Thursday, January 10

The BCS: Ten Years in the Rearview

The BCS has not been without controversy. In its first ten seasons, only three produced a clear #1 vs #2 (1999, 2002, 2005). The media's #1 team has been left out (2003, USC) and an unbeaten team from the perceived #1 conference has been left out (2004, Auburn). Of the seven controversial seasons, only one (2006) resolved itself when Michigan lost its bowl and Florida beat Ohio State.

Similarly, we've had controversial at-large selections, among the worst snubs being Marshall in 1999, Texas in 2003, Cal in 2004, Oregon in 2005, and Missouri in 2007. Notably, however, only Marshall and Missouri won the bowl games they did play in.

But what has the system done for us? Without the BCS, we never would have gotten those classic Ohio State-Miami or USC-Texas national championship games. Most likely, both teams would have beaten inferior opponents and the winner would have been decided by popularity contest. Last year, Ohio State would have faced USC in the Rose Bowl with a chance to win the national title, while Florida played against some nobody hoping they'd win and OSU would slip up. This season, Ohio State vs USC part 2 probably would have been for the national championship. Whether that's any better than Ohio State vs LSU, I have no idea. In 2004, we might have had three power conference unbeatens rather than just two.

We've also been treated to some classic nonstandard bowl matchups in non-championship games -- Alabama vs Michigan, Texas vs Michigan, and Oklahoma vs Boise State among the best games that probably wouldn't have taken place otherwise.

I typically don't like to legitimize the horribly flawed system by saying anything good about it, but the fact is that it is the "lesser of two evils" compared to the old bowls system. So after 10 years of the BCS, here's some highlights:

Best BCS Games

1) 2006 Rose Bowl: Texas 41, USC 38. USC was ready to be crowned the AP's first three-time champion, the greatest team of all-time, and the greatest dynasty of all-time. The defending champs featured two Heisman winners in their backfield, but in their way stood one of the greatest clutch players and truest dual-threat QBs in college history. The Trojans struck first, the Longhorns pulled ahead by 9, the Trojans narrowed the gap down to 6. The teams traded back and forth in the third quarter, with USC taking a little more each time. The final 6 minutes were like something out of a movie, all the way down to the 4th-and-short defensive stand and subsequent 4th-and-goal offensive score by the game's MVP.

2) 2007 Fiesta Bowl: Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42 OT. With Utah's win a few years prior written off as a result of the extreme weakness of the 2004 Big East, people still wondered if the little guy could play against a BCS big dog. Boise State built an 18-point lead before Oklahoma stormed back to tie, then took the lead on a pick-six as Boise State was trying to set up a decisive field goal... all setting the stage for a trio of trick plays that turned a desparate situation into an instant classic.

3) 2000 Orange Bowl: Michigan 35, Alabama 34 OT. One game featuring two rallies from 14 down engineered by none other than Tom Brady. Had Alabama not missed a PAT in OT, this one would have kept going.

4) 2005 Rose Bowl: Texas 38, Michigan 37. Many felt that Texas didn't deserve their at-large selection, and so fans of the BCS (lol, what?) could breathe a sigh of relief after the Longhorns not only won but delivered one of the greatest Rose Bowl games of all time. This back-and-forth contest was Vince Young's eruption onto the national stage, decided by a field goal as time expired.

5) 2003 Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State 31, Miami 24 2OT. Rather than the anticipated blowout, we were treated to a gritty performance and unlikely upset by the Buckeyes in an ugly (in the good kind of way) game. The pass interference call on 4th down in the first overtime is still a sore subject for Miami and Ohio State fans alike.

6) 1999 Rose Bowl: Wisconsin 38, UCLA 31. UCLA was one of the teams who were supposed to play for the national championship, along with Ohio State. Both lost late games, but UCLA was still considered the superior team here with their outstanding passing game. Wisconsin featured the nation's top scoring defense and best runningback. What ensued was a back and forth battle between two opposite offensive extremes. Ron Dayne came one yard short of the Rose Bowl rushing record, the defense provided the final margin of victory, and the underdog won.

7) 2006 Sugar Bowl: West Virginia 38, Georgia 35. Lots of people felt that the Big East champ didn't belong in the BCS after three programs left in the previous two years, and with the conference standing at 0-3 that bowl season those people appeared to be right. The Mountaineers took a 28-0 lead and held on to win, converting a late fake punt to run out the clock, and providing the conference with some relief against its doubters.

