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Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Big East teams of the decade

By Brian Bennett

Continuing our look at the best of the decade in the Big East, it's time to review the top teams of the aughts. Not surprisingly, one school dominates the top of the list.

1. 2001 Miami: This edition of the Hurricanes was not only the best in the last 10 years of the Big East, it ranks as one of the best squads of all time. The national champs had a staggering 16 future first-round NFL picks, including Ed Reed, Andre Johnson, Clinton Portis, Jeremy Shockey, Frank Gore, Bryant McKinnie and Jonathan Vilma. They won their games by an average of 32.9 points. I'd take this team against just about any you could name.

2. 2002 Miami: Though the Canes lost 11 stars to the NFL, they kept rolling and came within a double-overtime loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl (thanks to a questionable pass interference call) of winning a second straight national title.

3. 2005 West Virginia: Remarkably, the Mountaineers turned in one of the best seasons in school history behind two freshmen. Pat White and Steve Slaton didn't really emerge together as a force until an Oct. 15 triple-overtime win over Louisville. After that, the West Virginia offense became an unstoppable force, rolling to an 11-1 final record and a Sugar Bowl victory over SEC champion Georgia.

4. 2000 Miami: The Hurricanes came within a whisker of a possible three-peat. They went 11-1 during the 2000 season, with their only loss a five-point setback at Washington in Week 2. But even though they beat Florida State head to head, the Seminoles were picked to play in the national title game against Oklahoma. Miami settled for the Sugar Bowl, where it pounded Florida 37-20.

5. 2006 Louisville: Had the Cardinals been able to hold onto a 25-7 first-half lead at Rutgers, they would have played for the national title. Despite losing star running back Michael Bush in the season's first game, Louisville led the nation in total offense and ran Bobby Petrino's power spread to near perfection. A 12-1 record and Orange Bowl win over Wake Forest capped Petrino's final year in town.

6. 2009 Cincinnati: While probably not as talented as those earlier Miami teams, the Bearcats did something last decade that only the Hurricanes could match: finish the regular season unbeaten. Expertly coached and featuring a high-powered, high-paced offense, Cincinnati held off all challengers in a 12-0 season before getting throttled by Florida in the Sugar Bowl without coach Brian Kelly.

7. 2007 West Virginia: The Mountaineers had a BCS title game invitation all but hand delivered before losing to Pitt at home in the final week of the season. They also lost to South Florida earlier in the year. But they earned their spot in this pantheon by upsetting Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl under interim coach Bill Stewart.

8. 2003 Miami: The Hurricanes were ranked second in the nation after a 7-0 start and looked primed for another title bid. But then the offense sputtered while scoring a total of 13 points in back-to-back losses to Virginia Tech and Tennessee. Miami rebounded to win the conference title in its final Big East season and then defeated rival Florida State in the Orange Bowl.

9. 2000 Virginia Tech: A year after playing for the national title with Michael Vick, the Hokies came back with an 11-1 season, the only loss coming to Miami. The season ended with a blowout of Clemson in the Gator Bowl.

10. 2006 West Virginia and 2006 Rutgers (tie): Both the Mountaineers and Scarlet Knights went into November undefeated; both would lose twice that month. West Virginia nipped Rutgers in triple overtime at home in the regular-season finale, but each finished 11-2 with bowl victories.