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College football: Highlights and lowlights of the decade

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/FloridaMeyer, 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

BEST PROGRAM: USC 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.

WORST PROGRAM: DukeThe 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.

BEST SINGLE-SEASON TEAM: Miami (2001) 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.

WORST SINGLE-SEASON TEAM: Temple (2005)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

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 scandalIn 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.

BIGGEST VILLAIN: The BCSMuch 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.

WORST COACHING HIRE: Bill Callahan, NebraskaIn 2003, then-AD Steve Pedersen fired sixth-year coach Frank Solich (despite his .750 winning percentage) and replaced him with the ex-Oakland Raiders coach. The school's first outside hire in 42 years, Callahan scrapped Nebraska's long-synonymous option offense in favor of an NFL-style passing attack, alienated fans and former players, oversaw the program's first losing season since 1961 and won one division title in four seasons. His last team (in 2007) went 5-7 and allowed a school-record 455 points.

MOST OUTSTANDING SINGLE-GAME PERFORMANCE: Vince Young vs. USC (2006 Rose Bowl)After finishing second to Reggie Bush in that season's Heisman voting, and with the 'Horns the prohibitive underdog to the Trojans' ultra-hyped squad, the Texas quarterback led his team to a national-title upset with one of the most dazzling individual performances in postseason history. He threw for 267 yards and ran for 200, including a game-winning eight-yard touchdown scramble on fourth-and-five with just 19 seconds remaining. The Longhorns won 41-38.

Click here for a gallery of the 20 most memorable single-game performances

BEST RECRUITING CLASS: USC, 2003This was the second in a string of five straight Pete Carroll classes that garnered a No. 1 ranking from at least one major service and produced many of the stars who keyed USC's 34-game winning streak. Among them: future Heisman winner Bush, running back LenDale White, receiver Steve Smith, tackle Sam Baker, defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis and defensive end Lawrence Jackson. Cornerback Will Poole, a transfer, started for the '03 champs. Eventual starting quarterback John David Booty was a late addition.

BIGGEST RECRUITING BUST: Willie WilliamsThe nation's consensus top linebacker prospect in the class of 2004 ignited firestorms of controversy, first with a series of juicy recruiting diaries in the Miami Herald (a $49.99 lobster tail at Florida State, "farmer girls" at Auburn), then, after signing with Miami, with the revelation that he'd been arrested 12 times as a minor. Williams spent two years at Miami, making 17 tackles in his one season on the field, before playing at a junior college, getting dismissed by Louisville and, finally, playing for an NAIA school.

BEST TEAM RIVALRY: Oklahoma-TexasThe classic Red River Shootout, played annually on the grounds of the Texas State Fair, lost much of is luster when both programs went dormant in the '90s. But the arrivals of coaches Mack Brown (Texas) and Bob Stoops (Oklahoma) in the late-'90s soon turned it back into one of the nation's most important games. Four times, the teams met as top five opponents; six times, the winner went on to claim the Big 12 title; and Texas is currently bidding to claim the third national championship won by one of the two schools this decade.

BEST COACHING RIVALRY: Utah's Kyle Whittingham vs. BYU's Bronco MendenhallWhen both schools' head coaching jobs came open in late 2004, Whittingham, a former BYU player, turned down the Cougars for a promotion at Utah. Since then, he and Mendenhall, formerly BYU's defensive coordinator, have staged a fierce rivalry, with four of their five meetings decided by a touchdown or less. (Mendenhall leads, 3-2.) Mendenhall has won slightly more games (48 to 46), but Whittingham's team has the lone BCS appearance (2008) between the two.

BEST CONFERENCE: The SECAfter weathering a scandal-plagued start to the decade and the departure of then-Florida icon Steve Spurrier, the conference rose to dominance thanks to the direction of a new commissioner (Mike Slive), an influx of talented coaches (Meyer, Nick Saban, Mark Richt, Les Miles) and a preponderance of elite recruits in the schools' geographic footprint. SEC schools won four BCS championships (with Alabama about to play for a fifth), went 10-3 in BCS bowl games and placed 21 top 10 teams in the seasons' final AP polls.

WORST (BCS) CONFERENCE: The ACCNot even an expansion to 12 teams and the addition of Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College could bolster the traditional basketball power into a relevant football conference. Hurt by the downfall of longtime titans Florida State and Miami, the league lost its first eight BCS bowl appearances prior to Virginia Tech's Orange Bowl win last season. On four occasions, its champion failed to finish in the final AP top 10. And its five-year old conference championship game has been an attendance and TV disaster.

BEST INNOVATION: The spread-optionAt the start of the decade, only a handful of teams (Purdue, Clemson, Northwestern) were running the spread offense. A few others had begun employing the shotgun-run. Thanks to coaches like Rich Rodriguez, Meyer and Chip Kelly, the spread eventually became the predominant offensive scheme in the country. But unlike earlier versions that relied almost entirely on the pass, spread quarterbacks like Tebow, Young and Pat White showed how lethal it can be with a true run-pass threat at quarterback.

WORST INNOVATION: The 12-game scheduleIn 2006, FBS schools pushed through NCAA legislation adding an extra regular-season game for every team. Spurred entirely as a means to generate more revenue, the 12th game has resulted in a near-universal watering down of schedules. Major-conference teams tacked on more FCS or low-rung FBS opponents simply for the benefit of an extra home game. And with the NCAA softening requirements for bowl eligibility to include 6-6 teams, an already bloated bowl lineup expanded to include 68 of 120 teams.

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