The entire college football season boils down to one final game. But just because it's the BCS National Championship Game doesn't guarantee a great finish to the season.
Even so, the 2013 title game could very well be the best matchup in the history of the BCS.
Since its inception for the 1998 season, the Bowl Championship Series has been the closest college football has come to a uniform, universal method of determining a national champion. It hasn't always worked out perfectly (2003, for example), but we usually come to a sort of national consensus as to which lone team deserves the title “national champion.”
There seems to be a buildup almost every season to the “big game,” but some instances of the BCS title bout have fallen flat. Some just haven't lived up to the hype.
Some didn't generate much hype at all.
With Notre Dame triumphantly riding a 12-0 record into the BCS National Championship Game this season and the SEC touting its six-season winning streak, there's certainly been no shortage of hype. All signs are pointing to the best BCS National Championship Game in history, but how do the others stack up?
While SEC fans will howl their displeasure with this game at the very bottom of our list, it's the clear and indisputable truth for the vast majority of college-football fans around America.
What could possibly generate less excitement around the nation than two teams from the same conference that already met in November playing a second time? Sure, SEC fans loved it. But followers of the other 118 programs in the country simply rolled their eyes, sat back and watched what turned out to be one of the most lopsided affairs in BCS history.
Alabama was completely and utterly dominant and the game was never really in any doubt. LSU walked out of the stadium embarrassed, dejected and irritated that its SEC title meant so little.
In the end, Alabama finished 12-1 while LSU was 13-1.
The real loser? College football and fans across the nation.
Perhaps the biggest impact of the Reggie Bush scandal on college football is the effect it had on USC's claim to the 2005 BCS national championship.
The 2005 Orange Bowl served as the title game between the Oklahoma Sooners and the USC Trojans. USC and Oklahoma were just two of five undefeated programs in the nation, with Auburn, Utah and Boise State all being left out. Utah and Auburn both won their respective BCS bowls, but Boise State fell to Louisville in the Liberty Bowl.
Meanwhile, USC absolutely dismantled Oklahoma in one of the most anticlimactic BCS title bouts in history, 55-19.
Years later, USC would be forced to return the crystal football to the Bowl Championship Series and vacate the win after Reggie Bush was declared ineligible.
The 2002 Rose Bowl hosted the BCS national championship following the 2001 college football season, and for the second time, a team that failed to win its conference championship would play for the crystal football.
The Miami Hurricanes breezed to the Big East title and earned their spot in the title game as the nation's only undefeated major program. Nebraska, on the other hand, finished in a tie for the top spot in the Big 12's North division, but the Huskers' loss to Colorado on Nov. 23 meant that the Buffaloes won the North's tiebreaker. Colorado defeated Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game, but finished No. 3 in the final BCS rankings with a 10-2 record.
Oregon, Illinois, and Maryland all had 10-1 records, and had won their conference championships, but it was Nebraska that was chosen for the Rose Bowl.
Almost as if to prove the BCS naysayers correct, Miami put on a clinic. Nebraska fell behind, 34-0, by halftime, and lost to the Hurricanes, 37-14.
The 2000 season ended with just one undefeated team, Oklahoma. But in finding an opponent for the Sooners, the waters were a bit murky.
The BCS had its first controversy on its hands when five other teams from major conferences all finished with one loss. Additionally, Miami was the No. 2 team in the nation according to the two human polls (AP and Coaches'), but Florida State was the No. 2 team when the BCS calculated its rankings.
Oklahoma's dominating defense held Florida State scoreless in the game, and the Seminoles' only points came late in the fourth quarter via a safety.
The Sooners' 13-2 victory was seen as the expected result of a season in which Oklahoma defeated six ranked opponents, including then-No. 1 Nebraska, then-No. 2 Kansas State and then-No. 3 Florida State.
The buildup to the 2007 BCS National Championship Game was another instance of team selection that irked a good number of fans around the nation.
This game is also a great one to compare to the 2012 selection process, as Michigan was slated for a rematch with Ohio State after narrowly losing to the Buckeyes earlier in the season.
Michigan remained No. 2 in the polls after the loss, but fell over the next few weeks as both USC and Florida (then-No. 3 and No. 4, respectively) continued to play. Florida eventually catapulted past both Michigan and USC after the SEC Championship Game, thanks in large part to Urban Meyer's campaigning.
ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski summed it up perfectly at the time:
I know Florida's Urban Meyer doesn't want to see a rematch, but he's not exactly an impartial observer, is he? And if Meyer were in Carr's Nikes, I guarantee you his objections to a second Ohio State-Michigan game would have disappeared.
A rematch, this time on a neutral field, would have been a game for the ages. And if you threatened to take away his precious sweater-vest if he didn't tell the truth, I bet you Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel would rather play Florida than have to face the Wolverines again (Tressel declined to vote in the final coaches' poll).
It's funny how SEC coaches can on one hand argue against any kind of rematch—except when it involves two SEC programs. Hypocrisy?
