winning Big 12 title, playing in Fiesta Bowl
Colorado averaged less than 5.5 wins per season during the BCS era, with only six years ending above .500. All of those were from 1998 to 2005, so it's fair to say things didn't go that great for the Buffaloes during that stretch.
The exception would the 2001 season, when Colorado won the Big 12 by knocking off Texas in the conference championship game to earn a spot in the Fiesta Bowl. Unfortunately, though, that's where the great memories ended, as the Buffaloes were crushed 38-16 by Oregon.
Duke Blue Devils
What: Reaching ACC title game
For most of the BCS era, Duke's involvement was mostly only as an unwitting pawn in the dominance put forth by other teams. From 1998 to 2011 the Blue Devils didn't have a winning record, only getting to five wins on one occasion until they reached a bowl game following a 6-6 season in 2012.
Then came last year, when Duke suddenly went from an also-ran to a contender. The Devils won the ACC's Coastal Division thanks to victories over North Carolina and Virginia Tech to reach their first-ever conference title game.
Sure, Duke was crushed 45-7 by eventual national champion Florida State and then went on to lose to Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, but after having averaged less than four wins per season from 1995 to 2012 it's hard to find much fault with a 10-4 campaign in 2013.
What: Winning first BCS national title
You always remember your first. Urban Meyer won two BCS championships with Florida in a three-year span, but it was the initial title that proved to be the most memorable.
After the ill-fated Ron Zook era, Florida tabbed a young up-and-comer to be its next coach, grabbing Meyer away from Utah right as he was piloting that program to a perfect season and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl as a BCS buster.
He won nine games in his first season with the Gators in 2005, then behind a two-headed quarterback attack of Chris Leak and Tim Tebow he rolled through the SEC en route to a berth in the championship against Ohio State.
Though the underdogs, Florida cruised to a 41-14 win. The Gators trailed 7-0 right out of the gate after OSU returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, but after that it was smooth sailing.
Florida State Seminoles
What: Winning second BCS national championship
Florida State's place on the college football landscape was at its highest both at the beginning and end of the BCS era, as the Seminoles won the national title in the second year of the BCS and also claimed the last crystal football ever awarded to a national champion.
The second one seemed so much sweeter, though, because it signaled the return of one of the country's great programs to the top after a long absence.
Under the guidance of coach Jimbo Fisher—who succeeded the legendary Bobby Bowden—and a freshman phenom in quarterback Jameis Winston, FSU rolled through the regular season and obliterated Duke to win the ACC title, setting up an epic BCS title game against SEC champion Auburn.
It was fitting that the last BCS final would be one of the best of the lot, as FSU and Auburn traded blows and leads before the Seminoles landed the final punch with a touchdown with 13 seconds remaining.
What: Winning first SEC title since 1982
Mark Richt was hired in 2001 in a move meant to get Georgia back on top after mostly being middle-of-the-road for the previous 15 years. And in his second season he delivered, not only getting the Bulldogs into SEC championship game for the first time but also bringing home the school's first conference crown in 20 years.
That 30-3 destruction of Arkansas earned Georgia a spot in the Sugar Bowl, the first of three trips it would take there during the BCS era. It would win two of them, including the first visit that resulted in a 26-13 victory over ACC champion Florida State.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
What: Winning ACC title, playing in Orange Bowl
Georgia Tech shared a national championship with Colorado after the 1990 season, but despite not seriously contending for a title since then the Yellow Jackets have been one of the most consistent programs over the last 15 years. The peak of that performance came when they won the 2009 ACC championship and represented the league in the Orange Bowl for their only BCS appearance.
That season featured a historic 49-44 win at Florida State, the program's first-ever win in Tallahassee, as well as the first-ever win over Virginia on the road. The Orange Bowl was a low point for the season, though, as Tech fell 24-14 to Iowa in a loss that dropped Tech's record to 11-3.
Illinois Fighting Illini
What: Appearing in first Rose Bowl since 1984
The greatest moments don't always happen during wins, which is the case with Illinois' best event during the BCS era. After missing out on the Rose Bowl for nearly a quarter-century, the Fighting Illini finally got back there despite not winning the Big Ten title.
Illinois did win the Big Ten in 2001, but because the Rose Bowl was hosting the national championship game (before a fifth game was added to the BCS years later) it was put into the Sugar Bowl as the Big Ten champ. In 2007, Illinois finished tied for second with Michigan with an 8-4 record but got the Big Ten's spot in the Rose Bowl thanks to Ohio State ending up in the BCS title game.
The berth ended a 24-year drought for Illinois, which would have to wait for another chance to claim its first Rose Bowl victory since 1964 after losing to USC.
What: Gaining first bowl berth in 14 years
The BCS wasn't something that Indiana ever had a real shot at during its existence, as during the 16-year run the Hoosiers only had one bowl-eligible season. That came in 2007 when they managed to get to seven victories despite going 3-5 in Big Ten play to earn a bid to the Insight Bowl against Oklahoma State.
