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The Narrative Of The 2005 College Football Season

The 2005 college football season was, in many ways, a rerun of what happened in 2004. For the second straight year, the teams ranked 1-2 to start the season held serve, went undefeated and played for the national championship. For the second straight year, those teams were USC and the best of the Big 12. But whereas 2004 ended with USC obliterating Oklahoma in an anticlimactic national championship game, the 2005 campaign ended with USC and Texas playing one of the great title games of all-time and the Longhorns coming out on top.

Vince Young was the All-American quarterback in ’05, and the Longhorn signal-caller completed 65 percent of his passes at 9.3 yards-per-attempt, while also rushing for over 1,000 yards. Jamaal Charles ran for nearly 900 yards at over seven a pop. The offensive line had an All-American in Jonathan Scott, while Rodrique Wright was similarly honored in the defensive trenches. Texas dropped 50ppg on opponents with the best offense in the country, and the defense ranked ninth nationally.

USC had an array of weapons on offense. Matt Leinart also hit on 65 percent of his passes. He threw for over 3,800 yards and had a 28/8 TD-INT ratio. Dwayne Johnson was an All-American receiver. Steve Smith was a terrific #2 target. Lendale White was a power rusher, who racked up over 1,300 yards.

But no one in the Trojan attack was more explosive than Reggie Bush. The running back went for 1,740 yards at an astonishing 8.7 yards-per-attempt. He caught 37 passes out of the backfield. Bush won the Heisman Trophy. The Trojan offense ranked second in points scored, right behind Texas. But their defense was more middling, at #35 in the nation.

Texas, ranked #2, faced a big early test at fourth-ranked Ohio State. Young led the Longhorns to a late score and a 25-22 road win that sent them on their way. With Oklahoma having a down year, Texas hammered their traditional rival 45-12 on October 8. Facing ranked opponents in Colorado and Texas Tech the next two weeks, the ‘Horns won by a combined score of 94-34. They coasted to the Big 12 title.

USC beat a good Oregon team 45-13 at the end of September. The Trojans got their biggest test on October 15 when they went to South Bend to face ninth-ranked Notre Dame. Trailing late in the game, Leinart led a late drive when Bush scored a controversial touchdown. Replays showed he was pushed in by teammates. Today, that’s legal. In 2005 it was not. The “Bush Push” gave USC a 34-31 win. Down the stretch, they outscored Fresno State 50-42.

On December 3, USC was playing its season finale against 11th-ranked UCLA. Texas was matched up with Colorado in the Big 12 championship game. The Trojans won 66-19. The Longhorns won 70-3. That’s a good snapshot of how dominant both teams were. They would conclude as they had begun, ranked 1-2 in the polls. Under the format of the time, the Rose Bowl was designated to host the national championship game and that’s where USC and Texas were headed.  

Joe Paterno’s Penn State program had been in a rut for several years, with four losing seasons in the last five. The Nittany Lions had a comeback year led by two great defensive players. Paul Posluszny became the latest edition of great linebackers coached by Paterno, and Posluszny won the Butkus Award. Tamba Hali was an elite pass rusher and an All-American at defensive end. On offense, versatile quarterback Michael Robinson combined with 1,000-yard rusher Tony Hunt to give Penn State a consistent attack.

Penn State hosted Ohio State in a prime-time game on October 8 and won 17-10, putting themselves into the national conversation. A heartbreaking and controversial 27-25 loss at Michigan a week later set them back, but Penn State just picked up and resumed winning. A 35-14 blowout of Wisconsin in November secured the Lions a share of the Big Ten title.

Ohio State won the other half of the conference crown. The Buckeyes had their own great linebacker, with A.J. Hawk winning the Lombardi Award. Troy Smith was a consistent quarterback who played mistake-free football and still generated 9.6 yards-per-attempt. He had a 1,300-yard rusher in Antonio Pittman and good receivers in future pros Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn. Ohio State’s only losses were the ones to Texas and Penn State. The Buckeyes had nice wins over Iowa and Northwestern and capped the season by beating Michigan 25-21.

With the Rose Bowl hosting the title game, the Big Ten teams had to be placed elsewhere for the major bowls. Penn State went to the Orange Bowl. Ohio State was ticketed for the Fiesta.

The Buckeye opponent in Tempe would be Notre Dame. The Irish were in the first year of the Charlie Weis era, and while that era ended badly, it began with great promise. Brady Quinn had a big year at quarterback, throwing for over 3,900 yards with a 32/7 TD-INT ratio. His top targets were Jeff Samardzija, a future major league starting pitcher, and Maurice Stovall. Darius Walker ran for almost 1,200 yards.

Notre Dame got some notice when they beat Michigan 17-10 on September 10, an afternoon game that preceded Texas-Ohio State in prime-time. The Irish had defensive problems and lost 44-41 to Michigan State the following week. Notre Dame had the heartbreaking loss to USC. But they won everything else, including a 49-28 win over ranked Purdue in October.

