What are the best teams from each program in the Pac-12 since the dawning of the Bowl Championship Series in 1998?
If Oregon can continue to play at the level they have all season and roll to the first national championship in the program's history, it will be interesting to see where the 2012 team will stack up among the best teams in the history of the conference. There is still a lot of football left to play this season, so we'll hold off on sizing up the 2012 Ducks historically for a couple more months, but that doesn't mean we can't give an overview of some of the other best teams in recent conference history.
To make things easy, we'll stick to the BCS era of the Pac-10/12 and to be fair, we won't just rank the Top 10 teams - because enough has already been written about the Trojan's of the 2000's under Pete Carroll.
Instead, let's focus on the best team from each Pac-12 team during the BCS era.
2000: 12-1 overall, 7-1 in-conference, #3 in AP and Coaches Polls, Pac-10 and Rose Bowl Champions
The last Husky team to crack 10 wins in a season was unheralded going into the season, but utilized an option game and the heart of senior quarterback Marques Tuisasosopo to secure a Pac-10 championship and a Rose Bowl win. The Huskies beat a Drew Brees led Purdue team in the Rose Bowl and gave a Miami team that was overflowing with Pro Bowlers their only loss of the season and arguably should have been in the BCS Championship Game against Oklahoma over Florida State.. The Huskies only slip up came in Eugene in a tough road loss to the Ducks in which they couldn't rally from an early deficit.
Runner-up - 2001: 8-4 overall, 6-2 in-conference, #19 in both polls. Lost Holiday Bowl to Texas
2002: 10-3 overall, 7-1 in-conference, #10 in both polls, Pac-10 Champions, lost Rose Bowl to Oklahoma
It's hard to remember it because of just how shockingly bad the Cougars have been in the last five years, but 10 years ago, the Cougars were in the middle of 3-straight 10 win seasons and 2002 was the zenith of those seasons. Led by Jason Gessar and an explosive offense, the Cougars would have run the table in the Pac-10 if it weren't for a heartbreaking, three-overtime loss to Washington in the last game of the regular season when the Cougars were ranked third in the nation. Unfortunately for the Cougars, Mike Price announced he was leaving to take the head coaching job at Alabama (for a few months) before the Rose Bowl and the Cougars were easily defeated by Oklahoma.
Runner-up - 2003: 10-3 overall, 6-2 in-conference, #9 in both polls. Beat Texas in Holiday Bowl.
2010: 12-1 overall, 9-0 in-conference, #3 in both polls, Pac-10 Champions, lost to Auburn in BCS Championship Game
The 2010 Ducks came up just a few points of a national championship and an undefeated season. The Ducks had won the conference under Chip Kelly the year before, but this was the year that his offense really took off. The Ducks pretty much blew out everyone on their schedule except a tough game at Cal and came up just short against Cam Newton and Auburn. The Ducks were the top-ranked team for the entire second half of the season while averaging an astounding 49 points per game and putting up video game type numbers. Emerging as one of the best coaches in the country in only his second year as a head coach, Kelly took home both major coach of the year awards and running back LaMichael James was a Heisman finalist and Doak Walker winner.
Runner-up - 2001: 11-1 overall, 7-1 in conference, #2 in both polls. Beat Colorado in Fiesta Bowl.
2000: 11-1 overall, 7-1 in-conference, #4 in AP, Pac-10 & Fiesta Bowl Champions
It would have been interesting to see a playoff in 2000 if they had one. The Beavers started the season slow and lost a tight game at Washington, but very well may have been the best team in the country at the end of the season. Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmanzadeh were basically impossible to defend and quarterback Jonathan Smith was one of the most underrated players in recent conference history. The Beavers destroyed Notre Dame in one of the worst beatings ever in a BCS bowl game, simply looking like they could score a touchdown whenever they wanted and sack the Irish quarterback whenever they felt like it.
Runner up - 2006: 10-4 overall, 6-3 in-conference, #21 in AP poll. Beat Missouri in Sun Bowl.
2004: 10-2 overall, 7-1 in-conference, #9 in AP
The 2004 Golden Bears biggest accomplishment might have actually been a loss, as they came about 10 or so yards short of beating USC, whose 2004 team was not only one of the best in the history of the conference, but also the history of the game. Led by Aaron Rodgers and 2,000 yard rusher J.J. Arrington, the Bears loss to the Trojans was their only of the regular season and led to Jeff Tedford being named Pac-10 Coach of the Year. Unfortunately for the Bears, they were just a few years removed from being a doormat, so they had little respect from pollsters and computers and were shut out of a BCS bowl despite being ranked fourth in the country. They responded by getting bounced by Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl, but it very much looked like they were almost protesting being in the game in the first place.
