This week on MNC Wednesday we take on a two-pronged, tipping-point season in the sport: This was the last time that an SEC team didn’t triumph in a debate over which team belonged in the Bowl Championship Series and/or the College Football Playoff, and it also marks a denotation line in arbitrary NCAA penalties against schools for alleged infractions that would not have held up in a court of law.

Remember, there also were five undefeated teams at the end of the regular season, so this is going to be a clusterfuck, even topically.

The 2004 MNC: What a mess, in every way …

Here is the Associated Press Top 10, including final record with key bowl results:

1. USC: 13-0-0 — W, Orange, 55-19
2. Auburn: 13-0-0 — W, Sugar, 16-13
3. Oklahoma: 12-1-0 — L, Orange, 19-55
4. Utah: 12-0-0 — W, Fiesta, 35-7
5. Texas: 11-1-0 — W, Rose, 38-37
6. Louisville: 11-1-0 — W, Liberty, 44-40
7. Georgia: 10-2-0 — W, Outback, 24-21
8. Iowa: 10-2-0 — W, Capital One, 30-25
9. California: 10-2-0 — L, Holiday, 31-45
10. Virginia Tech: 10-3-0 — L, Sugar, 13-16

The Trojans were in the middle of a 34-game winning streak here, and they ran the table while cleaning then-No. 2 Oklahoma’s clock in the BCS “title” game. Left out of the title game, and rightfully so, was then-No. 3 Auburn, while then-No. 5 Utah also got the shaft, perhaps erroneously.

(Oh, and then-No. 4 California was squeezed out of the Rose Bowl by crooked Big XII coaches and their votes in the coaches’ poll. Welcome to America … have a nice day.)

USC was later “stripped” of wins, etc., by the NCAA for petty, silly reasons—long after the money had been made. There is a direct comparison to the 2010 Auburn team, which we will have to examine in a few months, in terms of money yet to be made. This hypocrisy by the NCAA marks a period in time where each individual situation needs to be evaluated for what it is and is not. So, we are not going to remove the Trojans from consideration here.

The Cal situation was another example of how the BCS chose to screw over the Pac-10 for money reasons. The Golden Bears had earned the Rose Bowl slot as its only loss was a 3-point road defeat to USC, which was headed to the Orange Bowl for the “title” game. But the controversy about the coaches poll just showed how easy it was to manipulate the BCS for financial reasons, where a school like Texas would bring more fans to Pasadena.

Remember, the Associated Press poll disowned the coaches poll after this, and the BCS even proceeded to drop the coaches’ poll from its formula as a result of all the crooked backlash. Too little, too late? Yes, for sure. And now, with all that garbage now out of the way, who joins USC in our serious, on-the-field discussion here?

The Tigers won the SEC and get advanced, of course. The Utes won the Mountain West Conference and finished No. 2 in the SRS ratings, in truth, so the reality is that Utah should have been the No. 2 team in the country—but of course, the BCS was never going to let a smaller school from a small conference crash the financial party. Utah gets a nod from us, of course.

This will be a pattern from this season to the present day, in reality. So, no matter what happens here, we know the BCS “title” game was a sham: The Sooners proved it on the field (as did the Tigers with their unimpressive win over the Hokies in the Sugar Bowl), and the Utes proved it on the sabermetric level, which the BCS didn’t have a clue about at the time, despite its fancy formulas.

The Longhorns lost to the Sooners, so they’re out. The Cardinals’ only loss came by 3 points on the road to then-No. 3 Miami-FL, so Louisville gets advanced here, too. The Hawkeyes didn’t win the B1G, so they’re out. Any small schools were are forgetting?

Boise State had been undefeated until losing to the Cardinals in the bowl game, so the Broncos came close to crashing the party. But it’s typical to see how the system relegated Boise State to a non-BCS Bowl despite its perfect record—and clear capability.

Finally, after all that messiness, we now have 4 teams to drill down on the core depths, as we are wont to do here. These are the respective SOS ratings for our best teams, after applying the analysis above:

  • Louisville: 12 Division I-A opponents, -1.37 SOS rating, 77th of 120
  • Auburn: 12 Division I-A opponents, 1.94 SOS rating, 55th
  • Utah: 12 Division I-A opponents, 0.43 SOS rating, 70th
  • USC: 13 Division I-A opponents, 8.22 SOS rating, 5th

We can toss the Cardinals right away for that weak schedule, so that’s that. The Tigers’ schedule was middling at best, and it included a small school, too, which hurt Auburn. For any SEC loyalist who will argue that the Tigers deserved a BCS “title” game shot, just point to the schedule and the lackluster bowl victory. Obviously, the Utes played a weak schedule, too, even if the SRS would have favored them by 2 points over Auburn on a neutral field.

That leaves us with the Trojans: The numbers above reflect why USC finished atop the SRS ratings by 4.3 points over Utah. The Trojans were extremely dominant against a great schedule, and they ran the table. This marks the school’s tenth MNC from us, as well, which is the most so far in this space. Yes, even if the Utes had been picked to reach the title game, they would have gotten crushed, too, just like Oklahoma did.

We do want to point out the facts about why the NCAA threw the rule book at USC: We quote from the Bleacher Report article linked above, as well. The big reasons was, “The (USC) Athletic Department failed to properly investigate the alleged violations or cooperate fully with the NCAA’s investigators.”

The NCAA was trying to make an example out of the Trojans’ perceived arrogance, since their Heisman-winning athletic director was snubbing the NCAA for what he perceived as bullshit. And he was right. Over the years, it’s been clear that the Reggie Bush situation was a big nothingburger, and even the “accused” in the NCAA investigation have fought in court for years to have their names cleared.

Congratulations to the 2004 USC Trojans, the mythical national champion!

Check in every Wednesday for a new feature on the mythical national championship on The Daily McPlay!