It's the end of the whirl as we know it. This decade -- the Golden Decade -- is almost over.
It began with Joe Paterno at a ripe, old 72 hearing whispers about his retirement. The spread option was more of a choice between margarine or butter and Florida State was still good.
Way back then Michael Vick was in trouble. Well, if you consider trouble running for his life on the floor of the Sugar Bowl against the Seminoles' defense.
|Rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh got a celebratory bath after the Cardinal's epic upset of USC. (Getty Images)|
Then things really got crazy.
He had to go through a pair of other coaching jobs first, but Meyer got to Florida and surpassed in four years what Spurrier accomplished in 12. Weis helped win three Super Bowls and helped wake up the echoes. Now he needs help to keep his job at his beloved Notre Dame.
USC? The Trojans seem to have done OK for themselves. What is Paul Hackett doing these days anyway?
Remember the Y2K bug that was supposed to mark the end of the world as we know it? We survived, the game thrived. The whirl was just beginning ...
If you haven't realized it yet, you, dear fan, are living in the greatest era in college football history. Greatest in terms of players, interest, upsets, facilities, money and games. It was a decade marked by offense -- four of the top five passers of all time played between 2000 and 2006. Coaches became rock stars and were paid accordingly. Saturdays, more than ever, became high holy days with worship beginning at noon in the Big Ten's treasured ET slot and ending after midnight (mass).
Thanks to advances in technology, you can watch those games on your phone or computer. Nothing, though, beats the game-day experience. That's a big reason why we're at this point. It seems that money is no object when it comes to paying to see our beloved game. More on that later.
CBSSports.com will spend the next few weeks celebrating the Golden Decade. We will be chronicling what made it great and what it means for the future. College football producer J. Darin Darst has overseen a revamping of the conference pages. We picked not only an overall all-decade team but also ones for each conference from the Sun Belt to the SEC.
Sure, there is still a year to go in the Golden Decade, but by next year it will be 2010. We'll be looking down the road of a new 10-year cycle, uncertain of the issues, problems and winners.
This is the perfect time to analyze how we got to this point. For the first time, an entire decade was spent deciding the sport's champion on the field. Before you spit coffee on the keyboard, we know your pain. Those might not have been the teams you wanted to see in the BCS title game, but you watched.
Oh, you watched. Sports remain the best reality television and the BCS had all the story lines -- pathos, unrequited love, lies, a bizarre threesome (Rose Bowl + Big Ten/Pac-10, hello?) and sleazy Congressmen.
The BCS propagandists are right about one thing: College football's regular season is the best in sports. Remember 2007? The Season of the Upset produced six changes at the No. 1 spot. Seventeen teams were in the top five of the AP poll at one time or another. Only nine teams this decade have held the No. 1 spot in the weekly BCS standings. However, none of them have been Florida, winners of two BCS titles.
|Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops could possibly make as much as $5 million in 2011. (Getty Images)|
The only thing Appalachian State and Stanford share is an NCAA affiliation. Appalachian State is a I-AA program located in the North Carolina mountains. Stanford is a noted think tank which regularly wins the Directors' Cup for athletic excellence in every sport but football.
Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore was in his 42nd year of coaching. Stanford's Jim Harbaugh was in his first.
Yes, the decade will be known for giving identity to the previously nameless. Nine years ago, Boise State was in its fifth year in Division I-A. Now it is one-half of the greatest bowl game every played (2007 vs. Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl). South Florida rose to No. 2 in the country in '07 in its seventh year of I-A membership.
In 2000, Utah was better known as a state. Who knew the state university also played football?
If someone told you at the beginning of this century that Hawaii would soon play in New Orleans, in the Sugar Bowl, led by a Heisman finalist, you would have said they had one too many Hurricanes.
Speaking of Hurricanes, at the beginning of the decade Miami was enhancing its dynasty. Now? Chasing that legacy. It has changed stadiums and coaches. The program that once ruled the landscape isn't even No. 1 in its own home. Who would ever thought the mighty 'Canes would have to move a game because it conflicted with the Florida Marlins?.
Elsewhere, big boys saw their reps enhanced because of that de facto championship game. LSU won two titles in five years under two different coaches. At the beginning of the decade, the program was having a hard time keeping Louisiana's best prep talent at home. Now, in part because of the BCS attention, it gets the best from Shreveport to Larose.
Meyer out-Spurriered Spurrier, winning two championships in three years. USC was 19 seconds away from winning three titles in a row until Vince Young pulled it down and ran around right end.
During the current financial crisis, it's amazing to consider Joey Harrington's image once graced New York. Nike, which never does anything over the top (wink, wink), draped a 250-foot long banner along a building to enhance the Oregon quarterback's Heisman chances.
Those were the days, eh Joey?
|The decade began with Peter Warrick's Florida State Seminoles winning the national championship. (Getty Images)|
That's nothing compared to Oklahoma's Bob Stoops who, with bonuses, could make $5 million in 2011. Stoops' run started in 2000 with a national championship. Five more Big 12 titles followed, as did a decade's worth of classic battles with Texas.