Though it wasn't the game that clinched a bowl, the most significant victory for Indiana that season came in the finale against rival Purdue. The Hoosiers won it on a late field goal to get to seven wins (the most since 1993) and take home the Old Oaken Bucket awarded to the Indiana-Purdue winner each year.
What: Beating Georgia Tech in Orange Bowl
Iowa put together one of the best starts to a season in program history in 2009, winning its first nine games and moving up to No. 4 in the Associated Press poll. But back-to-back losses after that knocked the Hawkeyes out of contention for the Rose Bowl. However, the 10-win regular season was still good enough to earn a bid to their second BCS bowl game.
In the Orange Bowl, Iowa was matched up with a Georgia Tech team that used its option offense to run through the ACC. It was a contrast of styles, as the Hawkeyes were known as a defensive-minded squad but hadn't faced the option all season, yet they handled it admirably in posting a 24-14 victory to finish the year 11-2.
Iowa State Cyclones
What: Winning first bowl game
Iowa State reached four bowl games in the 1970s but didn't win any of them, and after that the program went into a two-decade lull in which the Cyclones never managed more than six victories. But midway through Dan McCarney's tenure in Ames he put together arguably the best season in school history—one that finally included a win in a bowl.
ISU started the season 4-0 but lost three times in Big 12 play to fall out of contention for a division or conference title, but that wasn't as much the goal as getting into a bowl game and winning it. The Cyclones were invited to the Insight.com Bowl to face Pittsburgh, which they downed 37-29 to mark the program's first-ever bowl victory.
What: Winning Orange Bowl
Kansas has never really been known as a football school, but during the 2007 season the Jayhawks caught lightning in a bottle and made themselves part of the national title picture.
Coming off a 6-6 year—which was still a good result for a program with only a few winning records in its history—Kansas went 12-1 in 2008-09 and only had a 36-28 loss to rival Missouri that kept it from reaching the Big 12 title game and vying for a spot in the BCS national championship.
The Jayhawks finished with the best record in the league, though, and earned an at-large bid to the Orange Bowl to face ACC champion Virginia Tech.
In Miami, Kansas logged its finest bowl moment with a 24-21 victory. But in the six seasons since then it has won just 22 games.
Kansas State Wildcats
What: Beating Oklahoma for first conference title since 1934
The third time was the charm for Kansas State, which, after twice coming up short in the Big 12 title game (including in 1998 as the second-ranked team in the nation), finally got the job done in 2003. In doing so, the Wildcats also put a major monkey wrench into the national title picture.
K-State was 10-3 but had won the Big 12's North Division despite a midseason three-game losing streak. The Wildcats were huge underdogs against top-ranked and unbeaten Oklahoma. Yet the Wildcats played like the superior team, crushing Oklahoma 35-7 to earn their first conference title of any sort in 69 years and get into the Fiesta Bowl.
Oklahoma, despite the loss, still finished No. 1 in the BCS standings and went on to lose to LSU in the national championship game.
What: Upsetting top-ranked LSU in triple-overtime
Kentucky is riding a four-year streak of seasons ending with a losing record, including back-to-back 2-10 campaigns under different coaches. But it wasn't always so bad for the Wildcats, who in the middle of the last decade put together a pair of 8-5 records that included the biggest win in school history in recent memory.
With a 5-1 record of its own, Kentucky hosted top-ranked and unbeaten LSU for an SEC cross-division clash in hopes of getting its first win against the Tigers since 1999. It took a lot longer than planned to accomplish this goal, but after three overtimes the Wildcats had pulled off the 43-37 upset.
Despite being outgained and losing the turnover battle, Kentucky rallied from a 13-point deficit in the second half to force the extra periods and then stopped LSU on its third-overtime possession for the momentous victory.
What: Winning BCS national championship, becoming first two-loss champ
LSU lost twice during the 2007 regular season, but the power of SEC membership kept that from being an issue. Instead, the strength of the conference was a plus that enabled the Tigers to finish second in the BCS standings after beating Tennessee in the SEC title game.
That set up a matchup with Ohio State, which also had a loss but was No. 1 overall because the only unbeaten team in FBS was nonpower program Hawaii.
LSU, which had won a title four years earlier under Nick Saban, was now under the guidance of Les Miles and had won 11 games in each of his previous two seasons. This time around, he got to 12 victories after the Tigers beat OSU 38-24.
What: Beating Florida in Sugar Bowl
Louisville will go down in history as one of just four teams with two or more BCS game appearances to finish unbeaten. Both wins were impressive and helped get the Cardinals the invitation to join the ACC that became official this summer, but the last trip into the BCS was by far the bigger one.
Despite finishing 21st in the BCS standings after the losing twice during the regular season, the Cardinals still got in thanks to the Big East's automatic bid. As the lowest-ranked qualifier the Cardinals ended up in the Sugar Bowl, which had the last pick of teams after hosting the BCS title game the year before, and they were paired up with Florida.
