This week's edition of the Wednesday Countdown is a little more outside-the-box than usual. The question is simple, but the answer is not. If the BCS had gone to a four team playoff model in 1998, which championships would have been the most controversial? Sounds easy enough,but it’s a complicated question. Taking into account which teams played (and which teams didn’t), and what happened down the stretch, we look at the top five would-have-been controversies.
Would the TCU Horned Frogs, a clear cut selection in 2010, also have played for the 2009 Championship?
2005 – Though not on the list, this season would have been an interesting one. Penn State and Ohio State were ranked third and fourth respectively in the final BCS Standings. The two were co-Big 10 Champions even though
Penn State defeated Ohio State earlier in the season. Both would likely have been selected, but that would have drawn the ire of the SEC, Big 12 and now the ACC who in 2005 began having their own conference championship game.
#5 - 2009 – Leap Frog?
2009 ended with five undefeated teams, with Alabama and Texas obviously being selected for the playoff. But then you’d have four teams for three spots. Cincinnati was the Big East Champion, and the computers and polls liked them well enough. The Bearcats would almost certainly have been selected. (Remember, the Big East is still an AQ Conference.)
TCU would have had the rightful claim on the fourth spot. The Horned Frogs were ranked third in both the Harris Interactive (the BCS had since dropped the AP from it’s formula) and the Coaches Polls. But the Horned Frogs were ranked fifth in the computers, behind SEC runner-up Florida. The Gator’s lone loss that season came in the SEC Championship game.
If Utah had an argument in 2004, TCU had an all out claim in 2009, but would the selection committee have picked the Horned Frogs? Even if they did, there would be some controversy. Right behind the Frogs and Gators in the rankings was Boise State. The Broncos were also undefeated.
#4 - 1998 – K-State’s Title Game Catastrophe
Of course, in the BCS’ inaugural season, there would have been problems. Kansas State finished their conference schedule undefeated and ranked number one in the nation. The only thing standing between the Wildcats and the first ever BCS Championship Game were the tenth ranked Aggies, but that last hurdle proved to be the toughest. The Wildcats, one of just two teams in the country to finish the season undefeated, fell in double overtime to Texas A&M.
Mack Brown's Texas Longhorns would have been at the center of the storm on several occasions.
Now, on the surface, this season might not seem that controversial. With Kansas State’s loss, they were no longer considered the Big 12 Champions, and #1 Tennessee, #2 Florida State, #3 Ohio State and #5 UCLA had all won their respective conferences. (Though FSU actually was co-champions with Georgia Tech.)
But here’s where the controversy would have been. At that time, the Big 10, Pac 10 and ACC didn’t play conference championship games, only the Big 12 and SEC did. So Kansas State lost a game that the others didn’t have to play. The result would have been a nightmare for the Big 12, which would have done what many feared the SEC Championship Game would do, eliminate one of their own teams from national title contention.
Ultimately though, that’s what happened anyway. Kansas State’s loss put them outside of the top two, despite Florida State not having to play a conference championship game. However, if the committee also would have dropped them outside the top four, it would have been even more controversial.
#3 - 2004 – The Rise of the Non-AQ
2004, like 2003, is a year that people will point to and say that the new four team format would have solved the controversy. In 2003, a one loss USC team wasn’t selected for the title game despite being #1 in both the AP and Coaches polls. That year, Oklahoma and LSU battled for the title. In 2004, the victim was Auburn, but this time, they were undefeated. So, while under this format Auburn would have played for the championship, 2004 would have had a new controversy, and that’s Utah.
Before 2004, no team outside of the “Big Six” really had a legitimate claim at the top four. But in 2004, Utah did. Obviously the undefeated teams of USC, Oklahoma and Auburn would all have been in. But the next two teams in the BCS were one loss teams Texas and Cal. Texas’ loss obviously came to Oklahoma, while Cal’s was to USC.
At number six were the undefeated Utes of Utah. The Utes had tried to schedule well, playing against “Big Six” teams Texas A&M, NC State and Arizona. All of which they easily defeated. Would the committee have decided that Texas and Cal had their chance and gone with Utah, or would they have made the financial play to a big conference team? A semi-final game featuring USC and Texas would certainly be a much bigger draw than one featuring USC and Utah.
#2 - 2001 – Free-For-All
Could Illinois have played for the 2001 National Title?
