Part 16 of a series: This is the final installment of a series reviewing each of the 16 seasons since the Bowl Championship Series came into existence in 1998. The articles are 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 2013 season was a funeral procession for the Bowl Championship Series. By the time the season started, everyone knew the BCS was going away, to be replaced by the newfangled College Football Playoff. The rest was just details.
Throughout the season, little tidbits about the new CFP would trickle out—how the playoff teams would be picked, who will be on the 13-person committee, where the championship game would be held, among other things. While Condoleezza Rice got plenty of love and hate for being on the exclusive selection committee, the final BCS season marched on, noisily and gloriously.
Alabama was presumed to be in the BCS title game for a shot to go for an unprecedented third consecutive national championship. Other than another shootout with Johnny Football early in the season, the Tide steamrolled through their schedule until a showdown with an unlikely obstacle in Auburn.
The Tigers, under first-year coach Gus Malzahn, had survived one close call after another—particularly against Georgia—to arrive at the Iron Bowl with their own shot at winning the SEC West. It took perhaps the best final play in the history of college football (sorry, The Play), but the now immortalized Kick Six effectively ended the Alabama dynasty.
Was the BCS Good for College Football?
After defeating Missouri in a wild conference championship game, Auburn carried with it two streaks into the BCS title game—the SEC's seven-year reign as BCS champions as well as the state of Alabama's four-year ownership of the crystal ball.
The man charged with ending those streaks happened to be intimately familiar with the SEC. Jimbo Fisher was the quarterbacks coach at Auburn and then an assistant under Nick Saban at LSU before being tasked to rebuild a floundering former dynasty at Florida State. He launched an SEC-esque powerhouse in the ACC, with top athletes, a stout defense and an irrepressible freshman quarterback named Jameis Winston.
While Winston encountered little resistance on the field in leading FSU to one rout after another, his season (and career) was put in jeopardy when a year-old allegation of sexual assault surfaced during the season. He was cleared just days before the ACC Championship Game, and he would go on to lead the 'Noles to a blowout of Duke and pick up the Heisman Trophy in the process.
The BCS era then ended on a high note. On a glorious January evening at the Rose Bowl, FSU charged back from an early 21-3 deficit and scored the winning touchdown with just 13 seconds left when Winston found Kelvin Benjamin in the back of the end zone. An old power that dominated at the advent of the BCS was back on top of college football again, just in time for the dawn of a new era.
1. Florida State, 2. Auburn, 3. Alabama, 4. Michigan State, 5. Stanford.
Likely Four-Team Playoff
Florida State vs. Stanford; Auburn vs. Michigan State.
What would the committee do? They wouldn't say, but had the members revealed their hypothetical CFP matchups for 2013, we'd have gotten a good idea of just how much weight they would assign to winning the conference championship.
Demise of Non-AQ Conferences
The formation of superpower conferences was probably the most significant legacy of the BCS. At the end of the era, there were just five major conferences, with all the also-rans picked clean.
Utah and TCU, who both appeared in multiple BCS bowl games as non-AQ members, now reside in the Pac-12 and Big 12, respectively. Boise State's unique run as an annual BCS buster likely came to an end when coach Chris Petersen left for Washington. The former Big East is trying to stay relevant after rebranding as American Athletic, but it's susceptible to further poaching of its most high-profile members.
What Will Be the Strongest
In 2013, both Fresno State and Northern Illinois made a run for a BCS bowl berth. Ultimately, both teams lost a late-season game to blow their chances. But as an illustration of the gaps that now exist between the haves and have-nots, both teams were unable to even come away with a win in second-tier bowl games.
Sugar Bowl Takes OU over UO
Oregon had looked, for most of the season, the team most likely to challenge Alabama for the BCS title. Two late-season losses denied the Ducks a chance to win the Pac-12, though they were still very much in the hunt for a fifth consecutive BCS bowl berth.
At the end, politics trumped all other considerations. The Sugar Bowl, about to begin a relationship with the Big 12 in the CFP, opted to honor those ties a year early by taking Oklahoma to face Alabama. Oregon was left with an Alamo Bowl invitation to face Texas.
Despite predictions of a major blowout, the Sugar Bowl instead showcased a stunning upset. The huge underdog Sooners rattled Alabama early and held on late to end the Tide's season with two consecutive losses.
|BCS Champ*||#1 Florida St. 34, #2 Auburn 31||94,208||14.8|
|Rose Bowl||#4 Michigan St. 24, #5 Stanford 20||95,173||10.2|
|Sugar Bowl||#11 Oklahoma 45, #3 Alabama 31||70,473||9.3|
|Orange Bowl||#12 Clemson 40, #7 Ohio St. 35||72,080||6.7|
|Fiesta Bowl||#15 UCF 52, #6 Baylor 42||65,172||6.6|
* Hosted by Rose Bowl
Much derided and little loved, the BCS evolved over its 16-year existence to gain grudging legitimacy at the end. With the standings formula unchanged after the 2003 season, it was for the most part transparent and predictable.
The same cannot be said for the CFP, especially in its initial season of 2014, when little is known about the selection process, which will be entirely decided by the 13-person committee. Even with the promised release of four standings in the second half of the season, no one can be remotely sure how the four-team field will be chosen until it is revealed the day after the regular season ends.
For better or worse, the BCS made college football truly a national sport by intersecting regional interests throughout the regular season. And more importantly, it bestowed ever more clout and made enormous amounts of cash for the power conferences. For some, it was a "golden era" indeed.
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