December 22, 2009
2000s: Top 25 Franchises
By Ryan Hunt,
Picking the 25 best sports franchises from the 2000s wasn't easy. Ranking them was even more difficult. But here's how we see the 25 best overall teams from the four major professional sports -- NFL, NBA, MLB and the NHL -- plus college football and men's and women's college basketball. So while programs such as Penn State women's volleyball and Northwestern women's lacrosse have been tremendous over the past 10 years, they weren't considered for this list.
1 Los Angeles Lakers
Credentials: No team in the four major professional sports -- NBA, NHL, NFL and MLB -- won more titles during the 2000s than the Lakers (four). Los Angeles made six appearances in the NBA Finals during the decade, reached the playoffs nine times and had seven seasons with at least 50 victories.

Drawbacks: After trading Shaquille O'Neal to the Heat following the 2003-04 season, combined with an injury to Kobe Bryant, L.A. had its worst season of the decade -- 34-48 in 2004-05. It was only the fifth time in franchise history the Lakers failed to make the playoffs. That began a three-year stretch in which the Lakers didn't win a postseason series.
2 New England Patriots
Credentials: With three Super Bowl titles, the Patriots will be the decade's most successful NFL franchise regardless of what happens this season. (The Steelers can win a third Super Bowl, but their regular-season record is not as good as the Patriots'.) New England is an NFL-best 14-3 in the postseason during its run. The Patriots are one win away from their eighth 10-win season and seventh AFC East title in the 2000s.

Drawbacks: The Spygate scandal taints the Patriots' accomplishments in many fans' eyes. New England also has missed the playoff three times (once despite having an 11-5 record; 2008) during the decade, twice more than its closest NFL "Team of the Decade" rival (Indianapolis).
3 UConn women's hoops
Credentials: In terms of sheer accomplishments, no team was more dominant in its sport than Geno Auriemma's Huskies. UConn won five national titles, made seven Final Four appearances and completed two 39-0 seasons. The program had only one "down year" during the decade ... going 25-8 in 2004-05 and losing in the Sweet 16. It was the only season the Huskies didn't advance to at least the regional finals.

Drawbacks: Other than Tennessee and perhaps Rutgers, UConn had few other worthy adversaries.

4 San Antonio Spurs
Credentials: The model for consistency and excellence over the past 10 years. If it weren't for the Lakers, San Antonio would have been the clear Team of the Decade in the NBA. The Spurs won three NBA championships and were the only franchise to win 50 games and make the playoffs every season during the 2000s.

Drawbacks: San Antonio had its troubles against Los Angeles during the playoffs, winning only once in five postseason series. The one victory was in 2003, when the Spurs beat the Lakers in the conference semifinals en route to the NBA crown.
5 New York Yankees
Credentials: The Yankees won their second title of the decade -- and 27th overall -- in 2009. No MLB team won more regular-season games (965; 45 more than the Red Sox) or division titles (eight). New York also led baseball with four World Series appearances and four 100-win seasons.

Drawbacks: With all the money New York spent on All-Stars over the past 10 years, two titles isn't the return on the investment the Yankees would have liked. The frustrating nine-year gap between World Series titles also featured a four-season stretch in which New York did not win a single playoff round.
6 Detroit Red Wings
Credentials: No team has done a better job of finding talent in the NHL draft than the Red Wings ... and it has showed. Detroit won two Stanley Cups and eight consecutive division titles during the decade, making the playoffs in all nine seasons. (The NHL lockout wiped out the 2003-04 season.) Detroit also topped 100 points in every season of the decade, winning the Presidents' Trophy (best regular-season record) four times.

Drawbacks: The Red Wings lost in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs three times during the past nine seasons -- all three as either a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Their most successful regular-season team (124 points in 2005-06) was beaten in the first round of the playoffs by Edmonton. Detroit also missed a golden opportunity to win a third Cup of the decade in the 2009 Cup finals, blowing a 3-2 series lead by losing the final two games to Pittsburgh at Joe Louis Arena.
7 USC football
Credentials: From 2002-08, USC was, bar none, the nation's most dominant college football program, finishing in the top four seven consecutive seasons and winning at least a share of national championships in 2003 and '04. In that span, the Trojans went 82-9 and won seven Pac-10 championships. USC also was tough to beat in BCS bowls, winning in six of its seven appearances.

