Few people (not working on Wall Street) had a worse September than Vince Young. Barely a day goes by that we don't discover a new, bizarre piece of the VY-puzzle. It's hard to believe that just a few short years ago he was on top of the college football world, and in that spirit of disbelief, we present this week's to-be-busted myth.
You remember that one, don't you? Texas knocking off USC 41-38 to deny the Trojans an unprecedented third-straight national title. Young racking up about 12,000 yards of offense against asthmatic freshman computer engineering students dressed like USC defenders. Reggie Bush preparing us for his NFL career by fumbling the ball away in the UT red (burnt orange) zone. Matt Leinart preparing us for his NFL career by firing an incompletion on the game's final play. The actor from Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre flashing the "Hook em Horns" sign and cheering, "Alll ratttt." Lots of confetti and hype.
While it was an exhilarating display of offense (the two teams combined for 1130 total yards and 32 fourth quarter points) and was certainly an entertaining game, it's not quite the greatest game ever. That's because it's lacking a few key elements that the so-called "greatest game ever" should have.
Defense, for example.
Yes, Texas stuffed LenDale White on that infamous fourth-and-two play that ultimately cost the Trojans the title (fortunately then-USC offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has moved on to bigger and better things with the Raiders). And yes, Michael Griffin did pick off a Leinart pass in the end zone. But an average of over seven yards per play? Seven yards is a good quarter in an SEC game, but seven per play is more in line with the WAC. And really, do we want the shining example of the sport to most closely resemble a Hawaii-Nevada shootout?
In fact, the best defense to come out of that game was the defense of the BCS in general: If it weren't for the BCS, some argued, this game would never have been possible. For years, BCS supporters have pointed to this game as proof that the system works best. Never mind the fact that if the Trojans and 'Horns were the two best teams in the country, they would have battled their way through playoffs to get there. If this game's defining legacy is to bolster the BCS's case, then we should probably end the 'greatest ever' conversation right there.
But like Ohio State trying to compete with the big boys, we just don't know when to quit. So we'll continue the dissection of January 4, 2006 with a look back at one of the most polarizing teams ever: a USC squad that many had labeled the greatest college football team of all time. On the offensive side of the ball, the hype was justified. Two Heisman trophy winners, a slew of blue chip weapons and some flat-out ridiculous stats. In a 70-17 massacre of Arkansas, those Trojans scored four touchdowns in eight plays in a 92-second span (by comparison, that year's SEC champion Georgia Bulldogs managed two touchdowns against the Hogs the entire game). Their season low was 34 points, scored in the infamous "Bush Push" Notre Dame game (a showdown deserving of its own 'greatest ever' hype). Even in their lone defeat, they rang up 574 yards and 38 points on an excellent Texas defense -- and that was with a pair of turnovers in the red zone.
Their Achilles heel, though, was their own defense. It was actually more like an Achilles entire lower body, because that battered and inexperienced unit found itself carved up on a routine basis. By the time the Rose Bowl rolled around, few were surprised that USC attacked Young like he was wearing a red jersey in practice. Arizona State had hit the Trojans for 28, a number that would have been higher had Sam Keller not thrown five picks. Fresno State inexplicably put up 42 in the Coliseum. Heck, even Notre Dame's offensively challenged coaching staff manufactured 31 points against that defense.
But since we're all reduced to drooling simpletons at the sight of large offensive numbers, many bought into the Trojan hype, even though that team had the worst defense of the Pete Carroll era. That's why the Longhorn victory was considered an "upset," even though the point spread was only a touchdown and anyone following those two teams all season long should have known UT was the more complete package.
That Texas team actually ended the season with a higher scoring average than USC, but along with some crazy offensive points totals (including a 70-3 washout of Colorado in the Big 12 title game), they could actually stop people, too. A novel concept, we know.
Something else this game lacked was, surprisingly, great plays. Not necessarily feats of athletic brilliance, for there were plenty of those, but rather those classic moments that live on in eternal lore. Doug Flutie's Hail Mary pass. The Cal ball-carrier crashing into the Stanford tuba player. Boise State's hook-and-ladder and Statue of Liberty to beat Oklahoma. Woody Hayes punching a Clemson Tiger in the face. The list goes on.
The best "moment" the '06 Rose Bowl had to offer was Young galloping untouched into the end zone for the game-winning TD. And since the Trojans were apparently in their "Prevent" package on that play, Young's score resembled a leisurely stroll down a fairway instead of the crowning moment of a titanic struggle.
So which game was better? That depends on what you look for in a great game. While Boston College's 47-45 win over Miami was equally defenseless, it did have one of the most miraculous finishes ever, not to mention Heisman implications and a pair of QBs who went on to have (what appear to be) far superior NFL careers to Young and Leinart (Bernie Kosar and Doug Flutie (of "Flutie Flakes" fame).
Then there's Miami's 31-30 upset of Nebraska in the 1984 Orange Bowl, which not only gave us one of the ballsiest calls ever (good for you, "Two-Point" Tom Osborne), but also ushered in the sport's "Miami Era" (for better or worse). Old people who remember the 1971 Nebraska-Oklahoma game call that one the best ever. Boise State's crazy trickeration to beat the Sooners also merits mention, as does the colossal 1993 showdown between supposedly unbeatable Florida State and the last relevant Notre Dame team. For sheer lunacy, it's tough to beat the final three minutes of the 1982 Cal-Stanford clash. In addition to the wildest finish in the sport's history, that game also featured John Elway (a better player than anyone in the '06 Rose Bowl) and a Stanford kicker who, after appearing to ice the game with a field goal, pulled out his invisible six-shooter and "fanned the hammer" toward the Cal sideline.
And since he's been a part of calling some of the greatest games ever, where does legendary broadcaster Keith Jackson weigh in? He doesn't consider the '06 Rose Bowl truly great because there were too many mistakes, both on the field and in the replay booth. For his money, the 1967 game between No. 1 UCLA and No. 2 USC was the best ever. That one featured O.J. Simpson racing 64 yards for a back-breaking touchdown. And then Simpson was never heard from again.
Yes, the 2006 Rose is great and it did deny USC an unprecedented third straight national title, but as still-foaming at the mouth LSU fans will tell you, the Trojans were only working on their second straight anyway. So, was it the best game ever? To quote college football analyst Mel Brooks, "Not so fast my friend."
That's all for this week. Remember: Just because college football fans think it's true, doesn't mean it is.
Got a myth you want us to bust? Contact Phil at firstname.lastname@example.org.