Florida was 11-1, but its lone loss (to Georgia) kept it out of the SEC title game and kept the Gators from vying for a national title again. Instead, they faced a very motivated Louisville team, which behind quarterback Teddy Bridgewater logged the biggest win in school history by downing Florida 33-23.
What: Winning first ACC title since 1985, playing in Orange Bowl
Since the move to the Big Ten officially came after the BCS era ended, we're not considering that geographically odd conference switch as Maryland's most memorable moment of late. It's hard to ignore, but not as big a deal to the program as what happened more than a decade ago during the early part of the Ralph Friedgen era.
Hired away from Georgia Tech's staff, the Terrapins alum spiked a three-year run of superior performance for the program that began with the team's first ACC title in 16 years and led to a trip south to face Florida in the Orange Bowl.
Maryland lost that game, 53-21, but went on to win 21 more games over the next two seasons.
Miami (Florida) Hurricanes
What: Winning national championship
Miami has five shared or outright titles that it lays claim to, though five of those came in an eight-year span prior to when the BCS came around. The Hurricanes' place near the top of the college football mountain remained during the early years, capped by the dominant team in 2001 that won the Rose Bowl that year and reached another BCS championship game a season later.
With Larry Coker taking over the program in 2001, the 'Canes went 12-0 (part of a four-year run from 2000 to 2004 when they were a combined 46-4) and pulverized Nebraska 37-14 in the Orange Bowl to win the championship.
That was the middle of a 36-game win streak that came to an end during the 2002 season, when Miami lost in overtime to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl in a bid to be the first back-to-back champion since Alabama in 1978-79.
What: Beating Virginia Tech in Sugar Bowl
Michigan's last national title came in 1997, right before the creation of the BCS. Since then the Wolverines have registered six season of 10 or more wins and were invited to five BCS bowl games.
The three that mattered the most to the program—representing the Big Ten in its traditional spot in the Rose Bowl—all resulted in losses, while the first and last BCS games were wins. That includes the most recent trip, following the 2011 season, when first-year coach Brady Hoke renewed fans' faith in football with an 11-win performance.
Michigan's losses were to Michigan State and Iowa, keeping it from winning the Big Ten (that went to Wisconsin) and going to the Rose Bowl again. Instead, the Wolverines were sent to New Orleans to face Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl and responded to the opportunity by pulling out an exciting 23-20 overtime victory.
Michigan State Spartans
What: Knocking off unbeaten Ohio State to win Big Ten title and reach Rose Bowl
At the beginning of the 2013 season, all Michigan State was known for was having a pretty good defense that could make some things happen with the help of an offensive attack. By year's end the Spartans were not only Big Ten champions, they had arrived as a national power.
MSU lost early at Notre Dame, then never lost again. That included getting past unbeaten Ohio State in the Big Ten final, spoiling the Buckeyes' shot at a national title appearance and sending the Spartans to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1988.
And it didn't end there, as they downed Stanford in that prestigious bowl game, setting the stage for 2014 when the Spartans are considered a legitimate national championship contender.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
What: Winning 10 games in a season for the first time in 98 years
Minnesota was a big-time football program back in the early days of the sport. We're talking really early days, like at the beginning of the 20th century. But in modern times, the Golden Gophers haven't had much major success, though the 2003 team came pretty close.
A 6-0 start got Minnesota up to No. 17 in the Associated Press rankings, but then back-to-back losses to Michigan and Michigan State started a backslide. The Gophers then won their next three before falling to Iowa in the season finale, yet the team ended on a high note with a 31-30 triumph over Oregon in the Sun Bowl.
What: Defeating Florida on the road during Gators' national championship season
Ole Miss' best record during the BCS era was in 2003, when it won 10 games. But the year it had the biggest impact on college football came a few seasons later, when an early trip to Gainesville to take on Florida provided one of the most unlikely upsets of the season.
The Rebels were 2-2 and had just lost at home to Vanderbilt when they visited The Swamp to face Florida, which was ranked No. 4. Despite trailing 17-7 at the half, Ole Miss rallied in the third quarter and held on for the 31-30 upset victory.
Florida went on to win the rest of its games, including a victory over Oklahoma in the BCS title game, making Ole Miss' win even more memorable.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
What: Scoring school-record 52 points in bowl win over Michigan
Mississippi State has appeared in 17 bowl games in its program's history, including after the last four seasons, marking one of the best stretches the Bulldogs have ever put together. Those have all come under the guidance of Dan Mullen, who got things going in his second season when MSU won nine games and put together its best bowl performance ever.
Following a solid regular season that included wins over Florida, Georgia and, most importantly, rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, MSU got a berth in its first New Year's Day bowl since 1999. Facing Michigan in the Gator Bowl, the Bulldogs erupted for a 52-14 win that started with a 14-10 deficit.
What: Reaching first Big 12 title game in school history
Missouri made headlines this past year by reaching the SEC championship game in just its second year in the league. But part of the reason the Tigers were able to move into the SEC was via the success they had toward the end of their Big 12 tenure, particularly during back-to-back conference final appearances.
