With the 2011 college football season less than 70 days away, let's take a look at the 2001 BCS bowls and where the participants are now. It has been ten years since the last three weeks of the season provided for more drama than one could expect from an entire season and set up for one of the more controversial finishes to a season in the history of the game.
Miami, the Big East champion, was by far 2001’s most dominant team and is considered one of the best teams in college football history. Beating opponents by an average of 32.9 points, the Hurricanes were 11-0 going into the bowl season, and being the only undefeated team made them an easy choice for the national championship game.
The Huskers breezed through their schedule blowing out most opponents with Heisman winner Eric Crouch at quarterback. Nebraska’s first loss came the day after Thanksgiving when Colorado beat them in Boulder by a score of 62-36. The loss opened the door for Oklahoma and Florida; Oklahoma went down the next day against rival Oklahoma State while Florida lost to Tennessee—who then got a chance of their own but lost to LSU in the SEC Championship game.
Texas was upset by Colorado in the Big 12 Championship game, losing their chance at the Rose Bowl. Through a controversial BCS decision Nebraska received the #2 ranking over Oregon and Colorado as a result of the computers not taking into account the time of the loss.
The Rose Bowl was not even a contest. Behind quarterback Ken Dorsey and a galaxy of future NFL starts, Miami cruised to a big victory after a 27 point second quarter, completely shutting down Eric Crouch. The low quality of the matchup made the end-of-season drama all the more controversial.
The ‘Canes lost a few players to the NFL draft, but the core of the offense returned and the team was ranked #1 in the preseason poll—and had a schedule favorable for a repeat. Although the 2002 wins were less comfortable than those from a year before, Miami won the Big East with a 12-0 record and earned a Fiesta Bowl bid to play Ohio State for a National Championship on January 3rd.
The 2003 Fiesta Bowl is considered one of the greatest games of all time while the final result, a 31-24 Ohio State victory in double overtime, can be credited to one of the most controversial on-field calls of the BCS era. At the end of the first overtime, the Miami bench rushed the field believing they won the game when, with Miami up 24-17, Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel threw an incomplete pass on a 4th and 3.
There ended up being a late flag thrown for pass interference; the Buckeyes scored to tie it up, then scored to take the lead and held Miami in a goal-line stand now considered defining for the legacy of Jim Tressel.
Before his forced departure from Coral Gables after the 2006 season, Larry Coker made one more BCS appearance, this time in the 2004 Orange Bowl beating rival Florida State who would go on to dominate the Hurricanes after their move to the Atlantic Coast Conference the next season. Coker had three more winning teams, but none of the same caliber as those of the early 2000s.
Randy Shannon coached Miami for the next four seasons, amassing a 28-22 record with one losing season and three bowl appearances though he was fired before last year’s Sun Bowl against Notre Dame.
Temple’s Al Golden took over “the most recognizable brand in college football” after 2010 and will try to bring the team back to powerhouse status, though he might be lacking the star power that has defined Miami’s historic national championship teams.
It seems like the Cornhuskers are still looking for a replacement for Tom Osborne, who retired in 1998 after winning three national championships in four years. Frank Solich, Osborne’s hand-appointed successor, led Nebraska to a Big 12 Championship, two North Division Championships, and the BCS National Championship appearance, but was fired by Steve Pederson in 2003 after a 9-3 regular season to be replaced by Bo Pelini for the Alamo Bowl.
Solich’s replacement, Bill Callahan, coached the Huskers to their first losing season in over 40 years when they finished 5-6 in 2004. After two mediocre seasons, 2007 was expected to be a breakthrough for Callahan’s west coast offense, but fell well short of expectations when it ended with another 5-7 record.
In 2007 athletic director Steve Pedersen was fired and replaced by Tom Osborne who, after leaving the sidelines, enjoyed a career in the US House of Representatives but came short in a gubernatorial campaign. After the season, Osborne fired Callahan and hired Bo Pelini. In 2008 Nebraska won nine games including the Gator Bowl against Clemson.
In his second season in Lincoln, Pelini took the Huskers to the Big 12 Championship Game where they came up a second short of upsetting Texas. Expectations were high in 2010 but Nebraska ended the season by losing four of five and finished again at 10-4.
2011 will mark the first year of Nebraska’s play in the Big Ten, and with Ohio State likely taking at least a year off from dominating the conference, the Huskers could be the favorites to win the conference. There are high hopes for this program in the near future considering the Pelini brothers’ recruiting ability, the presence of explosive freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez, as well as what could be Nebraska’s best defense in years.
In 2001 either Colorado or Oregon could have played in the National Championship instead of Nebraska, and nobody would have blinked an eye. It should be noted that either Colorado or Oregon SHOULD have played in the Rose Bowl that year, but the computer poll component of the BCS Rankings saw both of these teams’ schedules as weaker than the Cornhuskers’.