Drawbacks: The Trojans struggled at the beginning of the decade as the Paul Hackett era came to a close, finishing 5-7 in 2000 and 6-6 in '01. The 2000 season was the only year in which USC failed to play in a bowl. And after playing in seven consecutive BCS bowls, USC (8-4 this season) will finish the decade in the Emerald Bowl.
8 Indianapolis Colts
Credentials: Who has won the most regular-season NFL games during the 2000s? Not the Patriots. Through Week 15 of the 2009 season, Peyton Manning's Colts were a league-best 115-43 (New England is 111-47). Indianapolis has qualified for the playoffs in nine of the 10 seasons (missing only during its 6-10 season in 2001) and has won 12 or more games in seven consecutive seasons. So why are they only No. 7 on this list? Point to the Colts' one Super Bowl title. But as Indianapolis aims for the first 19-0 season in NFL history and its second league title of the decade, this chapter is definitely not finished yet.

Drawbacks: Even with its Super Bowl XLI victory, Indianapolis is only 7-7 during the playoffs this decade. The Colts have lost their first postseason game five times -- and they are only 1-2 vs. New England during the playoffs.
9 Texas football
Credentials: Here's another team that could lay claim to Team of the Decade honors in college football with another title to cap the 2009 season. The Longhorns rank second in FBS in victories during the decade with 110 (one fewer than Boise State) and won the 2005 national title. Texas is the only program that has finished in the top 15 of the AP poll every year of the decade, winning 10 or more games in each of the past nine seasons. The Longhorns also won their three previous BCS bowl appearances. Texas' worst season of the decade? It went 9-3 in 2000.

Drawbacks: For as good as Texas has been over the past 10 years, Oklahoma fans will point to the fact that the Longhorns won only two Big 12 titles during the 2000s, compared to the Sooners' six. This also will be only the second time this decade that Texas will have played for the national title.
10 North Carolina basketball
Credentials: Roy Williams' arrival in Chapel Hill in 2003 turned UNC into the nation's most dominant program once again. Under Williams, the Heels have won two national championships and have been to the Final Four three times. In all, UNC made four trips to the Final Four during the decade and was a No. 1 seed in the tournament four times. North Carolina also earned at least a share of five regular-season ACC titles and won the ACC tournament twice.

Drawbacks: Even eight years later, it's still tough to believe North Carolina went 8-20 in 2001-02 under Matt Doherty. That was the first of back-to-back seasons in which the Tar Heels failed to make the NCAA tournament.
11 Boston Red Sox
Credentials: The curse finally ended. Boston won the World Series twice during the 2000s ('04 and '07), its first championships since 1918. Boston had the second-best regular-season record in baseball over the 10-year span at 920-699 (45 wins fewer than the Yankees). Boston also won more than 90 games seven times, reaching 95 in six of the past seven seasons.

Drawbacks: Having said that, surprisingly, the Red Sox missed the playoffs four times during the 2000s. Thanks to the Yankees' dominance, Boston won the AL East crown only once (the same number of division titles as Tampa Bay). Without the wild card, which Boston earned five times, this would have been another frustrating decade in Beantown.
12 Oklahoma football
Credentials: Don't let the Sooners' recent failures in BCS bowls fool you. Oklahoma finished in the top five every season from 2000-04 and won the 2000 national championship. Oklahoma has won six Big 12 titles and finished in the Top 25 every year of the decade. Only Boise State (111) and Texas (110) won more games than the Sooners (109). The Sooners won 11 or more games eight times in a nine-year span from 2000-08.

Drawbacks: Well, about those BCS bowl failures ... The Sooners have lost five consecutive BCS bowls, including three in the national championship game. It has put a stain on what has otherwise been a successful decade in Norman. Oklahoma's 7-5 season in 2009 is its worst since 1999.
13 Kansas basketball
Credentials: Before Williams took over at North Carolina, he led Kansas to the Final Four twice during the 2000s (four times overall). Under Bill Self, the Jayhawks also won the 2007-08 title. Kansas, winners of seven Big 12 titles, is one of a handful of programs than made the NCAA tournament all 10 seasons during the decade. The Jayhawks are currently ranked No. 1.

