On the precipice of a disaster in its infancy, the BCS was magically rescued by the hurricanes—one named Georges, the other named Edgerrin James.
Three teams headed into the final Saturday of the season with undefeated records: Tennessee, Kansas State and UCLA. The Vols and Wildcats were scheduled to play in their respective conference title games at night; while the Bruins, riding a nation-best 20-game winning streak, were to play Miami at the Orange Bowl in a makeup game earlier in the afternoon.
Originally, the game was to be played on Sept. 26. But because of the imminent threat of Hurricane Georges, it was temporarily postponed. UCLA had the option of canceling the game outright and standing on its performance in 10 games, but it took the risky move of rescheduling the game for the final day of the season.
The Miami team that beat UCLA, 49-45, that day was a vast improvement over the one the Bruins would've faced on Sept. 26. Behind James' 299 rushing yards (on 39 carries), the 'Canes shredded a shaky UCLA defense and benefited from an erroneous fumble call. Besides ending UCLA's quest to appear in the first BCS title game, Miami's upset victory began the Bruins' long descent into national irrelevance.
After UCLA's loss, it was up to Tennessee and Kansas State to hold up their end of the bargain. The Volunteers did, but the Wildcats didn't—losing to double-digit underdog Texas A&M in double overtime, 36-33. As a parting gift, K-State was handed an Alamo Bowl berth after being shut out of the BCS bowls.
While the Tennessee-Florida State title game—played in the Fiesta Bowl—was generally acknowledged as a fair outcome, there were a few minor controversies in the year of BCS's birth. Besides the snubbing of K-State, an 11-0 Tulane team was also shut out of the BCS. But thanks to the hurricanes, a catastrophe was averted.
Complete Final BCS Standings
Using post-2003 BCS formula: 1. Tennessee, 2. Florida State.
Likely four-team playoff: Tennessee vs. UCLA; Florida State vs. Ohio State.
With Kansas State failing to win its conference and having the weakest strength of schedule among the five contending teams, this would be a fairly easy choice.
Kansas State snub: Despite finishing third in the final BCS standings, the Wildcats found themselves in the non-BCS Alamo Bowl. The Sugar Bowl opted for Big Ten co-champion Ohio State, which was the top-ranked team for most of the season until a 28-24 upset loss to Michigan State. The Orange Bowl took Steve Spurrier's Florida Gators, who finished eighth in the BCS standings. A dispirited and disinterested K-State team lost to Purdue, 37-34.
Tulane snub: An 11-0 record and Conference USA title weren't enough to get the Green Wave to a BCS bowl game, let alone a spot in the title game. Tulane, ranked No. 10, would've received an automatic berth by finishing in the Top 12 in today's current format. Nevertheless, playing without a head coach after Tommy Bowden left to take the Clemson job, the Green Wave routed BYU, 41-27, in the Liberty Bowl under some guy named Rich Rodriguez.
1998 BCS Bowl Matchups
|Fiesta Bowl*||#1 Tennessee 23, #2 Florida St. 16||80,470||17.2|
|Rose Bowl||#9 Wisconsin 38, #5 UCLA 31||93,872||13.3|
|Sugar Bowl||#4 Ohio St. 24, #6 Texas A&M 14||76,503||11.5|
|Orange Bowl||#8 Florida 31, #15 Syracuse 10||67,919||8.4|
BCS formula review: The initial BCS standings, the brainchild of then-SEC commissioner Roy Kramer, was an unwieldy, unholy trinity—human polls, computer rankings and strength of schedule. Each loss was tacked on as an additional penalty. Only three computers were used—Anderson & Hester, Jeff Sagarin and The New York Times. Margin of victory was used by all three computers and a 50 percent adjusted maximum deviation factor was applied.
Final analysis: UCLA's loss gave the BCS founding fathers a huge sigh of relief. Tennessee's 23-16 victory over Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl, though underwhelming, was controversy-free. The BCS seemingly passed its first test, but the fun was only beginning.