College football: 10 signature moments of the decade
December 17, 2009
1. The Statue of Liberty play; Jan. 1, 2007. The final down of the 2007 Fiesta Bowl was the American Dream rolled into one play from scrimmage. Using a play (the Statue of Liberty) mastered by millions of boys in their backyards, David (Boise State) scored on a two-point conversion to slay Goliath (Oklahoma) in overtime. The running back who scored the conversion (Ian Johnson) then ran down the sideline and proposed to his cheerleader girlfriend (Chrissy Popadics). Johnson and Popadics wed that July, and they have lived happily ever after. The fairy-tale ending also changed college football. Boise's win, which followed Utah's Fiesta Bowl-crash after the 2004 season, earned immeasurable respect for the sport's mid-majors and brought them one step closer to a legitimate shot to compete for the national title.
2. Vince Young goes for the corner; Jan. 4, 2006. With Texas facing fourth-and-five from the USC eight-yard line, was there any doubt Longhorns quarterback Vince Young would keep the ball? As Young barked signals from the shotgun, Craig Way of the Texas radio network set the scene: "All the dreams, all the hopes for the national championship, come down to this play." Young dropped back, evaded one tackler and raced for the front right corner of the end zone. His score with 19 seconds remaining lifted Texas to a 41-38 win and snapped USC's 34-game winning streak. In perhaps the most dominant individual performance in college football history, Young finished with 267 passing yards, 200 rushing yards, three rushing touchdowns and one Waterford crystal football.
3. Citizen Tuberville; Jan. 4, 2005. Shortly before USC demolished Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl, a familiar voice drawled in the press box in Miami. Auburn's Tommy Tuberville had come to the BCS title game to stump for his team, which finished the regular season 12-0 but got shut out of the big game. Tuberville hoped that by schmoozing the writers he could cajole them into voting the Tigers atop the Associated Press poll, which had crowned USC the 2003 national champion even though the Trojans were left out of the BCS title game. "Somebody is going to pick us No. 1," Tuberville said. "Somebody is going to say we're national champions. Maybe Golf Digest. I do have a subscription." In the final AP poll, Auburn received only one vote. It did not come from a Golf Digest writer. Tuberville didn't get his way, but his trip to the press box only highlighted the absurdity of a system that forces coaches of undefeated teams to politic for a chance to compete for the national title.
4. The Block; Sept. 1, 2007. After he blocked Michigan's 37-yard field goal attempt, Appalachian State safety Corey Lynch scooped up the ball, certain he would score. "I wanted to take it to the house," Lynch said, "in the Big House." Lynch, cramping after an afternoon spent smothering Michigan receivers, got dragged down short of the goal line by the kicker, and had to settle for the kick block that sealed the biggest upset in the history of college football. The Mountaineers, carrying the banner for the recently rebranded Football Championship Series (you'll always be I-AA in our hearts), shocked the No. 5 Wolverines 34-32 and set the tone for a wild 2007 season that would feature the first sophomore to win the Heisman (Florida quarterback Tim Tebow) and a two-loss BCS champ (LSU).
5. The Promise; Sept. 27, 2008. Following an inexplicable 31-30 home loss to Ole Miss, Tebow finished his usual question-and-answer session, but the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner wasn't done talking. "I just want to say one thing," Tebow said. "To the fans and everybody in Gator Nation, I'm sorry. Extremely sorry. We were hoping for an undefeated season. That was my goal. It's something Florida's never done here. But I promise you one thing. A lot of good will come out of this. You will never see any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of the season, and you will never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of the season, and you will never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season. God bless." Tebow honored his pledge. The Gators won their next 10 games, outscoring opponents 469-131. Florida rolled to the BCS title, and after the season, the school memorialized Tebow's promise by inscribing it on a plaque that stands outside Florida Field.
