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Choose Your Own Adventure - College Edition

After Florida wrapped up their 2nd straight basketball championship, the question popped into my head. No, its not the question everyone else seems to be pondering, i.e. is this Florida team one of the best ever? (Quick answer, credit where credit due, many other teams were better on paper like '89-'90-'91 UNLV but they didn't win two titles, Florida did and so they deserve the respect)

No, the question on my mind was this...with two basketball titles and a football title, is the Florida class of 2007 the luckiest class in the history of college in terms of the athletic achievements they got to see while on campus? It's a valid question and as I soon found out, not one easily answered. I mean, whose to say what the exact criteria are. One fan's stunning Sugar Bowl victory is another fan's mediocre season. A Final Four is a pinnacle of success for the guys over here, but the guys over there see that as a piece of the puzzle. I decided it was worth figuring out.

Mote of disclosure, this isn't the first time I've thought about this. I enrolled at Syracuse in 1996, right after Syracuse's run to the finals that ended with a loss to Kentucky. As far I knew, this incoming class that included Jason Hart and Etan Thomas was going to be the alpha and omega of Syracuse basketball, a class by which all future classes would be measured. Well...not quite. I did get to see two Sweet 16 appearances but that was the extent of my basketball success.

As for football, I was lucky enough to witness three years of the Donovan McNabb Era. Unfortunately, I was also witness to three years of the Paul Pasqualoni Era. We went to two BCS games, awesome. We got killed in both of them, not so awesome.

I have friends who went to Marist, Brown and other schools without major Division-1A programs and they always say how envious they were of me that I was able to witness what I did. Always strikes me funny cause I would often watch Duke basketball or Florida State football and think about the cool experiences I was missing out on. Grass is always greener I suppose. This isn't all to say my time at Syracuse was not well spent, I loved every second of it and bled Orange the whole time there. No, I'm not kidding...I literally bled orange. NEVER drink three bottles of Orange schnapps in one sitting.

Alright, enough schmaltz, let's get to the good stuff. So in order to figure out the most blessed class, I had to set some ground rules:

1. I'm only going to go back to classes that graduated in the '80s. By the time I got back that far I had way too many schools to choose from and I'm not familiar enough with the older teams to give a solid opinion. Plus, I'm not getting into a debate over who was more blessed, 2007 Florida or 1907 Yale.

2. We're just focusing on basketball and football cause, well, all we ever focus on is basketball and football. I attended the university with the best lacrosse program in the country and if we won in overtime, lost by twenty or won the National Championship, you'd have to read about it in the paper to know it happened. (I'm exaggerating...but only slightly)

3. Because each sports is weighted differently at each university, we will weight them differently here. Maybe Kansas football was the pits in the 80's but did most of the people at Kansas care as long as the basketball team was doing well? Exactly. But in Florida State, it was the exact opposite. This had to be taken into account.

4. Titles matter. You made the tournament all four years? That's nice. But I'm pretty sure most fans would take one championship season over four pleasant but ultimately lacking seasons. Just ask Utah, Cincinnati, Michigan or Houston.

So those were the four big guidelines to consider. I then went about choosing the classes based the success of the basketball and football teams during the assumed-4-year term of each class. In the end, I found 30 classes worthy of being part of the discussion. I whittled that down to a top twenty. Before we get to them, let's take a look at the Other's Receiving Votes:

2000-2004 LSU
They didn't have much to cheer about on the basketball court (1 NCAA appearance and a first round loss at that) but on the football field this class saw the rise of Saban's Tigers, including two Sugar Bowl wins, the last one resulting in a national championship their senior year.

1998 - 2002 Ohio State
Their freshman year the Buckeyes made it to the Final Four but that loses a few points since we're all supposed to forget that that ever happened. In the three following years the team never got out of the first weekend of the tournament. Conversely, their football dreams started with a thud of a 6-6 bowl-less season, followed by back-to-back Outback Bowl losses to South Carolina. But everything culminated with a thrilled victory over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl for the national championship...regardless of how you feel about the call at the end of the game, these fans earned it.

