College football's greatest teams: The best season from every Pac-12 program

The Pac-12 prides itself on being a conference of champions. You don't have to look far into the Pac-12's history to find some of the best college football teams to have ever taken the field.

The first team that comes to mind is USC and its dynasty under coach Pete Carroll during the mid-2000s. But, of course, USC's history has a number of championship-winning teams. Choosing one is no easy task. Then there's Washington, whose 1991 team is one of the best the conference has ever produced. But every school in the Pac-12 has fielded at least one great team. Our job was to figure out which one it was. 

Which teams are the best of the best? Our top team for every Pac-12 program is below.

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Graphic illustration by Michael Meredith

Arizona (1993)

It was a tight race between the 1993 Wildcats and the 1998 team. Those were the two best seasons in program history, and they brought their own flavor to the discussion. The latter team was more offensive-minded at 33.8 points per game. However, the 1993 team was a force along the defensive front and led by future College Football Hall of Famers in Rob Waldrop and Tedy Bruschi. Arizona also won a share of the Pac-10 -- the school's first conference title in football in 20 years -- in 1993 and toasted Miami 29-0 in the Fiesta Bowl. 

Record: 10-2 (6-2 Pac-10) | Final ranking: No. 10
Coach: Dick Tomey | MVP: DL Rob Waldrop
Championships won: Pac-10 (co-champions) 
Accolades: Chuck Bednarik Award (Waldrop), Outland Trophy (Waldrop), Bronko Nagurski Award (Waldrop), consensus All-American: (Waldrop)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 9
Did you know? Just how good was Arizona's defense in 1993? The Wildcats allowed a mere 30.1 yards per game on the ground and its top six tacklers went on to play in the NFL, resulting in the "Desert Swarm" nickname.   

Arizona State (1996)

The 1996 season was the closest Arizona State has come to claiming a national title in the modern era. And goodness, were the Sun Devils good that year. The season started on a high note with a statement 19-0 win over No. 1 and defending national champs Nebraska. That propelled Arizona State into the AP top 10, where they climbed to No. 2 by season's end. However, a 20-17 loss to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl kept the Sun Devils from finishing with a perfect record. 

Record: 11-1 (8-0 Pac-10) | Final ranking: No. 4
Coach: Bruce Snyder | MVP: QB Jake Plummer
Championships won: Pac-10
Accolades:
 AFCA Coach of the Year (Snyder), Walter Camp Coach of the Year (Snyder), Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year (Snyder), Paul "Bear" Bryant Coach of the Year (Snyder), two consensus All-Americans: (Derrick Rodgers, Juan Roque)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 20
Did you know? Among the many future NFL players on Arizona State's roster was Pat Tillman, who led the Sun Devils with four interceptions in 1996. Tillman left the NFL for the U.S. Army following the Sept. 11 attacks. He was killed in friendly fire during a tour in Afghanistan and received the Silver Star. 

Cal (2010)

The 2004 Cal Golden Bears didn't win a Pac-10 championship or national championship. They weren't blessed with numerous All-Americans and the 10-win season probably won't go down as anything in history other than "pretty good." But one look at the players on that team and you realize it's a team that passes the eyeball test. Aaron Rodgers? Marshawn Lynch? Anyone would take a team with those two -- and Lynch wasn't even the starter that season. 

Record: 10-2 (7-1) | Final ranking: No. 9
Coach: Jeff Tedford | MVP: QB Aaron Rodgers
Championships won: n/a
Accolades: Consensus All-American: (J.J. Arrington)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 14
Did you know? You can't fault Rodgers for Cal's lone regular season loss to USC. The quarterback tied a NCAA record with 23 straight completions against the Trojans. 

Colorado (1990)

Rashaan Salaam's Heisman Trophy-winning season in 1994 is memorable, but the Buffaloes' only claimed national championship came in 1990. Led by running back Eric Bieniemy, who finished third in the Heisman voting that season, the Buffaloes scored nearly 31 points per game through one of the toughest schedules in the country. After a Week 1 tie vs. No. 8 Tennessee and a 1-point loss at No. 21 Illinois. the Buffs ripped off five wins vs. ranked opponents, including the national championship over No. 5 Notre Dame. Several of the players on the 1990 team either earned All-American accolades in 1989 or went on to contribute and be drafted following the 1994 season. 

Record: 11-1-1 (7-0 Big 8) | Final ranking: No. 1
Coach: Bill McCartney | MVP: RB Eric Bieniemy
Championships won: National (AP), Big 8
Accolades: Dick Butkus Award (Alfred Williams), three consensus All-Americans: (Bieniemy, Williams, Joe Garten)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 20 (pre-modern-era draft)
Did you know? Colorado can lay claim to two of college football's more spectacular endings. The Buffs' Hail Mary vs. Michigan adds lore to the '94 season, but there's only one "Fifth Down" debacle: vs. Missouri in 1990.