Michigan fans will long remember the 2007 BCS National Championship Game as the rematch that should have been, and USC fans as the game that never was.
It also marked the best—or is that worst?—example of SEC elitism that unfortunately laid the groundwork for the arrogance we see today.
The selection for the 2004 Sugar Bowl and BCS national championship was probably the most controversial ever.
No team finished the regular season undefeated, and LSU, Oklahoma, USC, Miami (Ohio), Boise State and TCU all finished with one loss. LSU and Oklahoma were selected for the Sugar Bowl and national championship, while USC played in the 2004 Rose Bowl game. What was so odd about this selection was the fact that Oklahoma was No. 3 in both the Coaches' and AP polls at season's end, but the BCS computers gave the Sooners enough extra credit to make them No. 1 in the BCS. LSU was a fairly unanimous No. 2, while USC was No. 1 in both human polls.
So, of course, LSU beat Oklahoma and USC won its bowl against Michigan.
The 2003 college football season ended with the exact outcome the BCS was created to prevent: a split national championship. The AP named USC national champions, while LSU won the Coaches' Trophy as winners of the BCS title game.
This game also marks the first and only time coaches resisted their obligation to vote for the winner of the BCS National Championship Game as the No. 1 team on their final ballot. South Carolina's Lou Holtz, Illinois' Ron Turner and Oregon's Mike Bellotti kept USC at the top of their ballots.
The 2006 Rose Bowl Game was the last time we saw one of the four traditional BCS bowls serve double duty as the BCS National Championship Game.
The 2005 season was also one of those rare, perfect situations where there remained just two undefeated teams at season's end: Texas and USC.
The Rose Bowl Game—the “Granddaddy of Them All”—serving as the National Championship Game was a fitting clash of two titan programs. From start to finish, this game was neck-and-neck. A furious fourth quarter that saw a combined 32 points ended with Texas quarterback Vince Young scoring the game-winning touchdown with just 19 seconds remaining.
The late heroics may be overshadowed by the historical footnotes to this contest. First, the 2006 Rose Bowl Game was the last BCS National Championship Game before the SEC's unprecedented run of six straight titles from 2007 to 2012.
Second, it was also the only game of the 2005 season that USC did not vacate—only because the Trojans lost. The record books now show USC's 2005 record as 0-1 in the wake of the Reggie Bush scandal.
In what was one of the more controversial BCS title game selections to date, two-loss LSU became the first—and to date, only—team with more than one loss to ever play in the BCS National Championship Game. Kansas was 11-1, Hawaii was 12-0.
The run-up to the game is notable for the story surrounding LSU head coach Les Miles. The University of Michigan, Miles' alma mater, was searching for a new head coach to replace retiring Lloyd Carr. Michigan was keen to replace a national championship-winning coach with another “Michigan man” capable of repeating the accomplishment.
All signs pointed to Miles.
But untimely comments from the Michigan athletic department appeared to back Miles into a corner. Rather than focusing media attention on his team, his players and the impending showdown with Ohio State in the BCS National Championship Game, Miles was hounded with questions by reporters about his future plans and possible move to Ann Arbor.
In the end, Miles had no option but to deny everything and focus solely on the national title game.
Michigan was left with Rich Rodriguez.
Lost in all the drama was the actual game itself. Ohio State versus LSU was almost an afterthought.
This battle for the crystal football would be much higher up the list had Texas quarterback and Heisman runner-up Colt McCoy not gone down to an injury on Texas' first drive.
Even without their starter, the Longhorns held tough against the Tide, but Alabama was just too deep on defense for Texas' true-freshman replacement Garrett Gilbert.
The game is also noteworthy as it was the start of a long decline for the Longhorns—a slump from which they still haven't fully recovered.
The 2011 BCS National Championship Game will long be remembered by both Oregon and Auburn fans.
For the Tigers, it was their latest contribution to the greatness of the SEC. For Oregon, it was the closest the Ducks have ever come to a coveted national championship.
Even though this game had a little bit of everything and ended with a game-winning field goal as time expired, we still place 2011 at No. 6.
For most of the country, this game will be remembered not for Auburn or Oregon, but for one single player, Cam Newton, and the “pay-for-play” controversy that followed him around in the run-up to the BCS title game.
The BCS grew out of dissatisfaction with the previous methods of deciding which team could claim to be a “national champion.” The situation came to a head following the 1997 season when Michigan won three of the four “major” championships, but Nebraska captured the all-important Coaches' Poll championship.
Finally, one of the last holdouts to a consolidated, national bowl series—the Rose Bowl Game—had reason to sign up and join the other bowls that had already formed the Bowl Alliance.
Tennessee finished the season as the only undefeated program from a conference receiving an automatic bid to the new Bowl Championship Series (Tulane was also undefeated) and earned itself a spot in the title game by winning the SEC Championship Game over unranked Mississippi State.
To find an opponent for the Volunteers, the BCS introduced its new system of polls, computers and strength-of-schedule points to the world. Luckily for the future of the BCS, the system just happened to place the consensus No. 2 team in the human polls—Florida State—in the title game.