1980-1984 Houston
Two words kept coming into my mind when I'd look at the results of this class's sports teams...Buffalo Bills. The Houston Cougars were never better in basketball and not too shabby on the football side either but their problem was...they never won when it mattered most. The football team went bowling three times, including once in Japan (!) but never won. As for the basketball team, it was a fantastic run with three consecutive Final Fours and back-to-back National Title game appearances. If only they'd won one of them...we might remember them as one of the best teams ever.

1996-2000 North Carolina
A very quiet and solid four-year run for the Tarheels on both sides. The football team was a perfect 4-0 in bowl games, winning the CarQuest, Las Vegas and a pair of Gators. The basketball team went to three Final Fours. No championships you could almost imagine many fans consider this run a disappointment.

1993-1997 Arizona
Wildcats football was a streaky beast in the '90s. Remember that one year SI picked them to win the national championship? How'd that work out? Well things were down when this class came to town. The Cats finally went bowling their junior season and beat next-door neighbor New Mexico. It was next season's Holiday bowl win over Nebraska that was a pleasant surprise. On the hoops side, this class was treated to a Final Four their freshman year, a sophomore slump, a Sweet 16 junior year and a surprise national title senior year. Not too shabby.

1991-1995 Arkansas
Back before a Nutt named Houston, this Razorback program was nothing to write home about. This class' teams mustered two bowl games but lost them both. The basketball team on the other hand made quite a bit of noise. They were Sweet 16 by sophomore year, champions by junior year and runner-up as seniors. That's something to write home about...assuming Arkansas faithful can write.

1985-1989 Duke
The Good: Duke went to three Final Fours in what is now considered the era where the program was just starting to get its legs under it. The Bad: No championships or even Final Four victories. The Ugly: Duke football, which at least gave this class some semblance of a reason to root when Steve Spurrier took over and led the team to the All-American Bowl...which they lost.

1987-1991 Kansas
Kansas football was pretty dreadful back then so thank God for the basketball team, Rock Chalkers. Making up for the lack of anything to root for in the Autumn was a hardwood national title freshman year and a return to the finals senior year. Alas, it ended with a loss to Duke.

1982-1986 Louisville
Another program where its all basketball. The Louisville football team made Kansas look like Nebraska. Who could care though when Denny Crum's boys were making a Final Four (freshman year), Sweet 16 (sophomore year) and winning it all (senior year)?

1984-1988 Kansas
Absolutely no football to speak of but Kansas is all about basketball. As sophomores, this class got a taste of the Final Four but senior year was where they were going to make their mark. Danny Manning and the upstart Jayhawks shocked the college world and won the national title. Beating conference rival Oklahoma was a nice touch as well.

All of those four-year-runs would satisfy most college sports fans. That said, here's twenty other runs that if asked, you might have traded your four years for.

20. 1987-1991 UNLV
Nothing much to care about football-wise but who cares when you had this basketball team to root for. Johnson, Anthony, Augmon, Hunt and Ackles? They tore through Duke in the 1990 finals like it was nothing and they seemed unstoppable in '91, finishing the regular season undefeated. If not for Duke's savvy win in the Final Four that shocked the Rebels and was the beginning of the end for the program, we might be seeing these guys in the top ten.

19. 1982-1986 Penn State
Flipping things, this class had nothing kind to say about the basketball program but it was all about JoePa back when he was still alive. They lost the Orange Bowl and a shot at the National title in '85 but returned in '86 and beat Miami in an infamous Fiesta Bowl for the title. When they talk about JoePa and how good he has been to that university, this is the class that can say they saw the greatness unfolding before their eyes.

18. 1995-1999 Tennessee
They didn't name two roads on campus after the quarterbacks of these teams for nothing. Peyton Manning was their leader for three years, earning two Citrus Bowl appearances and a national title matchup against Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. They got creamed and all hope was lost but Tee Martin put the Ewing Theory into full effect and led the Volunteers to the national title their senior year with a win over Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl. We'll consider the budding success of the basketball team during junior and senior year a nice little bonus.

