The BCS Era: Politics helps non-BCS teams in 2006, SEC begins run

Boise State shocked the nation by beating Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. (USATSI)
Boise State shocked the nation by beating Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. (USATSI)

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 BCS debuted a new format, where the BCS Championship Game was its own bowl game, and was hosted on a rotating basis among the Fiesta, Sugar, Orange and Rose Bowls. In the year a bowl hosted the title game, it would still play its regular game. There would be at least a week between the regular bowl game and the title game.

We can thank Tulane president Scott Cowen for this. Back in 2003, just months after the school considered dropping football and out of Division I entirely, he started his efforts to get rid of the BCS and start a playoff in college football. His goal was to get greater access to the big money for schools from conferences like his, which was Conference USA, and he felt a playoff was the best way for that to happen.

It wasn’t hard to find people to join in his fight against the BCS. Congressional hearings were held, although it would have been more appropriate to air them on Comedy Central than C-SPAN. Utah’s attorney general, Mark Shurtleff, would eventually threaten an antitrust lawsuit against the BCS although he finally suspended that pursuit this past October.

None of the political threats were ever serious, but the BCS caved in 2006, added a bowl game, and lowered the standard for a nonmajor to play in the BCS. Previously, a non-BCS team had to be in the top six to qualify. Utah in 2004 was the only team to meet that standard. The new standard said the highest-rated nonmajor conference champion would automatically play if it finished in the top 12, or in the top 16 if it was ahead of one of the major conference champions.

This format has benefited the nonmajors, but not as much as you might think. Six teams have automatically qualified for a spot under the new rules, but half of those would have also qualified under the old ones.

What really benefited those nonmajors was winning games against the majors once they got the chance to play them. That has helped their perception immensely. Utah and TCU specifically used BCS wins as stepping stones to major conferences. Boise State is now a household name in college football. However, the winning teams were almost exclusive teams that would have qualified under the old rules. Boise State won in 2006 as the eighth-ranked team in arguably the most memorable nontitle game of the BCS era over Oklahoma. The other two teams, No. 10 Hawaii in 2007 and 15th-ranked Northern Illinois in 2012, got blown out.

No, the group of teams that has benefited most by the new system is unquestionably the SEC, which has won every BCS Championship Game in the double-hosting era. Coincidence or conspiracy? Draw your own conclusion.

Number of bowls: 32. New bowls: BCS Championship Game, International, New Mexico, Papa John’s (now BBVA Compass), Texas. Defunct bowls: Houston.

Number of Division I-A teams: 119.  New schools: None.

Conference realignment:  None. BCS realignment was traumatic enough.

Formula changes: None.

There was some controversy at the end of the season. The weekend before Thanksgiving, the top two teams in the country met in Columbus. The "Game of the Century" of this season featured Ohio State beating Michigan in a battle of undefeated teams. The discussion in the media the following two weeks was whether they should rematch in the BCS Championship game. Entering the final weekend, the Buckeyes were No. 1 and the Wolverines were two spots behind in third. USC was sandwiched in between, but the Trojans lost to UCLA, opening the door for Michigan to move up. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, No. 4 Florida won the SEC Championship game, jumped them in the polls, and stole the No. 2 spot and a berth in the title game. The Gators went on to win the first of seven straight BCS championships for the SEC, a streak that remains current. 

If the soon-to-be-launched four-team playoff were in place:

The selection committee would have a difficult choice for the last team in the playoff. LSU finished fourth in the polls and the BCS, but didn’t even play for the SEC title. Arkansas was the West division representative that year. USC was fifth in the BCS, but seventh in the polls. Big East Champ Louisville was No. 6 in both the polls and BCS due to a weaker schedule than USC. That’s why I went with the Trojans here.

Fiesta Bowl: No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 4 USC

Chick-fil-A Bowl: No. 2 Florida vs. No. 3 Michigan

Cotton Bowl: Arkansas vs. Boise State

Sugar Bowl: LSU vs. Oklahoma

Orange Bowl: Wake Forest vs. Auburn

Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Notre Dame

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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