The 2007 college football season was one of the wildest in the sport’s storied history. In an era when only the top two teams were eligible to play for the national championship, the #2 spot in the rankings was naturally a prized place to be. Seven different teams, including program names you wouldn’t expect to even see that high, lost when they were #2. And in the end, LSU—despite two losses, including one over Thanksgiving Weekend—managed to come out on top of the scrum at the end.
It didn’t take long for the madness to begin. On the Saturday prior to Labor Day, Appalachian State—then still playing at the FCS level—when into Ann Arbor and knocked off fifth-ranked Michigan 34-32.
LSU had opened the season ranked #2, and the Tigers had an exceptionally talented defensive line. The interior had Glenn Dorsey, who won both the Outland and Lombardi trophies, paired up with Kriston Pittman. Both had 12 ½ sacks coming up the middle. Craig Steltz was an All-American in the secondary. Matt Flynn, a future pro, was at quarterback and Jacob Hester ran for over 1,100 yards.
The Tigers had two big tests in September, and one of them came against ninth-ranked Virginia Tech. The Hokies had the third-best defense in the nation, overseen by coordinator Bud Foster. And they would eventually win the ACC title. But they were overmatched in the Bayou on September 8, with LSU winning 48-7. The Tigers went on to pick up a 28-16 win over Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina program.
Georgia would emerge as a prime contender in the SEC. Matthew Stafford, a future #1 overall draft pick and Super Bowl-winning quarterback, was in his junior year in Athens. Knowshon Moreno rolled up over 1,300 yards. Marcus Howard was a talented edge rusher with 10 ½ sacks. The Bulldogs were ranked #22 in the latter part of September, but they edged Alabama 26-23 and started to move up the polls.
The madness began to escalate again in the final week of September. Oklahoma, ranked #3, lost to Colorado. Florida, the defending national champion, was ranked #4, and had eventual the Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback Tim Tebow. The Gators fell to Auburn. Texas, at #5, lost to Kansas State. All three of those losses came to unranked foes.
West Virginia had high hopes for this season. The Mountaineers were in the national top 5 to start the season. Their multi-purpose quarterback, Pat White, played mistake-free football and also rushed for over 1,300 yards. Steve Slaton ran for over 1,000 yards in Rich Rodriguez’s explosive offense. But the Mountaineers fell to South Florida 21-13, and the Bulls began their own rise in the polls.
The national championship discussion in this era always at least checked in on Pete Carroll’s USC program. This year’s Trojan team wasn’t as talented as the ones that had won or played for national championships each year from 2003-05. But they still had a great defense, led by a pair of talented linemen. Sedrick Ellis was an All-American and Lawrence Jackson would be a first-round pick the following spring.
By the first weekend in October, USC had risen to #2 in the polls. A 24-23 loss to unranked Stanford took them out. Pac-10 rival Cal rose to the #2 spot—and promptly lost 31-28 to unranked Oregon State a week later.
LSU had moved to #1 in the polls and got a big 28-24 win over Florida on October 6. But the Tigers weren’t immune from the upset bug. That they lost to Kentucky wasn’t a complete shock, given the Wildcats’ #17 ranking. But losing 43-7? It was another sign of how crazy this season already was.
South Florida’s move to #2 by mid-October was perhaps the most visible sign of the unpredictability. But as soon as the Bulls got there, they dropped a 30-27 game to unranked Rutgers on a Thursday night. Boston College, with Matt Ryan at quarterback, got to the 2-spot. The Eagles, at least for the time being, held their spot with a tough 14-10 win over Virginia Tech in another good Thursday night game.
In the meantime, LSU was still lurking at #5 and got back on track with a 30-24 win. West Virginia was still #6 and the Mountaineers blew out Rutgers 31-3 to close October. Georgia was sitting down at #20, but a 42-30 win over Tebow and Florida in the Cocktail Party rivalry, gave the Bulldogs some momentum for the stretch drive.
Any hope USC had for getting back in the national picture took a big blow when the Trojans dropped a 24-17 decision to Oregon, a battle of Top 10 teams. Amidst all the chaos, Jim Tressel and Ohio State kept churning along. The Buckeyes had risen to the top of the polls, and they blew out Penn State 37-17 to go into November undefeated.
November opened with more shakeups at the top. BC lost 27-17 to unranked Florida State and #2 was open again. LSU stepped into the vacuum by outgunning Alabama 41-34.
Illinois was an unranked team on November 10, but the Illini were still 7-3 when they went to Columbus. Juice Williams was an exciting all-purpose quarterback and Rashard Mendenhall would rush for over 1,600 yards. They were facing off with the best defense in the country. Ohio State’s D was led by Butkus Award winner James Laurinaitis at linebacker and pass-rushing defensive end Vernon Gholston. Chris Wells was a running back who combined power and speed and rolled up over 1,600 yards of his own.
But this afternoon in Columbus would provide another shakeup. Illinois knocked off Ohio State 28-21 and more chaos resulted. Georgia, now in the top 10, blew out Auburn 45-20. USC, aiming to at least get back to the Rose Bowl, beat fading Cal 24-17.
