Thursday, January 9, 2014

BCS Review Series: 2006, the Dawn of SEC's Reign

Part 9 of a seriesOver the next few weeks, I will be reviewing each of the 16 seasons since the Bowl Championship Series came into existence in 1998. Here is a look back at who got lucky, who got robbed, what could've been, what should've been and other controversies of the day. The series will appear throughout December and January.

Part 1: 1998, A New Beginning for College Football

Part 2: 1999, FSU Ends Michael Vick's Quest for Perfection

Part 3: 2000, FSU-Miami Sows Seeds of Controversy

Part 4: 2001, Nebraska Fiasco Rocks College Football

Part 5: 2002, Controversy On-Field Mars Perfect Ending

Part 6: 2003, Nightmare of Split National Championship

Part 7: 2004, Unbeaten Auburn Left Out in the Cold

Part 8: 2005: Perfect Season Ends With Epic at Rose Bowl


BCS had its dream season in 2005. Too bad it had to wake up for 2006.

Throughout most of the year, it looked as if the BCS would have its first intra-conference rematch, pitting Ohio State against Michigan. The Big Ten's bitter rivals matched each other game-for-game on a collision course of unbeatens while other contenders fell away.

Then on the eve of the 1-vs.-2 showdown at the Horseshoe, Bo Schembechler, Michigan's legendary coach (and former Ohio State assistant), passed away.

The two teams joined battle with raw emotions, if very little defense. The surprisingly high-scoring game was more or less decided by Michigan linebacker Shawn Crable's late hit on Ohio State QB Troy Smith late in the game. The Buckeyes won, 42-39.

But Michigan stayed at No. 2 in the BCS standings even after the game, making a rematch in Arizona a real possibility. Then the Wolverines began to fall, for two straight weeks, without playing a single down.

First, they were passed by USC, after a thrashing of overrated Notre Dame at the L.A. Coliseum. And then, just as when it appeared that the Trojans would play in their third consecutive BCS title game, they suffered a monumental choke job against UCLA at the Rose Bowl. Michigan's rematch with Ohio State was on again.

Only for a few hours, as it turned out. After Florida dispatched Arkansas, with some difficulty, in the SEC Championship Game, the Gators leapfrogged the Wolverines (is that physiologically possible?) and got the coveted date with the Buckeyes.

Ruining the rematch turned out to be a good thing in this sense: Both Ohio State and Michigan proved to be ... frauds. The Buckeyes were mauled by Florida in a game that was never close after Ohio State scored on the opening kickoff. Michigan was likewise annihilated by USC in the Rose Bowl.

Florida got its first national championship under Urban Meyer, thanks to a lucky break—USC losing against a 20-point underdog UCLA—and a massive voter defection (more on that later). But at the end, very little argument may be made about the Gators' legitimacy as the BCS national champion. It was the first undisputed national champion from the SEC since 1998—the inaugural season of the BCS—and the first of seven straight from that conference.

This was also the first year of the double-host format, where the bowl hosting the BCS national championship game also would have its regular bowl game. With this arrangement, teams qualifying for BCS bowls would increase from eight to 10.

The main beneficiary of this change was supposed to be non-BCS conference teams, now with better access to BCS bowls. And undefeated Boise State took full advantage.

In the same University of Phoenix Stadium that was to host the BCS title game, Boise State shocked and enthralled college football fans with its delightful 43-42 overtime win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. The Broncos tied the game in regulation on a hook-and-ladder, won the game on a Statue of Liberty, and capped it off with a marriage proposal as running back Ian Johnson got down to one knee in front of girlfriend Chrissy Popadics on national TV.

She said "yes!"

Final BCS Standings: 1. Ohio State, 2. Florida, 3. Michigan.

Likely four-team playoff: Ohio State vs. USC; Florida vs. Michigan.
With its high-ranking and season-long hold on the No. 2 spot, the Wolverines likely would've earned an at-large entry, along with the three top conference champions.


Michigan fans won't soon forget how fickle voters defected from their team. After losing to Ohio State, the Wolverines were still comfortably ahead of both USC and Florida in both the Coaches and Harris polls. But that soon changed.

Entering the final week of the regular season, Michigan was ahead of Florida by 86 points in the Harris Poll and 40 points in the Coaches Poll. But after Florida's win over Arkansas, the Gators went ahead of Michigan by 38 points in the Harris Poll (a swing of 114 points) and 26 in the Coaches Poll (a swing of 66 points). In both cases, the voters were determined to avoid a Michigan-Ohio State rematch. With Florida and Michigan dead even in the computer rankings, the voters' wish carried the day.

This would be the first of two occasions when there was a possibility of an intra-conference rematch in the BCS title game, as the nearly exact same scenario took place five years later. But in 2011, the voters decisively opted for a rematch (more on that in a future installment).

2006 BCS Bowl Matchups
BowlScoreAttendanceTV Rating
BCS Champ*#2 Florida 41, #1 Ohio St. 1474,62817.4
Rose Bowl#5 USC 32, #3 Michigan 1893,85213.9
Sugar Bowl#4 LSU 41, #11 Notre Dame 1477,7819.0
Fiesta Bowl#8 Boise St. 43, #10 Oklahoma 42 (OT)73,7198.4
Orange Bowl#6 Louisville 24, #14 Wake Forest 1374,4707.0

BCS Formula Review: With the formula now set, the only revelation in 2006 was that the Harris Poll proved to be no better (or worse) than any other human polls. The Harris voters, like the coaches (and the writers in the AP poll) defected from Michigan to push, first USC, then Florida, into the BCS title game. As the human polls now accounted for two-thirds of the BCS formula, essentially the computer rankings were rendered meaningless in a tight race.

Final analysis: Did the right team win the BCS championship? Perhaps. But had USC not inexplicably gagged against a team that it beat, 66-19, the year before and had won seven straight against, Florida would never have made it to the title game. There would've been protests from both Michigan and Florida after USC presumably walloped Ohio State.

The two best teams of the season, as indicated by bowl results, never got to play each other. USC blew its chance at a third national title in four years, but the Trojans and Gators would never have gotten a chance to play each other anyway. Not with Ohio State being insulated in the Big Ten and going undefeated.

History would repeat itself in 2007 ... and 2008.

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