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Wednesday, January 20, 2010
2004 USC is decade's best team

By Pat Forde
ESPN.com

The single most dominant team of the decade boils down to a two-squad debate: USC '04 or Miami '01. The Hurricanes produced an astonishing amount of pro talent and stampeded to a perfect record -- but they also were slightly lessened by facing an underwhelming Nebraska team in the 2002 Rose Bowl. The Cornhuskers should never have been there after being humiliated by Colorado but got the nod anyway. USC '04, meanwhile, stamped its final mark by annihilating undefeated Oklahoma, 55-19, in the 2005 Orange Bowl. This was the best Trojans team from the best program of the decade.

Matt Leinart
Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush had plenty to celebrate in 2004.

1. USC '04. The Trojans became just the second wire-to-wire No. 1 team in the AP poll (Florida State did it in 1999), finishing it off with that absolute crushing of the Sooners. The score was 38-10 at halftime for a USC team that combined dazzling offense (Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, LenDale White, Dwayne Jarrett, Steve Smith, Ryan Kalil, Deuce Lutui) and brutal defense (Lawrence Jackson, Mike Patterson, Shaun Cody, Lofa Tatupu).

2. Miami '01. Andre Johnson, Jeremy Shockey, Clinton Portis, Bryant McKinnie, Vince Wilfork, D.J. Williams, Jonathan Vilma, Ed Reed … those are just some of the future NFL stars who populated this Hurricanes roster. The surprise is not that the Hurricanes stomped their way through the season undefeated -- it's that they were prevented the next year from repeating.

3. Texas '05. With Vince Young in full flourish, the Longhorns scored 40 or more points in 12 of 13 games -- the only exception being a thrilling 25-22 win at Ohio State. That game also was the only time anyone came within single digits of the Horns until the title game, when they scored a major upset of two-time defending champion USC in the Rose Bowl in the Game of the Decade.

4. USC '05. It took a superhuman Young to defeat this USC team, and he didn't get it done until the final 19 seconds. Even then, this was probably the most spectacular offense of the decade; it just didn't quite have a defense to match up against a great Texas team.

5. Alabama '09. The Tide's first Heisman Trophy winner (Mark Ingram) complemented one of the great defenses in school history as Alabama scored one of the program's landmark victories (a stunning rout of Florida in the SEC Championship Game) and the heir to Bear (Nick Saban) became the first coach to win national titles at two schools.

Bob Stoops
Bob Stoops coached the Sooners back to the top in 2000.

6. Oklahoma '00. The Sooners' 63-14 destruction of Texas marked the program's return to glory after a lean post-Switzer run, but they weren't done there. Oklahoma won four of its final six regular-season games away from home to run the table and capped it off with a suffocation of Florida State in the 2001 Orange Bowl to win the national title.

7. Ohio State '02. The Buckeyes never fit the definition of dominating, with half their 14 victories coming by a touchdown or less. But they were at their best when they had to be, playing a brilliant game to upset defending champion Miami 31-24 in two overtimes in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl to win the title.

8. Miami '02. This is the team that somehow lost to Ohio State, the only blemish on an overpowering two-year run for the Hurricanes in the latest (and so far last) incarnation of their dynasty. That defeat was marked by a late, controversial pass-interference flag in the end zone -- if the flag hadn't been thrown, the Canes would have become the only repeat BCS champions.

9. Auburn '04. The other team in 2004. The Tigers were the odd unbeaten left out of the BCS title game, forced to watch USC destroy Oklahoma while given no shot at the championship. But this was an excellent team, led by a backfield of future NFL starters (quarterback Jason Campbell and running backs Ronnie Brown and Carnell "Cadillac" Williams) that was as talented as USC's that year.

10. Florida '08. The only blemish was a one-point loss to a Mississippi team that would go on to win the Cotton Bowl -- and that loss gave Tim Tebow a chance to add to his lore with his famous postgame promise. There was NFL talent up and down the roster on Urban Meyer's finest team to date.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.