Welcome back to another edition of Three Downs & Punt, where every week we trudge toward the orange first down marker but never quite get there.
A quick Heidi-ho to reader "Heidi B in Birmingham" who was so kind as to send along this email about last week's blog: "For you to suggest that LSU might sneak into the BCS title game is irresponsible and should cause you to have your college football writer's license taken away."
I hear you, Heidi. But I'll never bother to turn it in because the line down at the CFB DMV is way too long.
To the plays!
First Down: Top 6 All-Time BCS Bridesmaids
No one has any idea how this BCS jigsaw puzzle will fall into place over the next three weeks, no matter how long they've been covering this sport and no matter what we think might happen on paper (with the obvious exception of Heidi from Birmingham).
But there is one fact we know for certain: Someone's getting left out. There will likely be an undefeated bridesmaid, worthy of a title game berth but headed elsewhere, be it Boise, TCU, or less likely, Oregon or Auburn.
Sadly, we are used to it. And so are all of the schools I just listed. Since the BCS was introduced in 1998, the stack of those stuck outside in the snow is nearly as high and as prestigious as the list of the chosen few who were invited to feast indoors. Who exactly am I talking about? Funny you should ask. I have a six-pack (plus one bonus team) in mind.
6. 2006 - Michigan
Regular season: 11-1
Because Ohio State lost -- and lost big, 41-14 -- it's easy to forget now that most fans didn't even want Florida to be in the game. They wanted Michigan, which spent the final six weeks of the regular season ranked behind Ohio State in the AP Poll. The Wolverines' lone loss was a 42-39 classic in Columbus, Ohio, a game so good that the following week the pollsters kept Michigan at No. 2, as did the BCS. But when one-loss Florida defeated Arkansas in the SEC title game, the Gators leaped into the second slot and into the BCS title game. Michigan settled for the Rose Bowl, where they were romped by one-loss USC, whom Florida also leapfrogged.
Honorable mention to Boise State, which arrived on the national scene in '06 with a 12-0 record, but in retrospect let's be glad it was sent to the Fiesta Bowl to play Oklahoma and provide us with one of the greatest games in college football history.
5. 2000 - Miami and Washington
Regular season: Both 10-1
No one had any argument with the first team in the BCS title game, 12-0 Big 12 champion Oklahoma. It was the opponent that drew a little fire, 11-1 ACC Champion Florida State. Most of that flak came from the 11-1 Canes, which had defeated the Noles during the regular season and was ranked ahead of them in the AP and Coaches' polls. Their lone loss had come to ... wait for it ... Washington, which was also 11-1. Washington's only loss came to sixth-ranked Oregon on Sept. 30.
Miami stomped Florida in the Sugar Bowl, while the Huskies defeated Purdue, 34-24, in the Rose Bowl. They finished second and third, respectively, in the final AP poll, while FSU, which lost a snoozer 13-2 game to Oklahoma, dropped to fifth.
4. 1999 - Nebraska
Regular season: 11-1
The Huskers' only regular season blemish was a four-point loss to then-18th ranked Texas in Austin on Oct. 23. They avenged that loss on Dec. 3 with a 22-6 knockout in the Big 12 championship game and rose to a third-place ranking in the AP Poll.
Again, there was little argument about the top-ranked BCS team. Florida State was 11-0, the ACC champs and coming off a runner-up appearance in the inaugural '98 BCS championship game. Their opponent was Virginia Tech, the Big East champs led by Michael Vick. The Hokies were 11-0, but Nebraska argued that the Hokies hadn't played the kind of schedule that they had, having defeated only one team ranked in the final AP Poll -- 15th-ranked Miami -- and hadn't had to win a conference championship game.
FSU defeated Virginia Tech, 46-29, pulling away in the second half. Meanwhile, Nebraska thumped defending national champs Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl, 31-21, and finished the season ranked second by the coaches and third by AP.
3. 2001 - Oregon
Regular season: 10-1
If Nebraska was jobbed in '99, they got a makeup call two years later when they advanced to the BCS title game despite not even having played in their conference championship game. The Huskers hammered their way to a 10-0 record and No. 1 BCS ranking but were stunned by a 62-36 beatdown at the hands of Colorado in the regular-season finale. They tied for the Big 12 North title, but the Buffs went to the championship game via the head-to-head win.
Undefeated Miami grabbed the top spot, while would-be Huskers replacers Florida, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Texas suffered losses that kept them from moving up.
During all of that madness, the Ducks clinched the Pac-10 title and moved into the No. 2 slot of the AP rankings. But the BCS computers weren't impressed and Oregon remained stuck in fourth. Many fans called for Colorado, as the hottest team, to advance to the Rose Bowl to play Miami, but it was Nebraska that got the nod because of its No. 2 BCS ranking. The Huskers were crushed by Miami, 37-14, meaning they'd lost their last two games by a combined score of 99-50.
Oregon defeated Colorado, 38-16, in the Fiesta Bowl and finished the season with a rather hollow second-place BCS ranking.