17. 1986-1990 UNLV
I'm going to rank this UNLV class ahead of the one right behind them because they had a more complete and satisfying fun. They started their time with a Final Four (everyone forgets that one). An Elite 8 their junior year was a prelude to an exciting national championship to end it all. Sure they missed out on the '91 season but that means they also weren't dream-crushed by Duke. Plus, they went to school in Vegas. That's gotta count for something.

16. 1979-1983 Louisville
Louisville wasn't always a solid football program. In fact they were anything but for a long time. That includes the years this class was in session. But Denny Crum's b-ball squad was in rare form. They won it all freshman year and went back to the Final Four in '82 and '83. They lose points for getting teased with the title freshman year, making the following Final Fours a little disappointing, but hey, three Final Fours in four years ain't too shabby.

15. 1997-2001 Michigan State
I've said it before, I'll say it again. There's no reason Michigan State football isn't competitive every season. Least of all, they should be going to bowl games every year. This class only got two bowls from their Spartans but both were wins, including a Citrus Bowl win over Florida. In Izzo They Trust though, as this class was went to the Sweet 16 freshman year and then three straight Final Fours, winning it all junior year. The best time to be a Michigan State basketball fan that didn't involve Magic.

14. 1981-1985 Georgetown
I think this one might be the controversial pick. Why? Well there wasn't much for football fans to enjoy cause, well, they don't play Division 1-A ball. And I don't even think they had a team during this time. So all the sports fans had to hold onto was basketball. But man, what a time to be a basketball fan and regardless of what you think of the Hoyas, what a team to root for. It had to be a helluva experience to watch Ewing and Big John lead this team to a Final Four (freshman year), national title (junior year) and Final Four (senior year). Both losses in the national title game were crushing so it was bittersweet in that sense. Still, when you think of the 80's and NCAA basketball, this was the defining team.

13. 1978-1982 North Carolina
The obvious reason this was a great time to be there was for basketball. After freshman and sophomore seasons of early exits, Dean's Heels went to the Final Four (junior year) and won it all senior year. Even if we stop there, and include the fact that you got to see Michael Jordan before he was Michael Jordan, what really pushed these guys up so high was the success of the football team. The Tar Heels went bowling all four years and won all four, including two Gator Bowls (Michigan and Arkansas) , a Bluebonnet Bowl (Texas) and a Sun Bowl (Texas).

12. 1984-1988 Oklahoma
Remember the 90's, when Oklahoma wasn't very good? I don't think we realize how infuriating that must have been for Sooner faithful. Especially for this class, who had the good fortune of riding the Barry Switzer Express to a national title (freshman year) and three-straight Orange Bowls. They did end on a downer with a Citrus Bowl loss to Clemson however. Basketball fans in Norman didn't have to fret as they got a good run as well, culminating with a Sweet 16 (junior) and a Final Four (senior), albeit a loss to rival Kansas.

11. 1996-2000 Florida State
You don't go to Florida State too root for the basketball team (rightfully so, only one tourney appearance in '98). You go to Florida State for Bobby Bowden's football program. And this class was rewarded for their forward-thinking choice of attending State over Miami or Florida. They got three Sugar Bowls and a Fiesta Bowl, three national title game appearances a national title to cap things off senior year. That loss to Florida freshman year to give the Gators the title had to sting, but I'm pretty sure that wore off by senior year.

10. 1994-1998 Kentucky
Hey, the Kentucky football team went to the Outback Bowl senior year. That's like a national championship for them right? Regardless, that's all just a bonus cause it's all about the basketball team for the Cats. Freshman year brought the disappointing Elite 8 finish but never again would this class suffer such a cruel fate. National champs as sophomores, Final Four and runner-up as juniors and national champs yet again as seniors. I'm pretty sure the team wore a different uniform every season (including those gawd-awful claw stripped ones), so there's that too.

