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2000s: The Decade in Sports
Posted: Thursday December 17, 2009 11:31AM; Updated: Thursday December 17, 2009 11:31AM

College football: Highlights and lowlights of the decade

Story Highlights

Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer won titles, innovated and helped the SEC stay elite

USC rates as the decade's best program, while Duke checks in as the worst

The BCS looms as the sport's greatest villain, the 12-game schedule as a failure

By Stewart Mandel,

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Tim Tebow's decorated Florida career included two SEC titles, two BCS championships and a Heisman Trophy.
Tim Tebow's decorated Florida career included two SEC titles, two BCS championships and a Heisman Trophy.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
2000s: College Football
Mandel: Highlights and lowlights
Mandel: All-Decade team
Staples: 10 signature moments
POLL: Share your thoughts on the decade in college football

PLAYER OF THE DECADE: Tim Tebow, Florida
A star from the day he set foot on campus, Tebow will graduate with two SEC championships, two BCS titles and a Heisman Trophy. He is 34-6 as a starter and set SEC career records for total yards (11,699), rushing touchdowns (56), total touchdowns (141) and rushing yards by a quarterback (2,899). His impact, though, extended beyond the box score. "I don't think I have ever seen a better leader," said Florida State coach Bobby Bowden.

BEST COACH: Urban Meyer, Bowling Green/Utah/Florida
Meyer, who became a head coach in 2001, turned around three programs this decade thanks to a hypercompetitive personality and relentless zeal for recruiting. He leads all active coaches with an .841 winning percentage (minimum five years) and is the only coach to win two BCS championships. Bowling Green, 2-9 the year before his arrival, went 17-6 in Meyer's two seasons. Utah went 22-2 under his watch. Florida has gone 56-10 in his five seasons.

Click here for Stewart Mandel's complete All-Decade team

Under Pete Carroll's direction, the Trojans became the sport's most dominant program, winning seven straight Pac-10 titles (2002-08), six BCS bowl games and two national titles (2003 AP; 2004 unanimous). At one point from 2003-05, Carroll's teams won 34 straight games, tying Miami for the longest streak this decade. USC won 11 or more games for seven straight seasons while consistently playing one of the nation's toughest schedules.

The hapless Blue Devils endured three winless seasons (2000, '01 and '06), two one-win seasons (2005 and '07) and two two-win seasons (2002 and '04). They endured ACC losing streaks of 29 (2000-03) and 26 (2005-08) games and were one of only two BCS-conference teams (the other: Baylor) to go the entire decade without reaching a bowl game. The good news is, things are looking up. This season, its second under David Cutcliffe, Duke won its most overall (five) and ACC (three) games since 1994.

Behind a staggering collection of talent largely recruited by predecessor Butch Davis, first-year coach Larry Coker led the 'Canes to a 12-0 record and national championship while outscoring opponents 512-117. The roster included 16 future first-round picks and 12 Pro Bowlers, led by safety Ed Reed, running backs Clinton Portis and Frank Gore, receiver Andre Johnson, tight end Jeremy Shockey and linebacker Jonathan Vilma.

Newly ousted from the Big East, playing a vagabond independent schedule that included trips to Arizona State, Wisconsin and Clemson and relying heavily on a slew of juco mercenaries, the Owls went 0-11 in what would be coach Bobby Wallace's last season. Temple allowed 40 or more points six times while scoring in single digits six times, and its opponents outscored it by a combined 498-107 margin.

BEST REGULAR-SEASON GAME: USC 34, Notre Dame 31 (Oct. 15, 2005)
With No. 1 USC's then 27-game winning streak on the line, the teams engaged in a back-and-forth shootout. After Brady Quinn and the ninth-ranked Fighting Irish (wearing their famed green jerseys) went ahead 31-28 with less than two minutes remaining, Matt Leinart completed a 61-yard pass to Dwayne Jarrett on fourth-and-nine, then scored the winning touchdown on a do-or-die sneak with the help of a controversial "push" from teammate Reggie Bush.

Click here for Andy Staples' breakdown of the decade's signature college football moments

BEST BOWL GAME: Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42 (2007 Fiesta Bowl)
First, the Sooners rallied from a 28-10 deficit and took a 35-28 lead with 1:02 remaining. Then the real drama began. On fourth-and-18, Boise pulled off a 50-yard hook and lateral to tie it. After Oklahoma scored first in overtime, the Broncos responded with a touchdown pass from receiver Vinny Perretta. Then they won it on a now-famous Statue of Liberty handoff from Jared Zabransky to Ian Johnson, who proposed to his girlfriend, cheerleader Chrissy Popadics, during a live postgame interview.

Click here for a gallery of the top 10 games of the decade

Armanti Edwards' four touchdowns helped Division I-AA Appalachian State shock No. 5 Michigan in the opening game of 2007.
Armanti Edwards' four touchdowns helped Division I-AA Appalachian State shock No. 5 Michigan in the opening game of 2007.

BIGGEST UPSET: Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32 (Sept. 1, 2007)
While parity has softened the magnitude of many upsets, there's no overstating the shock of a I-AA team (albeit the defending national champion) knocking off the nation's No. 5 team and all-time winningest program in front of 109,218 spectators. The Wolverines boasted stars Chad Henne, Jake Long and Mike Hart, but Mountaineers quarterback Armanti Edwards stole the show with 289 total yards and four touchdowns. Corey Lynch's last-second field goal block sealed it.

Click here for a gallery of the top 10 upsets of the decade

SIGNATURE PLAY: The Tim Tebow "jump pass"
Florida coaches Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen first broke out their throwback play in a 2006 game against LSU. Facing second-and-goal at the one, Tebow faked like he was running for the end zone, stopped, jumped into the air, double-clutched like a basketball player, then lobbed a touchdown pass to Tate Casey. Most memorably, Tebow used the play to throw a game-sealing TD to David Nelson in the 2008 BCS Championship Game against Oklahoma -- this time on a perfect spiral with no hesitation.

BIGGEST CONTROVERSY: The Alabama/Albert Means scandal
In 2001, Memphis high school coach Milton Kirk revealed his former boss, Lynn Lang, "sold" his prized defensive lineman to Alabama. An FBI probe led to Crimson Tide booster Logan Young's conviction for paying $150,000 to Lang, while the NCAA levied the school with a two-year bowl ban and 21 docked scholarships. In the years that followed, Alabama fans accused the NCAA of a conspiracy, and a related lawsuit revealed that Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer had provided secret testimony.

Much more than they do toward any individual, fans annually direct their angst toward the cartel of conferences that oversees the sport's aggravating postseason. At the start of the decade, the BCS was just two years old, and its overlords changed the formula near-annually in response to the previous year's controversy. It's remained unchanged since 2004, but criticism of the system has only amplified due to both the lack of a clear-cut No. 1 vs. 2 matchup since 2005, and the proliferation of successful BCS outsiders like Utah and Boise State.

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