Colorado suffered two setbacks early in the season, the first one to Fresno State in the opening week of the season, the second in Austin by a score of 41-7, a loss they would later avenge in the Big 12 Championship Game. Overall, the Buffs had a good season, beating their opponents by a combined 116 points.
The Oregon Ducks began the 2001 season ranked at #7, and after climbing to #5 in late October, they were upset at home by Stanford in front of a national TV audience. As a result of two wins over ranked teams, the Ducks were again in the top 5 when they won the Pac 10 and received an invite to play in the Fiesta Bowl.
Oregon won the game handily behind a strong performance from quarterback Joey Harrington as well as a strong running game that tripled the Buffaloes’ rushing yardage.
Though inconsistent, Gary Barnett was a successful coach at CU, winning the Big 12 North four times in seven years. His success on the field was overshadowed by recruiting violations which allegedly included the university using alcohol and sex as means of appealing to potential recruits.
Barnett was fired after a 70-3 loss to Texas in the Big 12 Championship and accepted a $3 million buyout. Additionally, Colorado was fined $100,000 and placed on NCAA probation for undercharging athletes for meals over a period of six years during Barnett’s tenure.
In 2006 Colorado finished 2-10 under former Boise State head coach Dan Hawkins, hired to replace Barnett. Next year, Colorado made an appearance in the Independence Bowl, losing to Alabama, but finished 3rd in the Big 12 North. After another year close to the bottom of the conference standings, Hawkins promised ten wins in 2009 but failed to get more than three.
During his entire tenure at Colorado, Hawkins was on the hot seat, but firing him seemed not probable because of the money the university was already paying Barnett. Finally, on November 9th, 2010, Hawkins was fired following a 28-point 4th quarter collapse in Lawrence, Kansas, agreeing to a $2 million buyout.
In the spring of 2011 Colorado was rumored to have gone after LSU’s Les Miles but as a result of a huge financial debt, the Buffs hired Jon Embree, a former hometown tight end and—at the time of his hiring—a tight end coach with the Washington Redskins.
Before the 2010 season Colorado announced that they will move to the Pac-10 along with Utah and will begin play in 2012, but after reaching an expensive agreement with the Big 12, the Pac-12 debut was moved to 2011. It will be hard for Colorado to compete in the new conference early on, simply because of a large talent gap between them and the rising west coast schools.
Mike Bellotti, Oregon’s coach in 2001, never repeated as Pac-10 champion—but until he stepped down in 2008, he had only one losing record in 2004 and won 10 games twice. Bellotti finished his tenure with more postseason wins (six) and appearances (12) than any other coach in Oregon history.
It was easy for the next and current coach, Chip Kelly, to enjoy immediate success with the Ducks since he took over a team that was already full of talent at both offense and defense and since he came from within the program, there wasn’t a huge shift in strategy.
Another reason for Kelly’s success is that he took over at a time when USC, a traditional Pac-10 powerhouse, was hit hard by NCAA sanctions in regards to violations that date back to the playing days of Reggie Bush.
Oregon won the Pac-10 in both 2009 and 2010, losing to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl the first time, and to Auburn in the National Championship Game the second. In 2011, if they can get past Stanford—and barring an unexpected upset—the Ducks will likely repeat as champions in the Pac-12.
The 2002 Sugar Bowl was a matchup of two teams that made it to the BCS somewhat surprisingly. Illinois began the season unranked and lost to Michigan, the favorite to win the Big Ten in late September. While Michigan, who rose as high as #6, faltered down the stretch against rivals Michigan State and Ohio State, Illinois continued winning and finished the season at 10-1 and ranked #7.
Louisiana State started their season very slowly, with back-to-back losses to Tennessee and Florida, followed by a loss to Ole Miss three weeks later. Under Nick Saban, the Tigers won their last four games including one against Auburn, which granted them the head-to-head victory needed to represent the SEC West in Atlanta for the first time. In a rematch against the heavily favored Volunteers looking for a trip to Pasadena, LSU won 31-20 to secure the SEC championship, first since 1988, and a BCS berth.
In the Sugar Bowl, LSU climbed to a 34-7 halftime lead and most of those who watched were concerned with what single-game record the Tigers’ offense and Domanick Davis would break in the second 30 minutes.
Some Illinois faithful were still convinced that quarterback Kurt Kittner would manage to pull off yet another come-from-behind win. This almost became the case when the Fighting Illini put up 27 points in the second half but they were too far behind and the Bayou Bengals held on to the 47-34 victory.
The 2001 finish atop the Big Ten was very surprising even in the context of the Ron Turner’s career at head coach in Champagne. In his first year, 1997, Illinois was winless; they then had a 3 win season followed by a bowl appearance in 1999.
The year before their Sugar Bowl bid, Illinois finished 9th in the Big Ten and the year after they finished tied for 5th with a 5-7 record. In 2003, the Illini were back on the bottom of the conference with a 1-11 record. In the next season they won only two more games. Turner was fired and returned to being the offensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears.