9. 2000-2004 USC
What you lacked in four seasons of basketball and your freshman year of football, you certainly made up for quickly. Sophomore year was the biggest USC win in years, an Orange Bowl victory over Iowa. The next year, even better, a Rose Bowl win over Michigan and a share on the national title. Finally, the best Orange Bowl win over Oklahoma for the undisputed national championship. Oh, and you go to school in southern California.

8. 1988-1992 Miami
A swagger-riffic time to attend Miami. You won the national championship freshman year in the Sugar Bowl, had a "down" year beating Texas in the Cotton, won the national title again in '91 and went to the Sugar Bowl only to lose to a frisky Alabama in the end. A sour end for a spectacular four year run. And to think, this isn't even the best Miami class on the list. OH, don't ask about the basketball team.

7. 2002-2006 USC
These guys also got USC's two national championships and they have the third title game appearance, which ended in heartbreak with a loss to Texas in the Rose Bowl. These guys get the nod though cause they were witness to this past season's Rose Bowl redemption against Michigan. Three Rose Bowls and two national championships...that's what coming to USC is all about. Oh, and did I mention its in southern California?

6. 1985-1989 Miami
If one class were to encapsulate the Miami swagger of the 80's, this was the one to be a part of. Things started off with the Fiesta Bowl loss to Penn State but quickly picked up with an Orange Bowl win over Oklahoma for the title. Junior year was another Orange Bowl win, this time over Nebraska. And you capped everything off with the Sugar Bowl win over the Tide for a second title. Miami is all about football and this class saw it at its finest (or worst, if you're a Miami-hater).

5. 1988-1992 Duke
These guys got to see Duke play in the All-American Bowl their freshman year. They got to see Duke play a bowl game! Oh, yeah, the basketball team did a few things as well. Such as...go to a Final Four freshman year, lose to UNLV in the finals sophomore year, avenge that loss and beat Kansas in the finals for the title junior year and repeat as champions by beating Michigan senior year. Laettner, Hurley, Hill and, um, Hill. You will not find a more complete basketball experience on this list.

So here we are...our Final Four if you will. You may be surprised to see that if you wanted one of the best four college sports experiences, you only had your choice between two universities.

4. 1991-1995 Nebraska
If Nebraska was arguably the preeminent football program of the 90's, you caught the birth of a dynasty. You might not have gotten all the meat of it, but you still did better than most any other football program around. Freshman and sophomore year, you were disdainful of Florida State, who beat you twice in the Orange Bowl. But junior and senior year were sweet desserts, both ending in national titles, over Miami and Florida respectively. By the way, the basketball team made the tournament three of your fours years, which, in Nebraska terms, is pretty damn good.

3. 1991-1995 Florida
A more well-rounded an experience than you will find at any other university (and yes, that's a trick). Bookended by seasons where the basketball team did not qualify for the tournament are a sophomore Final Four and a junior year tourney birth. But you were at Florida in the mid-90's which means life revolved around Steve Spurrier's Gators. Three Sugar Bowls, a Fiesta Bowl and a national title senior year (over FSU at that).

2. 2003-2007 Florida
The most well-rounded experience you will find at any university. The '95 class had a much better overall football run, but you still got your senior national title. But times change, and basketball at Florida has become an institution under Billy Donovan. Two early exits your freshman and sophomore year set the stage for back to back national titles junior and senior year. You're a champion three times over to end your "career." That's pretty damn good. Almost good enough to win. Alas...

1. 1993-1997 Nebraska
That's right, I'm giving it to a class that has nary a NCAA tournament victory to their name. Why? Utter football dominance in a land where utter football dominance is appreciated on a whole 'nother level. Three national titles from freshman, sophomore and senior year. The only holdout...a measly Orange Bowl win. That's basically four years of dominance, the complete package. So what the basketball team didn't do anything, its all about Tom Osbourne and Huskers football here.

Thanks to Wikipedia, CBS Sportsline, and College Football Data Warehouse for helping me compile the stats.