Wednesday, January 15, 2014

BCS Review Series: 2007, LSU Goes 'Undefeated in Regulation'

Part 10 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

Part 9: 2006, Dawn of SEC's Reign in College Football


In the 16-year existence of the BCS, there was never a season quite like 2007. It had a fitting end, too, with the Mad Hatter coming out on top in the wackiest finish of all.

It began with the biggest upset victory in perhaps college football history, with I-AA Appalachian State blocking a last-second field goal to stun No. 5 Michigan at the Big House. It would turn out to be not even the biggest upset of the season, and "As the Wolverine Turns" became a soap opera that enraptured the college football world for all of 2007.

Coming off a 1-11 season and now under upstart new coach Jim Harbaugh, Stanford pulled off the even bigger upset when it shocked Pete Carroll's five-time defending Pac-10 champion USC at the L.A. Coliseum, 24-23. In what would become the "What's-Your-Deal-Bowl" that followed the coaches right out of the college ranks to the NFL, a new rivalry was born.

This was the season that both South Florida and Boston College occupied the No. 2 spot in the official BCS standings. The month of November had such a slew of upsets that the same two teams never made it to the top of the BCS standings. In the final two weeks of the season, both of the top-two teams lost both weeks.

It really got going in the penultimate weekend of the season, when No. 1 LSU lost to Arkansas in triple overtime and No. 2 Kansas lost to Missouri in the Border War at Arrowhead Stadium. The twin upsets put Mizzou and West Virginia on top of the BCS standings, but things were far from settled as both teams still had games to play in the final week.

Second-ranked West Virginia appeared to be a lock, though, facing a 4-7 Pitt team at home in the Backyard Brawl. Rich Rodriguez's Mountaineers, save for an early-season hiccup against South Florida, had rolled through the Big East with relative ease, and the school's first BCS title game appeared in sight. A long-term extension for the native-son coach who had a true rags-to-riches story also was on the table, waiting to be signed.

No. 1 Missouri had a tougher task, facing Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game. Should the Tigers falter, third-ranked Ohio State would be ready to step in to face West Virginia for the BCS title.

The Buckeyes were ranked No. 1 in the beginning of November but seemingly fell out of contention after an upset loss to Illinois. Ohio State now had a chance to backdoor its way into a second consecutive BCS title game appearance after beating Michigan for the Big Ten title.

Ah, Michigan. As it turned out, the Wolverines were far from done even after that upset loss to Appy State and then getting destroyed by Oregon the following week. Michigan reeled off eight wins in a row and would have gotten a Rose Bowl berth with a win over Ohio State.

But Michigan was also looking for a coach, as Lloyd Carr was stepping down after 13 years at the helm. The guy it wanted was "Michigan Man" Les Miles, who had played for and coached under Bo Schembechler. Since LSU appeared to be out of contention for the national championship chase, the timing seemed right.

Merely hours before LSU was to play Tennessee in the SEC title game, ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit floated out the news that Michigan had a done deal with Miles. This report prompted a bizarre retort from the Mad Hatter, who was ready to coach his "damn strong football team" and wished everyone a "great day" in a one-minute virtuoso performance:

LSU went on to beat the Vols, 31-20, but not before West Virginia suffered one of the biggest choke jobs in college football history in a 13-9 loss to Pitt. Miles then implored the voters to get his Tigers to the BCS Championship Game, noting his team was "undefeated in regulation."

The rhetoric worked. After No. 1 Mizzou's loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game, LSU vaulted from No. 7 to No. 2 in the final BCS standings, which earned the Tigers a date with Ohio State in the BCS Championship Game. Miles opted not to go to Michigan, instead coaching LSU to its second BCS title with a rout of Ohio State in New Orleans.

Michigan then decided to hire the guy who didn't get to the championship game. After a clandestine meeting in Toledo with the Michigan brass, RichRod became the surprise choice in Ann Arbor—and the rest, as they say, became John U. Bacon's bestseller Three and Out. Lloyd Carr delivered his own parting shot, beating Urban Meyer and Heisman winner Tim Tebow in the Capital One Bowl to cap a comically strange season.

Final BCS Standings: 1. Ohio State, 2. LSU, 3. Virginia Tech, 4. Oklahoma, 5. Georgia.

Likely four-team playoff: Ohio State vs. Oklahoma; LSU vs. Virginia Tech.

All four teams won their respective conferences, though No. 7 USC and No. 9 West Virginia probably both had a claim, too, as every major champion conference champion other than Ohio State had two losses. And with the benefit of hindsight, USC and WVU would have been better choices than either OU or Va. Tech.


Missouri Snub: Despite being ranked No. 1 in the penultimate BCS standings and having won its division, No. 6 Mizzou was denied a BCS bowl berth when the Orange Bowl opted to take No. 8 Kansas, whose lone loss of the season was to the Tigers. Ostensibly, that KU would travel better was given as the reason. Outraged Mizzou fans carried a grudge against the Big 12 for the snub and later would cite it as one of the reasons why the school left for the SEC.

This issue would plague the BCS bowls throughout the eight-year existence of the double-host system, as the team that lost the conference championship game would be routinely passed over in favor of a team that didn't even make it to the title game.

Hawaii Flop: June Jones' Warriors coasted through a soft schedule that included two games against I-AA opponents and three against teams that won either one or two games. They finished 12-0 and ranked No. 10 in the BCS standings, earning a trip to the Sugar Bowl to face Georgia.

In one of the worst BCS bowl performances, Hawaii was pummeled in a 41-10 loss, and the final score wasn't any worse only because Georgia took its foot off the gas in the second half. The game prompted calls to revise and toughen qualifying standards for non-AQ conference teams, but the BCS wisely resisted the urge.

2007 BCS Bowl Matchups
BowlScoreAttendanceTV Rating
BCS Champ*No. 2 LSU 38, No. 1 Ohio St. 2479,65114.4
Rose BowlNo. 7 USC 49, No. 13 Illinois 1793,92311.1
Fiesta BowlNo. 9 WVU 48, No. 4 Oklahoma 2870,0167.7
Orange BowlNo. 8 Kansas 24, No. 3 Va. Tech 2174,1117.4
Sugar BowlNo. 5 Georgia 41, No. 10 Hawaii 1074,3837.0

Final analysis: In the first and only time in BCS' 16-year history, a two-loss team played in (and won) the BCS Championship Game. And it was the beginning of the SEC's ascendancy to the top of the BCS, in terms of both perception and performance.

Why was LSU picked ahead of four other two-loss major conference champions despite having just lost a game in the penultimate week of the regular season?

Les Miles' clever "undefeated in regulation" campaign—conjured up by his wife Kathy, actually—certainly worked to LSU's advantage. But the voters also started to buy into the superiority of the SEC argument, divining that the Tigers' two losses were more forgivable than the ones suffered by Oklahoma and USC—not to mention West Virginia and Virginia Tech, which did lose to LSU head-to-head.

The SEC ended up winning its second consecutive BCS title with a second straight blowout of Ohio State. Its juggernaut was only growing in strength, both on and off the field.

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