6. 'It makes me want to puke'; Sept. 22, 2007. We take for granted now that every mildly amusing or embarrassing moment captured on video will wind up on YouTube, but in 2007, we had no idea a 199-second clip could turn the coach of an above-average Big 12 program into one of the most recognizable people in the country. Even if Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy goes on to win 20 national titles, his obituary will include this quote: "I'm a man! I'm 40!" The object of Gundy's rage was a column in The Daily Oklahoman written by Jenni Carlson about quarterback Bobby Reid, who had been benched in favor of Zac Robinson. The rant turned Gundy into a folk hero among fans. They admired his gumption and his impassioned defense of his player. Reid didn't feel the same way. He eventually transferred to Texas Southern, where he told ESPN The Magazine that the rant "basically ended my life."
7. The Bush Push; Oct. 15, 2005. No other event this decade has seen its meaning change so much over time. When USC tailback Reggie Bush helped quarterback Matt Leinart into the end zone to lift the Trojans to a 34-31 victory at Notre Dame, it was the closest call for possibly the greatest college team ever assembled. It also sent a message that the Fighting Irish, under first-year coach Charlie Weis, were players on the national scene again. We know now that USC wasn't even the best team in the 2005 season (Texas was), and Bush's Heisman Trophy campaign has been tainted by accusations that he and his family took money from an agent while at USC. Things haven't gone so well for Notre Dame, either. After getting crushed in BCS bowl games after the 2005 and 2006 seasons, the Irish fell to 3-9 in 2007, and Notre Dame's program remains mediocre.
8. Willie Williams' big dinner; Jan. 9, 2004. The wider world had little idea what actually transpired on football recruits' official visits until Williams, a stud prospect from Miami's Carol City High, consented to a recruiting diary in the Miami Herald in early 2004. On his official visit to Florida State, Williams was the only passenger on a jet. Then came dinner. "FSU assistant [Odell] Haggins told us to order as much as we wanted," Williams told the Herald. "I ordered a steak and a lobster tail. The lobster tail was like $49.99. I couldn't believe something so little could cost so much. I was kind of embarrassed, so I didn't order a lot. But then I saw what the other guys were ordering, I was like, 'Forget this.' I called the waiter back and told him to bring me four lobster tails, two steaks and shrimp scampi. It was good. I took two boxes back with me to the hotel." Williams enjoyed similar feasts at Auburn and Miami before a fateful trip to Florida left him with a court date for setting off fire extinguishers in his hotel. Williams signed with Miami, washed out, and eventually landed at Louisville. In 2007, the Cardinals booted Williams after he allegedly stuffed a bag of marijuana in his mouth to hide it from a police officer. Williams had hoped to make an NFL roster after finishing his career at NAIA Union College in Barbourville, Ky., but was arrested near Atlanta in August on a burglary charge. It appears his lasting football legacy will be the sweeping recruiting reforms enacted after his diaries and a scandal at Colorado forced the NCAA to act.
9. A banner night in the Big 12; Dec. 6, 2008. Shortly before Oklahoma whipped Missouri to win the Big 12 title and clinch a spot in the BCS title game, a plane carried a banner through the sky above Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. The message: Enjoy the BeatbyTexas.com Bowl. Texas fan site Longhorn Nation paid for the banner to protest the Big 12 rule that gave Oklahoma the Big 12 South title despite a 45-35 loss to Texas in October. Later, Texas had lost to Texas Tech, which in turn lost to Oklahoma and created an iron triangle that could be broken only by Big 12 tiebreaker No. 5, which awarded the title to the team ranked highest in the BCS standings at the end of the regular season. Had the Texas-Oklahoma head-to-head matchup been honored, the Longhorns probably would have played for the BCS title.
10. The longest three seconds of Terry Porter's life; Jan. 3, 2003. Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel's pass lay on the ground. The Miami sideline had almost emptied as the Hurricanes celebrated a second consecutive national title. Line judge Derick Bowers, who had a birds-eye view of Krenzel's fourth-down, overtime throw, had signaled incomplete. Then, after a three-Mississippi count, field judge Porter's flag flew from the back right corner of the end zone to the front. During his three-second deliberation, Porter had determined that Miami cornerback Glenn Sharpe had interfered with receiver Chris Gamble. The call gave Ohio State a new set of downs on the one-yard line, new life -- and eventually the national title.
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