• A double-overtime thriller, the Vince Young show, Tebow Magic and more. These were the 10 greatest national championship games of the BCS era.
By Julia Poe
July 13, 2018

There were 16 national championship games played in the BCS era, won by a total of 11 different schools, and while there was often plenty of controversy over which teams deserved the right to play in those contests, the matchups produced a wealth of heart-pounding moments and finishes—including what many regard as a worthy candidate for the greatest college football game of all time. As we wrap up our week-long look back at the now-defunct BCS, we rank its 10 greatest championship games.

10. 2000 Sugar Bowl: Florida State 46, Virginia Tech 29

Despite the lopsided final score, this game provided entertaining action from first to last whistle. Florida State took a 28–14 lead into the half, but the Hokies and quarterback Michael Vick countered with 15 points in the third quarter to retake the lead. The Seminoles didn’t back down, responding with 18 unanswered points to clinch the win. Florida State receiver Peter Warrick was named MVP after racking up 163 yards, two receiving touchdowns and a third touchdown off a punt return.

9. 1999 Fiesta Bowl: Tennessee 23, Florida State 16

This star-studded game served as a high-intensity opening act for the BCS era. Tennessee and Florida State struggled with sloppy play all game, trading leads up until the fourth quarter. Vols quarterback Tee Martin finally found a breakthrough on offense, finding Peerless Price down the sideline for a 79-yard score, which held up as the longest touchdown pass in BCS championship game history in the process. Steven Johnson intercepted a full-field Hail Mary in the final two minutes to seal the deal, making Tennessee the first-ever BCS national champions.

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8. 2004 Sugar Bowl: LSU 21, Oklahoma 14

Billed as a meeting of touted offenses, this matchup quickly became a defensive battle. Oklahoma’s nation-leading attacke was throttled by Nick Saban’s LSU defense, which held the Sooners to 154 yards and smothered Heisman winner Jason White, who only completed 35.1% of his passes and tossed two interceptions. The LSU offense didn’t fare much better, picking up all of 312 yards and two touchdowns, but a pick-six from defensive lineman Marcus Spears helped the Tigers cement the win.

Albert Dickson/Sporting News/Getty Images

7. 2010 BCS Championship Game: Alabama 37, Texas 21

A routine-looking hit sidelined star Texas quarterback Colt McCoy with a pinched nerve in his shoulder on the first drive of the game, forcing true freshman backup Garrett Gilbert into the spotlight. Alabama took advantage of Gilbert’s inexperience to rack up a 24–6 lead at the half, but he responded by tossing two touchdowns and completing a two-point conversion to cut the Tide’s lead to three points in the fourth. Alabama recovered to pick up two touchdowns for a seemingly simple blowout victory, but the Texas QB intrigue kept fans holding their breath to the end.

6. 2009 BCS Championship Game, Florida 24, Oklahoma 14

Two Heisman winners in Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford went head-to-head in this well-balanced matchup, though neither turned in a vintage performance, finishing with a pair of interceptions each. The game was tied at the half—at which point Tebow delivered a memorable locker-room speech—and again at the start of the fourth quarter, and that’s when Tebow’s magic took over. He led the Gators on two scoring drives in the final frame, cementing a 10-point victory margin after three quarters of back-and-forth play.

John Biever/Sports Illustrated

5. 2001 Orange Bowl: Oklahoma 13, Florida State 2

As reigning champs with Heisman winner Chris Weinke under center, the Seminoles were viewed as the pregame favorites, but coach Bob Stoops’s Sooners turned in one of the most impressive defensive performances in BCS history, holding the Florida State offense to zero points and 301 yards and holding Weinke to just a 49% completion rate with two interceptions. Oklahoma only managed a pair of field goals until the fourth quarter, when a 10-yard TD run by Quentin Griffin sealed the deal on a shocker.

4. 2011 BCS Championship Game: Auburn 22, Oregon 19

After Auburn led for most of a choppy game for two high-powered offenses, Oregon forced a fumble, picked up a touchdown and successfully went for two to tie everything up with 2:33 left in the game. That ended up being plenty of time for Cam Newton, who marched his team all the way down to the half-yard line to set up a game-winning field goal with two seconds left. The drive was highlighted by a series of runs by Michael Dyer, who on one play rolled over a tackling defender, realized he wasn’t down and sprinted for another 25 yards to get the Tigers into field goal range.

3. 2014 BCS Championship Game: Florida State 34, Auburn 31

Auburn took control early in the final national championship game of the BCS era, building a 21–3 lead in the second quarter, but it wouldn’t be enough to separate from Heisman winner Jameis Winston. The quarterback helped FSU methodically chip the Tigers’ lead down to one point, and then a dazzling 100-yard kick return by Kermit Whitfield in the final five minutes pushed the Seminoles ahead. Auburn responded with a touchdown to reclaim the lead with a minute left, leaving Winston to launch an 80-yard, seven-play drive that ended with a touchdown pass with 19 seconds to go that cemented his place as a Florida State hero.

2. 2003 Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State 31, Miami 24 (2OT)

An argument could easily be made for this double-overtime thriller to take the title as the best in BCS history. The Buckeyes built a 10-point third-quarter lead, but Miami surged back to force overtime. A controversial pass interference call helped send the game into double overtime, and Ohio State made the most of its new life with a touchdown run from Maurice Clarett and a goal-line stand on fourth down by its defense. Nothing sums up this back-and-forth battle more than one play in the third quarter: Miami safety Sean Taylor intercepted a touchdown pass in the end zone, and Clarett snatched it right back out of his arms to help preserve what would become a Buckeyes upset.

• An Oral History of the 2003 Fiesta Bowl

1. 2006 Rose Bowl: Texas 41, USC 38

This game is universally accepted as one of the greatest matchups in college football history, headlined by the on-field stardom of Vince Young, Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush and the sideline talents of head coaches Mack Brown and Pete Carroll. The game was high drama from start to finish—Bush botching a head-scratching lateral for a turnover, USC fighting back from a 12-point deficit, and of course, Vince Young stealing the show with a stunning 467 total offensive yards, including his fourth-and-five waltz into the end zone that clinched a 41–38 Texas victory.

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