Oregon (2010)

There's a legitimate case to be made for the 2012 Ducks even though they didn't win the Pac-12 North. One could argue, had Oregon not lost to Stanford in overtime, that season was theoretically the school's best shot at winning a national championship. But the 2010 team actually got to the BCS Championship Game and came this close (and one Michael Dyer barrel roll) from beating Auburn and quarterback Cam Newton, the most dominant player in the country. The Ducks were dominant in their own right, too, with the No. 1 offense in the country and reaching No. 1 in the AP poll for the first time in history in October. 

Record: 12-1 (9-0 Pac-10) | Final ranking: No. 3
Coach: Chip Kelly | MVP: RB LaMichael James
Championships won: Pac-10
Accolades: Doak Walker Award (James), Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year (Kelly), Walter Camp Coach of the Year (Kelly), AP Coach of the Year (Kelly), two consensus All-Americans: (James, Cliff Harris)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 11
Did you know? As great as Kelly was in engineering high-scoring offenses, the 2010 team was the only one he coached that finished No. 1 in the country in points per game. The Ducks also finished No. 1 in total offense that season. 

Oregon State (2000)

It may have only been a share of a Pac-10 title, but the 2000 Beavers grabbed their first championship since 1964. And while this team didn't feature award winners or consensus All-Americans, it did have a roster with receivers Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, defensive lineman Dwan Edwards and linebacker Nick Barnett. There were some solid future pros on the sideline that year. Plus, the 2000 team's 11 wins still stands as the most for a single season in program history. At a place that's experienced its share of rough times, the 2000 team stands alone as the best. 

Record: 11-1 (7-1 Pac-10) | Final ranking: No. 4
Coach: Dennis Erickson | MVP: RB Ken Simonton
Championships won: Pac-10 (co-champions) 
Accolades: n/a
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 10
Did you know? Oregon State's biggest "what if?" game came in a 33-30 loss to Washington in 2000. In the fifth game of the year, Washington had greater name recognition than the Beavers, but by the season's end, no one in the country wanted anything to do with Oregon State. However, a missed 45-yard field goal with 14 seconds remaining gave the Huskies the narrow win. It ultimately became the difference between the Fiesta Bowl, which Oregon State won 41-9 over No. 10 Notre Dame, and the national championship. 

Stanford (2010)

You could go with one of Stanford's national championship seasons from way in the past, but the 2010 team probably would have gone undefeated if Oregon wasn't the bane of their existence -- which, what do you know, the 2010 Ducks are featured on here, too. When coach Jim Harbaugh took over Stanford following the 2006 season, the Cardinal were a mess. By Year 4, though, Stanford was a machine with future pros littered all over the starting 22 (Richard Sherman, Zach Ertz, Doug Baldwin and Andrew Luck, among others). What Harbaugh built came to fruition in 2010 and set the standard for years to follow.  

Record: 12-1 (8-1 Pac-10) | Final ranking: No. 4
Coach: Jim Harbaugh | MVP: QB Andrew Luck
Championships won: n/a
Accolades: Paul Hornung Award (Owen Marecic), consensus All-American: (Chase Beeler)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 17
Did you know? How bad were things at Stanford before Harbaugh's arrival? Only three players were drafted into the NFL during Harbaugh's first three seasons -- all in 2010. In the three years ollowing the 2010 season, 11 players were taken. Since the 2010 season, 35 Cardinal players have been drafted. 

UCLA (1954)

The 1954 Bruins were a juggernaut on both sides of the ball, averaging nearly 41 points per game with a single-wing offense and 4.4 points allowed per game. The No. 1 defense in the country shut out five opponents that season, including No. 7 USC, and allowed just one touchdown to defending national champs Maryland. To this day, the 1954 team is the only one to go undefeated. 

Record: 9-0 (6-0 PCC) | Final ranking: No. 2
Coach: Red Sanders | MVP: OL Jack Ellena
Championships won: National (Coaches), PCC
Accolades: AFCA Coach of the Year (Sanders), consensus All-American: (Ellena)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 6
Did you know? Despite winning the PCC and finishing undefeated, the Bruins were ineligible to play in the Rose Bowl because of a no-repeat rule. Instead, the Rose Bowl chose USC, which lost to Ohio State 20-7.  

