Part 13 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.
Defending champion Alabama opened the 2010 season as the odds-on favorite to repeat, with Heisman-winning running back Mark Ingram and senior quarterback Greg McElroy both returning to lead a veteran team. But it was their in-state rival, Auburn, that grabbed the headlines and—ultimately—the crystal ball.
Behind Cam Newton, who had been drummed out of Florida as Tim Tebow's backup at quarterback, it was the Tigers who arrived at the Iron Bowl the day after Thanksgiving as the team ranked No. 1 with national championship aspirations. Auburn has had a few close calls—winning three games by a field goal—though nothing like the War Damn Miracle variety of 2013.
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Behind McElroy's aerial assault, it looked like Alabama was going to shatter Auburn's dreams. The Tide went up 21-0 and were poised to make it 28-0, but they had to settle for a field goal and a 24-0 lead midway through the second quarter. That little crack was all the reprieve the Tigers needed, as Newton led a stunning comeback for a 28-27 victory and a spot in the SEC Championship Game.
But South Carolina was less of an obstacle in Auburn's way of a national championship than the NCAA, which was probing all season just how Newton landed on The Plains. Newton's father, Cecil, had shopped his son's services for upwards of $180,000 to Mississippi State. But the NCAA decided that since no money changed hands, everything was kosher and cleared Newton to play for the SEC title three days before the game.
Once there, the Tigers mauled South Carolina, setting up the first—and as it turned out, only—matchup between SEC and Pac-10 teams in the BCS Championship Game. Oregon had obliterated all of its opponents other than one close-call at Cal. And the title game would be decided on one bizarre play.
Instead of an expected shootout, the game at the University of Phoenix Stadium was a defensive struggle. With the score tied at 19-19 and less than two minutes to go, Auburn running back Michael Dyer was stopped after an apparent short gain. But because his knee didn't touch the ground, Dyer got up and alertly turned it into a 37-yard play that put Auburn in field-goal range.
Wes Byrum's 22-yard kick as time expired gave Auburn a 22-19 victory and the fifth consecutive BCS title for the SEC. The Tigers' reign was short-lived—as was widely expected—with Newton bolting for the NFL after just one season. Dyer would be booted off the team the following season (ending up at Louisville in 2013 after a year out of football), and head coach Gene Chizik was fired just two seasons later—after a 3-9 campaign in 2012. He was replaced by the offensive mastermind of the 2010 team, Gus Malzahn, who would turn around Auburn faster than you can say "Kick Six."
The game also marked just the third—and last—BCS title game appearance for the Pac-10, which would embark on an ambitious realignment gambit that nearly obliterated college football as we knew it.
Final BCS Standings: 1. Auburn, 2. Oregon, 3. TCU.
Likely four-team playoff: Auburn vs. Wisconsin; Oregon vs. TCU
Although Stanford was ranked ahead of Wisconsin, the Cardinal probably would've been kept out of the playoff because they did not win the conference.
TCU in the Rose Bowl: For a second consecutive year, TCU finished the season undefeated but was denied a shot at playing for the BCS championship. The Horned Frogs came agonizingly close, as they'd become the first non-AQ team to play for the title had Alabama held on to win the Iron Bowl.
They did get a decent consolation prize, though. Per a new agreement with the BCS, the Rose Bowl must now take a non-AQ team once if it's available in the final four-year cycle of the BCS. Because of this provision, TCU was bound for Pasadena to face Wisconsin while Pac-10 runner-up Stanford was dispatched to the Orange Bowl. TCU beat the Big Ten champ in a thriller and finished second in the final AP poll.
Boise State snubbed, Again: The Broncos were neck-and-neck with TCU for much of the season in the BCS standings, but only one team was guaranteed to earn a BCS automatic berth. As was the case in 2009, though, the BCS probably wouldn't dare to snub either team had they both finished in the top five of the final standings.
But everything went "poof!" for Boise on the same night Auburn stormed back to win the Iron Bowl. Had the Tigers lost that game, the Broncos would have not only had a chance for a BCS bowl berth, but maybe even a spot in the national title game, too.
Perhaps a bit dispirited by Auburn's comeback, the Broncos struggled against the Colin Kaepernick-led Nevada team all night. But still, they just needed a Kyle Brotzman 25-yard chip shot to seal the win as time expired. He missed, and after the Broncos lost in overtime, they were out of the BCS picture altogether—despite finishing 10th in the final BCS standings and ahead of both the ACC and Big East champs.
|BCS Champ*||#1 Auburn 22, #2 Oregon 19||78,603||15.3|
|Rose Bowl||#3 TCU 21, #5 Wisconsin 19||94,118||11.3|
|Sugar Bowl||#6 Ohio St. 31, #8 Arkansas 26||73,879||8.2|
|Orange Bowl||#4 Stanford 40, #13 Va. Tech 12||65,453||6.8|
|Fiesta Bowl||#7 Oklahoma 48, UConn 20||67,232||6.2|
*Hosted by Fiesta Bowl
Final analysis: The 2010 season marked the end of an era as conference realignment would sweep through college football in the offseason.
First, Nebraska departed the Big 12 for the Big Ten. Then, the Pac-10 came up with an audacious plan that threatened to break apart the Big 12, with Texas and Oklahoma the prime targets for poaching. The conference came up with a plan to save itself, but its preferential treatment for the Longhorns in the scheme enraged rival Texas A&M to bolt for the SEC a year later.
The realignment frenzy had its roots in the formation of the BCS, as the gulf between the haves and have-nots greatly expanded in the preceding decade. Tempted by the vast amounts of TV and bowl dollars, many schools abandoned a century of tradition to find greener pastures.
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