Next up in the series, I will go over the top 5 most painful losses for the Pac-10 in non-conference games during the BCS era (1998-2010). I considered four criteria when coming up with these rankings similar to ESPN’s feature “House of Pain”.
What was at stake in the game? This one is kind of obvious. High level bowl games have more importance than regular season games. But, let’s not forget the regular season games which had direct consequences to the bowl season which followed and subsequent college football seasons.
How close was the game? Outside of what was on the line, this is probably the most important factor in determining the rankings. While I understand and believe there is little point on lamenting on the past and on living life through the windshield and not the rear-view mirror, I can sympathize and understand why close-defeats may sting a program more in the long run. The games which are lost when the outcome teetered in the balance from beginning to end or when sure victory was snatched away by the jaws of defeat makes all players, coaches, and fans wonder what little action here or there they could have done to change the outcome.
What was the game’s aftermath on the program? One key loss can often have a huge effect on a program from the potential revenue loss, psyche, fan support, etc. While it’s hard to pinpoint one loss to a trough in a program’s history, there’s no doubt the defeat in the games listed had an effect even years later.
How deep was the ripple effect felt by the rest of the Pac-10? Sometimes the result of a game not only will not only be felt by the teams involved, but by the conference during the given year and years to come.
1 . Texas 41 USC 38 [January 4th, 2006]
What was at stake for this game? Only a national championship, USC’s 34 game winning streak, a chance to be the first back to back BCS Championship Game winner, the possibility of a 3-peat, ESPN’s approximation of this Trojan team being the greatest college football team of all time. Of course this is why they play the game. USC had two golden chances to salt the game away. First when Lendale White couldn’t convert on a 4th and 2 which would have sealed the game (Some debate whether Pete should have punted, but given how the defense was playing it was probably the right decision). Then of course came the to the 4th and 5 in which USC gave up the QB draw TD on “Gun Left Jack Menu Two.” The play called for 3 receivers on the left and for Vince Young to first look for the slant. It wasn’t there. But luckily for the Longhorns the right side was open and Vince Young scampered his way into Rose Bowl immortality leaving Trojan fans to wonder what could have been. Pete Carroll himself has said he is still not over this defeat.
2. Miami 49 UCLA 45 [December 5th, 1998]
All the Bruins needed to do was go down to Miami and win and they would punch in a ticket to the first ever BCS National Championship Game. After a Cade McNown sneak put UCLA up 45-35, it seemed destined to happen. But, UCLA much like they did all afternoon, allowed Edgerrin James loose and Miami scored right away on the following possession. A questionable fumble call on the next series allowed the Hurricanes to drive down the field again cementing the 49-45 victory. James would finish the game with 299 rushing yards. All UCLA has to show for a 20 game win streak in a Cotton Bowl win over Texas A&M and an anti-climatic Rose Bowl showing where they allowed Ron Dayne to run over them again for 246 yards in a 38-31 loss. Coincidentally, this game synced with the end of UCLA’s 8 game winning streak vs. USC followed by defeats in 11 of the next 12 games to the Trojans and a decade plus of mediocrity for Bruin football.
3. Auburn 22 Oregon 19 [January 10th, 2011]
While it became apparent as the game progressed Auburn had bigger, faster, stronger football players than Oregon, and that the Ducks were hanging around solely on Chip Kelly’s offensive scheme and Nick Aliotti’s defensive packages, and a couple of dropped passes from Auburn (most notable the sure touchdown in the endzone), Oregon did have several opportunities to put touchdowns on the board which could have changed the outcome of the game but either turned the ball over or had to settle for field goal attempts. Oregon did manage to tie the game at 19-19, but a heads-up play by Michael Dyer when everyone thought he was down on contact setup the game winning field goal giving Auburn its first National Championship since 1957, the SEC’s fifth BCS Championship in a row all by different programs. The outcome for this loss is still TBD, but given the Willie Lyles investigation , issues with robberies , and star corners feeling they can drive 118 MPH, Oregon can only hope this is one of many opportunities to come and not one of the few ones they let slip away.
4. LSU 22 Oregon State 21 [September 4th, 2004]
A year after LSU wins the BCS title 21-14 in a game in which USC felt they should have played in, Oregon State misses a chance to avenge yet another Pac-10 snub and beat the reigning BCS National Champions of their home soil, opening week, prime time on national television. But walk-on Alexis Serna missed 3 extra-point attempts, including one in overtime, literally giving LSU a 22-21 win. What made it more perplexing was the fact Serna ended up winning the Lou Groza the following year making fans alike wonder how a performance such as this possibly can happen. While Oregon State was able to recover and ended the season with a 38-21 victory over Notre Dame in the Insight Bowl, the Pac-10 again lacked marquee victories during the 2004 season non-conference outside of USC resulting in Cal’s 2004 team getting hosed from the Rose Bowl. LSU ended up finishing 9-2 prior to the bowl game (including a 9-10 loss against undefeated Auburn). A non-conference victory as big as this one might have bridged the 0.0129 difference in the BCS standings Cal needed to break the Rose Bowl drought since 1959.
