So the big lead-up to the Rose Bowl on SportsCenter is a competition between this year's USC team and the alleged 11 best teams from the past 50 years? Leaving aside the fact that USC still faces the minor detail of playing the Rose Bowl against unbeaten and largely unchallenged Texas (my goodness, if I were Mack Brown, I'd be furiously sending this link to every one of my players and titling it "guess we shouldn't bother to show up in Pasadena on the 4th,") as well as the fact that Texas might, gasp, be better than USC this year because, gasp again, they have a better defense, how did they come up with this list? More pertinently, how does ESPN not survive the charge that they are biased in favor of the Big Ten when their list of the ten best teams from the past 50 years is the following:
'88 Notre Dame
'94 Penn State
'99 Florida State
'02 Ohio State
When a Big Ten grad accuses you of being hopelessly biased in favor of Big Ten teams, then you have a real problem. This is exactly the sort of "promote the popular schools with whom the Disney conglomerate has an exclusive contract" behavior that LD at the nattily-named Corporate Headquarters of the San Antonio Gunslingers has been ably railing against all year.
(As a preliminary note, ESPN picked only one team per school, so in their defense, they aren't saying that '02 Ohio State was better than '71 Nebraska, since ESPN already listed the '95 Huskers.)
What are my specific problems with the list? Got an hour? Let's start with the fact that Big Ten teams have won a grand total of two national titles since 1968, but there are three teams from that period on the list. Look, I have an irrational love for the '97 Michigan team that borders on a DSM Axis-II Disorder, mainly because I was seriously worried that I was going to spend my whole life rooting for Michigan and never see them win a national title, but I'm just not convinced that they were one of the ten best teams of the past 50 years. One of the ten best defenses? Absolutely. However, that offense was just too limited. 21 points in the Rose Bowl, 20 points against Ohio State, 26 points against Wisconsin, etc., and that was all with a defense that consistently gave them good field position by forcing opponents to go three and out. Washington '91 is on ESPN's wild card list and I'd be lying if I said that '97 Michigan could beat '91 Washington anywhere but my Playstation (and of course, that match-up has been played on several occasions.)
And that said, Michigan '97 was better than the other two Big Ten entrants on the list. '94 Penn State was the inverse of '97 Michigan - great offense, average defense - but (1) a great defense usually beats a great offense, and (2) if the voters in 1994 didn't think that Penn State was the best team THAT SEASON, then how can they be on a list of the ten best? Alternatively, if we're disregarding the voters and simply going based on how good a team was, then '02 Ohio State might not even be on a list of the five best Ohio State teams of the past 50 years. From my lifetime, the '98 Bucks would have killed the '02 Bucks because they, oh, how shall I put this, had an offense good enough that they didn't require miracles to beat the mediocre teams on their schedule. I refuse to believe that a team that required a dropped winning touchdown pass by Cincin-frickin-nati could be one of the ten best of the past 50 years. I strongly suggest that ESPN spring for the cost of one of their fancy new encyclopedias so their web site staff can read up on the '68 Bucks, who only went unbeaten, beat an 8-1 Michigan team 50-14 with the Big Ten title on the line, and then beat previously unbeaten USC (and Heisman winner O.J. Simpson) by 11 in the Rose Bowl.
While every decent Big Ten team from the recent past finds their way onto the list, SEC teams are strangely absent. I guess ESPN figured that they couldn't make the list without including an Alabama team (although Tide fans might prefer the '61 team over the '79 team, but that's a minor issue,) but that's apparently the only SEC program worth mentioning. '80 Georgia is on the auxiliary list, as is '57 Auburn and '98 Tennessee (a team that was completely indistinguishable from '02 Ohio State, but they're not from the Big Ten, so they must have been lucky rather than gutty.) Inexplicably, '96 Florida, which I put in my personal pantheon along with '91 Washington, '95 Nebraska and '01 Miami, isn't on ANY of the lists, but '84 BYU, the weakest national champion of my lifetime, is on the second list. ("We can piss on Southerners 'till the cows come home, but let's not get an avalanche of angry Mormons!") '58 LSU? Missing. '62 Ole Miss? Missing. And where are those glorious South Carolina teams that won the Outback Bowl? (OK, kidding on that one.)
In conclusion, I would threaten to boycott SportsCenter for running such a shoddy, biased, premature promotion, but I'm not watching the show anyway and riding up to Bristol to throw Smokey's droppings on the front gate seems a little rash.