Commentary

BCS system leaves long trail of wounded victims

Updated: May 20, 2008, 3:13 PM ET
By Ted Miller | ESPN.com

The Bowl Championship Series. The good ole BCS. It's so much better than the old bowl system, in which old men in ugly jackets conspired in smoky rooms to keep the best two teams from playing.

Since 1998, the BCS has given us so many great games and helped us crown a national champion. It's fan-freaking-tastic!

Nuts.

Seems like every conference, BCS or otherwise, recalls a moment it got screwed by the incomprehensible BCS system, which didn't end the politics but did introduce complex arithmetic into a process only a geek could love.

So, before we start cussing, here's a list of the ultimate BCS slights.

1. No. 1 and done: Computers reject top-ranked USC

[+] EnlargePete Carroll
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesDespite being No. 1 in the polls, Pete Carroll and USC didn't play in the 2003 BCS title game.
The 2003 regular season ended with three one-loss teams in BCS contention. USC was ranked No. 1 in both the AP poll and the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' poll, and its only defeat came in triple-overtime at California, which finished 8-6. LSU was No. 2 in both polls, its lone setback a 12-point home loss against a Florida team that went 8-5. Oklahoma, though dominant during the regular season, tumbled to No. 3 in both polls after getting drubbed 35-7 in the Big 12 championship game by Kansas State, which finished 11-4. When the computers spit out an Oklahoma-LSU title game, many neutral observers joined Trojans fans in vehement protest, in large part because most believed USC was the best team. So when USC whipped No. 4 Michigan in the Rose Bowl, it remained No. 1 in the final AP poll. LSU beat Oklahoma 21-14 in the BCS title game and was ranked, by contractual obligation, No. 1 in the final coaches' poll, although three coaches rebelled against the undemocratic process and also voted USC No. 1.

2. SEC outrage: Undefeated Auburn left out

[+] EnlargeTommy Tuberville
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesTommy Tuberville and undefeated Auburn didn't get a shot at the 2004 BCS crown.
Another three-headed BCS monster emerged in 2004, with Auburn, Oklahoma and USC as the troika of undefeated BCS teams (apologies to Utah and Boise State) in play. USC and Oklahoma had been atop the standings since the preseason and both played difficult schedules with challenging nonconference games. Auburn's argument hung on its emerging unscathed from the redoubtable SEC. The Tigers problem was twofold: They started the season ranked 17th (AP) and 18th (coaches) and they played a remarkably weak nonconference schedule. Further, it didn't help that USC had bludgeoned the home-standing Tigers 23-0 the year before. Yet, in retrospect, Auburn probably would have put up more of a fight than Oklahoma, a 55-19 loser to USC in the BCS title game. The Tigers beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl and earned three No. 1 votes in the final AP poll.

3. No conference title? No problem!: Nebraska backs into Miami beating

Mike Bellotti
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesMike Bellotti and Oregon had reasons to shout about not making the 2001 title game.
Throughout the 2001 season, Nebraska looked like an outstanding team led by eventual Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Eric Crouch. Then it got pummeled 62-36 in the regular-season finale at Colorado, which knocked the Cornhuskers out of the Big 12 title game. Nebraska ended the regular season ranked No. 4 in both polls, while two-loss Colorado went on to win the Big 12 title game and finish the regular season ranked third in both polls. One-loss Oregon finished No. 2 in both polls. Yet the BCS formula, which doesn't account for the timing of a defeat, somehow spit out the Cornhuskers as unbeaten Miami's lunch, er, opponent. Oregon went on to crush Colorado 38-16 in the Fiesta Bowl, while Miami manhandled Nebraska 37-14, with Ducks coach Mike Bellotti on the sidelines, probably thinking that not playing the talent-laden Hurricanes wasn't such a bad thing.

4. The transitive property: Florida State (A), Miami (B) and Washington (C)

Butch Davis
Scott Halleran /Getty ImagesButch Davis and the Hurricanes weren't happy with the BCS system in 2000.
In 2000, Miami coach Butch Davis couldn't stop squawking about how irritated he was that Florida State was playing for the national championship against unbeaten Oklahoma. After all, his once-beaten team had handed FSU its only loss. Of course, Davis did a wonderful tap dance about the pounding his Hurricanes took at Washington early in the season. The Huskies' only loss had come at Oregon, another top-10 team. And never mind once-beaten Oregon State, which defeated Oregon but lost a barnburner at Washington, 33-30. Then things got a little sticky when Miami and Washington both won their bowl games with relative ease. But Oklahoma whipped the Seminoles 13-2 to render the debate mostly moot.

5. Texas politickin': Brown lobbies for poll promotion over California

[+] EnlargeJeff Tedford
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesJeff Tedford and Cal felt the BCS sting in 2004.
We're a country divided into red states and blue states, so why shouldn't that carry over to college football? In 2004, Texas coach Mack Brown kissed babies, shook hands and openly pleaded for pollsters to promote his Longhorns (AP No. 6, ESPN/USA Today No. 5) past California (AP No. 4, ESPN/USA Today No. 4). When the Bears won "only" 26-16 in their season-finale at Southern Miss, Brown got enough superdelegate switches to swipe Cal's Rose Bowl berth. The postscript? Texas quarterback Vince Young then posted the first of two BCS bowl performances for the ages, in a dramatic Rose Bowl win over Michigan, and the despondent, injury-riddled Bears laid an egg in an embarrassing Holiday Bowl loss to Texas Tech.