Drawbacks: Kansas lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament in back-to-back years in 2005 (Bucknell) and '06 (Bradley). The 2005 senior-led Kansas team may have been its biggest disappointment, having started the season ranked No. 1 only to lose six of its final nine games.
14 Pittsburgh Steelers
Credentials: Only the Patriots have won more Super Bowl titles than the Steelers (two) did in the 2000s. Pittsburgh has won 10 or more games six times, capturing five division titles.

Drawbacks: The Steelers have had their share of ups and downs. They are in danger of missing the playoffs for the fourth time this decade. Pittsburgh missed the playoffs the season after winning Super Bowl XL, a feat it could repeat this season. The Steelers also failed to make the Super Bowl in 2004 after going 15-1 in the regular season.
15 Florida football
Credentials: With two titles in a three-season span (2006 and '08), Florida re-established itself as one of the nation's premier college football programs under Urban Meyer. The Gators won three SEC championships and have finished in the top 10 four times. A Sugar Bowl victory over Cincinnati would make it five.

Drawbacks: The Ron Zook era. Florida went 23-15 during Zook's disastrous three-season stint in Gainesville. The Gators went 76-15 in the other seven seasons of the decade. A blowout loss to Alabama in the 2009 SEC title game ended Florida's hopes of becoming the first program to win three BCS titles in a four-season span.
16 LSU football
Credentials: A remarkably similar résumé to Florida's. Both teams have the same regular-season record (99-30), national championsips (two; although both of Florida's are outright) and SEC championships (three). They have both played in four SEC titles games. The only difference? Florida compiled a better in-conference record (64-20 to 58-26) and had more victories over Top 25 teams than LSU had in the 2000s (35 to 31).

Drawbacks: Not many major flaws. LSU had three seasons during the decade in which it won only eight games (2000, '02 and '08). The Tigers' 2000 team, Nick Saban's first season in Baton Rouge, completed an impressive turnaround after finishing 3-8 in 1999. LSU's 2007 title team also had some good fortune -- it was the first AP national champion since 1960 with two losses.
17 Michigan State basketball
Credentials: After winning the 2000 national title, the Spartans nearly won it again in 2009 before falling to North Carolina in the final in Detroit. Michigan State went to the tournament all 10 seasons, winning 30 games twice. Only North Carolina matched the Spartans' Final Four appearances in the 2000s (four). MSU also won three Big Ten regular-season titles and one Big Ten tournament title.

Drawbacks:'s Seth Davis picked MSU as the decade's top college basketball program, but here's why I respectfully disagree. Michigan State was a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament only three times during the decade (the Spartans earned No. 5 seeds twice, a 6, two 7s, an 8 and a 10). It lost in the first round three times and once in the second round. A great program, yes, but still a hair below what North Carolina and Kansas accomplished.
18 Detroit Pistons
Credentials: The Pistons' surprising five-game Finals pounding of the Shaq, Kobe and the Lakers in 2004 is arguably the NBA's biggest championship round upset of the decade. And Detroit nearly pulled it off against the following year against San Antonio. In all, Detroit finished the 2000s with one NBA title, advanced to the Eastern Conference finals six consecutive seasons and won at least 50 games seven times.

Drawbacks: Detroit had two sub-.500 seasons during the decade: 32-50 in 2000-01 and 39-43 in 2008-09. The '08-09 squad actually qualified for the playoffs as the No. 8 seed in the East ... where it was quickly swept by LeBron James and the Cavs.
19 New Jersey Devils
Credentials: For a franchise that made the playoffs just once in its first 13 seasons, New Jersey has turned into one of the NHL's most consistent organizations. The Devils have made the playoffs in 12 consecutive seasons (all nine this decade) and won two more Stanley Cups (1999-00, '02-03). The Devils also lost in the Finals to the Avalanche in seven games in 2000-01.