"I was trying to figure out where I fit here," Mack Brown said of 2000. "There were some question marks back then of where we were headed and if I was the right fit."
Yeah, things sure were terrible for Mack at the beginning of the decade. The Longhorns had won nine in each of his first two seasons, one which ended with Ricky Williams winning the Heisman.
Brown and Texas then reeled off eight consecutive seasons of at least 10 wins. That's more like it for what became in this decade the richest football program in the country.
That title, though, is tenuous as long as there are enough Sugar Daddies to chase the dream. Oregon, Phil Knight's baby, can boast a staggering 384 uniform combinations provided by Nike. Oklahoma State has billionaire provider Boone Pickens.
If anything, the sport might be undervalued. Larry Scott was brought in as new commissioner, in part, to expand the brand of the Pac-10 to the Pacific Rim.
Scott was pleased to find out UCLA merchandise is offered at 70 outlets in China.
The decade ends with the beginning of the mother of all TV deals. The SEC's recently finalized 15-year, $3 billion deal with CBS, ESPN and others proves that we have an unquenchable thirst for our sport. It is the longest TV deal in the history of sports and shows the staying power of college football.
The TV partners are willing to risk that through good times and bad, advertisers and viewers will stick around. So far, they haven't disappointed.
|Packed stadiums with festive atmospheres became the norm not just at LSU's Death Valley, but all across the country. (Getty Images)|
A staggering 36 million people watched the Texas-USC championship in 2006. The 21.7 rating remains the largest in at least 18 years for a bowl game. The Florida-Alabama SEC title game in December was the highest-rated regular-season game on CBS in 18 years.
It's all because of the fans. They have shown us college football is recession proof. Nebraska is expected to sellout its 300th consecutive game on Sept. 26 despite a downturn in fortunes on the field this decade.
The city of Dallas recently spent $50 million for improvements to the 92,000-seat Cotton Bowl. Was it worth it? Someone with college football sensibilities thought so. The stadium is the home of basically two games per year -- Texas-Oklahoma and an annual game featuring two historically black college universities.
Across town, Jerry Jones is completing the $1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium. The Big 12 will play its championship game there the next two seasons and maybe beyond. There is talk the Big 12 will anchor its title game there on a permanent basis.
Can the BCS be far behind in soon placing a game in Jones' palace? Cowboys Stadium already is a shrine to the sport's overindulgence. Cowboys' fans can look forward to paying for $90 pizzas in club suites. There will be access to 3,000 HD TVs, not counting the 60-yard long monster screens that drop from the ceiling. The twin screens are so massive that punters were brought in to make sure their kicks wouldn't hit them.
Off the field, the sport has largely avoided the steroid scandal that hit baseball this decade. That's because the NCAA has a decades-old testing program that is state of the art. That's not to say there aren't cheaters, but modern nutrition and weight-training techniques have created jaw-dropping specimens.
Virginia Tech this season will feature 6-foot-3, 287-pound tight end Greg Boone. Boone was recruited as a quarterback and will line up behind center this season. He says he is able to throw 80 yards out of a three-step drop.
|Reggie Bush's propensity for the highlight-reel plays makes him arguably the player of the decade. (Getty Images)|
Player of the decade? It might be Reggie Bush. USC's running back/returner had ankles made of spaghetti and breakaway speed. His flaw was his decision-making. An ill-advised attempted lateral in the 2006 Rose Bowl might have cost the Trojans that third consecutive national championship. His reported decision to take hundreds of thousands of dollars from slimy start-up agents tarnished his reputation.
Still, his Heisman was one of three won this decade by Trojans, showing the game is still about the players.
Who can forget the Bush Push that ended perhaps the greatest regular-season game in history? That day an estimated 250 celebrity-filled private planes landed at the Notre Dame airport to watch USC beat Notre Dame in 2005.
Maurice Clarett, a wonderful, wasted talent. His steal of a Miami interception out of the arms of Sean Taylor in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl remains one of the most athletic plays of the decade. Clarett also scored the winning touchdown in the overtime classic.
Maurice, we hardly knew ya.
Matt Leinart won the quarterback battle at USC in spring 2003 and never looked back, winning a Heisman and a national championship.
During this decade, Ole Miss tackle Michael Oher (an eventual first-round draft choice) became the subject of a book that became the subject of an upcoming movie. Author Michael Lewis' immortalized Oher's struggle and the sport with The Blind Side.
It's hard to remember that LaDainian Tomlinson ran for 2,000 yards in 2000 at the end of his TCU career. It would be hard to leave him off any all-decade team.
The all-decade quarterback (and maybe MVP) is a no-brainer. Tim Tebow announced himself as a freshman in 2006. Playing a backup that season, Tebow kept a championship alive by helping score three touchdowns in only 15 snaps against LSU.
Two national championships and a Heisman followed. He has mingled with stars and given comfort to the afflicted on equal basis. Yes, he is that real and his faith is that strong. When he visits prisons he has to wear a monitoring device so that he can be located in case he is taken by inmates.
