BCS Years in Review: 2002, Controversy on Field Mars Perfect Ending

Samuel Chi@@ThePlayoffGuruCollege Football Playoff GuruDecember 24, 2013

TEMPE, AZ - JANUARY 3:  Running back Maurice Clarett #13 of the Ohio State Buckeyes is interviewed by Lynn Swann after deafeating the Miami Hurricanes in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on January 3, 2003 at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona.  Ohio State won the game 31-24 in double-overtime, winning the NCAA National Championship. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Part 5 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.

Part 1: 1998, A New Beginning for College Football

Part 2: 1999, FSU Ends Michael Vick's Quest for Perfection

Part 3: 2000, FSU-Miami Sows Seeds of Controversy

Part 4: 2001, Nebraska Fiasco Rocks College Football


After two years of turmoil, the BCS got a big break in 2002 as two undefeated teams—the only ones—met in a memorable title game that wasn't decided until after two overtimes. This time, the controversy came only during the game.

But just like in 1999, while the BCS could pat itself on the back all it wants, the reality is that a caveman could've picked the Miami-Ohio State matchup—and he wouldn't even need the BCS standings to muddle his thoughts.

After Oklahoma was upset in the first week of November, it became clear that the title game would feature defending champion and No. 1-ranked Miami and second-ranked Ohio State. The Buckeyes had to survive a tight battle with archrival Michigan, 14-9, while the 'Canes romped through the final weeks, bidding to become the first team in the BCS era to repeat as champions.

Ohio State, riding on the back of the criminally talented freshman Maurice Clarett, would spoil Miami's quest, but it needed two big breaks to do it. First, Hurricanes running back Willis McGahee tore his ACL in the third quarter, slowing down the Miami offensive powerhouse. Then, just as the 'Canes seemingly clinched victory on the game's final play, a pass interference (wait, or was it defensive holding?) flag came out five seconds later that gave the Buckeyes new life.

Was that a good call? You decide.

(Warning: The neutrality of the commentary is in question)

But the most significant development of this season went mostly unnoticed. After losing two of its first five games, USC blew through the rest of the Pac-10 and routed Iowa in the Orange Bowl, led by Heisman-winning quarterback Carson Palmer. The Trojans would re-enter college football's top echelon and become the most BCS-relevant juggernaut for the rest of the decade.

Final BCS standings: 1. Miami, 2. Ohio State, 3. Georgia, 4. USC.

Final 2002 BCS Standings
RankTeamPoll Avg.ComputerSoSLossQ-WBCS
2Ohio St.21.67200-0.53.97
<a href="http://www.bcsguru.com/images/bcs_2002.pdf">BCS Guru</a>

Alternative Methods

Using post-2003 formula: 1. Miami, 2. Ohio State.

Using 1998-2000 formula: 1. Miami, 2. Ohio State.

Likely four-team playoff: Miami vs. USC; Ohio State vs. Georgia.

Both USC and Iowa were conference co-champions, but since the Trojans played a tougher schedule and Big Ten co-champion Ohio State were already in the field, Iowa got squeezed out. It would've been an easy decision with the benefit of hindsight.


The Rose Bowl in Miami: The real Rose Bowl lost out on the traditional Big Ten-Pac-10 matchup and was none too pleased about it. Adding insult to more insult, the Orange Bowl invoked a little-known BCS backroom rule to secure a USC-Iowa matchup that announced the arrival of the Trojan Dynasty.

Here's how it happened:

After the Fiesta Bowl took the top two teams for the national title game, the Orange Bowl snagged No. 5 Iowa, the Big Ten runner-up. At this point, the bowls could not protect their affiliated conference teams so the Rose Bowl, already fuming at losing Iowa, took Big 12 champion Oklahoma to face Pac-10 co-champ Washington State (which beat USC head-to-head).

The Sugar Bowl was next, ready to invite No. 4 USC to play No. 3 Georgia. But the Orange Bowl took advantage of an exception clause that allowed a higher-paying bowl to jump another once every four years and swiped the Trojans away. The Sugar Bowl was stuck with SEC champion Georgia and ACC winner, No. 14 Florida State.

2002 BCS Bowl Matchups
BowlScoreAttendanceTV Rating
Fiesta Bowl*#2 Ohio St. 31, #1 Miami 24 (2 OT)77,50217.2
Rose Bowl#7 Oklahoma 34, #6 Washington St. 1486,84811.3
Orange Bowl#4 USC 38, #5 Iowa 1775,9719.7
Sugar Bowl#3 Georgia 26, #14 Florida St. 1374,2699.2
* BCS Championship Game

BCS formula review: Computer rankings by Herman Matthews and Dave Rothman were dropped and The New York Times was added back in, making it a total of seven. The lowest ranking was discarded and the remaining were six averaged.

All rankings now purged the margin-of-victory component, as Jeff Sagarin introduced a new ELO-CHESS rating that removed margin of victory, reluctantly—in his words: "In ELO-CHESS, only winning and losing matters; the score margin is of no consequence, which makes it very 'politically correct'."

Final analysis: The BCS celebrated its most successful season yet and decided to take the rest of the year off to congratulate itself. The Miami-Ohio State game was a boon to the BCS and seemingly validated its existence—without the participation of the Big Ten, Pac-10 and the Rose Bowl, this matchup wouldn't have happened in the pre-BCS era. But the next two years would bring nothing but trouble for the system, especially 2003, when the mother of all controversies would force the BCS to reinvent itself.

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