Ranking CFP & BCS Era 20 National Champions: No. 20 2003 USC

Ranking CFP & BCS Era 20 National Champions: No. 20 2003 USC


Ranking CFP & BCS Era 20 National Champions: No. 20 2003 USC


CollegeFootballNews.com 20th Anniversary Ranking College Football Playoff & BCS Era 20 National Champions: No. 20, 2003 USC

How do the 20 national champions in the College Football Playoff & BCS rank based on how good their seasons were?

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CFN, College Football Playoff & BCS Era National Champions Ranking: No. 20, 2003 USC

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CollegeFootballNews.com is turning 20 this season, which happened to coincide 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, 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.

CFN 20th Anniversary All-America Teams 
Offense | Defense | Special Teams

No. 20: 2003 USC

It was truly the end of an era. After this season, the days of the split national championship were effectively over.

Yes, the BCS Championship was really and truly the national title game starting in the 1998 season, but in 2002, the AP still had its say in the debate.

Here was the deal. No matter what, the team that won the BCS Championship between BCS No. 1 vs. BCS No. 2 was going to be the Coaches’ Poll national champion. However, the AP was able to name its own champ.

Thanks to a glitch in the BCS system, the computer formulas ended up mattering more than the humans – which was sort of the point. The computers combined to base their rankings on the deserve factor, while the humans – who weren’t able to watch every game possible – were the fallible part of the equation.

So even though USC was No. 1 at the end of the season in the AP and Coaches Polls, the final BCS formula spit out LSU at No. 1, Oklahoma No. 2, and USC No. 3.

The AP ended up naming USC its national champion, while LSU was the BCS champ – which is why there are 20 national champions in the 19 years of CFN since 1998.

The formula was later changed – even though the system did exactly what it was supposed to do – but not before the AP took its ball and went home. It meant the AP national championship vote has become merely a fun exercise, while the BCS champion became all that mattered.

And as it turned out, the BCS got it right.

2003 USC Season

– It was a year after Carson Palmer led USC to a breakthrough 11-2 season and an Orange Bowl. Matt Leinart ended up taking over the job – even though super-recruit John David Booty was supposed to be the next-big-thing – and he kept the offense rolling for a team loaded with the talent that would eventually lead to phenomenal 2004 and 2005 seasons.

– Why did the humans love USC so much? It steamrolled through everyone after that Cal loss. No one came closer than 20 points of the Trojans over the last eight regular season games, so when Oklahoma faltered in a 35-7 blowout to Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship, the Trojans were lifted up.

Opponent Final Record in Parentheses 

Aug. 30 USC 23, at Auburn (8-5)  0
Sept. 6 USC 35, BYU (4-8) 18
Sept. 13 USC 61, Hawaii (9-5) 32
Sept. 27 at Cal (8-6) 34, USC 31 (3 OT)
Oct. 4 USC 37, at Arizona State (5-7) 17
Oct. 11 USC 44, Stanford (4-7) 21
Oct. 18 USC 45, at Notre Dame (5-7) 14
Oct. 25 USC 43, at Washington (6-6) 23
Nov. 1 USC 43, Washington State (10-3) 16
Nov. 15 USC 45, at Arizona (2-10) 0
Nov. 22 USC 47, UCLA (6-7) 22
Dec. 6 USC 52, Oregon State (8-5) 28
Jan. 1 Rose Bowl
USC 28, Michigan (10-3) 14

–  The downfall was a thrilling triple-overtime loss to Aaron Rodgers and Cal early in the season. It was a good Bear team, but not an elite one, and the BCS computers ended up hating this loss. They also hated the mediocre schedule – 2003 USC didn’t beat too many teams with a plus.

– The only Elite Win – wins over teams that finished with two losses or fewer, or road or bowl wins over teams that finished with three losses – was the Rose Bowl victory over Michigan. None of the other 20 national champions finished lower than 2003 USC’s 1.5 score.

– The five Quality Wins – wins over teams that finished with a winning record –  were only tied with 2004 USC for the fewest.

CFN Historical Season Rankings Breakdown

Wins: 14 (at Auburn, BYU, Hawaii, at Arizona State, Stanford, at Notre Dame, at Washington, Washington State, at Arizona, UCLA, Oregon State, Michigan)

Losses: 1 (at Cal)

Quality Wins: 5 (at Auburn, Hawaii, Washington State, Oregon State, Michigan)

Elite Wins: 1 (Rose Bowl: Michigan)

Point Differential: USC 534 – Opponents 239

Winning %: 0.917


The Season Formula’s Components

1. Wins
If you win, everything else falls into place. Each win counts as 1.

2. Losses
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

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