8) 2000 Sugar Bowl: Florida State 46, Virginia Tech 29. A great showdown between Michael Vick and Peter Warrick. Ultimately, it was mistakes by both Vick and coach Frank Beamer that cost the Hokies as a 29-28 3rd quarter lead evaporated.

9) 2000 Fiesta Bowl: Nebraska 31, Tennessee 21. The game was reasonably close, but that's not the reason I recommend it. Nebraska's 12-1 season was among the last three of their 32 straight 9+ wins seasons. They had won three national titles in the previous five years and would play for another (and get crushed) twoyears later, before fading into mediocrity. Tennessee had won the first BCS championship the season before, and this year had lost two games by a combined 6 points (the previous season, they beat those two teams by a total of 7). Had the Vols won this game, that would have made five straight of 10+ wins, impressive in its own right. This was a meeting between two early BCS powerhouses who both took second chair in seasons to come, but it was also the end of an era. Nebraska took an early 17-0 lead before Tennessee stormed back to make it 17-14 in the 3rd. A Tennessee punt gave Nebraska the ball on their own 4 yard line; the Huskers promptly drove the ball all the way to the end zone almost entirely on the ground, 24-14. Tennessee punted again, this time Nebraska got the ball inches away from their own goalline. Same result, 31-14. The following two seasons, Nebraska would finish with at least ten wins but two losses apiece which was a disappointment for the incredible status of their program at the time. Following their blowout loss to Miami - a battle of the growing pro-style teams against an old guard option team - Nebraska went 7-7 in 2002. This game, and those two drives in particular, were the last great stand of the power option offense, and that is why this game gets a spot on my list. (also, Tennessee losing is always good)

Worst BCS Bowl Games

1) 2005 Orange Bowl: USC 55, Oklahoma 19. After a good first half of the first quarter, Oklahoma completely fell apart and was dominated by USC in all aspects of the game to provide their own answer to the question - a month too late - as to which of the three unbeatens should have been left out. I suppose there might have been worse games, but considering the stage and the fact that Oklahoma's selection was controversial, it doesn't get much worse than this.

2) 2002 Rose Bowl: Miami 37, Nebraska 14. Don't let the mere 23-point margin of victory fool you, this game was 34-0 at halftime before Miami simply lost interest. Like the game above, you have to ask if this was really the best the BCS could come up with. But when you look over Miami's roster and their results week in and week out that entire season, you also have to wonder what team wouldn't have suffered the same fate?

3) 2005 Fiesta Bowl: Utah 35, Pittsburgh 7. A year after losing all of the conference's top programs (at the time), Pittsburgh represented the Big East basically because somebody had to do it. They were completely outclassed and run off the field by a midmajor, with a final meaningless TD preventing the shutout.

4) 2008 Sugar Bowl: Georgia 41, Hawaii 10. Let's just say that after this game, a schedule ranking in the top 100 in the nation should be required to play in the BCS. I mean, Brennan vs this secondary would have been pretty cool to see, if the line could stop a 4-man rush. Were it not for a late meaningless TD, this one would have been 41-3 and the biggest BCS rout ever.

5) 2007 BCS Championship: Florida 41, Ohio State 14. After Ted Ginn scored a touchdown on the opening kickoff, his own teammates injured him in the end zone celebration and the remaining 59:45 or so of the game featured Florida hitting short/mid-range passes to wide open receivers and Troy Smith getting drilled by defensive ends. Arguably a better game than the two below it, but I'm giving this one bonus points for the cause and possible reprocussions of Ginn's injury.

6) 2001 Fiesta Bowl: Oregon State 41, Notre Dame 9. The Irish were held to 155 yards of total offense to go with their -1 return yards. Fortunately for ND, Oregon State was penalized 18 times for 174, but even that couldn't keep the score respectable.

7) 2002 Orange Bowl: Florida 56, Maryland 23. The score was this ugly despite a +2 TO edge for the Terps, and even that required a 13-7 4th quarter to make it closer. Oh yeah... and Heisman runner-up Rex Grossman sat out the first six series of the game for a curfew violation. Once he entered, Florida scored 6 TDs on his first 6 possessions before punting with less than 5 minutes ramaining in the game. Wow.