The SEC had a wide-open race in 2005. Tennessee opened as the early favorite, ranked #3, with LSU close behind at #5, and Florida ranked 10th in the preseason polls. But of those three, only the Tigers stayed in the race throughout the season. Georgia, Auburn, and Alabama stepped up.

The Dawgs were led by a national top 10 defense, with All-American Greg Blue in the secondary and lineman Quentin Moses getting 11 ½ sacks. On offense, D.J. Shockley posted a 24/5 TD-INT ratio, and Max Jean-Gilles was another All-American up front. Georgia opened the season by pounding 18th-ranked Boise State 48-13. The Dawgs beat Tennessee 27-14 in an October battle. Georgia rose as high as #4 in the polls before losing their Cocktail Party rivalry game to Florida. But the Bulldogs still won the SEC East.

In the West, LSU had the third-best defense in the country, with Jamarcus Russell a productive quarterback and Joseph Addai running for over 900 yards. Auburn was led by running back Kenny Irons, who posted over 1,200 yards running behind All-American lineman Marcus McNeil. Alabama couldn’t score to save their life, but with DeMeco Ryans at linebacker, the Crimson Tide allowed fewer points than anyone in the nation.

LSU got off and rolling by beating #15 Arizona State 35-31 early on. A loss to Tennessee briefly set the Tigers back, but they were able to edge Florida 21-17 in October. Alabama pounded the Gators and edged the Vols.

That set up the decisive sequence. LSU beat both rivals in close games, 20-17 over Auburn on October 22 and 16-13 against Alabama on November 12. Auburn won the Iron Bowl over ‘Bama 28-18.

LSU had risen to #3 in the polls and stood in line to be the beneficiary if either Texas or USC had lost on December 3. But it was the Tigers that fell. Georgia put a 34-13 rout on LSU and claimed the SEC title. The Bulldogs would go to the Sugar Bowl. LSU, along with Auburn, were both still in the top 10 and got respectable bids on the bowl undercard.

The ACC race was led by Florida State in the Atlantic Division, and a Virginia Tech-Miami battle in the Coastal. The Seminoles struck with a 10-7 win over the Hurricanes on Labor Day night and then beat 17th-ranked Boston College 28-17 a couple of weeks later. But Florida State had no notable standout players. They lost to Virginia and N.C. State and stumbled into the ACC Championship Game unranked.

Meanwhile, the Hokies and Hurricanes each flirted with national prominence. Miami, with the fourth-best defense in the country, bounced back after the early loss. Virginia Tech’s defense was even better, ranking second in points allowed and having All-American Jimmy Williams in the secondary. Both teams were in the top 5 when they met head-to-head on November 5. Miami delivered a 27-3 beatdown that appeared to be a knockout blow.

The Hurricanes rose to #3, but a 14-10 upset loss to Georgia Tech put Virginia Tech in the conference championship game. Then the Hokies, back up to #5, played poorly in a 27-22 loss to Florida State. The Seminoles might not have been impressive. But they were going to the Orange Bowl to play Penn State.

West Virginia filled out the major bowl field, which then included only the Rose, Fiesta, Orange, and Sugar. The Mountaineers were in the Big East Conference and led by 1,100-yard rusher Steve Slaton and quarterback Pat White also running for over 900 yards. A 46-44 shootout win over Louisville on October 15 was the difference in the conference race, and the Big East had an automatic bid. The Mountaineers were slotted in the Sugar Bowl against Georgia.

On the undercard games, LSU and Alabama struck a blow for the SEC West. The Tigers stunned the nation with a 40-3 shellacking of Miami. Alabama pulled out a 13-10 win over Texas Tech. Both teams finished in the final top 10. But Auburn wasn’t so fortunate. Wisconsin, with beloved head coach Barry Alvarez having announced his retirement, delivered a 24-10 upset in the Capital One Bowl.

Nor was Georgia able to uphold SEC honor. In a wild Sugar Bowl, the Bulldogs lost 38-35 to West Virginia. Although that game wasn’t quite as wild as the Orange Bowl. The battle between legends, Bobby Bowden at Florida State and Penn State’s Paterno, took three overtimes to settle before the Nittany Lions pulled it out 26-23. The Fiesta Bowl was a good one, but Ohio State looked a step faster than Notre Dame, seemingly did what they wanted on offense, and won 34-20.

The stage was set for Pasadena. In a game that went back-and-forth early, USC was able to take a 38-27 lead in the fourth quarter and seemed to be in control. Texas got a late score but missed the two-point conversion. At 38-33, the Longhorns still needed a touchdown to win.

USC faced a fourth-and-inches near midfield in the final minute. Texas had no timeouts. Rather than punt and dare the Longhorns to drive the length of the field, Trojan coach Pete Carroll opted to go for it. Lendale White was stuffed at the line. Given new life, Young drove the short field, and ultimately ran it in for the winning score. The two-point conversion made the final 41-38.

For the first time since 1969, the proud Texas Longhorns were national champions, and they had done it in a game for the ages.