The first one, in 2007, came as Mizzou reached No. 1 in the Associated Press rankings for the first time since 1960. It was ranked that high despite having a loss, as that was a season full of turmoil in college football and enabled the Tigers to be on top heading into the Big 12 final and a rematch with the Oklahoma team they'd lost to earlier in the year.
Mizzou couldn't get revenge, though, losing 38-17 to the Sooners. That loss kept the Tigers out of the BCS, as the bowl group picked Kansas (which they'd beat in late November) as the second Big 12 team to get an invite.
What: Reaching national title game
Nebraska has five national championships on its resume, all between 1970 and 1997. During that span the Cornhuskers were arguably one of the best programs in the nation, without a doubt. That description was able to continue during the early part of the BCS when they reached a pair of affiliated bowl games.
That includes the unofficial title game following the 2001 season, when after going 11-0 they faced longtime bowl rival Miami (Florida) in the Rose Bowl. It was a unique setting for the teams, who met in Miami in the Orange Bowl in January of 1984, 1989, 1992 and 1995.
Despite being led by Heisman winner Eric Crouch at quarterback, Nebraska was never able to gain any momentum in the contest. It fell behind 34-0 and ultimately lost 37-14.
North Carolina Tar Heels
What: Rallying from 1-5 start to become bowl eligible
After sitting out the 2012 bowl season with a self-imposed ban, North Carolina entered last year with high hopes thanks to a veteran-laden team assembled by coach Larry Fedora. Then the games were actually played, and suddenly the Tar Heels were 1-5.
The low point was a 27-23 home loss to Miami (Florida), a game the Heels led until the end and during which senior quarterback Bryn Renner was injured and lost for the year. But after that setback, UNC won five straight and became bowl eligible via a record-setting 80-20 win over Old Dominion.
UNC finished the year 7-6, losing to rival Duke but then crushing Cincinnati to win the Belk Bowl—creating momentum for what should be a promising year in 2014.
North Carolina State Wolfpack
What: Winning a school-record 11 games and beating Notre Dame in Gator Bowl
North Carolina State has 11 conference titles, including seven since joining the ACC in the 1950s. But the best season in program history didn't involve any championships, just more wins than any other year and one of the most significant victories the Wolfpack have ever registered.
Guided by eventual first-round NFL pick Philip Rivers at quarterback, NC State began the year 9-0 before hitting a three-game skid that cost it an ACC title and a spot in the BCS. The Wolfpack rebounded by ending the season with a win over Florida State that got them into the Gator Bowl.
That's where NC State pulled off a major upset, downing Notre Dame 28-6 to finish with a school-record 11 wins.
What: Ending 64-year drought without a bowl victory
Northwestern has played in two Rose Bowls, albeit 47 years apart, but the program in general didn't have much success until the BCS era came along. And though the Wildcats never reached a BCS game, since the late 1990s they've become a far more regular participant in the postseason.
In 2012 that resurgence reached a peak, as Northwestern got to play in its third New Year's Day bowl game in five seasons. All five of those years ended with bowl appearances, a record for a school that has played in just 11 bowls total.
The 2013 Gator Bowl also marked the first time since that initial bowl appearance—in the 1949 Rose Bowl—that Northwestern came out victorious. The Wildcats beat Mississippi State 34-20 in Jacksonville, Florida, to cap a 10-3 season, just the second time they won 10 games.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
What: First national championship game appearance
Despite not being part of a conference that earned an automatic bid, the BCS had a special provision built in for Notre Dame if the independent power put together a good enough season. That scenario bore out four times in the BCS' 16-year history, but only once did the Fighting Irish get into a national title game.
Notre Dame has claimed 11 national titles, but the last had come in 1988, long before any system was in place to better determine a singular national champion. With the Irish finally reaching the designated title game, and against defending champ Alabama, the matchup had all the makings of a great clash between national powers.
Even more intrigue was added by the fact Notre Dame had made the final by escaping numerous near-defeats during the season, such as overtime victories over Stanford and Pittsburgh as well as a three-point win over BYU. There was no magic left in the tank, though, when the title game came around, as Alabama cruised to a second straight championship with a 42-14 victory.
Ohio State Buckeyes
What: Winning BCS national championship in double overtime
Ohio State reached three BCS title games but only one once. That came the first time the Buckeyes reached the final, when they had the unenviable task of facing a Miami (Florida) team that was not only the defending champions but entered on a 36-game winning streak.
Tied at 17 after regulation, the teams entered just the second overtime game in BCS history and the first in the title game. Miami scored first on a touchdown catch by Kellen Winslow, and then Ohio State appeared to have come up short when a 4th-and-goal pass was dropped by Chris Gamble.
However, a late pass interference flag gave OSU another life, and the Buckeyes scored right after that to force a second OT. During that period, OSU scored first and then stopped Miami inside the 5-yard line to end the Hurricanes' long streak and win the school its first national title since 1970.
