Part 4 of a series: Over the next few weeks, I will be reviewing each of the 16 seasons since the Bowl Championship Series came into existence in 1998. Here is a look back at who got lucky, who got robbed, what could've been, what should've been and other controversies of the day. The series will appear throughout December and January.
If the BCS was shaken by the 2000 controversy, then it was rocked by an earthquake in 2001.
Heading into the final weeks of the regular season, it appeared that a Miami-Nebraska showdown in the Rose Bowl would be inevitable. After Nebraska's 20-10 win over previously unbeaten Oklahoma in late October, the 'Canes and Huskers were ranked Nos. 1 and 2 for the next four consecutive weeks, with non-BCS Brigham Young the only other unbeaten team.
Then a series of upsets changed everything.
Heading into their final regular-season game, the Huskers still needed a victory in Boulder to clinch the Big 12 North against two-loss Colorado. But the Buffaloes didn't comply and thrashed Nebraska, 62-36, in a game that wasn't even that close. Nebraska tumbled to No. 6 in the polls and its national title aspirations were seemingly squashed.
After Nebraska's loss, Florida claimed the all-important No. 2 spot. The Gators just needed to beat Tennessee to secure a berth in the SEC Championship Game. Annually played in the third week of September, the Florida-Tennessee game in 2001 was postponed because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Vols surprised Florida with a 34-32 victory, in what turned out to be Steve Spurrier's final regular-season game as Gators coach.
The victory catapulted Tennessee from No. 6 to No. 2 in the BCS standings after No. 4 Colorado upset No. 3 Texas in the Big 12 title game. Now all the Vols had to do was beat three-loss LSU in the SEC title game to secure their second BCS title game appearance in four years.
In the meantime, left on the sideline seething was Oregon. The Ducks, with their only defeat to two-loss Stanford, were No. 3 in both polls. Yet, they were ranked only No. 5 in the BCS standings, behind two-loss Colorado, who had been beaten by Fresno State and also Texas in the regular season. The Buffs, after winning the rematch against the Longhorns, had their issue, too: Somehow, they were ranked No. 4 in the BCS, behind the Nebraska team that had been idle since being annihilated in Boulder.
Which Team Should've Played in Title Game?
The BCS would've dodged a bullet if Tennessee could just take care of business against Nick Saban's LSU Tigers, who had been beaten in Knoxville earlier in the season. But LSU didn't oblige, pulling out a 31-20 victory in the SEC title game, completing the frenzied final three weeks of the season with one more upset.
So who was going to play undefeated Miami? Oregon, now No. 2 in both polls, seemed to have the strongest argument. Colorado, with an impressive late-season run but two losses, thought it deserved a shot, too. The team that really shouldn't have been in the discussion was Nebraska, which had snuck back up to No. 4 after the spate of late-season upsets.
But it was Nebraska that claimed the No. 2 spot in the final BCS standings, edging out Colorado by five hundredths (.05) of a percentage point. Oregon, with a low computer average and hampered by its strength-of-schedule rating, was a distant fourth and never had a chance.
The Buffaloes howled for weeks after narrowly losing out. But the truth is that they were even that close to Nebraska only because of the new "quality win" component, added after the 2000 season to make up for Miami's snub. Had the 2000 formula been applied, Colorado would've been fourth, behind Nebraska by nearly two full points and also Oregon as well.
In the end, the Ducks were really the aggrieved party, and they proved it by destroying Colorado, 38-16, in the Fiesta Bowl. Miami finished its undefeated season in the Rose Bowl with a ho-hum 34-14 victory over Nebraska, universally disparaged as being undeserving. While the Hurricanes celebrated their national championship, the BCS was sent back to the drawing board once again.
Final BCS Standings: 1. Miami, 2. Nebraska, 3. Colorado, 4. Oregon.
Using post-2003 formula: 1. Miami, 2. Oregon, 3. Nebraska, 4. Colorado. (Oregon would've been a comfortable No. 2, and there would've been little controversy)
Using 1998-2000 formula: 1. Miami, 2. Nebraska, 3. Oregon, 4. Colorado. (Nebraska would've been well ahead of Oregon)
Likely four-team playoff: Miami vs. Nebraska; Oregon vs. Colorado.
With a slew of upsets in conference championship games, these four teams actually stood far apart from the rest of the pack, even if Nebraska failed to win its division. No. 5 Florida also failed to win its division after losing to Tennessee in the aforementioned SEC East showdown.
Other than Nebraska getting into the national championship game in the Rose Bowl, not really. (But that's like saying "other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?") The only other one-loss teams from major conferences, Illinois (Big Ten) and Maryland (ACC), were both throttled in BCS bowl games. No. 5 Florida was the only at-large selection, and as it turned out, sent out Coach Spurrier to the NFL with a 56-23 rout of Maryland at the Orange Bowl.
|Rose Bowl*||#1 Miami 37, #2 Nebraska 14||93,781||13.9|
|Fiesta Bowl||#4 Oregon 38, #3 Colorado 16||74,118||11.3|
|Orange Bowl||#5 Florida 56, #10 Maryland 23||73,640||9.5|
|Sugar Bowl||#13 LSU 47, #8 Illinois 34||77,688||8.6|
* BCS Championship Game
BCS formula review: Wes Colley (of Colley Matrix) and Peter Wolfe were added to the computer ratings, replacing The New York Times and Richard Dunkel. The move ostensibly was to lessen the impact of margin of victory in computer rankings. Of the eight ratings for each team, the highest and lowest were thrown out and the remainder averaged.
Also, a "quality win" component was added to the team's final BCS score total, in response to Miami's being snubbed in 2000. This scheme called for teams to receive bonus points by beating other teams in the final BCS top 15. As a result, Colorado's late-season wins over Nebraska and Texas gave it a boost of 2.3 points, nearly knocking Nebraska out of the No. 2 spot.
Final analysis: The 2001 mess probably should've been a wake-up call for the BCS to completely revamp its formula. Yet, the powers-that-be continued to tinker with knee-jerk and piecemeal "fixes" that inevitably resulted in another controversy. The next season brought a big relief—through no credit to the BCS system—but the calm would prove short-lived.
Follow on Twitter @BCSGuru