Drawbacks: Since the NHL lockout in 2004-05, the Devils have not made it past the conference semifinals. Despite winning three more Atlantic Division titles, New Jersey has won only two postseason series since its last Cup win in 2002-03.
20 Florida basketball
Credentials: Billy Donovan's Gators had developed a reputation for underachieving in the NCAA tournament until their stunning run of back-to-back NCAA titles in 2006 and '07. But that's not all Florida accomplished. It also played in the 2000 national title game. Florida was the only school to make three appearances in college basketball's title game in the decade.

Drawbacks: The Gators have been unable to capitalize on the success of the two championships. Florida has played in the NIT in each of the past two seasons, becoming the first program to miss the NCAA tournament in back-to-back seasons after winning the national championship. Aside from its success in 2000, '06 and '07, Florida did not advance past the first weekend in any other tournament.
21 Ohio State football
Credentials: Jim Tressel won a national title in Columbus in only his second season, stunning a loaded Miami squad in the Fiesta Bowl to win the 2002 championship. Overall, the Buckeyes are 101-27 during the decade and have won six Big Ten titles. With a win over Oregon in the Rose Bowl, Ohio State would finish in the AP top 10 for the seventh time in eight years.

Drawbacks: Like Oklahoma, Ohio State's recent failures on the big stage have tarnished its reputation a bit. The Buckeyes have lost three straight BCS games -- two in the BCS title game (Florida 2006; LSU 2007). John Cooper's final season and Tressel's first were the only seasons in which the Buckeyes did not finish the Top 25.
22 Duke basketball
Credentials: While it hasn't been the Final Four mainstay it was from 1986-94, Duke has had another solid decade under Mike Krzyzewski. The Blue Devils won four ACC regular-season titles and seven ACC tournament titles. In the NCAA tournament, Duke earned a No. 1 seed six times during the 2000s -- the most in college basketball -- and was seeded higher than third only once (No. 6 in 2007; lost in the first round.)

Drawbacks: For most programs, one NCAA title and two Final Four appearances would be a tremendous decade. But Duke accomplished all that from 2000-03. Since 2004, Duke hasn't advanced past the Sweet 16 despite being a top-two seed four times.
23 St. Louis Cardinals
Credentials: Led by three-time NL MVP Albert Pujols, the Cardinals built an impressive résumé as the best team in the National League in the 2000s: seven division titles, two 100-win seasons and two World Series appearances. St. Louis won the 2006 World Series title, beating Detroit in five games. Curiously, the '06 Cardinals won just 83 regular-season games -- only one other Cardinals team won fewer during the decade.

Drawbacks: St. Louis won 105 games in 2004 -- the most by any Cardinals team in more than 60 years -- before it was swept in the World Series by the Red Sox. The Cardinals missed the playoffs three times during the decade.
24 Tennessee Lady Vols basketball
Credentials: Candace Parker helped take Tennessee back to the top of the women's game after a nine-year absence, leading the Lady Vols to back-to-back championships in 2007 and '08. Tennessee made seven Final Four appearances and five in the national title game.

Drawbacks: Tennessee was 0-3 against chief rival UConn in national title games. In a rare rebuilding season in Knoxville, Tennessee went 22-11 in 2008-09 and became the first defending champion to lose its first-round game in the NCAA tournament. It was the first time the Lady Vols lost in the first two rounds of the NCAAs under Pat Summitt.
25 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Credentials: The 2002 World Series champions have averaged 90 wins a season over the past 10 years (one of only four MLB teams to do so). Los Angeles won five AL West titles, making the playoffs six times in the decade. Manager Mike Scioscia turned a franchise that had made the playoffs only three times in its first 40 years into a perennial October contender.

Drawbacks: Aside from their World Series run in 2002, the Angels didn't have much sustained postseason success, winning only two other playoff series (beating the Yankees in '05 and the Red Sox in '09). The Angels lost to Boston on three other occasions in the AL Division Series. The Angels also had two losing seasons -- one in 2003, the year following their only World Series title.
Just Missed The Cut: Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, Boise State football, Connecticut men's basketball, Dallas Mavericks, Anaheim Ducks, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Phillies.

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