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 played at the Orange Bowl.
Number of bowls: 34. New bowls: Eagle Bank (which would later become the Military Bowl) and St. Petersburg.
Number of Division I-A teams: 120. New schools: none.
Conference realignment: None. This was one of college football's quietest offseasons.
Formula changes: None. The top two teams in the polls played for the title the previous year.
While the offseason was relatively quiet, the action on the field was not.
For the first time, the question wasn't so much who would play for a national title but who would play for a conference title. The Big 12 South had three teams finish 11-1, all of which were 7-1 in the league and had beaten only each other. Oklahoma lost to Texas in the Red River Rivalry in October but thrashed Texas Tech on Thanksgiving week. Meanwhile, the Red Raiders handed the Longhorns their only loss at the beginning of November.
The Big 12 tiebreaker in this scenario was strictly BCS standings. Oklahoma won out because voters pretty much only care about when you lose. Oklahoma lost first, so it finished highest. Texas was ahead of Oklahoma until it lost to Texas Tech. That dropped Texas behind the Sooners though the Longhorns won their matchup. At that point, though, both trailed the undefeated Red Raiders ... until they lost to OU and fell to the bottom of the pile. Note that while the Sooners won that game by a huge margin, a tight game would have had the same result in the polls. That's just how voters have always reacted.
Needless to say, Texas fans felt cheated to finish behind the team that they beat. They were not as concerned that they finished ahead of the team that beat them. This was reminiscent of the Miami-Florida State-Washington controversy of 2000, except that was for a spot in the national title game, not a conference title game. The team at the bottom of the polls was ignored by all but their own supporters, and the team that won the head-to-head matchup between the top two lost out.
The Big East recognized this problem in advance (such foresight is rare) and set up its tiebreaker to use the BCS rankings unless the top two were five spots or fewer apart. In that case, head-to-head between the top two ruled.
The Big 12 uses that now. We call that the Texas Rule. Personally, I think a conference should have a way to break ties that doesn't rely on poll voters who don't care about their league.
The Sooners won the Big 12 title game easily and finished No. 1 in the Coaches' Poll, the computers and the BCS. Florida was the SEC champion, beating then-undefeated Alabama in the league title game. The Gators were the top team in the Harris poll and No. 2 in the BCS. They won the BCS title game easily over Oklahoma, giving the league its third straight title. All three SEC teams to win BCS titles in this stretch were the No. 2 team in the BCS entering the game.
If the soon-to-be-launched four-team playoff were in place:
There were two undefeated teams in college football in 2008, Utah and Boise State. The Utes were the higher-ranked team in the BCS at No. 6 but likely didn't get a big enough non-conference win to get into the playoff, even if conference champions get extra weight.
It's possible the playoff could be all SEC and Big 12. The top four teams in the polls were from those leagues. Texas Tech would lose out again in that case. USC could have aced out SEC runner-up Alabama for a spot, though. The Trojans were tied with the Tide for fourth in the Coaches' Poll, close behind them in fifth in the Harris poll but were not as strong in the computers. However, if conference championships matter, then USC should win out.
Note that four teams make the playoff, all finishing with one loss. Also finishing with one loss were Alabama and Penn State, both of which finished ahead of the two undefeated teams in the polls, and Texas Tech, which was eighth in the polls. For the second year in a row, that's nine worthy teams for four playoff spots.
Orange Bowl: No. 2 Florida vs. No. 3 Texas
Cotton Bowl: No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 4 USC
Rose Bowl: Penn State vs. TCU
Chick-fil-A Bowl: Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech
Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Texas Tech
Fiesta Bowl: Utah vs. Boise State