8) 2002 Fiesta Bowl: Oregon 38, Colorado 16. While voters' #4 Nebraska was chosen to play against #1 Miami, #2 and #3 faced off here. Did the computers miss on Oregon/Nebraska? Perhaps; we can only speculate. One thing we know with about 99% certainty, though, was that ranking Colorado low enough to keep them out of the title game was the right call. After an early 7-0 Buffs lead, Oregon scored 38 straight before calling off the dogs.

9) 2008 Rose Bowl: USC 49, Illinois 17. Illinois was perhaps the worst at-large selection the BCS has made in 10 years, being selected first despite the Rose Bowl having its choice of Missouri, Kansas, West Virginia, or Hawaii to face a streaking USC team. Competitive for a few minutes... the Illini quietly erased half of a 21-0 deficit and had a chance in the red zone to cut it to 21-17 in the third quarter. Then the turnovers started and the onslaught began.

10) 2001 Orange Bowl: Oklahoma 13, Florida State 2. It would be higher up there if it wasn't at least close in score, because this has by far the worst actual gameplay. I read that in one of the lesser levels of Hell, they show this game on Saturdays. I love great defense, but this was a matchup of horribly inept offenses. Both teams rushed for under 2 yards per carry (3 total sacks were a nonfactor), but that didn't stop Oklahoma from pounding it 36 times for just 62 yards. The passing yards should have amounted to more than 15 total points... but oh yeah, five turnovers. Other than those, it was punt punt punt... yawn. FSU's lone score? An intentional safety by OU to avoid a potential late game non-offensive TD for the Noles. In lots of BCS bowls, fans will retroactively argue that the loser didn't belong there, but after actually watching this game in its entirety (eh, Russell and I might have played a few games of NBA Jam to kill time) I'd like to have seen Miami rematch Washington or something else which involved absolutely neither one of these teams. Which gets me to thinking... I've seen a total of two BCS games with my best friend from high school. Both involved Oklahoma, and both are on this list. Maybe we should just stick to talking about the game afterwards.

11) 2007 Sugar Bowl: LSU 41, Notre Dame 14. The first ten minutes went about as expected for LSU to get up 14-0. Then Notre Dame took advantage of a turnover and a missed field goal by LSU to tie the game at 14... after which, LSU scored the game's final 27 points on their way to a 577-yard offensive performance. Why does this get a mention despite being tied after 29 minutes - ie, at least having half a good game? 1) After their first two BCS losses, the suits should have known better than to choose ND in the first place and 2) Brady Quinn was supposed to be good (lol).

My Rankings of the BCS Seasons (named by regular season)

1) 1999 - The championship game was entertaining and the Michigan-Alabama Orange Bowl a classic. Nebraska's back-to-back 96+ yard drives to put away a competitive game against Tennessee were the end of an offensive era.

2) 2005 - This was the year we were treated to that classic USC-Texas game, and West Virginia-Georgia wasn't bad either. Penn State vs Florida State was at least suspenseful, if nothing other than to see who could finally hit a FG or even a freaking PAT in overtime.

3) 1998 - The Wisconsin-UCLA Rose Bowl was the only really good game of the bunch, but Ohio State-A&M was fairly entertaining and FSU kept the championship game semi-competitive despite losing their starting QB. For the worst game, Florida-Syracuse wasn't even bad enough to make my list so that's something.

4) 2003 - Not really any great games, but three were decided by seven or less and the fourth by 14.

5) 2002 - The championship game was a classic, and Georgia vs Florida State was at the very least a good game. However, overrated Iowa was smacked down by USC (never have I rooted so hard for the Trojans in my life, good lord Iowa fans were getting annoying -- yes, at this point in my life, I was living in the midwest) and Oklahoma used Washington State as their punching bag.

6) 2006 - Were I not taking into account the stage and talent of the 2006 Rose Bowl (2005 season), this season would have produced the greatest BCS game played yet, and indeed that Fiesta Bowl is one of the all-time classic bowl games from any era. However, a pair of 41-14 flops a who cares Louisville victory over Wake Forest, and a second half no-show by overrated Michigan make this BCS season about average overall.

