5. 2010 Oregon Ducks: When inevitably, defenses catch up with the spread option and it isn't the lethal damn near unstoppable with the right talent offense it is now, historians will point to 2010 as the year the spread option, an offense born due to a fumbled snap at a small college fifteen years ago, ruled college football. Although Oregon lost to another spread option team in Auburn in the National Championship game, I believe that Oregon's offense in 2010 was the perfect version of this offense.
In order for the spread offense to reach its true, lethal power, you need a quarterback that understands the system(Darren Thomas), a scatback who can make cuts on a dime(Lamichael James) a deep threat on the outside(D.J. Davis) and most importantly, a fast slot receiver with toughness and great hands(Jeff Maehl). The perfect example of Maehl's worth to this squad was in the primetime tilt against USC. Monte Kiffin had a good idea, make Darren Thomas read the linebacker or even bring up the safety on the zone read instead of the defensive end. In theory, the defensive end crashes, the qb keeps the ball, and a linebacker peels around the line and clobbers the quarterback. Chip Kelly recognized this, realized that with the linebacker or safety moving up, the seam was wide open, and he had a player that could get to the open space quickly, and hold onto the ball when. 8 catches, 135 yards and 3 touchdowns later, Oregon had defeated probably the best schematic counter to the spread option for teams who didn't have an SEC defensive line.
Oregon wore down their opponents in the second half, obliterated a great Stanford team and were only challenged by Cal in one of their "Hey, let's try tonight" games. They lost to an Auburn team that firmly held the "team of destiny" label the entire season on a questionable call. Their defense, coached by the unheralded genius Nick Aliotti, was solid and surprising physical for their stature. Oregon may very well have a team better than this one in a few seasons, but as it stands, this was the greatest team to ever where the arbitrary almagamation of colors that comprises Oregon's uniforms.
No 4. 2008 USC: People forget about this squad because of their third consecutive midseason hiccup against a mediocre team, but I think this is the finest USC defense Pete Carroll ever assembled. They gave up 10 or more points in just 5 of their 13 games, had three shutouts, and had every one of their linebackers drafted in the 2009 NFL Draft. The offense, although lacking the firepower of the 04-05 squads, was still solid. But, despite their statistical dominance, the one time they needed their quarterback to lead them back, literally the only game they faced a late deficit all season, he folded like a cheap suit, I speak, of course, of Mark Sanchez. This was Pete Carroll's last monster squad at USC, and although they are largely forgotten in the big picture, they were one bad half against Oregon State from going undefeated.
No.3 2005 USC: Without a doubt, the most talented, explosive, unstoppable offense I've seen in the offensively powerful Pac 10. They scored 50+ points three weeks in a row, over 60 three times and hit 70 once. They buoyed a mediocre defense(which ultimately was their downfall against Texas) and massacred literally every defense they played against. Their lowest point total was against Notre Dame, a pedestrian 34 points. Matt Leinart played as if he had been running the offense for a decade. The offensive line opened holes literally every time they needed it(except for one), and Lendale White and Reggie Bush may have been the most lethal running combination in recent college football history. Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith were brilliant. They played in three epic, classic football games. The "Bush Push" against Notre Dame, the 50-42 game against Fresno State where Reggie Bush essentially won the Heisman, and losing to Texas in what has held up as one of the greatest college football games ever played. If the defense was half as good as the offense, this would have been the greatest team ever.
No. 2: 2004 USC: Just a solid, tough, dominating football who capped off their season by obliterating an Oklahoma team that had been hardly tested the entire season. This was back when Bob Stoops was still considered one of the best big game coaches in college football. USC beat five bowl teams and three teams with 9+ wins, including a very good Cal team led by Aaron Rodgers. Lofa Tatupu, Shawn Cody and Mike Patterson led the defense, and the 2005 offense version 1.0 were still lethal, but not quite deserving of such glowing hyperbole. I think this team is considered one of the best ever, which is fair, but if they are in the conversation, so is the number one team.
No. 1. 1991 Washington Huskies: Before anyone accuses me of a Husky/Seattle leaning bias, I'd like to note that I elected not to put the 10-2 1990 Rose Bowl Winning Husky team on this list and put the 1997 WSU Cougars instead. This was the greatest defense in the history of the Pac-10, only giving up 116 points the entire season despite playing six bowl teams. They dispatched Nebraska, in Lincoln, back when you just didn't win in Nebraska. They handled a tough Cal team, and murdered a very talented Michigan squad in the Rose Bowl. Steve Emtman was unstoppable this year, literally unblockable. Youtube is filled with his exploits. This was the quintessential Jim Lambright Husky defense and the absolute peak of Don James coaching ability. They allowed seven points or less in four of their first five games and gave up a grand total of three points over the span of three games. The offense was considered the weakness even though it included future NFL players Napoleon Kaufman, Mark Bruener, Mark Brunell, Aaron Pierce and top 10 pick Lincoln Kennedy. Billy Joe Hobert, who never lost as a starter, was big, mobile and confident and led an offense that made a lot of big plays. History remembers this team for the defense, and the fact that very few of those defensive players went on to successful NFL careers was an indication of the perfect blend of scheme, talent, determination and swagger. The Pac 10 was a pretty solid conference in 1991, comprised of teams that would peak that year(Cal) and teams that were on the rise and a year or two away(WSU, Oregon, Arizona). The Huskies eviscerated nearly every one of their opponents in a physically dominated, overwhelming fashion. They swarmed the quarterback, destroyed running backs, pulverized offensive lines and scored a lot of points. For my money, one of the five best teams, regardless of conference, in the last thirty years.