The BCS also had the foresight to not have the Rose Bowl Game serve as the first BCS title game, thus calming what would have otherwise been a riotous crowd from Wisconsin and Ohio State (which, like Florida State, finished 11-1).
The Big Ten was left to decided on its own which of the conference co-champions would play in Pasadena (Wisconsin), and the BCS selected Ohio State to play in the Sugar Bowl.
The 1999 Fiesta Bowl was a well-fought game, but Tennessee never trailed the Seminoles, and the Vols captured the first-ever BCS National Championship.
While the Tennessee vs. Florida State aspect is lost on many, we still give this game high marks mainly for the wild anticipation the nation had for this first-ever “true” national championship experiment.
The 2009 BCS National Championship Game is yet another chapter in the history of the so-called BCS curse for Oklahoma.
The Sooners lost a close battle to the Florida Gators in what could possibly be one of the sloppier offensive displays in BCS title game history. Despite combining for just eight interceptions all season, Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford combined for four in this one game (two apiece).
Still, when we consider the run-up of Tebow vs. Bradford, Heisman winner vs. Heisman winner, the 2009 game gets high marks.
The 2003 Fiesta Bowl served as the BCS National Championship following the 2002 season, and in hindsight, it also served as the last hurrah for the now-disintegrating Big East.
Miami, the defending national champion, spent much of its 2002 season rightfully at the top of the polls. After a 12-0 finish and Big East title, the Hurricanes strolled into Tempe, Ariz., full of confidence. But similarly well prepared was Big Ten champ Ohio State, 13-0 on the season.
Still, Miami was a two-score favorite in the game, and the Buckeyes appeared to be completely overmatched. After all, Miami had a 34-game winning streak going.
The game itself was an epic battle that featured strong defense from both teams punctuated by offensive playmaking from stars on both teams. The game was eventually decided in double-overtime, and Ohio State captured its first national title since the days of Woody Hayes back in 1968.
Miami fans, however, will remember this game for “The Call.”
At the end of the first overtime, with Ohio State trailing by seven, the Buckeyes were facing fourth down from the 5-yard line. Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel's pass to Chris Gamble fell to the turf incomplete, and the Miami team stormed the field.
That's when a late flag from Big 12 field judge Terry Porter came sailing in.
Miami's Glenn Sharpe was called for pass interference, and Ohio State went on to force a second overtime, eventually winning the game.
Terry Porter's call was eventually vindicated by most observers and commentators (h/t CBS Sports):
Earlier this year Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg said game films had been reviewed and that, in fact, Porter had made the right call. The Big Ten supervisor of officials, who is used by the NCAA to assign officials for bowl games, concurred this week.
The problem is, few people saw the actual infraction. All the replays focused on Sharpe jumping for a ball in the end zone intended for Ohio State receiver Chris Gamble.
But a little penalty at the end shouldn't overshadow a great game to end a great college football season, should it?
The 1999 season was the perfect opportunity for the BCS to firm up the groundwork laid during its inaugural season the year prior. And it just so happened that everything fell into place perfectly for the first BCS title matchup selection that didn't produce any real controversy.
Florida State won the ACC with an 11-0 mark, and Virginia Tech captured the Big East title with the same record. The only other undefeated program in the nation was Marshall, then a member of the MAC.
The Seminoles began the season as the No. 1 team in the land, and they went wire-to-wire to earn a berth in the 2000 Sugar Bowl title game. The Hokies climbed the rankings from a No. 11 position, reaching No. 2 after a 22-20 win at West Virginia on Nov. 6.
Given the momentum of the last two undefeated teams in the nation hurtling toward one another for nearly the entire final month of the season, plus the added intrigue of the old-school dynasty (Florida State) taking on the upstarts from the Big East (Virginia Tech), this game deserves its place on our list.
Add in a back-and-forth game that included comebacks from both teams, and the 2000 BCS National Championship propels itself up this list to a distant second place.
So why is this season's BCS National Championship Game matchup the best ever?
The real question should be, “Why is it not?”
The 2013 BCS National Championship Game has everything that a college football fan could ever possibly want in a game. Great defense? Check. Big-play ability on offense? Check. Big-name players? Check. Tradition? Double check.
Like it or not, there's no bigger name in college football than Notre Dame. Similarly, there's never been a conference as dominant as the modern-day Southeastern Conference. What could be better?
Who better to knock the SEC off of its high horse than the program for the ages?
Nick Saban: The icon of modern Alabama football and staple of FBS success with fingers heavy with BCS championship rings. Brian Kelly: The fiery upstart who last tasted a national title at Division II Grand Valley State nearly a decade ago.
Barrett Jones: The quintessential athlete with epic size and strength. Manti Te'o: The heart and soul of a Notre Dame defense unrivaled in its intensity and success.
Alabama fans: As arrogant as any group can be that claims a dubious 14 national championships. Notre Dame fans: As entitled as any group can be that claims to be the greatest program in the history of college football.
There's just no possible way a football game could be any greater than this.