7) 2004 - The championship ranks as the worst BCS game ever, and #3 on the list also happened this season. The Texas-Michigan Rose Bowl was this year's saving grace.

8) 2007 - Two bowls made my "worst" list, a third was decided by 20, and the championship game was at least halfway a flop. Only Kansas-VT was close, and unless you had a rooting interest it wasn't that interesting.

9) 2000 - No game was decided by single digits, and the championship game featured excruciatingly poor play by both teams.

10) 2001 - No game was closer than 13 points, and three of the four made my worst games list.

Best Individual Performances
1) Vince Young, 467 total yards 3 TDs in 2006 Rose Bowl
2) Matt Leinart: 332 yds 5 TDs in 2005 Orange Bowl
3) Vince Young: 372 total yards 5 TDs in 2005 Rose Bowl
4) Ron Dayne: 246 yards 4 TDs in 1999 Rose Bowl
5) Tom Brady: 369 yards 4 TDs in 2000 Orange Bowl
6) Rex Grossman: 248 yards 4 TDs in 2002 Orange Bowl - this was despite playing just 2.5 quarters
7) Joey Harrington, 350 yards 4 TDs in 2002 Fiesta Bowl
(going by memory on who played well so I'm probably missing somebody)

My Rankings of the Champions
1) 2001 Miami - 16 future NFL first-rounders played on this squad!
2) 2005 Texas - Vince Young, what else do you need?
3) 2004 USC - dominant Orange Bowl culmination after mild selection controversy
4) 1999 Florida State - strong offense and aggressive defense
5) 2006 Florida - might have faced toughest schedule of any team on this list
6) 2002 Ohio State - strong defense, great kicking game, clutch in the 4th
7) 1998 Tennessee - surprising champions who were very well-rounded
8) 2003 LSU - suffocating defense, one of the best units on that side of the ball along with Miami's
9) 2000 Oklahoma - epic offensive failure in the Orange Bowl, surpassed only by FSU's epic offensive failure in the same game
10) 2007 LSU - sorry guys, 2 losses

Best Overall Programs
1) Oklahoma: 102-28, 4-5 bowl record, 2-4 BCS record, 1 BCS championship, 8 top 25 finishes, 6 top 10 finishes, worst season 5-6
2) Texas: 103-25, 7-3 bowl record, 2-0 BCS record, 1 BCS championship, 10 top 25 finishes, 5 top 10 finishes, worst season 9-5
3) Ohio State: 98-27, 5-4 bowl record, 4-2 BCS record, 1 BCS championship, 7 top 25 finishes, 6 top 10 finishes, worst season 6-6
4) USC: 95-32, 5-3 bowl record, 5-1 BCS record, 1 BCS championship, 6 top 25 finishes, 6 top 10 finishes, worst season 5-7
5) LSU: 89-37, 6-2 bowl record, 4-0 BCS record, 2 BCS championships, 6 top 25 finishes, 5 top 10 finishes, worst season 3-8

Best BCS Programs
1) LSU: 4-0 record, 2 BCS championships. They've won all of their games by playing at the Sugar Bowl in their home state, but they've still won every BCS bowl they've played in.
2) USC: 5-1 record, 1 BCS championship. Also holders of the AP end of the only split championship in the last 10 years.
3) Ohio State: 4-2 record, 1 BCS championship. Sure they've lost their last two, but only USC has played in as many games or won more BCS games than the Buckeyes.

Honorable Mentions: Texas, Wisconsin, and West Virginia all stand at 2-0 in BCS play, with Texas winning a BCS championship game.

Worst BCS Programs
1) Notre Dame: 0-3. Not only have the Fighting Irish stunk it up on the field (total score 116-41), but their inclusions were often controversial.
2) Illinois: 0-2. In two losses, they've given up 96 points, and their selection for the 2007 Rose Bowl was a controversial dud.
3) Virginia Tech: 0-3. At least the Hokies were ACC Champs every time, and all their games were competitive.

Dishonorable Mention: Oklahoma: 2-4. If there's a chink in the armor of my top-ranked program, it's their appearance in the actual BCS Bowls. Following a close loss to LSU in the 2004 Sugar Bowl, their defense has given up 55, 43, and 48 points for the Sooners to make that four BCS losses, the most of any team.