What: Winning BCS national championship
Oklahoma was one of the most frequent participants in BCS bowl games, with its nine appearances trailing only the 10 of Ohio State during the 16 years. The Sooners were also tied with Florida State for most championship games, with four, yet they only managed to win one of those.
That came at the beginning, early in what's been a long, successful tenure for coach Bob Stoops.
Following a 2000 season in which Oklahoma ran the table through the Big 12 and squeaked past Kansas State in the conference title game, it faced defending BCS champion Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Both teams were offensive juggernauts coming in, but in this game they played to the lowest point total in any BCS game in history.
First- and third-quarter field goals by Oklahoma gave it a 6-0 lead entering the fourth quarter, then a 10-yard touchdown run by Quentin Griffin all but sealed what would be a 13-2 win over the Seminoles.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
What: Reaching first-ever BCS bowl game, beating Stanford in Fiesta Bowl
When Oklahoma State tabbed former quarterback Mike Gundy to be its coach prior to the 2005 season, the hope was the Cowboys alum could inject some life into a program that hadn't done much since the late 1980s. And the move paid off, as after his first season OSU kept on climbing upward, reaching its pinnacle in 2011 by winning the Big 12 title.
The championship earned OSU its first (and only) BCS appearance, allowing the school to play in the Fiesta Bowl that following January against a Stanford team that was in the midst of four straight BCS bowls. The game was a classic, with both teams fighting as if a championship were on the line. It required overtime before the Cowboys clipped the Cardinal 41-38.
What: Reaching BCS championship game
Oregon began to make its push as the new power in the West in the early 2000s with a pair of 10-win seasons behind the efforts of quarterback Joey Harrington. The Ducks fell into a lull for a few seasons then flew back into the national spotlight in 2008 with the first of what's now been six consecutive years with 10 or more victories.
The Ducks reached their highest point in 2010, when after steamrolling through the Pac-10 en route to a 12-0 record they were matched up with the SEC's Auburn in Arizona for the BCS title game. After averaging more than 49 points per game during the regular season, though, Oregon found itself in a low-scoring affair against Auburn and its flashy, mobile quarterback, Cam Newton.
In the end, Auburn won the title 22-19 with a short field goal as time expired, robbing Oregon of its first national championship.
Oregon State Beavers
What: Sharing Pac-10 title and winning Fiesta Bowl
Before the BCS became a thing, and even during the early years of its run, there were few major college programs as bad in football as Oregon State. From 1971 to 1998 the Beavers failed to post a winning record, only getting to the five-victory threshold in the first and last years of that span. Then came along former Miami (Florida) coach Dennis Erickson, who suddenly turned OSU into a force to be reckoned with.
Erickson's first season, in 1999, resulted in seven wins and the school's first bowl appearance since the mid-1960s. Then came 2000, when OSU tied with Washington for the Pac-10 title but lost out on going to the Rose Bowl because it had lost to Washington during the season.
No bother. That just meant OSU got to play in the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame, which it crushed 41-9.
Penn State Nittany Lions
What: Beating Florida State in overtime during Orange Bowl
Penn State reached a pair of BCS games during the era, as the Nittany Lions' program was on the decline from its dominance during the 1970s and '80s. Still, head coach Joe Paterno was still able to put together a great team every few years, and during the BCS years the best one came during the 2005 season.
PSU started 6-0 after a 17-10 win over sixth-ranked Ohio State, launching the Lions into the Top 10 of the Associated Press poll and setting up a showdown in Ann Arbor with Michigan. The Wolverines were unranked, but the atmosphere of the game still felt like a championship, with the hosts winning 27-25 to spoil PSU's perfect season.
In the end, PSU went 11-1 and capped it with a thrilling overtime victory over Florida State in the Orange Bowl. The game pitted the two winningest active coaches, Paterno and FSU's Bobby Bowden, in one of the best non-title BCS games ever.
What: Winning Big East title, playing in Fiesta Bowl
Before joining the ACC in 2013, Pittsburgh was a regular player near the top of the standings in the Big East. The Panthers only won one conference title outright, though, resulting in their only trip to a BCS bowl after the 2004 season.
At the tail end of a five-year run of success that helped land Walt Harris the Stanford job, Pittsburgh went 8-3 in the regular season but still got a bid because of the Big East's automatic spot in the BCS. That meant getting to face an at-large opponent, which in this case was Utah, a team led by Urban Meyer as the coach and Alex Smith at quarterback.
The game itself wasn't much for Pittsburgh to be proud of, as Utah cruised to a 35-7 win. But for a program that had been mostly dormant since the 1980s it marked a high point of the Panthers' return to relevance.
What: Winning Big Ten title, playing in Rose Bowl
Purdue was arguably the worst power-conference team in the country last year, going 1-11 with only a close victory over an FCS program to its credit. It was the fifth losing record in the past six seasons, marking one of the lowest points in program history.
