The B.C.S. Busters Volume One (1998-2000)

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On behalf of Place To Be Nation, college football and its flawed B.C.S. era get the ultimate do-over

Andrew Riche: The first season in which I was truly embedded in college football from beginning to end was in the 1997 season. The Big XII was just formed, overtime was only a year old, and Florida’s Steve Spurrier was the crown prince of the sport. It was the final year of the Bowl Alliance, which had been a transparent replacement for the even more obsolete Bowl Coalition that last only three years. My LSU Tigers, under head coach Gerry DiNardo, gave me my greatest memory as a football fan when I was in high school when they upset Spurrier’s #1-ranked Gators in Baton Rouge. I was also a huge fan of Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning, son of New Orleans Saints legend Archie. Manning had accumulated unmatchable numbers leading up to his senior except for one thing that LSU was able to do in 1997: He could not beat the Florida Gators throughout his college career.

As much as my dad, brother and I loved the resurgence of LSU and the greatness of Peyton in the SEC, the 1997 season always stood out for me because of two great, all-time teams in the same year: The Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Michigan Wolverines. Nebraska was still living off of the 1994 and 1995 teams that went undefeated and produced maybe the greatest team in the history of modern college football thanks to a strong, country-bred offensive line and the running attack of Scott Frost, Ahman Green, and Joel Makovicka. It was also announced as the last season for legendary head coach Tom Osbourne, who was ready to retire, and he got to go out in style. While they convincingly beat down all but three of their opponents to an undefeated record, it was Nebraska that year that gave me my earliest memory of a fantastic college football finish when they needed the infamous Flea Kicker to tie Missouri on the road and eventually win in overtime. In Osbourne’s final game in the Orange Bowl, Nebraska put a 42-17 pounding on who else but Peyton Manning and Tennessee.

While the Cornhuskers were an unstoppable force, Lloyd Carr’s Wolverines out of the Big Ten were a straight up immovable object. While Nebraska was running their way to 1st in the country in scoring offense at 46.7 PPG, Michigan put up one of the most impregnable defenses known to mankind (only 9.5 PPG surrendered!) with stars like Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson, Sam Sword, Dhani Jones, and Glen Steele. They played four opponents ranked in the top ten and never gave up more than 24 points all year. Woodson’ show-stealing performance against rival Ohio State is still one of the best games in the history of the Big Ten, if not the best. I did not even mention the fact that they had NFL talent on offense like Brian Griese, Anthony Thomas, Jerame Tuman, Tai Streets and one of the best set of offensive lineman in college football history in Steve Hutchinson, Jeff Backus, and Jon Jansen.

The innocent 15-year-old me was anxious to see my generation’s Game of the Century after each decade had gotten their own share of history. The 1960’s fans had the Notre Dame/Michigan State 10-10 tie in 1966. Those from the 1970’s will always remember Nebraska beating Oklahoma 35-31 in 1971. And even in the 1980’s, we got Joe Paterno’s Penn State Nittany Lions stunning Jimmy Johnson’s Miami Hurricanes in the Fiesta Bowl. The closest we got in the 1990’s to the Game of the Century was Florida State losing in South Bend to Notre Dame, but it is often forgotten because the Seminoles still won the national title after Notre Dame lost a week later to Boston College. Then there was the Nebraska/Florida showdown in Fiesta Bowl, but that was a dangling carrot as the Huskers destroyed the Gators 62-24. Now, we had Tom Osbourne’s final Nebraska team (and pretty dominant one) potentially going head-to-head with blue-collar Michigan team, monster versus monster.

But what I realized that season was that we were at the very end of the Bowl Alliance, where the attempts to pit the top two teams in the same bowl game were fleeting and fundamentally ignorant. Because the Rose Bowl and the Big Ten were not invited into the Alliance Bowls, Michigan had to play Ryan Leaf and Washington State in the Rose Bowl (where they won 21-16) while Nebraska took care of business against Tennessee in the Orange Bowl. Thanks to this exclusion, we had to settle for a split national championship with us never finding out who would have won it all between these Nebraska and Michigan. How sad is it that the only teams these two were comparable with were each other, yet they never got a chance to prove it on the field because of a pathetic, outdated buddy system.

With such outrage over the weaknesses of the Bowl Alliance came in the inclusion of the Pac-1o, the Big Ten, the Rose Bowl, and smaller conferences to create the Bowl Championship Series, a sequence of four bowls per year culminating with #1 playing against #2 (regardless of conference affiliation) for the crystal ball. I was hopeful about the prospects of a championship game while still kicking dirt that it did not happen one year earlier so that I got my Nebraska/Michigan dream match up. But as the years unfolded and I became wiser and more grizzled about the hypocritical double standards of the college football business, it was easier to see the glaring flaws and short-sighted nature of only granting two schools the opportunity to play for the national title.  Sure, they got the top two right more often than not thanks to the way the seasons played out (I mean, was there anyone even remotely close to USC and Texas in 2005?), but with every final ranking came swirls of controversy, bad lip service, and calls for rebellion. Most people preferred to take the “C” out of “B.C.S.” to reveal their true feelings about the system, which was tinkered with every single year after getting something wrong the year before.  In the famous words of Owen Hart, even after the B.C.S. was well into its regime, the message was always similar: “Enough is enough, and it’s time for a change.”

