Take 1: Brandon Chatmon -- 2003 Kansas State Wildcats
Several top-notch teams didn’t make the cut in our BCS-era playoff, but the 2003 version of Kansas State gets my nod as the top team left on the outside looking in.
Bill Snyder’s Wildcats had several stumbles during the four-loss season, including a three-game losing streak early in the year. But the way KSU was playing in the final stretch of the season showed the overall potential of the 2003 Big 12 champions led by future NFL star Darren Sproles and Ell Roberson.
K-State’s dominating win over an undefeated Oklahoma squad in the Big 12 championship game sent shock waves across the national landscape as the highlight win of the year for the Wildcats. Sproles embarrassed the Sooners with 235 rushing yards, and Roberson’s efficient four-touchdown performance left no doubt in the 35-7 win. The Sooners, somehow, went on to make an appearance in the 2004 BCS title game against LSU despite the loss. KSU went on to suffer a 35-28 loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl and finish 11-4.
The Wildcats surrendered the right to complain about being left out of our playoff with four losses, particularly the home defeat against Marshall, but this team proved it could play with anyone in the nation in the home stretch of the 2003 season and could have been worthy of a spot in the bracket.
Take 2: Jake Trotter -- 2004 Texas Longhorns
Settling on only 16 teams for this playoff was borderline impossible, which is why we ended up holding three play-in games.
Other notable omissions included ’98 Texas A&M, ’05 West Virginia and the ’07 Sooners, who actually won the Big 12 title that year and would’ve probably made the playoff had they not been whacked by West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl.
But ultimately the top two teams that just missed the cut were the ’03 Wildcats, and, the squad with the biggest beef in my opinion, the ’04 Longhorns.
Sure, ’03 K-State also has a case for inclusion. Finally at full strength, the Wildcats obliterated top-ranked Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game. Sproles was one of the great players to come through the league during the BCS era, and Roberson was a heck of a quarterback.
The Wildcats, no doubt, were talented. But the ’04 Longhorns were talented, too. And Texas’ résumé included a better overall body of work.
Texas’ only loss came early in the season in a hard-fought, 12-0 defeat to Oklahoma, in which freshman Adrian Peterson rushed for 226 yards. Those Sooners would go on to play for the national championship. But Texas and quarterback Vince Young was about to find its stride that would culminate with the 2005 national championship. Young, who only completed 35 percent of his passes against Oklahoma, would complete 63 percent in Texas’ final seven games.
In addition to a budding Young, ’04 Texas had a unanimous All-American at linebacker in Derrick Johnson and the Big 12’s career-rushing leader at running back in Cedric Benson.
The fact the ’04 Longhorns failed to beat a single top-15 team during the regular season was ultimately the primary reason why they were left out of the field of 16. But this was very strong team that warranted strong consideration.