To brighten up the mood, let's talk about one of the prouder moments for the Boilermakers in recent memory, toward the beginning of the BCS era when a pass-happy quarterback named Drew Brees led them to their last Big Ten championship. That season Purdue beat Ohio State, Michigan and rival Indiana en route to the title.
The Rose Bowl trip was Purdue's first to Pasadena, California, since 1967, though it did result in a 34-24 loss to Washington.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
What: Winning a school-record 11 games
Rutgers had gone 12 seasons without a winning record before pulling together a 7-5 campaign in 2005, the first sign this long-dormant program was ready to emerge from the bottom of the heap and be a national player. A year later, the Scarlet Knights knocked on the door of greatness with a 9-0 start that included a 28-25 win over third-ranked Louisville.
Led by future NFL star running back Ray Rice, Rutgers won more games that season (11) than in any other two seasons in recent memory. The Knights ended up dropping two of three down the stretch to lose the Big East title to Louisville. But they rebounded to knock off Kansas State 37-10 in the Texas Bowl to cap the best season in program history.
South Carolina Gamecocks
What: Reaching first-ever SEC championship game
The hiring of Steve Spurrier as coach in 2005 marked the start of South Carolina's move into the elite of college football, but it wasn't until five years later that the Gamecocks really started to make their presence felt on a national level.
South Carolina averaged seven wins during Spurrier's first five seasons, then in 2010 it made a major leap forward by winning the SEC's East Division and reaching the conference championship game for the first time. That feat was achieved through a pair of very significant wins, first an upset of No. 1 Alabama at home and a rare win at Florida over Spurrier's former program.
Though Carolina lost to eventual national champion Auburn in the SEC final, and then to Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl to finish 9-5, that season started a trend for the Gamecocks. In the three seasons since they have won 11 games each time.
What: Winning school's first Rose Bowl since 1972
Stanford probably wishes the BCS hadn't gone away, since the Cardinal ended the era reaching one of the coveted bowl games in four consecutive years from 2011 to 2014. That included trips to the Rose Bowl in the final two years, with the 2013 matchup against Wisconsin leading to the program's biggest moment of the last 20 years.
The Cardinal won the Pac-12 championship that season, shaking off an early loss at Washington and a controversial setback to Notre Dame that kept them from being in the national championship discussion. But for Pac-12 schools, the next best thing to a national title is a win in the Rose Bowl, something Stanford hadn't achieved in more than 40 years.
That drought ended this time out, as Stanford beat Wisconsin 20-14 for its fifth Rose Bowl triumph.
What: Winning Big East title, playing in Orange Bowl
Syracuse has never really been known for football despite being one of the few FBS programs to play in a domed stadium. The Carrier Dome is more fitting for its setting as a giant venue for the Orange's men's basketball team than for anything on the gridiron, but football has had its moments.
One of the most notable came right at the beginning of the BCS era, when Donovan McNabb capped his Syracuse career by grabbing the Big East's first automatic bid to a BCS bowl game. A narrow 34-33 loss to eventual national champion Tennessee in the season opener set the stage for an 8-3 campaign, but a fourth loss came at the end when Syracuse fell 31-10 to Florida in the Orange Bowl.
TCU Horned Frogs
What: Winning Rose Bowl over Wisconsin
TCU wasn't the first team from a non-power conference to get into the BCS, nor was it the first to win a game or make a repeat appearance. But the Horned Frogs did manage to become the first (and only) outsider during the BCS era to play in back-to-back series, with the second trip proving to be the far more successful occasion.
The Frogs were selected to play in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl but lost to fellow BCS buster Boise State. A year later, after a second consecutive perfect season, TCU got picked for the prestigious Rose Bowl as the replacement for Oregon since the Pac-10 champion Ducks were in the national title game. That lined up the Frogs with Wisconsin, which would be making the first of three straight Rose Bowl appearances.
TCU took a 14-10 lead late in the first quarter on a touchdown run by quarterback Andy Dalton and never looked back, holding off the Badgers 21-19 for the biggest win in program history. Two years later the Frogs would move into the Big 12 and officially end their distinction as a mid-major.
What: Winning inaugural BCS championship
Tennessee hadn't won a national title since the 1950s, but under Phillip Fulmer the Volunteers were knocking on the door of another championship during the mid-1990s. And with a system set up to definitively determine a title, Tennessee got the first chance to claim the coveted crystal football of the BCS era.
After a perfect regular season that featured wins over three Top 10 teams and a victory over Mississippi State in the SEC title game, the Volunteers faced Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Vols never trailed, taking a 7-0 lead in the second quarter and never looking back in their 23-16 win over the Seminoles. Tennessee rode strong performances from quarterback Tee Martin, receiver Peerless Price, and a defense that held FSU to just 253 yards and scored a touchdown on an interception return.
What: Winning BCS national championship
From 2001 to 2009 Texas never won fewer than 10 games, an amazing streak that marks one of the best runs in school history. And right in the middle of that stretch was the Longhorns' chance to end a long drought without a national title.