Runner-up - 2006: 10-3 overall, 7-2 in-conference, #14 in both polls. Beat Texas A&M in Holiday Bowl.
2010: 12-1 overall, 8-1 in-conference, #4 in both polls and Orange Bowl Champions.
The Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck era of Cardinal football peaked in 2010 with Stanford only dropping one game at Pac-10 champion Oregon and blowing out ACC Champion Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. The Cardinal embodied their coach with tough, hard-nosed and disciplined play that challenged the wide open reputation of the conference and set the Cardinal apart. Unfortunately it would be Harbaugh's last season in Palo Alto, but the season did put a huge exclamation point on the greatest era ever at Standord.
Runner-up - 2011: 11-2 overall, 8-1 in-conference, #7 in both polls. Lost Fiesta Bowl to Oklahoma State.
1998: 10-2 overall, 8-0 in-conference, #8 in both polls and Pac-10 Champions. Lost Rose Bowl to Wisconsin.
Hurricanes prevented the Bruins from actually playing the first ever BCS Championship game in 1998 as an early-season game with the Miami Hurricanes had to be rescheduled to December due to an actual hurricane and the Bruins ended up losing a heartbreaking game that gave them their first loss and dropped them out of the championship. Led by Heisman finalist quarterback Cade Mcnown, the Bruins had a high-scoring offense that ran the table in the conference before losing to the Hurricanes on the road in a weird setting and then getting run over by Ron Dayne and Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.
Runner-up - 2005: 10-2 overall, 6-2 in-conference, #13 in Coaches Poll. Beat Northwestern in Sun Bowl.
2004: 13-0 overall, 8-0 in-conference, #1 in all polls, National Champions & Pac-10 Champions
Yes, this was vacated, but what do people remember more, USC winning the national championship or the asterisk next to it? Without a doubt, the most talented team to ever play in the conference, and arguably the best ever. The Trojans completely ran the table and demolished Oklahoma in the BCS Championship in the most one-sided BCS Championship Games ever. The Wikipedia list of the NFL players on this USC team actually has to be scrolled through because it is so long.
Runner-up - 2003: 12-1 overall, 7-1 in-conference, #1 in AP Poll, Pac-10 Champions, Rose Bowl Champions over Michigan
1998: 12-1 overall, 7-1 in-conference, #4 in both polls, Holiday Bowl Champions over Nebraska
The last 10-win season for the Wildcats, Arizona capped off one of the greatest seasons in program history with a win over defending national champions Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. Led by a dynamic duo of running backs in Trung Candidate and Kelvin Eafon who combined for 16 touchdowns, the Wildcats also had a tough defensive led by All-American cornerback Chris McAlister. Their only loss came against Pac-10 champion UCLA in what would be their best season under Dick Tomey.
Runner-up - 2009: 8-5 overall, 6-3 in-conference, lost Holiday Bowl to Nebraska
2007: 10-3 overall, 7-2 in-conference, #13 in Coaches Poll, Pac-10 champions, lost Holiday Bowl to Texas
Dennis Erickson got his start at Arizona State off to a great start as the Sun Devils won their first eight games of the season and climbed to #4 in the polls. Led by quarterback Rudy Carpenter and a tough defense, the Sun Devils shared the Pac-10 title with USC, but went to the Holiday Bowl as they lost to the Trojans.
Runner-up - 2004: 9-3 overall, 5-3 in-conference, #19 in both polls, Sun Bowl Champions over Purdue
2008: 13-0 overall, 8-0 in-conference (Mountain West), #2 in AP poll, Mountain West Champions, Sugar Bowl Champions over Alabama
The greatest season in Utah football history, the Utes went undefeated and shocked the nation by beating Alabama fairly easily in the Sugar Bowl. The Utes beat four ranked teams along the way and coach Kyle Whittingham took home a number of coach of the year awards.
Runner-up - 2004: 12-0 overall, 7-0 in-conference (Mountain West), #4 in AP poll, Mountain West Champions, Fiesta Bowl Champions over Pittsburgh
2001: 10-3 overall, 7-1 in-conference (Big 12), #9 in both polls, Big 12 Champions, lost Fiesta Bowl to Oregon
The last great season for the Buffaloes, Colorado finished the regular season strong by shocking #2 Nebraska and then upsetting #3 Texas in the Big 12 Championship as their ground game exploded. The Buffaloes would get blown out by Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl, but beat five ranked teams over the course of the season and finished ranked in the Top 10.
Runner-up - 2002: 9-4 overall, 7-1 in-conference (Big 12), #20 in AP poll, Big 12 North Champions, lost Alamo Bowl to Wisconsin.