Ron Turner’s successor was Ron Zook who replaced Steve Spurrier at Florida. Zook coached the Illini through two dismal seasons (2-9 in 2005 and 2-10 in 2006) but managed a quick turnaround, bringing his team to a second-place finish in the Big Ten and a Rose Bowl bid since Ohio State represented the conference in the National Championship game.
Following a loss in Pasadena, the Illini resumed their inconsistency and fell back down to 5-7, followed by a 3-9 year, which in turn was followed by a 7-6 finish and a win in the Texas Bowl in 2010.
In a 12 team, two-conference Big Ten combined with the weakness of Ohio State and a very easy non-conference schedule, Illinois could have some success next year. Consistency and good defense will have to be the key for this program both in the upcoming season as well as in the future.
After the Sugar Bowl victory, LSU had a down year, finishing 8-5 with a Cotton Bowl loss to end the season. Though lacking NFL star power, the 2003 Tiger team was far stronger than the one Saban had guided to an SEC championship in 2001, and finished the regular season with only a loss to Florida keeping them from a perfect record.
After taking care of #5 Georgia in the SEC title game, LSU faced Oklahoma who had lost to Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship game but managed to retain a #1 BCS ranking. LSU eventually won 21-14 for their first national title since 1958.
Saban departed LSU after the next season for a head coaching job with the Miami Dolphins and was succeeded by Les Miles, who in addition to winning a Sugar Bowl in 2006, went on to win an SEC championship and, despite losing two games, a National Championship in 2007.
So far, Miles has coached the Tigers to three more winning seasons (8-5 in 2008, 9-4 in 2009, and 11-2 in 2010) and will likely have another BCS contender in 2011 with much of his 2010 Cotton Bowl team returning.
The Maryland Terrapins represented the Bowden-dominated ACC in the 2002 BCS. On October 6th, Maryland received a spot in the AP Poll for the first time since 1995 and climbed to #10 before suffering a 52-31 loss at Florida State. The Terps won their last three games and finished 10-1 with a #6 ranking and on their way to their first bowl game since 1990.
The 2001 Florida Gators, coached by former hometown Heisman-winning quarterback Steve Spurrier, began the season at #1 in the AP poll and were heavily favored to win the SEC. Florida’s only regular season loss came in mid-October in Auburn which was a setback on the national level but didn’t become a major roadblock on the way to an SEC East crown.
On December 1st the Gators traveled to Atlanta to face Tennessee, who beat them to shock the national audience and crush their BCS title dreams.
Though benched for the first six possessions of the game as a punishment for a curfew violation, Heisman runner up Rex Grossman threw touchdown passes on his first two drives to break the game open three minutes before the end of the second quarter. The Gators scored on six consecutive possessions before punting for the first time in the second half. Though he only played for two and a half quarters, Grossman threw for an Orange Bowl record 4 touchdowns.
Urban Meyer from Utah was hired by the Florida athletic department in 2005 to replace the overly-mediocre Ron Zook, who took over as Gators’ head coach following Spurrier’s departure to the NFL following the 2001 success.
In his second year Meyer destroyed the Ohio State Buckeyes in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game. The third and fourth quarters of the blowout featured a freshman quarterback named Tim Tebow who threw for a touchdown and rushed for one, and over the next three years became a perennial Heisman contender. In 2007, he became the first sophomore to win the award.
Tebow led Florida to a second National Championship in 2008. Because of a loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, Florida did not have a shot at a third title in four years but instead went on to beat Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl.
Florida struggled to find their pace after Tebow’s departure and Meyer’s almost-departure after the 2009 season. Despite having to fill large holes on both offense and defense, the Gators won the Outback Bowl and finished at 8-5. Following the season, Meyer retired from coaching due to health concerns and will be replaced by former Texas coach-in-waiting, Will Muschamp.
Florida will have a tough schedule which, combined with questions at the quarterback position, could mean another second-place finish in the SEC East. But with the overall weakness of the division and great recruiting, the future looks very bright in Gainesville.
Ralph Friedgen took over Maryland in 2001 and enjoyed immediate success largely due to Florida State’s weakness that year. In the next two seasons, Maryland finished second twice and had 11- and 10-win seasons.
Following the ACC’s expansion and split into divisions, the Terps experienced a significant drop in the standings, often finishing in the middle of the pack and only once reaching the 2 spot in the Atlantic division.
Friedgen retired after the 2010 season and finished with a respectable 75-50 record which included 7 bowl trips (5 wins) over a span of 10 years. He will be replaced by Randy Edsall, the coach who built the Connecticut program virtually from the ground up and finished atop the Big East twice.
Maryland is one of the ACC teams that have more questions than answers. With the rise of programs like Virginia and possibly Florida State’s return to national prominence under Jimbo Fisher, wins in the ACC will be tougher to come by. Knowing that their recruiting class of 2011 was close to the bottom in the ACC, Maryland might be far from another BCS bid.