The Aughts. They were the best of times and the worst of times for college football.
Traditional powerhouses such as USC, Oklahoma and Texas ascended back to the top of the sport. Interest and TV ratings continued to grow. Money flowed into athletic departments' coffers like Jack Daniels at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Innovations in strength and conditioning programs and coaching strategies raised the overall level of play to a level never before seen.
Meanwhile, the greed motivating college football's powers that be was laid bare. To the detriment of the sport's competitive spirit, the big boys passed on scheduling titanic out-of-conference clashes in favor of loading up on home games with pushovers. The BCS helped keep the vast majority of bowl bonanza lucre out of the mid-majors' hands. Coaches hopped jobs like the residents of the Jersey Shore hop beds, leaving trails of jilted players in their wakes.
Let's start the new decade fresh, though, with a look at the best of the 2000s.
Saban and Carroll make pretty strong cases here, but Meyer embodies all the major themes of the decade.
He progressively worked his way up college football's food chain, starting at Bowling Green. He crashed the BCS with undefeated mid-major Utah. He undid the damage of the Ron Zook era at Florida, almost instantaneously transforming the Gators back into the top program in what has proved to be college football's top conference. He won two BCS championships. He also helped usher in the widespread use of innovative spread offense.
(Just Missed: Florida, LSU)
As the French Revolution was to Western culture, history will look back at Pete Carroll's arrival in Troy as one of college football's seminal moments. The Trojans may have just one national championship to their credit in the 2000s, but no team impacted college football's landscape more. Carroll locked down Southern California's fertile recruiting base and used that influx of talent to dominate the Pac-10 and consistently put 'SC in the middle of the national championship conversation. USC also became the sport's leading NFL factory, churning out first-round draft picks like CBS produces crappy sitcoms.
Bottom line: 'SC changed the game, and no program was more feared at its peak.
(To be fair, the looming specter of significant sanctions from the NCAA casts something of a pall over the Trojans' successes. Until the hammer falls, though, USC is tops.)
Team of the Decade: 2001 Miami Hurricanes
(2004 USC, 2005 Texas)
Having witnessed the definitive beatdown of the decade in the 2005 Orange Bowl, I was tempted to go with 2004 USC as the greatest of the 2000s. Texas' run to the national title in 2005 probably was the most impressive season.
However, if you matched up all the great teams of the decade in some kind of winner-take-all tournament, I'd make The U's 2001 team the prohibitive favorite. In the ultimate case of being "born on third base," first-year head coach Larry Coker inherited a team that predecessor Butch Davis had stocked with NFL-caliber talent. This team had it all.
In a decade loaded with game-changing playmakers–Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Ted Ginn, etc.–Bush showed himself to be the ultimate offensive weapon. He could single-handedly win games for the Trojans thanks to his versatile skills as a runner, receiver, return man and "pusher." Bush attracted so much attention from opposing defenses that just having him on the field made his teammates better, LenDale White and Matt Leinart being two of the biggest beneficiaries.
Suh may stand out more than others at the moment because he played later in the decade. Yet, name one defensive player in recent memory more dominant than Nebraska's standout defensive tackle. He was one of those rare defenders who could completely change games on his own, as witnessed in his jaw-dropping performance against Texas in the 2009 Big 12 championship.
QB: Vince Young, Texas
RB: Reggie Bush, USC
RB: Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma
WR: Larry Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh
WR: Dwayne Jarrett, USC
TE: Kellen Winslow, Miami
OL: Jake Long, Michigan
OL: Bryant McKinnie, Miami
OL: Jammal Brown, Oklahoma
OL: Joe Thomas, Wisconsin
OL: Robert Gallery, Iowa
DL: David Pollack, Georgia
DL: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska
DL: Mike Patterson, USC
DL: Glenn Dorsey, LSU
LB: Patrick Willis, Mississippi
LB: Terrell Suggs, Arizona State
LB: Dan Morgan, Miami
DB: Roy Williams, Oklahoma
DB: Troy Polamalu, USC
DB: Ed Reed, Miami
DB: Derrick Strait, Oklahoma