Ranking the best No. 5 teams 1998-2011

Oregon and LaMichael James didn't have an answer for LSU in 2011. (Getty Images)

You think a Football Four solves all the problems of the BCS? Think again. For one, it only moves the argument down a couple of spots – from No. 2/No. 3 to No. 4/No. 5. There’s also the real possibility of a repeat of 2004 (see below) when Mack Brown won the press conference.

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Or what about 2008 when Alabama would have been able to “afford” an SEC title game loss to Florida? It had been ranked No. 1 and fell only to No. 4. The temptation is there in that scenario to rest players because a playoff berth already is clinched. Maybe not in the SEC championship game but still …

Look at last season when Pac-12 champ Oregon – fifth in the BCS -- would have not played in a four-team playoff but a division rival it beat (Stanford) would have. The difference? Oregon scheduled tougher.

Those are just some of the unintended consequences of an expanded playoff. In that spirit, let’s go back and rank the best No. 5 teams in BCS history. Basically, the best teams not to qualify for a four-team playoff during the 14 years of the BCS. The point is to show how close they were to being playoff teams and how the debate is sure to rage despite the coming playoff in 2014.

1. Florida, 2009 (13-1): In a revenge-filled SEC championship game, eventual national champion Alabama drilled the Gators in Atlanta. The teams met for the second consecutive season in the Georgia Dome. In this case, the 31-13 drubbing would have cost the Gators a spot even in the Football Four as they slipped from No. 1 to No. 5. The four teams ahead of Florida – Bama, Texas, Cincinnati and TCU – were all undefeated in the regular season. Still, a great team lost out as the Tebow run ended.

2. USC, 2008 (12-1): The last truly-great USC team lost only to Oregon State, finishing .235 of a point behind No. 4 Alabama which would have remained in the playoff despite coming off an SEC title game loss to Florida.

3. Wisconsin, 2010 (11-2): The Badgers only regular-season loss was to Michigan State. No. 4 Stanford also finished with the same regular-season record (11-1) but was comfortably ahead of the No. 5 Badgers according to the BCS numbers. Renaissance Wisconsin got to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1999, losing to TCU.

4. USC, 2006 (11-2): Following two national championships and another title game berth, there was not much argument in ’06 for the Trojans to drop to No. 5. The No. 2 Trojans inexplicably lost to UCLA on the final day of the season, 13-9. They dropped to seventh in each of the human polls, but were boosted by the computers to a No. 5 finish in the BCS. A shining example of the old adage: Don’t lose late. This season saw the end USC’s 38-game regular-season winning streak, 27 in a row against Pac-10 opponents and 18 in a row on the road.

5. Florida, 2001 (10-2): It’s hard to remember the biggest controversy of this season was Colorado getting left out of the BCS championship game despite pounding No. 2 Nebraska. Florida, the preseason No. 1, was No. 2 going into the regular-season finale against Tennessee. Can’t spell left out without UT which beat Florida 34-32. Tennessee blew its own title game berth by losing to LSU in the SEC championship game. Rex Grossman threw for 38 touchdowns for the last Steve Spurrier Florida team.

6. Oregon, 2011 (12-2): You want Football Four controversy? Pay attention. Oregon won the Pac-12 but was shut out of playing in the BCS title game basically because the Ducks played a tougher schedule than No. 4 Stanford. Oregon lost to LSU to open the season and late at home to USC. The Cardinal lost once (at home to Oregon) and would have been in a four-team playoff without winning its league.

7. Ohio State, 2003 (11-2): This one’s easy. No. 4 Michigan and the No. 5 Buckeyes were each 10-2 in the regular season. Michigan won the Big Ten and played USC in the Rose Bowl. The difference? Ohio State lost late at Michigan 35-21. If it wins, the Bucks are playing in the Football Four. A second consecutive Fiesta Bowl wasn’t a bad consolation prize for the defending national champions.

8. Iowa, 2002 (11-2): A note to the new system: This season is another shining example of how a Football Four merely moves the argument down between No. 4 and No. 5. Iowa was .28 out of  “playoff” spot in ’02 despite finishing 11-1 in the regular season compared to No. 4 USC at 10-2. The teams met in the Orange Bowl but that’s not the point. The difference is that USC started No. 18. Iowa wasn’t ranked until midseason.

9. Virginia Tech, 2000 (11-1): How valuable was Michael Vick? The only game he missed (injury) Tech lost to Miami by 20. That was basically the season, a further reflection on the weakness of the Big East, even back then. Vick became the No. 1 overall pick by the Falcons. The Hokies haven’t been as dangerous since.

10. UCLA, 1998 (11-2): These Bruins are BCS lore. They were ranked 1, 2 or 3 in the first six BCS polls. They were set to play Tennessee in the first BCS title game. Then they ran into the early December heat and humidity of Miami and the pounding and aggression of Edgerrin James. The game had been moved from early December because of Hurricane Georges. The Bruins essentially were beaten twice by h(H)urricanes. The last great UCLA team was unprepared for South Florida in December and James anytime. The Bruins have been ranked in the BCS only 12 times since that year, the last time in 2006.

11. Cal, 2004 (10-2): The Bears were front and center in one of the BCS’ biggest controversies. Cal would have been an automatic BCS bowl team at No. 4. It lost out because of Mack Brown’s lobbying to the media for Texas. Meanwhile, Jeff Tedford refused to both engage in the discussion and attempt to run it up on Southern Miss in the regular-season finale. This is a cautionary tale for the Football Four. Cal finished .129 out of what would have been a playoff berth – and what was a BCS bowl berth back then. The Bears lost out because Brown won the media war. A lot of things haven’t been the same since. The AP dropped out of the BCS after the controversy. That was Aaron Rodgers’ last season. Jeff Tedford has gone from Pac-10 coach of the year to the hot seat.

12. Georgia, 2007 (11-2): These Dawgs were an acquired taste. Despite losing to two unranked teams, they played a typically tough SEC schedule and finished No. 2 in AP. Mark Richt would have had the Bulldogs in the conversation, unfortunately three of the four teams ahead of them (LSU, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma) benefitted in the computers from winning conference championship games while Georgia stayed home that final weekend.

13. Oregon, 2005 (10-2): What did the BCS think of Mike Bellotti’s last great Oregon team? Not much. The Ducks’ only regular-season loss was by 32 to the USC.  There would be no argument about the BCS title game. But was the Pac-10 runner-up worthy of a BCS bowl? Oregon was overlooked as No. 4 Ohio State and No. 6 Notre Dame played in the Fiesta Bowl despite each having two regular-season losses.

14. Tennessee, 1999 (9-3): The remnants of the 1998 national champions lost at Florida and at Arkansas before losing the Fiesta Bowl to Nebraska. Quarterback Tee Martin was 9-1 in his two years starting against Alabama, Auburn, Kentucky, Florida and Georgia. Nine players off this team were drafted in the first five rounds.










CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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