Now, it is 2013, and we have one our hands a system on the brink, or what could also call the Bowl Championship Interim. This Bowl Championship Series, which will finish when Florida State plays Auburn for the national championship in Pasadena, CA, will mercifully disappear into the sports business abyss, to nearly unanimous celebration by the media and fans alike. In its place we will have the College Football Playoff, which shall double the number of participants for the national title from two to four. Not terribly drastic, but progress has still been accomplished even though it took 15 years too long in the opinions of many. The College Football Playoff (and their 13-person committee free of computer nerdism, Harris Polls, and blowhard coaches) will still draw the ire of some who demand to know why #5 or #6 did not get the chance to go to the dance, but just like the B.C.S. in 1997 when I was growing up, the C.F.P. is a welcoming retooling of what seemed like an impossible proposition decades ago: A college football Final Four.

But what if the College Football Playoff was around after the 1997 season instead of the flawed B.C.S.? What if we got to see Miami and Florida State fight it out again for a national title shot in 2000, or USC versus LSU in 2003, or which Big XII team really deserved a shot between Texas and Oklahoma in 2008? Well, you just came to the right place, true believer, because Place To Be Nation is proud to present to you the B.C.S. Busters, a 5-volume, 15-year-long odyssey to undo all of the possible wrongs from the B.C.S. and see what the upcoming College Football Playoff could have improved upon in its place. But we don’t need Condoleeza Rice or Oliver Luck to sort this out like the C.F.P. will starting next season. We have an esteemed panel of PTBN writers (and college football die-hard’s) of our own to settle this chaos theory once and for all.

Along with myself, a LSU fan (to get loyalties out in the open for you readers) I will be joined by PTBN co-founder and Notre Dame fan Scott Criscuolo, Alabama Crimson Tide fan Greg Phillips, Georgia Bulldog fan Nick Duke, Seminole for life Maurice Pogue, and Missouri Tiger fan Todd Gessling. With these five together, the B.C.S. Busters are going to put their suits on, check for ectoplasm, try not to cross the streams, and rid ourselves of the evil stink that has been the B.C.S.  We ain’t ‘fraid of no Musberger, so here we go?

1998

Peerless Price of the Tennessee Volunteers scores on a long touchdown in a Fiesta Bowl win over Florida State. (Credit AP/Eric Draper)
Peerless Price of the Tennessee Volunteers scores on a long touchdown in a Fiesta Bowl win over Florida State. (Credit AP/Eric Draper)

THE RANKINGS

B.C.S. Top Ten: 1. Tennessee, 2. Florida State, 3. Kansas State, 4. Ohio State, 5. UCLA, 6. Texas A&M, 7. Arizona, 8. Florida, 9. Wisconsin, 10. Tulane

AP Top Ten: 1. Tennessee, 2. Florida State, 3. Ohio State, 4. Kansas State, 5. Arizona, 6. UCLA, 7. Florida, 8. Texas A&M, 9. Wisconsin, 10. Tulane

Andrew: Just a flip-flop between #3 and #4, it seems, but there is more to this story. In the first season under the watch of the B.C.S., things at times looked quite rocky and unsure for the national title game, in which Tennessee beat Florida State 16-13 in the Fiesta Bowl. Tennessee was a shoo-in as an undefeated #1, but Florida State, who had lost very early in the season to North Carolina State, sort of sneaked in at #2 at the last second. Kansas State and UCLA were both undefeated #2 and #3, but the Wildcats lost their Big XII Championship Game to Texas A&M while UCLA lost a previously rescheduled match-up with Miami on their last weekend. Ohio State was #1 pretty much the entire year and looked dominant, but a home upset against an up-and-coming Michigan State team coached by Nick Saban did them in from the #2 spot. And I know that my local school Tulane went unbeaten under Tommy Bowden, but they had no chance of getting in.

 

THE COMMITTEE SAYS…

Greg: I have zero issues with Tennessee and Florida State at the top two slots. They were the most dominant teams throughout the bulk of the season, and most of the other teams had prominent stumbles along the way. I’d go with Kansas State at #3, because I felt they were the most dynamic team and had the best loss of the bunch. Ohio State’s loss to a 6-6 team is just too much for me, so I’d bump UCLA up to #4 and have the final four as Tennessee, FSU, KSU and UCLA.

Maurice: Okay, first, we need to date ourselves. The #1 Tennessee we’re talking about here is one year removed from the Peyton Manning Vols which failed to win the National Championship game against Nebraska. This is also Phillip Fulmer’s Tennessee before “Snitchgate,” which reduced Alabama into ashes before the current Saban era.

