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Revisiting the 2001 college football season, in which Miami was every bit as good as you thought

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Our backwards journey with estimated S&P+ continues with a look at a no-doubt national champion.

Robert Laberge/Getty Images

Numbers can be anti-social sometimes, like when they tell you that in 2002 USC was better than either Miami or Ohio State. But they aren't going to "well, actually" you when it comes to 2001: Miami was by any measure the best team in the land that season.

Really, the only surprise is that Miami is only in the 99.4 percentile range and not 99.9+. (In that way, I guess maybe the numbers are well-actuallying us a bit.)

I looked game-by-game to see if there were any glitches in Miami's record that could tamp them down from "amazing" to merely "really, really, really good." The Hurricanes' strength of schedule ranked 25th -- neither great nor terrible. And really, it comes down to a few games that were slightly less than elite. They hit the 99th percentile against Miami, Syracuse, and Florida State and were at the 95th percentile or higher against WVU, BC, and Washington. The consistency here was remarkable. But they were only 90th percentile against Troy (38-7 win) and 92nd against Temple (38-0) and Virginia Tech (26-24). I ... guess that was all it took. (Remember, I can't filter out garbage time in these numbers, so you are at least punished in a tiny way by taking your foot off the gas.)

Regardless, this team was remarkable and easily the best in the country. It proved that plenty of times.

Perhaps the biggest surprise: The Hurricanes had company.

