The BCS Era: Roy Kramer's vision comes to fruition in 1998

Tee Martin ended up leading Tennessee to a 13-0 record and the first BCS Championship. (Getty)
Tee Martin ended up leading Tennessee to a 13-0 record and the first BCS Championship. (Getty)

Throughout June and July and to commemorate the final year of the BCS era, Jerry Palm will be taking a year-by-year look at the machinations and controversies of the postseason system unleashed upon college football in 1998. Previous installments of the series can be found HERE.

Original setup:  The championship game was the Fiesta Bowl.  The regular Fiesta Bowl wasn’t played. The BCS bowl teams consisted of six automatic qualifiers, the champions of the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC,  and two at-large teams.

Number of Division I-A teams: 112

Formula: The original BCS rating for a team was the number of losses, plus the average ranking in the AP and coaches’ polls, plus 1/25 of its ranking in the BCS strength of schedule formula, plus the modified average of three computer rankings.  Low score was better.

In 1998, only three computer rankings were used: Jeff Sagarin's, the New York Times' and the Anderson-Hester rankings, which were published in the Seattle Times.  Among the reasons those computer rankings were chosen was their geographic locations, as if the formulas might factor in a school's distance from the computer.  A team's computer average was calculated by averaging the three computer rankings for that team.  However, if the worst of the three rankings was more than 1.5 times the average of the other two, then the worst ranking was replaced by 1.5 times the average of the other two in the calculation. For example, say a team's three computer rankings were 2, 4 and 7. One-and-a-half times the average of 2 and 4 is 4.5, so the computer ranking average for this team would be the average of 2, 4 and 4.5 instead of the average of 2, 4 and 7.  Yes, that was a strange way to calculate such a thing and it was very difficult to explain.

The other strange thing about the 1998 season was that the BCS never quite calculated its own SOS formula correctly. I was never able to figure out exactly what they were doing wrong, but they did manage to fix it for the 1999 season.

The championship game featured Tennessee and Florida State, which were 1-2 in both the BCS rankings and the polls.  The Seminoles, which had lost in early September, were fourth in the standings entering the final weekend, but two undefeated teams ahead of them lost, bumping them up into second place.

However, there was still a great deal of controversy over the other BCS bowl selections.  Kansas State was one of those teams ahead of Florida State on that final weekend.  The Wildcats entered the Big 12 championship game undefeated, but lost in a major upset to Texas A&M.  Before the game, the conference was so confident KSU would be in the BCS either as the conference champion or as an at-large team, even if it lost, that it placed other teams in the Holiday and Cotton bowls.  When the Wildcats lost, they ended up third in the BCS, but because there wasn’t a good fit for them in one of the other BCS bowls, they were not chosen as an at-large team.  Instead, Ohio State was chosen to play the Aggies in the Sugar Bowl and Florida was picked to play in its home state at the Orange Bowl.  Kansas State dropped all the way down to the Alamo Bowl, which was the Big 12’s fourth bowl, and promptly lost to unranked Purdue.

Not that it would have changed the above very much, but Kansas State would have finished fourth if not for Hurricane Georges.  UCLA was originally scheduled to play Miami on September 26th, but because of Georges, the game was postponed and moved to December 5th, the final day of the regular season.  The Bruins lost 49-45, ending their title hopes, but if that loss occurs on its original date, UCLA is almost certainly ranked 3rd at the end of the year because of the way the polls work.  Poll voters drop teams when they lose, so when you lose matters.  UCLA would have finished 3rd in the polls with a loss on the original date instead of 6th in the AP poll and 5th in the coaches poll.

Also, there’s a thought that UCLA might have had a better chance to win if the game were played on its original date because Miami had a young team coming off a 5-6 season and would have been less prepared in September.

Finally, there were two controversies that foreshadowed future events.  One was the fact that Syracuse, the Big East champion, was automatically included despite being ranked 15th.

Less controversial at the time was Tulane’s 11-0 finish. The Green Wave won Conference USA and was ranked tenth in the final BCS standings, but was never seriously considered a candidate for one of the games, let alone the championship.  That would be a pivotal moment in BCS history, as we’ll discuss in a later installment of this series.

If the soon to be launched four-team playoff were in place: Kansas State may have gotten the shaft again.  If the selection committee is going to emphasize conference champions, as we have been told, the Wildcats might suffer because they were the only team in the final top five that did not win its league.  Ohio State tied for the Big Ten title, although it lost out on the Rose Bowl due to the tiebreaker rules.  With that in mind…

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Tennessee vs No. 4 UCLA

Rose Bowl: No. 2 Florida State vs No. 3 Ohio State

Cotton Bowl: Texas A&M vs Arkansas

Fiesta Bowl: Arizona vs Kansas State

Orange Bowl: Florida vs Tulane

Peach Bowl*:  Wisconsin vs Georgia Tech

*- The Peach Bowl became the Chick-Fil-A Bowl in 2006.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Jerry Palm started writing about sports on the Internet right after Al Gore invented it. He was the first to bring RPI out in the open and is one of the pioneers of predicting the March Madness bracket.... Full Bio

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