FSU certainly benefitted from an early season beat-down, and many teams throughout BCS history would do the same. I’m fine with K. State at #3. There is no shame in losing to then #10 Texas A&M in double OT in the Big 12 championship game. It is still a high crime that they were not invited to a BCS bowl game that year because the wildcats were not considered to be a “big name.” Lame. I agree with Greg: OSU’s loss to MSU was brutal. UCLA’s loss to Miami might have been unfair consider scheduling, but they needed to win that game to prove that they were for real. Also remember that #4 Florida lost to #5 FSU so I’m flipping them. I’m putting Texas A&M at #6, then UCLA at #7 then #8 OSU. Arizona et. al. can follow afterward.

Andrew: Tennessee more than held their own at #1, despite some very close calls in the first two games against Syracuse and Florida, and basically a gift at home against Arkansas. Florida State may have been without quarterback Chris Weinke for the bowl game due to injury, but they had not lost a game since early September with a schedule that included five ranked opponents. #2 for the ‘Noles makes sense. Now, I deviate a bit and pick Ohio State as my #3. Sure, that home loss to 6-6 Michigan State was a stunner, but they still won the Big Ten and pounded Michigan in a payback game after their epic encounter at Ann Arbor the previous year. Kansas State seemed dead set on getting to the B.C.S., but losing your conference title game is so deflating, and that’s exactly what they did. Their best win all year was against Nebraska, who did not even finish in the Top 10 that year. In this case, I would ditch Bill Snyder’s team and go with Bob Toledo’s UCLA Bruins, who were in the top four from late September all the way until their loss to Miami, which was their only regular season loss. Their schedule was slightly weak, too, but winning the Pac-10 outright is what has me picking UCLA between them and Kansas State. (1. Tennessee, 2. Florida State, 3. Ohio State, 4. UCLA)

THE DECISION: We agree that about our top two, but a lot of in-fighting over who earns the last two spots. After racking up the votes, Kansas State is in at #3, and UCLA just barely gets in at #4 despite both teams losing their last games.

 

THE FINAL FOUR 

Tennessee vs. UCLA in Rose Bowl, Florida State vs. Kansas State in Sugar Bowl

Greg: The Cade McNown-led Bruins would get a home-field battle against Tee Martin, Travis Henry, Al Wilson and company. I don’t like their chances. The Vols played a tough SEC schedule, had a defense stuffed with NFL talent and the nation’s best running game. UCLA would have a tough time keeping the ground game of the Volunteers under 150, so I like Tennessee comfortably. Let’s say 24-10.

As for the Kansas State-Florida State matchup, this one has me excited even typing about it. Both teams were dynamic throughout the year, with KSU’s only loss coming in double OT to a very good Texas A&M team and Florida State recovering from a head-scratching blowout loss to NC State by demolishing the rest of the ACC. At the end of the day, without 45-year-old QB Chris Weinke, FSU’s offense wasn’t as explosive as it was capable of being, and Michael Bishop was a special college quarterback. I think Bishop makes some miracles happen late in the fourth quarter to steal a close one over the Noles. 27-21 KSU.

Maurice: I hate to spoil future installments of this series, but remember when ESPN performed media fellatio on the USC Trojans for the entire month of December before Vince Young turned in a legendary performance for Texas? Well, this loaded Tennessee team is the 90’s precursor. I don’t see UCLA out-muscling the likes of Travis Henry and that NFL-sized offensive line, and that’s before discussing Tee Martin.

I’m going to surprise everyone by saying that Michael Bishop outperforms Chris Weinke in the KSU/FSU game. He was a legitimate dual-threat QB who scored more rushing TDs than FSU’s primary RB core. What will not come as a surprise, is that I believe Peter Warrick makes up for the team’s passing discrepancies through the special teams return game. Ultimately, what I expect to be a shootout will be won on the foot of future first round first overall draft pick Sebastian Janikowski.

Andrew: Well, look what we have here. Based on the regular College Football Playoff rotation that begins next year, UCLA would have played Tennessee in their own building! Did not help them anyway against Wisconsin, when they lost in the Rose Bowl that year, too. UCLA never saw a defense as good as Tennessee’s, and the running game of Travis Henry would prove too much for the Bruins, too. In the Sugar Bowl, Florida State was not the same team without Weinke, but I feel that the defense of Florida State was very good and would have done just enough to hold off Michael Bishop and the rest of Kansas State.

 

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME 

#1 Tennessee vs. #2 Florida State

Greg: We saw this one happen, and it would play out the same way again. Two excellent teams battling, but Tennessee’s defense and running game were just a little better.

Maurice: Just as we agreed with the top two in the initial overview, the inaugural year of the BCS gets it right. Knowing what we know concerning the matchup that actually happened, I don’t see much changing here. Going undefeated in the SEC is no task to sneeze on. Tennessee is just too skronk.

Andrew: We saw this game come to life in the first ever B.C.S. in the desert, and it’s the simple fact that Weinke was not able to play and the Vols defense is too prepared for any of their counters. Tennessee wins the national championship.

 The 1998 B.C.S. Busters Champion is… the Tennessee Volunteers!

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Author: Place to Be Nation Staff

Place to Be Nation Staff pieces feature any number of our contributors who are multifaceted when it comes to Pop Culture expertise.