You knew this one was going to be on there. 2001 would have been an absolute mess no matter how you looked at it. Let’s start with who was definitely in, and that’s Miami. The ‘Canes were the nation’s only undefeated team.
The next-most-likely pick would have been Oregon. The Ducks had just one loss, and were the Pac 10 champions outright. However, working against Oregon would have been their strength of schedule that season. They had only defeated one team ranked in the final BCS Standings, 12th-ranked Washington State.
After that, there are a number of combinations on the table.
Colorado won the Big 12 Championship that season despite a furious comeback by the Major Applewhite-led Longhorns in the championship game. Texas had actually played Colorado earlier in the season and absolutely decimated them 41-7. But, in a game that will be forever burned into the minds of Texas fans, Chris Simms practically gave the game to Colorado in the first half. But could Colorado, a team that lost to Fresno State in week one of the season, play for the national championship?
Now what about Nebraska? Would this committee, charged with taking conference championships into account, select a team that didn’t even win their own division in the conference? After all, Nebraska’s loss was, in fact, to Colorado and on the last week of the season. It also wasn’t even close. Nebraska got plowed 62-36 that day, but despite not even winning the North, Nebraska would still go on to the BCS National Championship game against Miami.
Even harder to figure out would be the SEC. The top ranked team in the BCS was 10-2 Florida at number five. However, the Gators didn’t win the SEC East. That title went to Tennessee, who when the regular season finished, looked like a shoe-in to the championship game at 11-1. However, Tennessee fell to 9-3 LSU in the SEC Championship Game.
Summing that all up, the committee would have to select two teams from Nebraska, Colorado, Texas, Tennessee, and Florida. Tennessee’s resume has the fewest problems, with their lone loss coming in the SEC Championship, but then who?
They committee could have really created controversy if they did indeed decide to reward another conference champion that season. They could have chosen to skip over Nebraska for not even being in the Big 12 Championship, despite their #2 BCS ranking. And sitting at #8 In the BCS Rankings was a conference champion with just one loss (keep in mind that Colorado, Texas and Florida all had two losses). A team who’s lone loss of the season came on the road in week four to a top twenty team in Michigan. That team was Illinois.
Urban Meyer could have taken two teams to playoff if 2004 Utah had been selected.
#1 - 2008 - Alabama or Texas or USC
Oh what a year this would have been. In 2008 nobody from a big six conference ended the season undefeated. The only unbeaten team was Utah, who against the one-loss heavyweights would have had essentially no chance of getting into the Football Four. And if you want to talk about controversy, this season would have been a banner year for it.
The committee would have had two easy choices. 12-1 Oklahoma looked like the best team in the country after absolutely annihilating everything in their way the final month of the season. Oklahoma scored at least fifty points in their final six games, including a 65-21 obliterating of then second-ranked Texas Tech and a route of Missouri in the Big 12 Championship Game.
The other easy choice would have been Florida. After falling early in the season Ole Miss, Tebow delivered on his promise after the game, and Florida ran the table the rest of the way. The Gators defeated then top-ranked Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.
But after that, there would have been a three way debate between three of college football’s most storied programs. For one, you’d have had Texas, a team who defeated top ranked Oklahoma, and whose only loss came on a lass second play on the road against a top ten Texas Tech team. For another, Alabama. The Crimson Tide came into the SEC Championship Game ranked number one, and Florida was their only loss of the season. A season that included wins at both LSU and Georgia. Finally, USC. the Pac 10 Champions fell early in the season at Oregon State, but rebounded to win the conference by running the table the rest of the way.
The easy first choice of the three would seem to be Alabama. After all, the Crimson Tide’s only loss came to Florida, and they finished the regular season undefeated. But, USC actually won the Pac-10, and the selection committee is supposed to take that into account.
However, Texas’ only loss came on the road in the final seconds to a top ten team and they defeated top ranked Oklahoma. Keep in mind that the Big 12 South’s representative in the conference championship game that year was determined by the BCS Standings, where Oklahoma jumped Texas in the final week of the season. The difference was one spot in the rankings. The other way around and the Longhorns would have likely won the Big 12 Championship game.
That’s why 2008 ranks at the top of the list. No matter which team the committee left out, controversy would have ruled in College Football. And we’re not talking a controversy about a non-AQ vs a two loss team or something. We’re talking about three of the biggest programs in the history of college football, and all with valid claims to be included.