Mostly, they admire him and Tebow continues to make converts.
He is already the most decorated quarterback in the sport's history. This season might decide if he becomes college football's greatest player.
|All-decade QB Tim Tebow will have at least one Heisman trophy while his coach Urban Meyer has out-Spurriered Spurrier at UF. (Getty Images)|
"Those were the good, old days," Tebow said.
They would get better.
Tebow now plays in a league that consolidated its power in the 2000s. In 2004, the SEC was complaining about the inequity of the system when Auburn went undefeated. Now the league is on a run, winning four of the last six BCS titles, including the last three.
In 2000, Meyer was that little-known receivers coach at Notre Dame. Early that season, the Irish had lost a gut-wrencher to Nebraska 27-24. Meyer noticed David Givens, the team's leading receiver.
"There was uncontrollable sobbing," Meyer said. "We were all a mess. I sat down next to his locker and put my arm around him. He said, 'Coach, all I want to do is help this team win.' I said, 'I know.' He said, 'You don't understand. I didn't touch the ball today.'
"Walking back to my locker, I said that's my fault. One of the top players on the team didn't touch the ball. It hasn't happened again."
Maybe his revolutionary offense was born that day. Four years later Alex Smith was the triggerman in Utah's spread option. Twelve players pitched in on the Utes' 71 touchdowns and Smith went on to become the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Florida is even more diverse. Last year, 27 players touched the ball, 18 of them scored, splitting up 82 touchdowns.
We know this because there is a site, cfbstats.com, to break it all down for us. College football has mimicked the technology. It flashed before our eyes. It was up to us to comprehend it.
There is a now a digestible pill that players can swallow that allows trainers to monitor their body heat. A device is held up to their stomachs to catch signals from tiny circuitry. The players don't even notice when they pass it.
A helmet manufacturer has done something similar. A light glows on the front of the helmet when a player becomes overheated.
But we've come so far, so fast that the game and its medical personnel sometimes can't keep up. The NCAA only recently began recommending testing for sickle cell trait, the leading cause of death this decade among major college football players.
Thankfully, the scandals didn't overshadow the football. It was hard to keep track of the SEC sleaze until Ivy-educated Mike Slive arrived as commissioner and began a clean-up program. Former commissioner Roy Kramer was the father of the BCS. Slive, in the same easy-going matter, will be known for keeping his schools off the blotter (for the most part) and signing the most lucrative TV deal in the history of the sport.
Along the way, 9/11 and Katrina broke our hearts. There are lasting images of Army, playing its first game since we were attacked, being shredded by Alabama-Birmingham in 2001 at Legion Field. You could blame the Black Knights for being distracted as several of them were shipping out in months for the uncertainty of Afghanistan.
LSU was an inspiration for a region ravaged by hurricanes.
Taken as a whole, this had to be what it felt like to watch college football in the 1940s. Back then, legends roamed the landscape and played huge games in monster stadiums while war raged on elsewhere.
|The amount of elite talent that was on the field in the 2002 Fiesta Bowl was perhaps unmatched by any game in the decade. (Getty Images)|
"There are some moments in time that validate or are significant to your progression," Mike Stoops said. "Those were certainly games that can define careers and longevity."
The decade's hottest cauldron for talent might have been that 2003 Fiesta Bowl. At least 24 Buckeyes were drafted from that roster. On Miami's sideline were 11 first-round picks taken in the next two drafts.
How crazy was this decade?
• Three coaches won national championships in their second year at their school (Stoops, Meyer and Jim Tressel). Miami's Larry Coker won in his first season (2001). LSU's Les Miles won one in his third.
Only one of them (Stoops) was a I-A head coach at the beginning of the decade.
• It was only 58 years between Army winning consecutive national championships (1945) and becoming the first major-college team to go 0-13 (2003).
• In the same decade, Tulane debated whether to drop football and led a BCS reform movement headed by its president Scott Cowen. Tulane football survived. So did the BCS, though in an altered form that included a fifth game.
• In 2004, Timmy Chang became the game's all-time leading passer.
• In 2005, he was succeeded by the game's No. 4 leading passer, Colt Brennan.
• The records for average passing yards, total offense, touchdowns and points per game were set this decade. Numerous times. In 2000, the average points-per-team record was 25.6. The number was surpassed four times by 2008.
• In the decade, Michigan overtook Notre Dame as the all-time winningest program. But for the decade, neither is in the top 10. Boise State is the team of the 2000s at 98-17.
• To some, the Big Ten became a punchline.
• In 2006, Miami and Florida International punched each other.
• The coach famous for "I'm a Man, I'm 40," (Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy) has yet to win 30 in his career.
But there's still time. The Golden Decade has been so dizzying that it's hard to remember when Florida State was actually good or when USC was bad. The Seminoles' run of 14 consecutive top four finishes had its last hurrah in 2000. That's also the last year USC didn't go to a bowl.
"Bobby had that many?" said Pete Carroll who has seven consecutive top-four finishes himself. "I'll never approach that."
Just wait 'til next decade.