Top Three College Football Games of the Past 10 years – #2 2006 National Championship, Texas vs. USC
The second best college football game played in the last ten years again pitted a team picked by many writers as one of the best college teams ever versus an opponent that should just be happy to be there. This game featured a plethora of top talent, including three of the top ten players taken in the NFL Draft. The 2006 Rose Bowl managed to have all the ups and downs, excitement, and twists and turns necessary for a great game.
The Texas Longhorns utilized a running attack that seemed almost impossible to stop. This team, led by some guy named Vince Young, had the best dual threat quarterback ever to come through college and an exciting running back Jamaal Charles. Texas also featured an impressive defense led by the strong defensive back play of Cedric Griffin and Michael Huff.
Just to get to the National Championship, Texas had to play essentially an elimination game between then ranked #4 Ohio State. Both teams headed into the game knowing if they lost, they would have virtually no shot of playing in the National Championship. Texas managed to ride a strong 4th quarterback to take both the lead, and eventually the victory. Texas was then able to ride out a fairly easy schedule to the title game.
On the other end, USC was a star studded team. The Trojans were led by back to back Heisman winners, Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart. Those two. mixed with a strong offensive line led by future pros Ryan Kalil and Winston Justice,were the nucleus of one of the most formidable offenses in college history.
The offense was prolific in both the pass and run. Leinart had key targets Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett, allowing him to garner a 157.78 QB Rating and throw for 28 touchdowns. The running back had the perfect combination of power and speed. Lighting and Thunder, Reggie Bush and Lendale White combined for over 3,000 yards and 33 touchdowns.
Combined with a solid defense, USC was on their way to an unprecedented season of dominance. USC managed to average 50 points a game, their lowest total was 34 against a 10th ranked Notre Dame squad. Longtime college football observers were openly discussing USC as the greatest squad ever assembled. If they could just win one more game, their place in NCAA history would be complete.
The game started how many expected. USC’s defense was able to force a fumble. Then, Lendale White busted through the line for the first score and the Trojans were on their way to the blowout most expected. Soon after, when Reggie Bush broke a long run, most became certain the rout was on.
However, Bush inexplicably tried to lateral the ball towards the end of the run to an open teammate for a touchdown. It didn’t work and Texas managed to grab the ball back. Because of that, USC missed out on a golden opportunity to put the Longhorns down big.
Texas took advantage of this fumble by driving down and converting a 46 yard field goal. Texas finally set the tone of their game on this drive, by completing long runs by both Vince Young and Jamaal Charles. USC looked to be grabbing the lead again, until another untimely turnover, this time an interception by Matt Leinart, once again stopped the Trojans’ momentum.
Vince Young was to once again able to take advantage of a turnover and this time, convert for a touchdown. The touchdown was not without controversy. On the play, Vince Young knee appeared down before he lateraled it for a 12 yard touchdown. In a attempt to make sure the touchdown got counted, Texas rushed the kick and missed the PAT. The score was 9-7.
USC and Texas managed to both drive down for field goals as both offensives stalled. This led to a close 1st half score and a surprise to the pundits who claimed USC would run away with the title. The halftime score was 12-10.
USC started the second half strong, by forcing Texas to a three and out. Matt Leinart and Dwayne Jarrett took over the next drive by hooking up for three passes, setting up a Lendale White touchdown run. Texas answered back quickly. A Vince Young and Jamaal Charles led drive, capped by a 14 yard touchdown by Vince Young, allowed the Longhorns to hold serve.
As the game turned for the stretch run, USC completed the first crucial 4th down play. Instead of taking a field goal and guaranteed points, Pete Carroll decided to go to his power game and Lendale White to get the touchdown. White managed to break through the line and get his third touchdown of the day. Texas looked like it was going to answer with a field goal of its own, but missed wide right giving USC the opportunity to pull away.
The Heisman Duo of Bush and Leinart showed why they hoisted the trophy by leading USC to a touchdown. Reggie Bush capped the drive with an exciting run that most felt put the final nail in Texas’ coffin.
Texas appeared dead in the water after what looked like a Jamaal Charles’ fumble. Texas was saved by a controversial decision to rule the fumble an incomplete pass, thus giving the ball back to the Longhorns. Texas would take advantage, but only with a field goal.
Unfazed, USC took control once again with a long, methodical drive. The drive was culminated with Dwayne Jarrett stretching the ball just barely over the goal line, allowing USC to gain a strong lead at 38-26.However, Vince Young would not allow Texas to stay down.
Leading them down the field on a 69 yard drive for a touchdown. Texas then needed to stop USC quickly to get the ball back. USC managed to grab one first down and if they could manage to grab one more, could ice the game. It all came down to 4th and 2. USC once again went to the power game, but Lendale White run was stopped a couple inches short, giving Texas the chance it needed.
Texas took over with 2:09 to play. Vince Young led the way with a couple key throws and runs to setup Texas to score. The entire drive and game came down to one play. Texas’ ball at the 8 yard line, 4th and 5.
Vince Young dropped back, looked around, but couldn’t find anyone open. So as he had done many times before, decided to take over the game. Young managed to scamper past the outset arms of the USC defense and found the endzone for the game winning touchdown. USC got the ball back with under a minute to answer back, yet couldn’t manage to get past the 43 yard line before the game ended.
Young did not win the Heisman trophy that season, but he managed to end up with the trophy every player in NCAA football really wanted. In a game they had no chance to win, against the greatest college football team ever assembled, Texas came out on top.
This game rates so high for a couple of reasons. First, the star power. The huge USC hype attracted a high national interest. The exciting individual performance of Vince Young goes down as one of the best ever. And an exciting fourth quarter doesn’t hurt either.
All this added up into one of the greatest college football games ever and in my book, the best national championship game of the last 10 years. Yet, one game managed to provide just a little more excitement and magic to be the best game. We’ll look at that tomorrow.