A year after beating Michigan in the Rose Bowl (and with quarterback Vince Young declaring Texas would be back at the same place to play in the BCS title game during the broadcast), the Longhorns were in Pasadena yet again to face defending national champion USC. Both teams were unbeaten, setting up one of the most anticipated championship games in history.
It was a back-and-forth game throughout, with Texas trailing 38-33 with just over two minutes left. The Longhorns got down to USC's 9-yard line but faced a 4th-and-5, needing a touchdown to win. Young wasn't able to find an open receiver and instead took off for the end zone, sneaking just inside the pylon for the game-winning score with 19 seconds left.
Texas A&M Aggies
What: Johnny Manziel winning the Heisman Trophy
When the 2012 season began, the main reason Texas A&M was getting attention on a national level was because it had joined Missouri in bolting from the Big 12 Conference to join the SEC, thus setting off the latest realignment craze. But it wasn't long into the year when there was another, much more exciting reason for the Aggies to get so much attention.
And his nickname was Johnny Football.
A redshirt freshman quarterback, Manziel was recruited by previous coach Mike Sherman and made to sit out the 2011 season because of the presence of veteran passer Ryan Tannehill. New coach Kevin Sumlin tabbed Manziel as his starter in a bold move, but it paid off as Manziel was magnificent throughout the season and went on to become the first first-year player to win the Heisman.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
What: Upsetting No. 1 Texas
Texas Tech never managed to make it into a BCS bowl game despite much success during the era under coach Mike Leach. The closest the Red Raiders came was in 2008 when they started 10-0 before falling out of contention with a loss to Oklahoma.
Before that setback, though, the Raiders posted arguably their biggest win in school history when they knocked off top-ranked Texas 39-33 in Lubbock.
Tech jumped out to a 19-0 lead midway through the second quarter only to see Texas fight back and go ahead 33-32 with one minute and 29 seconds remaining. The Red Raiders marched down the field behind quarterback Graham Harrell, who threw for 474 yards, including 28 on a pass to Michael Crabtree that saw Crabtree hug the sidelines for the game-winning touchdown with one second left.
What: First 10-0 start in school history
UCLA has one national title to its credit, in 1954 when it went 9-0 and was voted first in the UPI poll. The closest the Bruins came to adding to that small tally during the BCS era came in 1998, the first year of the new championship determination system.
The Bruins were coming off a 10-2 season in 1997, shaking off a 0-2 start to win their final 10 games, including a Cotton Bowl victory over Texas A&M. In 1998 another 10 wins started that campaign, making for a 20-game win streak that is the best in school history.
Sadly, UCLA didn't make it to the BCS championship game, and it might have Mother Nature to thank for that. A planned September game at Miami (Florida) was postponed because of a hurricane and was rescheduled for early December. The aptly named Hurricanes won that contest 49-45, knocking UCLA out of the national title picture and sending it to the Rose Bowl, where it fell to Wisconsin to finish 10-2 again.
What: Winning national championship
A year after claiming a national title despite not getting invited to the BCS championship game, USC got its chance to prove its worthiness on the field when it faced Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.
Both teams went 12-0 during the season, and though there were three unbeaten teams from power conferences (along with Auburn from the SEC) the Trojans and Sooners were lined up to play in Miami in a highly anticipated matchup.
Sadly, the game never lived up to the hype in terms of competitiveness as USC rolled to a 55-19 win thanks to a dominant performance from Trojans quarterback Matt Leinart (five touchdown passes, three to Steve Smith).
In some ways, this moment was also the most memorable for USC during the BCS era because it technically doesn't exist anymore. The Trojans' title was vacated by the NCAA as part of sanctions imposed on the school in the wake of the investigation into Reggie Bush's extra benefits.
What: Knocking off Alabama in Sugar Bowl to cap second unbeaten season in five years
When the BCS was formed in 1998 there wasn't much talk about including teams from outside the power conferences, even though a pair of mid-major teams (Tulane in 1998, Marshall in 1999) went unbeaten and didn't get invited. That all changed when Utah became the first so-called "BCS buster" after going 11-0 in 2004, playing in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl and crushing Pittsburgh.
The Utes also became the first team to repeat as a BCS buster when, after another perfect season that included a win at Michigan and victories over ranked Mountain West foes TCU and BYU, they finished sixth in the BCS standings and were chosen to face Alabama.
Utah was a decided underdog against the Crimson Tide, who had fallen to Florida in the SEC title game for their first loss of the season and were denied a shot at a national championship. Alabama didn't look interested in playing in the Sugar Bowl, and Utah jumped on that situation by scoring 21 first-quarter points en route to the historic 31-17 win.
What: Winning at Florida for first time since 1945
While Vanderbilt was never a player in the BCS machinations, it did still manage to put together some strong seasons toward the end of the era under coach James Franklin. The 2013 campaign was the best one, with the Commodores not only knocking off Georgia at home for their first win over a ranked opponent in five years but also claiming a rare victory in the Swamp.