6. Rivalry rematch?: Florida nips Ohio State-Michigan II by .0101

[+] EnlargeLloyd Carr
Tony Ding/Icon SMILloyd Carr and Michigan were thisclose to reaching the 2006 title game.
The messy conclusion to the 2006 season presaged the quagmire of 2007. It began when the season's most anticipated game, an epic rivalry showdown of unbeaten Ohio State and Michigan, ended with a 42-39 Buckeyes victory. Even then, some believed the Big Ten pair were the nation's two best teams and a championship rematch would be reasonable. Such talk only increased when No. 2 USC, which topped a list of six one-loss teams (apologies to unbeaten Boise State) angling to play 12-0 Ohio State, went belly-up against rival UCLA the final weekend of the regular season. However, pollsters, by a slim margin, favored SEC champion Florida over the Wolverines. When the computers finished their work, the Gators earned the berth by .0101 points in the final BCS standings. The controversy quieted down a bit from the Big Ten side of things when Florida stomped Ohio State for the title and USC overwhelmed Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

7. Season of the absurd: What happens if everybody keeps losing?

Mark Richt
Mike Zarrilli/Getty ImagesMark Richt and Georgia didn't get a title shot in 2007.
When the 2007 season, the craziest year in recent memory, concluded, nine teams -- seven with two defeats -- could pose reasonable arguments that they deserved a shot at playing Ohio State (yeah, them again) for the national title. After an LSU-Ohio State final is set for New Orleans, Georgia fans are particularly shrill. And the fourth-ranked Bulldogs certainly didn't stop griping after they crushed previously unbeaten Hawaii -- the hope of the non-BCS -- in the Sugar Bowl. Of course, after LSU flicked away the Buckeyes, there were plenty of advocates for USC and West Virginia, too. This messy absurdity inspired the first legitimate, though ultimately futile, effort to implement a plus-one, Final Four playoff format a few weeks ago.

8. Just plain stupid: Kansas loses to Missouri but wins BCS berth

Gary Pinkel
Peter Aiken/Getty ImagesGary Pinkel and Mizzou had reason to complain in 2007.
Sometimes decisions are simply indefensible, and so we have the Orange Bowl's decision to choose BCS No. 8 Kansas over BCS No. 6 Missouri in 2007, even though the Tigers had beaten the Jayhawks 36-28 on a neutral field just two weeks before. Some spin-meisters observed that Kansas had just one loss (to Missouri) while Missouri had lost twice. But Missouri twice lost to Oklahoma, which Kansas didn't play. And the Tigers, then ranked No. 1 in both polls, lost to the Sooners a second time because they met in the Big 12 championship game, a game Missouri played in because -- all together -- it beat Kansas a week before. And, if you want to pile on, Missouri played a tough nonconference schedule, beating Rose Bowl entrant Illinois as well as Ole Miss. The Jayhawks only regular-season games against ranked opponents were Kansas State and ... Missouri ... and their best nonconference win came over doughty Toledo.

9. Kansas State has the cooties: Wildcats can't buy BCS love

Bill Snyder
Getty ImagesBill Snyder's Wildcats didn't reach a BCS bowl game.
The BCS didn't do any favors for Kansas State during its run of success in the late 1990s. In 1998, the first incarnation of the BCS system, the once-beaten Wildcats finished ranked third in the BCS standings but were passed over by the BCS bowls in favor of No. 4 Ohio State and No. 8 Florida, which had two losses. That relegated them to the Alamo Bowl, which they lost in an uninspired effort to Purdue. (It's worth noting that once-beaten Arizona was similarly screwed, but it went on to beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl). This slight inspired a system tweak that guaranteed the No. 3 or No. 4 team a BCS berth. That didn't help the Wildcats in 1999, when they ended up sixth in the BCS standings but again were passed over. Kansas State's first problem was that it was not considered a "name" program that would drive attendance or television ratings. The second was self-created: Coach Bill Snyder refused to play quality nonconference opponents, so many viewed the Wildcats' record as dubious. In 2003, when they finally played their way in by upsetting Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game, they lost to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.

10. Unbeaten and unloved: Non-BCS programs kicked to curb

Chris Petersen
AP Photo/Troy MabenChris Petersen and Boise State went undefeated in 2006 and reached a BCS bowl, but a non-BCS school has not been in the title game.
Starting with Tulane in 1998, six teams from non-BCS conferences finished undefeated in the regular season but were unable to play -- or, really, even earn consideration -- for the BCS title game, including Marshall (1999), Utah (2004), Boise State (2004, 2006) and Hawaii (2007). Recent tweaks to the system provided Utah and Boise State (2006) opportunities to play in non-title BCS games, and both won impressively. But Hawaii didn't do the non-BCS conferences any favors with a humiliating blowout loss to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. These practically annual slights have led to much huffing and puffing, which is typically followed by a hardy chuckle from the BCS conferences.

Ted Miller is a college football writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ted at tedmillerespn@gmail.com.

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