5. Ohio State 26 Oregon 17 [January 1st, 2010]
Even though this is a Rose Bowl game, this doesn’t crack higher in the top 5 for a couple of reasons. First off Oregon responded pretty well by winning 12 straight games after this and qualifying for the BCS National Championship Game the very next year. In addition, Ohio State seemed pretty much in control for most of the game. The offensive of line was able to block well for Terrelle Pryor who was the Offensive MVP and had a “coming out game” according to most pundits. In addition, Ohio State seemed very well prepared to handle the spread option attack as their defensive line overwhelmed Oregon’s offensive line and their linebackers seemed to “always be at the right place at the right time.” Outside of a fumble by LaGarrette Blount into the end-zone which stalled a potential momentum changing driving in the 3rd quarter when Ohio State was clinging to a 19-17 lead, Ohio State seemed to be dictating the tempo for most of the game. The Pac-10 still has had one non-USC team (2000 Washington) to win the Rose Bowl since 1991 (1991 Washington).
Other Potential Misses
Georgia 20 Arizona State 17 [September 26, 2009] – Arizona State and the Pac-10 missed a golden opportunity to score one against the SEC between the hedges. ASU had a chance late as a Jarrell Holman interception of Joe Cox put Arizona State in a prime position to take the lead at the UGA 20 with 5:30 left. But a 3 and out forced a 38 yard field goal attempt by freshman Bobby Wenzig which was blocked by future 4th overall pick A.J. Green with former Lou Groza winner Thomas Weber looking on from the bench. Joe Cox would then complete a 36 yard bomb on 3rd and 6 to Green with 2 minutes left to setup a game winning field goal as time expired. ASU finished the season 4-8 , two wins short of bowl eligibility.
Oregon 34 Oklahoma 33 [September 16, 2006] – Even though this went down as a victory for Oregon and the Pac-10, the public perception was that Oklahoma won this game. (Oklahoma only moved down one spot in the AP vote the week after despite losing) The infamous onside recovery in which you can even hear Oregon alumni Dan Fouts saying it was a “bad call” lead to harsh criticism of Pac-10 officials and for sure impacted the scheduling of “one-offs” or home and home series against other BCS opponents.
LSU 35 Arizona State 31 [September 10, 2005] – Sparky misses another chance to put points on the board against the SEC. In this wild back and forth game, future first overall pick Jamarcus Russell finds Early Doucet on 4th and 10 for a 39 yard touchdown pass with 1:13 left in the game. Arizona State’s potential game winning drive stalls at the LSU 28 allowing the Tigers to escape Tempe with a hard fought victory. LSU was aided by shaky special team’s play by ASU as they capitalized on a block punt and blocked field goal for touchdowns.
Texas 47 Washington 43 [December 28, 2001] – In a wild barn-burner all offense game, Washington couldn’t hold a 36-20 lead going into the 4th quarter and a 3 point lead with 1:49 left in the game. This game took place in the middle of Washington’s downfall from Rose->Holiday->Sun followed by six years without a bowl which included a 1 win and 0 win season. This game also put the Pac-10 at 1-3 during that bowl season supporting the belief that Oregon was rightfully locked out of the National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl against Miami in favor of Nebraska because they “played an easier schedule.”
Wisconsin 27 Oregon 23 [September 9, 2000] – The golden year for the Pac-10, winning the Rose, Fiesta and Holiday Bowl in the same season. But something still felt missing from this season as a daisy chain of defeats (Oregon State>Oregon), (Washington>Oregon State), (Oregon>Washington), left Oregon State #5 and Washington #4 out of the BCS championship game which was the Orange Bowl that year. The Pac-10 scored victories against Michigan (9-3), Texas (9-3), Miami FL. (11-1), Boise State (11-2), along with marquee wins over such programs such as Penn State, Alabama, and Colorado and I’m still puzzled on how the Pac-10 was still locked out of the National Championship game. The only close non-conference game I could think of was Joey Harrington’s worse game of his career where he threw 3 interceptions including one late pick-6 which iced the game against the two time defending Rose Bowl champions. Michael Bennett ran for 290 yards including TDs from 59 and 75 yards making Badger fans forget about the recently departed Heisman Winner Ron Dayne. Had Oregon won this game, Washington or Oregon State might have accumulated the decimals points needed to play Oklahoma in the title game in which blogger Ted Miller felt either team would have had to edge.
Next Up: 5 Most important wins for the Pac-10 in the BCS era