Granted, Florida went 4-8 last year for its worst record in more than 30 years, but that didn't take away from the significance of Vanderbilt's 34-17 win in Gainesville. It marked the first time Vandy had won at Florida since 1945 and snapped a 22-game losing streak to the Gators overall.
What: Shutting out Miami (Florida) on the road
Virginia never came close to reaching a BCS bowl game during that era, as its high-win mark was nine victories. In six of the last eight seasons the Cavaliers finished with a losing record. But they still managed to make a memorable moment in a BCS venue, thanks to an ACC trip to Miami late in the 2007 season.
The Cavaliers were 8-2 when they visited Miami, a team that was in the midst of one of its worst years in recent memory. But that didn't lessen the significance of the result: a 48-0 clobbering of the Hurricanes in what ended up being Miami's final home game in the Orange Bowl before moving into the Miami Dolphins' stadium.
The victory helped earn Virginia a berth in the Gator Bowl, its first New Year's Day bowl since 1994.
Virginia Tech Hokies
What: Reaching first national championship game
Frank Beamer is the longest-tenured and winningest active coach in FBS, having been at the helm of Virginia Tech for 27 years and 224 victories. Every season since 1993 has ended with a winning record, but none was as memorable as the 1999 campaign that earned the Hokies a shot at a national title.
Behind the arm and legs of quarterback Michael Vick, Tech went 11-0 and steamrolled through the Big East. The perfect regular season earned the Hokies the No. 2 ranking in the BCS, behind only fellow unbeaten Florida State, which they would meet in the Sugar Bowl for the championship.
Though the final score (46-29) might indicate otherwise, Tech was in control for much of the contest. It led 29-28 entering the fourth quarter. But after FSU scored early to go up 36-29, the Hokies fell apart by losing a fumble and coming up short on a fake punt, enabling the Seminoles to add to their lead and take the championship.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
What: Winning ACC title, playing in Orange Bowl
Wake Forest isn't the least successful program in the ACC, historically (thanks, Duke). But the Demon Deacons' 10 all-time trips to bowl games shows they're not near the top in terms of on-field performance.
During the BCS era, the high point came in 2006 when Wake won a surprise ACC title that started with a division title (despite two conference losses) and then an offensively challenged 9-6 win in the league championship game. That earned the Deacons a trip to Miami as the ACC's automatic entrant in the BCS, where they lost 24-13 to Louisville.
What: Winning the Pac-10 title and winning a seventh Rose Bowl
Looking back on the 1990s, there were few programs more dominant than Washington. If nothing else, the Huskies were the leading program in the western half of the country.
The program fell on hard times once we got into the 21st century, but not until having one last hurrah as the Pac-10 champion en route to its final Rose Bowl after the 2000 season. It was the 14th time the program has been to the big game in Pasadena, and the 34-24 win over Purdue capped off an 11-1 season.
Washington State Cougars
What: Winning Pac-10, playing in Rose Bowl
Washington State may have just ended a 10-year bowl drought last season when it reached the New Mexico Bowl, but there was a time when the Cougars were a pretty darn good program. That ended during the first few seasons of the BCS, not long after losing their coach to Alabama, of all schools.
Following a 2002 run through the Pac-10 that saw only an overtime loss to rival Washington as a blemish, Washington State made its second trip to the Rose Bowl in five years. It was the third of four seasons with 10 or more wins between 1997 and 2003, as the tiny school in rural Washington was playing far better than you'd expect from such an outpost.
That season didn't end on a high note, though, as Washington State lost to Oklahoma in Pasadena.
West Virginia Mountaineers
What: Scoring 70 points in Orange Bowl win over Clemson
West Virginia's reputation for being a high-scoring team has existed for many years, dating back to the mid-2000s when Rich Rodriguez transformed the Mountaineers into a national power. That trend continued with the hiring of offensive guru Dana Holgorsen as coach in 2011, and we got to see plenty of displays of scoreboard abuse that season.
But nothing could prepare us for the onslaught West Virginia would unleash on Clemson during the 2012 Orange Bowl. Though the game featured a pair of conference champions, neither was in consideration for the national title because of multiple losses during the regular season. But that didn't take away from the fireworks, especially when it came to points being scored.
West Virginia won 70-33, the most points ever scored by a team in any bowl game, BCS or otherwise. Quarterback Geno Smith tied bowl records with his six passing touchdowns and seven total scores, while receiver Tavon Austin's four touchdown catches also tied an all-bowl record.
What: Ron Dayne winning Heisman, becoming FBS career rushing leader
Wisconsin had a great run as a team during the BCS era, reaching the Rose Bowl five times (and winning twice), with only one losing record during that span. But as good as the Badgers were as a team during that span, even more noteworthy were some of the players who came through the program.
That started with Ron Dayne, who by the time he was done in 1999 became the most prolific running back in FBS history. His final yardage output was 7,125, including those amassed in bowl games, nearly 600 more than Tony Dorsett. As a senior he rushed for 2,034 yards and 20 touchdowns, becoming the second Badger to win the Heisman after Alan Ameche in 1954.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.
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