CollegeFootballNews.com 20th Anniversary Ranking College Football Playoff & BCS Era 20 National Champions: No. 15, 2003 LSU
How do the 20 national champions in the College Football Playoff & BCS rank based on how good their seasons were?
CFN, College Football Playoff & BCS Era National Champions Ranking: No. 15, 2003 LSU
CollegeFootballNews.com is turning 20 this season, coincidentally starting in 1998 when the Bowl Championship Series era kicked off.
With the BCS, no matter how the teams got there, it was finally No. 1 vs. No. 2 for the national title – that wasn’t a given before – and eventually, it all morphed into the College Football Playoff starting in the 2014 season.
Based on the tried, true, tested and tweaked CFN Historical Season Ranking Formula (criteria breakdown at the bottom of all this), welcome to the ranking of all 20 national champions in the era.
This isn’t about who the most talented or the best national champions were since 1998 – that’s debatable. This is about who had the best and most impressive seasons – the more wins over great teams, the higher the score.
2003 LSU Season
It was the debate that changed the BCS and ended up tweaking the system.
It was also the debate that caused the AP to get out of the national championship naming business – at least in terms of it mattering to the whole crystal trophy thing.
Oklahoma started out the season as the AP preseason No. 1 team, USC was eighth, and Nick Saban’s LSU team was 14th.
OU kept on winning, with QB Jason White the eventual Heisman-winner leading the way for a 12-0 team that struggled early on against a bad Alabama, but ripped through everything else in its path – a spot in the BCS Championship appeared to be a lock.
The Sooners were No. 1 in the first edition of the BCS standings, and they stayed there right up until the Big 12 Championship. But a funny thing happened.
They got destroyed by Kansas State 35-7. And that’s when everything went haywire.
After the loss, Oklahoma was dropped to No. 3 in the AP Poll, while a rolling USC got up to No. 1, and LSU No. 2. The Coaches Poll did the exact same thing – but those were the humans.
The computer portion of the BCS formula didn’t see it that way, keeping Oklahoma No. 1 overall and moving up LSU – after winning the SEC Championship – up to No. 2. That means USC – despite being in the top spot in both major polls – wasn’t going to play for the national title. At least, it wasn’t going to play for the BCS national championship.
While everyone was crying over USC, and screaming about Oklahoma, while LSU flew under the radar.
The Tigers were dumped by a mediocre Florida team 19-7 halfway through the season, but they kept on winning, reeling off six straight before dumping Georgia 34-13 in the SEC Championship.
Helped by great wins over strong Ole Miss and Arkansas teams late in the season, and Georgia earlier in the year – the Tigers handed the Bulldogs two of their three losses – the BCS computers likes the SEC champ.
One great defensive performance later against Oklahoma, and Saban had his first national title.
– The Oklahoma offense that finished the season with 601 points was held to a dead stop. LSU allowed just 154 yards of total offense, but it was still a battle until late.
In a sloppy performance, both teams allowed five sacks and combined for 19 penalties and five turnovers. Early mistakes led to a 7-7 score, but the Tiger running game took over, with Justin Vincent tearing off an 18-yard touchdown run late into first half.
Oklahoma had the ball to start the second, but White was picked off by LSU defensive lineman Marcus Spears for a score, and all the points the Tigers would need. The Sooners got a second short touchdown run from Kejuan Jones in the fourth quarter, but that was it. The LSU defense clamped down from there.
– Even with LSU being quarterbacked by a slew of stars over the 2000s, it was the unheralded Matt Mauck who came up with one of the two national titles. He threw two picks, but he completed 13-of-22 passes for 124 yards. It was Vincent’s game, running for 117 yards and a score, including a key 64-yard dash.
– It was a more explosive LSU team than it ever got national credit for. While it hit a wall in the loss to Florida, and struggled to get by Ole Miss, it scored 30 points or more nine times and worked well with a defense that allowed a mere 154 points on the season. Arkansas was the only team to sore more than 20 points against the Tigers, losing 55-24.
– In the final human polls, USC finished No. 1 in the AP getting 48 votes. LSU received 17, but it 60 votes in the Coaches Poll, with USC getting just three.
– The four Bad Wins – wins over FCS teams or teams that finished with three losses or fewer – tied with 1998 Tennessee and 2000 Oklahoma for the most among the 20 champions.
Opponent Final Record in Parentheses
Aug. 30 LSU 49, ULM 7 (1-11)
Sept. 6 LSU 59, at Arizona 13 (2-10)
Sept. 13 LSU 35, Western Illinois 7 (FCS, 9-4)
Sept. 20 LSU 17, Georgia 10 (11-3)
Sept. 27 LSU 41, at Mississippi State 6 (2-10)
Oct. 11 Florida 19 (8-5), LSU 7
Oct. 18 LSU 33, at South Carolina 7 (5-7)
Oct. 25 LSU 31, Auburn 7 (8-5)
Nov. 1 LSU 49, Louisiana Tech 10 (5-7)
Nov. 15 LSU 27, at Alabama 3 (4-9)
Nov. 22 LSU 17, at Ole Miss 14 (10-3)
Nov. 28 LSU 55, Arkansas 24 (9-4)
Dec. 6 LSU 34, Georgia 13 (11-3)
BCS Championship: Sugar Bowl
Jan. 4 LSU 21, Oklahoma 14 (12-2)
CFN Historical Season Rankings Breakdown
Wins: 13 (ULM, at Arizona, Western Illinois, Georgia, at Mississippi State, at South Carolina, Auburn, Louisiana Tech, at Alabama, at Ole Miss, Arkansas, SEC Championship vs. Georgia, BCS Championship vs. Oklahoma)
Losses: 1 (Florida)
Quality Wins: 6 (Georgia, Auburn, at Ole Miss, Arkansas, SEC Championship vs. Georgia, BCS Championship vs. Oklahoma)
Elite Wins: 3.5 (Georgia, SEC Championship vs. Georgia, BCS Championship vs. Oklahoma)
Note: The ruling is that a home win over a three-loss Georgia team counts as Elite, since LSU is the one that beat it twice.
Bad Wins: 4 (at Ole Miss, Georgia Southern)
Elite Losses: 0
Point Differential: LSU 475, Opponents 154
Winning %: 0.923
TOTAL SCORE: 24.633
The Season Formula’s Components
If you win, everything else falls into place. Each win counts as 1.
If you lose, everything stinks. Each loss counts as -1.
3. Quality Wins
The number of wins over teams that finished with a winning record. Each Quality Win counts as 1.
4. Elite Wins
The number of wins over teams that finished with two losses or fewer. Each Elite Win counts as 1 with a road win over an Elite team getting an extra 0.5.
Also counting as 1 is a road win over a team that finished with three losses or fewer (but the extra 0.5 isn’t added). A win over a team that finishes with three losses in a bowl game also gets counts as 1.
5. Bad Loss
The number of losses to teams that finished with three wins or fewer, or a loss to an FCS (DI-AA) team. Each loss counts as minus-1. Take away an additional 0.5 for a Bad Loss at home.
6. Bad Win
The number of wins to teams that finished with three wins or fewer, or a win over a an FCS (D-IAA) team. Each win counts as -0.25
7. Elite Loss
The number of losses to teams that finished with two losses or fewer. Each loss counts as 0.25.
8. Point Differential
Points for minus points against divided by 100.
9. Winning Percentage
Created as a sort of tie-breaker, the winning % is added to the total score.
CFN 20th Anniversary lists compiled by Rich Cirminiello, Pete Fiutak, Phil Harrison & Russ Mitchell
Photo Credit: USC Athletic Department