USC (2005)

There's no getting around it. USC's 2005 team is presented with a caveat: It didn't beat Texas in the BCS Championship Game. And so many other great USC teams have national championships (2004, for instance). But let's table that for a minute and talk about what the Trojans were that season. They were riding a 34-game winning streak. They were up their eyeballs with NFL-caliber talent, two Heisman winners (RB Reggie Bush and QB Matt Leinart), and multiple All-Americans. They were, up until the Rose Bowl, the wire-to-wire No. 1 team in the country. They were a dynasty. 

And look, USC was supposed to beat Texas on paper. It was supposed to cap off one of the greatest runs this sport has ever seen. It took the best game possible from Longhorns quarterback Vince Young and a key fourth-down stop by the UT defense to rewrite the script. Someone else had to be that much better, even if just for a night, to spoil USC's season. That's how great the 2005 Trojans were and that's why they were picked, even if it's bittersweet. 

Record: 12-1 (8-0 Pac-10) | Final ranking: No. 2
Coach: Pete Carroll | MVP: RB Reggie Bush
Championships won: Pac-10
Accolades: Heisman Trophy (Bush), Doak Walker Award (Bush), Walter Camp Award (Bush), Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award (Leinart), three consensus All-Americans: (Bush, Dwayne Jarrett, Taitusi Lutui)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 35
Did you know? The 2006 Rose Bowl featured an absurd amount of NFL talent. Between USC and Texas, the field that night featured 14 first-round NFL draft picks and 62 players who would appear in at least one NFL game. 

Utah (2008)

Utah's undefeated team marked its first major bowl victory (35-7 over No. 19 Pitt), but the 2008 Utes can say they beat Nick Saban's Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Led by quarterback Brian Johnson, the Utes started the season with a 25-23 win at Michigan and capped it with two monster wins at the end of the year vs. No. 12 TCU and No. 14 BYU. Though the Utes were not ranked at the start of the season, they climbed all the way up to No. 7 and finished as the only unbeaten team after the bowl season. 

Record: 13-0 (8-0 MWC) | Final ranking: No. 2
Coach: Kyle Whittingham | MVP: QB Brian Johnson
Championships won: Mountain West
Accolades: AFCA Coach of the Year (Whittingham), Paul "Bear" Bryant Coach of the Year (Whittingham), consensus All-Americans: (Louie Sakoda)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 12
Did you know? The Sugar Bowl win over Alabama wasn't just a big way to cap off the season. It marked the 14th straight win for the program, which was the longest active streak in college football at the time. 

Washington (1991)

Miami might have won the AP's national title in 1991, but the Huskies were the better team. If nothing else, Don James' squad was statistically the most dominant in the entire country. Washington notched three wins against highly ranked teams (Nebraska, Cal and Michigan) and blew through one of the toughest schedules in the country. In fact, the 1991 Huskies have an argument as one of the great all-time Pac-10/12 teams given how they outclassed opponents on a weekly basis. 

Record: 12-0 (8-0 Pac-10) | Final ranking: No. 2
Coach: Don James | MVP: DL Steve Emtman
Championships won: National (Coaches), Pac-10
Accolades: Outland Trophy (Emtman), Lombardi Award (Emtman), two consensus All-Americans: (Emtman, Mario Bailey)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 20
Did you know? The 1991 Huskies featured a number of players who ended up drafted into the NFL. Among them was former CBS Sports analyst and ESPN color commentator Ed Cunningham, who played offensive line for the Huskies. 

Washington State (1997)

Washington State wasn't on national radars when the 1997 season started, but following a win at No. 23 USC in September, the Cougars jumped into the top 25 and never looked back. Wazzu went 10-1 during the regular season and secured a share of the Pac-10 championship -- the first for the program since 1930. Quarterback Ryan Leaf finished third in the Heisman voting and the Cougars came oh-so-close to pulling off a final-second comeback against Michigan in the Rose Bowl. However, time ran out on Leaf (or did it?) as he attempted to spike the ball with two seconds remaining. 

Record: 10-2 (7-1 Pac-10) | Final ranking: No. 9
Coach: Mike Price | MVP: QB Ryan Leaf
Championships won: Pac-10 (co-champions) 
Accolades: Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year (Price), Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year (Price), Home Depot Award (Price)
NFL Draft picks on the roster: 6
Did you know? The 1997 Apple Cup between Washington and Washington State marked the first time the Cougars had beat their in-state rival in Seattle since 1985. With the win, Washington State earned its first Rose Bowl berth since 1930.

CBS Sports Writer

Ben Kercheval joined CBS Sports in 2016 and has been covering college football since 2010. Before CBS, Ben worked at Bleacher Report, UPROXX Sports and NBC Sports. As a long-suffering North Texas graduate,... Full Bio

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