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Ohio State, USC were best college football teams of last decade

North Carolina professor crunches the numbers and, sorry SEC fans, says Buckeyes and Trojans were the class of the field.

January 26, 2011|By Peter A. Coclanis and Alex Coclanis | Special to The Times
  • Ohio State's R.J. Coleman, front left, and Bam Childress, right, celebrate the Buckeyes' 31-24 win over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., that gave them the BCS title on Jan. 3, 2003.
Ohio State's R.J. Coleman, front left, and Bam Childress, right,… (Elaine Thompson, Associated…)

Admittedly, the 2010-2011 bowl season wasn't kind to the Big Ten, whose teams finished with a mediocre 3-5 record. The fact that Big Ten teams were underdogs in six of the eight games in which they participated hasn't been mentioned much in the national media, which as usual have pounded on the venerable conference, calling it overrated, if not second-rate.

The Big Ten hasn't helped itself much in this regard either: The proposed names for the league's new divisions -- Legends and Leaders -- were tailor-made for parody, and readily morphed on the internet into Losers and Laggards, to the amusement of the league's many detractors.

But hold on a minute, SEC fans. Breathe deeply, Big 12 partisans. Chant a mantra, acolytes of the ACC. By one important standard -- sustained excellence -- one Big Ten football program, that of Ohio State, stands at or near the top. The fact that Ohio State's winning percentage since Jim Tressel took over the program in 2001 is 82.8 (106-22) is just the beginning. Only by comparing Ohio State's gridiron accomplishments over the last ten years to those of the other five programs with legitimate claims for alpha -dog status in the Football Bowl Subdivision -- USC, LSU, Oklahoma, Florida, and Texas -- can one really appreciate just what Tressel and Ohio State have done. Below are some telling comparative statistics for the 10 years from 2001-2010: Ohio St...USC..LSU..Okla...Fla...Texas..AP Top 10 finishes876747BCS Bowl App.874744BCS Bowl Wins564243Conf. Champ.773622National Champ.122021
And the winning percentages? Ohio State: 82.8, USC: 81.4, LSU: 77.9, Oklahoma: 80.7, Florida: 75.4, Texas: 82.2

These statistics demonstrate pretty conclusively that Ohio State and USC were the top two programs in the country over the course of the last decade. One can make a case for the "body of work" of either school. Ohio State has a slight edge in most of the categories above, but USC has a better winning percentage in BCS bowls and two national championships to one for the Buckeyes. Moreover, Ohio State lost to the Trojans twice during the period, getting trounced 35-3 in 2008 and losing a thriller 18-15 in 2009. In the eyes of many college gridiron fans, though, the gap between the USC and Ohio State is great. The Trojans are treated as football royalty, while the Buckeyes are seen as royal pretenders, if not common footmen. In reality, the above indicators suggest, both schools are legends and leaders, not USC alone.

Peter A. Coclanis is Albert R. Newsome Distinguished Professor of History and Director of the Global Research Institute at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Alex Coclanis is a sophomore English major at the same school.

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