S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
1 Miami-FL 12-0 27.0 99.40% 39.7 3 12.7 1
2 Florida 10-2 24.4 98.86% 42.1 1 17.7 12
3 Tennessee 11-2 19.4 96.48% 34.7 13 15.3 5
4 Texas 11-2 16.2 93.49% 36.0 8 19.7 23
5 Nebraska 11-2 16.1 93.28% 34.5 15 18.5 14
6 Syracuse 10-3 15.1 92.05% 29.8 35 14.7 2
7 Oregon 11-1 14.5 91.11% 35.1 11 20.6 27
8 Florida State 8-4 14.4 91.03% 36.7 6 22.3 36
9 Colorado 10-3 13.8 90.09% 35.0 12 21.2 32
10 LSU 10-3 13.7 89.86% 34.5 14 20.9 29
11 Oklahoma 11-2 12.8 88.41% 28.1 44 15.3 4
12 Michigan 8-4 12.7 88.17% 29.5 36 16.8 11
13 Virginia Tech 8-4 12.6 88.06% 29.3 38 16.7 9
14 South Carolina 9-3 11.5 85.88% 27.9 46 16.4 7
15 Kansas State 6-6 11.1 84.90% 27.8 47 16.7 10
16 UCLA 7-4 10.9 84.58% 30.1 31 19.1 18
17 Washington State 10-2 10.7 84.01% 33.0 20 22.3 37
18 Stanford 9-3 10.0 82.46% 36.8 5 26.8 63
19 Marshall 11-2 9.9 82.18% 39.1 4 29.2 80
20 Iowa 7-5 9.6 81.50% 31.9 23 22.2 35
21 Illinois 10-2 9.6 81.35% 32.9 21 23.4 44
22 Texas Tech 7-5 9.5 81.11% 33.0 19 23.6 45
23 Louisville 11-2 9.0 79.98% 28.6 41 19.6 22
24 Arkansas 7-5 9.0 79.97% 27.7 48 18.7 15
25 USC 6-6 8.8 79.31% 25.4 67 16.6 8
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
26 Maryland 10-2 8.8 79.30% 32.7 22 23.9 47
27 Fresno State 11-3 8.6 78.92% 36.7 7 28.0 70
28 Georgia 8-4 8.6 78.80% 27.5 49 19.0 17
29 Boston College 8-4 8.3 78.12% 27.2 53 18.9 16
30 Utah 8-4 8.2 77.80% 26.5 59 18.3 13
31 North Carolina 8-5 7.6 75.96% 27.1 54 19.6 21
32 Pittsburgh 7-5 7.4 75.59% 26.9 57 19.4 20
33 Alabama 7-5 7.1 74.65% 26.4 60 19.3 19
34 Washington 8-4 7.0 74.26% 33.7 16 26.7 61
35 Notre Dame 5-6 6.7 73.23% 22.7 92 16.1 6
36 Ohio State 7-5 6.5 72.84% 26.4 61 19.9 24
37 Georgia Tech 8-5 6.4 72.39% 30.0 32 23.6 46
38 Texas A&M 8-4 6.3 72.15% 21.2 95 14.9 3
39 East Carolina 6-6 6.3 72.08% 35.9 9 29.7 82
40 Penn State 5-6 5.9 70.84% 27.0 55 21.1 31
41 BYU 12-2 5.4 69.42% 40.1 2 34.6 99
42 Oregon State 5-6 4.8 67.31% 26.9 56 22.1 34
43 Bowling Green 8-3 4.7 66.84% 27.2 52 22.6 42
44 Michigan State 7-5 4.7 66.79% 30.9 27 26.2 58
45 Auburn 7-5 4.6 66.72% 24.6 75 19.9 25
46 Wisconsin 5-7 4.3 65.72% 30.8 28 26.4 59
47 Indiana 5-6 4.0 64.52% 29.4 37 25.4 54
48 Clemson 7-5 3.7 63.58% 31.7 25 28.0 69
49 Purdue 6-6 3.2 61.80% 23.6 82 20.3 26
50 NC State 7-5 2.9 60.73% 25.4 65 22.5 41
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
51 Colorado State 7-5 2.7 60.08% 25.2 70 22.4 39
52 Miami-OH 7-5 2.6 59.74% 27.5 50 24.8 51
53 Ole Miss 7-4 2.4 58.94% 33.2 18 30.8 84
54 Mississippi State 3-8 2.0 57.47% 23.0 88 20.9 30
55 Iowa State 7-5 1.5 55.60% 23.8 80 22.3 38
56 Hawaii 9-3 1.4 55.02% 35.3 10 33.9 96
57 Toledo 10-2 1.3 54.66% 30.0 33 28.7 76
58 Central Florida 6-5 1.0 53.69% 24.2 79 23.2 43
59 Southern Miss 6-5 0.8 52.96% 21.4 94 20.6 28
60 West Virginia 3-8 0.6 52.41% 23.1 87 22.5 40
61 Boise State 8-4 0.3 51.26% 29.0 39 28.7 74
62 Kentucky 2-9 0.3 50.97% 28.6 40 28.3 73
63 South Florida 8-3 0.2 50.75% 24.7 73 24.5 49
64 Oklahoma State 4-7 0.2 50.67% 25.0 72 24.8 52
65 Arizona State 4-7 0.2 50.57% 33.6 17 33.4 93
66 Wake Forest 6-5 -0.2 49.11% 28.6 42 28.8 78
67 Troy 7-4 -0.3 48.94% 25.1 71 25.3 53
68 TCU 6-6 -0.9 46.81% 23.3 84 24.2 48
69 Minnesota 4-7 -1.0 46.28% 26.0 63 27.1 66
70 Memphis 5-6 -1.8 43.36% 25.2 69 27.0 65
71 UAB 6-5 -2.0 42.70% 19.8 101 21.8 33
72 Western Michigan 5-6 -2.1 42.10% 23.3 85 25.4 55
73 Northwestern 4-7 -2.3 41.56% 30.6 30 32.9 91
74 Northern Illinois 6-5 -2.5 40.92% 25.7 64 28.1 72
75 Virginia 5-7 -2.8 39.81% 23.5 83 26.2 57
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
76 UNLV 4-7 -3.0 39.16% 23.7 81 26.6 60
77 Arizona 5-6 -3.5 37.06% 30.0 34 33.5 95
78 Cincinnati 7-5 -3.6 36.90% 24.3 78 27.9 68
79 Utah State 4-7 -3.6 36.77% 30.7 29 34.3 97
80 Temple 4-7 -3.8 36.32% 20.8 97 24.5 50
81 Kent 6-5 -3.8 36.32% 21.8 93 25.5 56
82 Missouri 4-7 -3.8 36.27% 24.3 77 28.1 71
83 New Mexico 6-5 -3.8 36.14% 22.9 89 26.7 62
84 Louisiana Tech 7-5 -4.2 34.77% 31.2 26 35.4 103
85 Kansas 3-8 -5.8 29.40% 24.4 76 30.2 83
86 Middle Tennessee 8-3 -6.3 27.78% 28.4 43 34.8 100
87 Vanderbilt 2-9 -7.1 25.45% 25.4 66 32.5 89
88 Akron 4-7 -7.8 23.50% 25.3 68 33.0 92
89 California 1-10 -8.2 22.14% 24.6 74 32.9 90
90 Air Force 6-6 -8.4 21.58% 26.8 58 35.2 102
91 North Texas 5-7 -8.5 21.46% 19.4 103 27.9 67
92 Tulane 3-9 -8.6 21.22% 31.8 24 40.4 114
93 Rice 8-4 -9.1 19.80% 23.3 86 32.4 88
94 Ball State 5-6 -9.1 19.76% 19.6 102 28.7 75
95 Nevada 3-8 -9.2 19.57% 28.1 45 37.3 111
96 Baylor 3-8 -9.6 18.67% 19.9 100 29.5 81
97 Ohio 1-10 -10.2 16.98% 18.5 105 28.8 77
98 SMU 4-7 -10.8 15.75% 18.3 107 29.0 79
99 San Jose State 3-9 -10.9 15.40% 26.1 62 37.0 110
100 San Diego State 3-8 -11.2 14.78% 15.7 113 26.9 64
S&P+ Rk Team Record Est S&P+ Percentile Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
101 New Mexico State 5-7 -11.6 14.08% 22.8 91 34.4 98
102 Central Michigan 3-8 -11.9 13.35% 20.4 99 32.3 87
103 Houston 0-11 -14.4 8.95% 21.1 96 35.5 104
104 Wyoming 2-9 -15.1 7.96% 20.6 98 35.7 107
105 Rutgers 2-9 -16.1 6.73% 15.4 114 31.4 86
106 Army 3-8 -17.4 5.26% 18.3 106 35.7 106
107 Buffalo 3-8 -17.7 4.94% 13.4 116 31.1 85
108 Duke 0-11 -18.2 4.49% 22.9 90 41.1 116
109 Navy 0-10 -18.3 4.39% 17.2 109 35.5 105
110 Connecticut 2-9 -19.4 3.53% 15.8 111 35.2 101
111 UL-Monroe 2-9 -20.0 3.12% 13.5 115 33.5 94
112 Eastern Michigan 2-9 -20.3 2.93% 17.1 110 37.4 112
113 Idaho 1-10 -20.6 2.75% 27.2 51 47.8 117
114 Tulsa 1-10 -21.3 2.34% 15.7 112 37.0 109
115 UTEP 2-9 -21.9 2.06% 18.6 104 40.5 115
116 UL-Lafayette 3-8 -22.3 1.88% 17.8 108 40.1 113
117 Arkansas State 2-9 -25.8 0.82% 10.7 117 36.5 108