2. 2004 - Auburn
Regular season: 12-0
Worst. Case. Scenario.
At the end of the regular season, there were no less than five undefeated teams -- USC, Oklahoma, Utah, Boise State and the Auburn Tigers. The BCS rankings determined the title game invites, with top-ranked USC meeting the No. 2 Sooners. Utah, ranked sixth, got an at-large berth to the Fiesta Bowl where they whipped Big East Champion Pitt by a score of 35-7.
Auburn had won an epic 10-9 game over then-fifth ranked LSU, beaten top-10 Georgia and defeated Tennessee twice. But a nonconference schedule of Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana Tech and The Citadel hampered their computer rankings and kept them stuck in third.
The Tigers narrowly defeated No. 9 Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl and ended the year ranked second. Three of the top four teams finished undefeated, fueling cries for the plus-one scenario and causing the Associated Press to withdraw its poll from the BCS formula.
1. 2003 - USC
Regular season: 11-1
OK, forget about all the Reggie Bush mess. Forget about the vacated wins and disgrace of the last year. Go back to '03 and think about the team that the Trojans put on the field -- Bush, LenDale White, Matt Leinart, etc. -- or that 53 players on that roster played or were drafted into the NFL at some point. Look it up. Then try to convince yourself that team wasn't worthy of a BCS title game invite.
The Trojans started the year with a 23-0, bus-with-no-brakes win at sixth-ranked Auburn. They would never score that few points in a game again all season and had a year marked with only one loss, a 3OT, 34-31 defeat at Cal on Sept. 27.
But three teams finished the regular season with one loss -- USC, LSU and Oklahoma. LSU's lone defeat came at unranked Florida on Oct. 11. Meanwhile, the Sooners were ranked No. 1 for most the season, hanging 50 or more points on seven different opponents, including a 65-13 win over Texas. But in the Big 12 title game, they were shellacked by Kansas State, 35-7.
So naturally, OU went to the BCS championship game to play LSU instead of USC.
I know, right?
The Trojans beat a good Michigan team, 28-14, in the Rose Bowl. LSU beat Oklahoma, 21-14, in the Sugar Bowl. The Tigers received the BCS national championship trophy, but the AP awarded USC with its championship and, in a shocker, so did three coaches, going against their BCS contractual obligation.
The AP may have pulled its poll from the BCS after the '04 season, but its outrage actually started right here, one full year earlier.
Second Down: More Stats You May Have Missed
* Houston QB Case Keenum hasn't played a down since his season-ending injury versus UCLA on Sept.18, the Cougars' third game of the year. Even still, he's the active career leader in passing yardage with 13,586, which is a whopping 1,492 ahead of second place Trevor Vittatoe of UTEP, who is still playing and has four more career starts than Keenum, 47 to 43.
* Keenum's 107 TD passes is also tops among active players, 13 ahead of Vittatoe and way ahead of Weber's 72 and Dalton's 68.
* Third on the active touchdown passes list is Boise State's Kellen Moore. The junior has racked up 88 TDs in 36 starts. Even more remarkable is his crazy-low interceptions total of 17, which means he's thrown more than five TDs for every INT.
* Keenum has 41 INTs and Weber has 51. But the career active leader is Idaho's Nathan Enderle with 58, including Friday night's brutal two-pick performance versus Boise and a five INT game versus Nebraska on Sept. 11. He has 70 career TD passes, which gives him a TD-to-INT count of 1.2. Oof.
* Keenum started the 2010 season at 12,950 yards, 8th in FBS history. In three games this season, two of which were injury-shortened, he had already moved up to fifth, past Houston predecessor Kevin Kolb (12,964), Texas's Colt McCoy (13,253) and NC State's Phillip Rivers (13,484). Had he stayed healthy, it's a safe bet he would've moved past Hawaii's Colt Brennan (14,193) and into fourth.
* So who in the world are the top three? Third is BYU Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer (15,031), second is Texas Tech's Graham Harrell (15,793) and in the stratosphere is Hawaii's Timmy Chang at (gasp) 17,027 yards!
* In case you were wondering, Keenum has filed a petition with the NCAA to receive a sixth year of eligibility because of medical hardship. I'm pulling for him.
Third Down: Tennessee Turnaround?
After starting the year 2-6, the Tennessee Volunteers are now 4-6 and have a chance to finish .500 with wins over Vanderbilt and Kentucky. The Nov. 27 trip to Lexington looms large, but the Wildcats haven't beaten Tennessee since 1982.
The most encouraging part of Tennessee's current two-game winning streak is that an offense that has struggled to score points for nearly five years posted 50 and 52 in the victories. Tell fans of the Vols that their victories over 1-9 Memphis and Ole Miss, owners of the SEC's 10th-worst defense, are meaningless and they'll tell you that you don't realize how bad they were at the start of the season.
You want to know how bare the cupboard had gotten around here? You just look at that offensive line. But the kids that are in there now, you can build something on their shoulders.
"-- Johnny Majors