Who was the most underrated team in college football history?

Earlier today we talked about who was the greatest team in the history of college football in the morning portion of our weekly roundtable. This afternoon, we return as TSS Associate Editors Bart Doan and Terry Johnson join Kevin Causey in our weekly roundtables discussing all things college football.

We looked at the best this morning but this afternoon, we take a look at the under-appreciated…..


Question:  What is the most underrated team in the history of college football ?

Bart Doan:

On Twitter @TheCoachBart

I don’t know that I really have an answer for this question. College football has been littered with dual championships, major changes to its post season system, and technological advances that really make it more difficult to judge one era to the next more so than any other sport I can think of.

All of that said, I have to answer the question and I’ll do it with 1994 Penn State. The unbeaten PSU team was/is/has been mostly forgotten because it was the beginning of the mid-1990s Nebraska run that folks claim could be the best we’ve ever seen, team-wise. Penn State was mostly forgotten.

The 1994 Nittany Lions ripped then #14 USC early in the season; they clipped top 5 Michigan in Ann Arbor; they did struggle maintaining focus against lesser foes on the road trying to end their unbeaten season in Illinois and Indiana, but it shouldn’t sully the amazing run that they had. If the only thing you can ding a team with is, “they struggled a few times to defeat mediocre teams,” you’ve already lost.

In the end, they wiped off #12 Oregon in the Rose Bowl and were granted championships by entities no one recognizes. No one remembers 1994 Penn State. But they should.

Kevin Causey:

On Twitter @CFBZ

I’m going to go with a team that lost their fifth game of the season because they went for two at the end of the game and failed. They went on to win every other game on their schedule and finished the season as the No. 2 ranked team in the country but because of the lack of a College Football Playoff, they never got their re-match and finished the season at 11-1 with five victories over top 15 teams.

The 1988 Miami Hurricanes.

This was a team that started off the season beating pre-season No. 1 Florida State by a score of 31-0 and then went on to beat Michigan, Wisconsin and Missouri before their showdown with Notre Dame. This infamous game was dubbed “Catholics vs Convicts” and the Canes scored with 45 seconds left to pull the game within one point. Instead of kicking an extra point to tie the game, they went for two and a Steve Walsh pass was batted down. If the Canes kicked the PAT they would have tied Notre Dame and at the end of the season would have likely been the No. 1 team in the country at that point since the No. 3 team was Florida State and the Canes opened up the season with a win against them.

Put those Canes in this era of college football with overtime and the College Football Playoff and they likely win a second straight National Championship and go on to be known as one of the best teams of all-time instead of just a team that lives in the shadow of other historic Miami Hurricanes teams.

Terry Johnson:

On Twitter @SectionTPJ

Whenever the topic of college football injustices comes up, people talk about how unfair it was that undefeated Auburn didn’t go to the BCS Championship Game in 2004. While it’s a shame that the Tigers didn’t get the opportunity to play for a crystal football, there was another undefeated, deserving team that was left out of the mix as well.

That team was the 2004 Utah Utes, which is the most underrated team in college football history.

Let’s be honest: some of you had to go back and look it up when I mentioned that there was another undefeated team other than Auburn. Sure, everyone remembers that Tommy Tuberville’s squad was snubbed, but a lot of people forget what the Utes accomplished that season. Led by a star-studded coaching staff that included head coach Urban Meyer, quarterbacks coach Dan Mullen, defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham, and defensive line coach Gary Andersen, the Utes beat every opponent by at least 14 points and became the original BCS Buster.

Make no mistake about it: Utah was one of the most complete teams in the country in 2004. With future NFL QB Alex Smith at the controls, the Ute offense was one of the most explosive units in the country, ranking third in total offense and third in scoring. The defense was equally solid, finishing 22nd in the country in scoring defense and third in turnover margin.

At this point, I’m sure many of you are thinking, “big deal, Johnson, these numbers only look good because Utah played against weak competition.” That statement simply isn’t true. Against the four AQ opponents that the Utes played that season, Utah averaged 511 yards and 33.75 points per game, while surrendering just 309.5 and 12.5, respectively.

It’s also worth noting that the Utes’ non-conference portion of the schedule was much tougher than it looks on paper. Sure, if you just look at the records of Texas A&M (7-5), Arizona (3-8), North Carolina (6-6), and Pittsburgh (8-4), it’s easy to dismiss these teams as “also-rans”. However, consider these interesting tidbits about Utah’s AQ foes:

  • No. 2 Oklahoma beat Texas A&M by 7. The Utes beat the Aggies by 20.
  • Arizona upset a 9-3 Arizona State squad in the final week of the season.
  • North Carolina beat then-No. 4 Miami two weeks after losing to Utah by 30.
  • Pittsburgh was the Big East Champion.

Looking at these opponents in that context, the Ute resume looks much more impressive than it was – or ever will be – given credit for.

Does this mean that Utah should have played USC for the National Championship that season?

Probably not, since both Auburn and Oklahoma beat more ranked opponents.

However, as the numbers above demonstrate, 2004 Utah was an outstanding football team that was capable of beating anyone. The fact that people only remember that Auburn got left out of the title game speaks volumes about how underappreciated this team was.