Hello there, Gators

Steve Spurrier's last Florida team was absolutely spectacular, with one of the best offenses of the Spurrier era (and the best of 2001) and a defense that ranked a healthy 12th. Florida put up at least 44 points in each of its first five games (including 49 against 11-2 Marshall and 44 against Nick Saban's second LSU defense), then hung 71 on Vanderbilt, 54 on South Carolina, 37 on Florida State, and 56 on Maryland in the Orange Bowl. The Gators' scoring margin was plus-360 for the year -- against a lesser schedule, Miami's was only plus-395.

Two costly slip-ups, however, cost the Gators a shot at the title. First, they lost at Auburn via last-second field goal, then, in a game postponed until December because of 9/11, they were downed at home by Tennessee in a classic. Spurrier got over on the Vols plenty of times, but they got the last laugh in this instance.

Playoff selection would have been fascinating

2001 is most remembered for its controversial BCS selection process. Following Florida's loss to Tennessee (and Texas' loss to Colorado in the Big 12 title game), the primary options for the title of Miami's Sacrificial Lamb were Pac-10 champion Oregon, two-loss Big 12 champion Colorado, and one-loss Nebraska, which had spent the entire year in the top five but had gotten slaughtered by CU.

The final regular-season AP poll had Oregon second, Colorado third, and Nebraska fourth. Not inluding bowls, S&P+ had Nebraska fifth, Colorado sixth, and Oregon 11th. Obviously a one-loss Pac-10 champion would have been selected by the CFP committee, and I'm guessing Colorado probably would have been, too. But ... would Nebraska have gotten in? With Tennessee getting upset by LSU in the SEC title game, would two-loss Florida have gotten a look because of its dominance? What about 10-1 Big Ten champion Illinois (only 20th in estimated S&P+ before the bowls) or 10-1 ACC champion Maryland (26th)? This was a straaaaaange season outside of the top team. The "best" and "most deserving" teams were almost completely separated.

I'm guessing Nebraska probably would have gotten the fourth spot, but Florida would have had a case.

Other thoughts

  • Seriously, a year of blown opportunities. Florida blew it, then Tennessee blew it. Texas blew it right after Nebraska did. So many teams blew huge chances that we completely forget about 10-1 Oklahoma losing at home to a 4-7 Les Miles team (OSU). Only Miami's presence prevented this from turning into a 2007 situation.
  • This year's "great rating, bad record" award would have gone to any of quite a few four-loss teams in the top 20 in this silly year. But ... hello, 6-6 Kansas State at No. 15. The Wildcats lost to OU by one, Colorado by 10, Texas A&M by seven, and Nebraska by 10 and won five games by at least three touchdowns.
  • This would have been a good year for a great mid-major to threaten a top-five finish, but instead No. 19 Marshall was the best of the bunch.

2000 is on the clock.