CollegeFootballNews.com 20th Anniversary Ranking College Football Playoff & BCS Era 20 National Champions: No. 16, 2004 USC
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. 16, 2004 USC
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.
2004 USC Season
USC wasn’t going to leave this one up to chance.
The 2003 team dropped an early game to Cal and was left out of the BCS Championship. The AP championship was fine, but it wasn’t winning what really mattered in an BCS era.
The 2004 squad came in on a mission, having a few fights along the way and overcame a couple of close calls, but the preseason No. 1 team stayed on top all season long in both major polls.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma was No. 2 all year in both human polls, but was No. 3 in the first installment of the BCS standings. That changed a week later, and the Sooners stayed No. 2 as they rolled through the Big 12 to an unbeaten season.
Unfortunately, there was still a controversy, with an unbeaten Auburn winning the SEC Championship but being left out of the top two. The Tigers finished third, an unbeaten Utah finished sixth, an unbeaten Boise State finished ninth, and loaded 10-1 Texas and Cal teams finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
The College Football Playoff committee would’ve had a rough time with this one.
But there was no debate about USC as the BCS No. 1 team going into the Orange Bowl. It wasn’t quite as dominant as Oklahoma played late in the year, but it was still doing everything expected.
One 55-19 win over the Sooners later, and USC got an unquestioned national title under Pete Carroll. At least, unquestioned by everyone outside of Auburn.
– The BCS Championship was a showdown of Heisman winners with the reigning king dominating the 2003 main man. Oklahoma’s Jason White threw three picks, being held to 244 yards and two scores, while Adrian Peterson ran for just 82 yards.
Matt Leinart only completed 18-of-35 passes, but he made them count, throwing for 332 yards and five scores.
– Oklahoma scored first, and then it was all Trojans, scoring 28 straight points on the way to a 38-10 halftime lead, pushing it up to 55-10 midway though the fourth quarter. And yes, this time around, the AP and BCS agreed on the national champ – although three AP voters picked Auburn.
– So what’s wrong? Why isn’t the ranking higher? USC had just five Quality Wins – wins over FBS teams that finished with a winning record – the same amount it won in 2003. Those were the lowest among all the national champs – and that’s the biggest difference. 2004 USC didn’t play nearly enough terrific teams.
– The nucleus was all there for the 2005 juggernaut that came up just short – losing to Texas for the national title – with 17 players taken over the next two drafts with nine of them going in the first two rounds. That doesn’t include Orange Bowl star receivers Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett, who both went in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft.
– It wasn’t all as easy as it seemed throughout the season. It took a fight to get by a bad Stanford team 31-28, and there were one-score battles against Cal (fantastic), Oregon State (good) and UCLA (okay). But the No. 1 ranking never wavered.
Opponent Final Record in Parentheses
Aug. 28 USC 24, Virginia Tech 13 (10-3) (in Landover)
Sept. 11 USC 49, Colorado State 0 (4-7)
Sept. 18 USC 42, at BYU 10 (5-6)
Sept. 25 USC 31, at Stanford 28 (4-7)
Oct. 9 USC 23, California 17 (10-2)
Oct. 16 USC 45, Arizona State 7 (9-3)
Oct. 23 USC 38, Washington 0 (1-10)
Oct. 30 USC 42, Washington State 12 (5-6)
Nov. 6 USC 28, at Oregon State 20 (7-5)
Nov. 13 USC 49, Arizona 9 (3-8)
Nov. 27 USC 41, Notre Dame 10 (6-6)
Dec. 4 USC 29, at UCLA 24 (6-6)
BCS Championship: Orange Bowl
Jan. 4 USC 55, Oklahoma 19 (12-1)
CFN Historical Season Rankings Breakdown
Wins: 13 (Virginia Tech (in Landover), Colorado State, at BYU, at Stanford, California, Arizona State, Washington, at Washington State, at Oregon State, Arizona, Notre Dame, at UCLA, BCS Championship vs. Oklahoma)
Quality Wins: 5 (Virginia Tech (in Landover), California, Arizona State, at Oregon State, BCS Championship vs. Oklahoma)
Elite Wins: 2.5 (California, BCS Championship vs.Oklahoma)
Bad Wins: 1 (Arizona)
Point Differential: USC 496, Opponents 169
Winning %: 1.000
TOTAL SCORE: 24.270
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