Michigan had never really recovered from that opening shocker, but they still had a shot at the Rose Bowl bid in their annual battle with Ohio State. But the Buckeye defense was too stingy. They won 14-3, secured the Big Ten title and—sitting at #7—had to hope for a lot to go well to play for anything beyond the Rose Bowl.
In this strange year of 2007, nothing was too much to ask for. Oregon was the next to blow their opportunity in the #2 spot, losing 34-24 to Arizona. The Wildcats were—you guessed it—unranked. Oklahoma had moved back to #3, but the Sooners again lost to an unranked team, this time 34-27 to Texas Tech. Meanwhile, Georgia edged Kentucky and West Virginia knocked off Cincinnati to keep moving up the ladder.
The Big 12 had a lot going on as the season hit its stretch drive. Texas, ranked #4 in the preseason polls, had flamed out, but there were still three contenders. Oklahoma, in spite of their missed opportunities, was one. The Sooners had 1,000-yard rusher Allen Patrick running behind All-American offensive lineman Duke Robinson and were the fifth-best offense in the country.
But the surprise came from two schools known more for their basketball programs. Missouri had a potent offense led by Chase Daniels. With the nation’s best tight end, Martin Rucker, and a 1,000-yard receiver in future NFL starter Jeremy Maclin, Daniels threw for over 4,300 yards and 33 touchdown passes. Tony Temple was a 1,000-yard rusher.
Kansas was even more explosive. The Jayhawk offense ranked second in the nation for points scored. Todd Reesing had a 33/7 TD-INT ratio. Brandon McAnderson and Marcus Henry were 1,000-yard performers, rushing and receiving respectively. Anthony Collins was an All-American on the offensive line. And the Jayhawks could play defense—with future NFL star and All-American Aqib Talib in the secondary, they ranked fourth in points allowed.
Quite improbably, Kansas and Missouri were ranked 2-3 by the time they met on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The path for both was simple—win this game, beat Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game, and go to New Orleans to play for the national title.
Perhaps the difference was that Kansas was the one that came in ranked #2—the spot you didn’t want to be in 2007. Missouri posted a 36-28 win. And by the time that game started, we already knew of the improbable events of the day before—Arkansas, unranked, but with the electric Darren McFadden in the backfield, had stunned LSU in triple overtime, 50-48.
The door had opened to West Virginia, who hammered #20 UConn 66-21. As we moved into the first Saturday of December, it was WVA, along with Missouri, who were in position to play for the national championship.
Hawaii wasn’t going to play for all the all marbles, but the Rainbows were putting together a dynamic season. The offensive creativity of head coach June Jones was on full display. Colt Brennan completed 70 percent of his passes at 8.5 yards-per-attempt and threw 38 touchdown passes. Brennan had a trio of 1K-plus receivers in Ryan Grice-Mullins, Davone Bess and Jason Rivers.
No one in the country scored more points than Hawaii. When they beat Boise State 39-27 it secured an undefeated season and a ticket to the Sugar Bowl.
So, we were down to the final day of the regular season. LSU kept their seemingly slim hopes alive by beating Tennessee 21-14 for the SEC title. The top two teams played that night. And, of course, the chaos went down again.
Oklahoma’s 38-17 win over Missouri wasn’t a huge shocker. But no one saw unranked Pitt going to Morgantown and stunning West Virginia 13-9.
Where did that leave us? Ohio State, having finished the season on November 17, was in the safest place of all—not playing anyone, in an era prior to the Big Ten having a conference championship game. Simple inertia pushed the Buckeyes back to #1 in the polls as the only team besides Hawaii with one loss or fewer.
There was some sentiment for Georgia, who had closed the season strong. But LSU, as the conference champion, was rightfully chosen for the #2 spot. The Tigers and Buckeyes would meet in New Orleans in what was then called the BCS (Bowl Championship Series) National Championship Game.
Ohio State playing for the national title had opened the door to the Rose Bowl for the Big Ten runner-up. That gave Illinois the chance to go to Pasadena. But they ran into the buzzsaw that was USC. The Trojans waxed the Illini 49-17 and finished #3 in the final polls.
Oklahoma had gotten back to #3 in the final pre-bowl rankings, but the Sooners showed up flat in the Fiesta Bowl against a West Virginia team that was hungry for redemption. The Mountaineers won easily, 48-26. It was the second major bowl victory in three years for West Virginia and Rodriguez cashed that in for the Michigan job.
Hawaii was a nice story, but Georgia was too hot, and the Bulldogs blew out the Rainbows 41-10 in the Sugar Bowl. The best of the major bowls came in the Orange. Kansas and Virginia Tech played a good one, with the Jayhawks winning 24-21.
That left one game to play. Ohio State was looking for redemption after being blown out by Florida in the prior year’s BCS title game. In theory, the rankings this year should have played in their favor—after all, who wanted to be #2 in 2007, like LSU was? But all streaks come to an end. The Tigers were faster than the Buckeyes, they had their great defensive line, and they were playing in their own backyard. After spotting Ohio State an early lead, LSU took over and won comfortably, 38-24.
It had been a long and winding road, to say the least. LSU had become a two-loss champion, and the program had their second title in five years.