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.
Format: The championship game was hosted by the Sugar Bowl.
Number of bowls: 32
New bowls: none
Number of Division I-A teams: 120
New schools: Western Kentucky (Independent)
Conference realignment: Temple found a new home in the MAC.
Formula changes: The top two teams in the polls played for the title the year before, so no changes.
It was a tough year to be ranked in the top five. Beginning in November, at least one of the top two teams in the BCS ratings lost every week.
Entering November, the top five were Ohio State, Boston College, LSU, Arizona State and Oregon. The first week, BC and ASU lost and were replaced by Kansas and Oklahoma. No, this isn't a basketball piece. Kansas was really in the top five in football. For a moment. LSU was the new No. 2.
The following week, the top-rated Buckeyes fell to Illinois and fell out of the top five. Missouri moved up, putting three Big 12 teams in top five spots. The Tigers were the new No. 1 with one loss. Kansas was the last unbeaten major conference school but was still third behind Oregon.
It only took one week for Ohio State to get back up to No. 5. Oklahoma and Oregon lost, which also made room for West Virginia to take over the third spot in the rankings. Kansas was finally in the top two.
Then, Thanksgiving week saw both LSU and Kansas lose. It was the second loss for the Tigers, who fell to seventh and looked to be out of the race, despite still having the SEC title game with No. 14 Tennessee. Three one-loss majors filled the top of the standings: Missouri, which beat Kansas, West Virginia and Ohio State.
This chaotic month bled over into December, providing the perfect ending for this roller-coaster ride. For the second week in a row, both No. 1 and No. 2 lost. Missouri was trounced by Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game, while the Mountaineers lost to 4-7 Pitt in the Backyard Brawl.
Ohio State managed not to lose during an off week, so the Buckeyes moved back up to No. 1, which is where they had started November. LSU escaped with a 21-14 win over the Vols in the SEC title game and jumped not only Mizzou and West Virginia but also Virginia Tech (which won the ACC championship game), one-loss Kansas (did not play), and league mate Georgia (did not play) and finished back at No. 2. LSU became the first two-loss team to play for the BCS title.
The Tigers also got to play in their home state at the Superdome in New Orleans. Ohio State entered the BCS title game for the second year in a row as the No. 1 team but lost again to its SEC foe.
Missouri suffered the same fate as so many teams that lose their conference championship games, being left out of the BCS entirely. Adding insult to injury, arch-rival Kansas, which lost to the Tigers and finished behind them in the BCS, got selected to play in the Orange Bowl.
Hawaii was an automatic qualifier in the BCS that year under the new, lower standard. The Rainbow Warriors finished undefeated and 10th in the rankings, despite playing one of the worst schedules of the entire BCS era to that point. It showed up in the Sugar Bowl, where they got hammered by Georgia.
If the soon-to-be-launched four-team playoff were in place:
If the selection committee is going to focus on conference champions, this probably works out OK. Ohio State, LSU and Oklahoma were all conference champions, and the top three teams in the polls. The Sooners were sixth in the BCS computers due to a relatively weak schedule. ACC champ Virginia Tech was sixth in the Harris poll (which will likely go away as the BCS moves to the new system) and fifth in the coaches' poll, but because of strength of schedule, the Hokies were the No. 1 computer team, even though they had two losses and Ohio State only had one.
However, if the selection committee isn't going to focus on conference championships, this can get messy. Many people felt that the two teams playing the best football at the end of the year were Georgia, which was 10-2 and ranked fourth in the polls but didn't even win its division in the SEC, and USC, which was the Pac-10 champ, ranked even with Virginia Tech in the polls, but was way down at ninth in the BCS computers due to a poor schedule.
Oh, and let's not forget the other one-loss major besides the Buckeyes. Kansas finished eighth in the BCS at 11-1 but did not win its division and played an especially poor schedule. Also, 11-2 Missouri, which won the Big 12 North, as well as 10-2 Big East champ West Virginia, deserve some consideration. An eight-team playoff may not have been enough in a season like this one.
Either Hawaii or West Virginia would be deemed the nonmajor representative in the other bowl games, but both would likely get selected anyway.
Rose Bowl: No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Virginia Tech
Sugar Bowl: No. 2 LSU vs. No. 3 Oklahoma
Cotton Bowl: Missouri vs. Arizona State
Chick-fil-A Bowl: West Virginia vs. Georgia
Orange Bowl: Kansas vs. Florida
Fiesta Bowl: USC vs. Hawaii