Thursday, January 16, 2014

BCS Review Series: 2008, SEC Claims High Ground in Narrative

Part 11 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

Part 10: 2007, LSU Goes "Undefeated in Regulation"


Two consecutive blowout victories in the BCS championship game (both over Ohio State) helped to jump-start the narrative of SEC supremacy. Now self-branded as "the toughest conference in college football," the SEC's dominance in perception became that much more evident.

At the end of the regular season, seven BCS conference teams finished with one loss each, and two others—Utah and Boise State—went undefeated. But just as it was in 2007, when five major conference champions vied for one BCS title game slot, in 2008 the SEC came out on top yet again.

For the second time in three years, Florida made it to the BCS title game, this time despite a loss at home to Ole Miss. The Gators sunk to No. 15 in the BCS standings, all but seemingly out of it, after the late-September loss to the Rebels. Yet after defeating previously-unbeaten Alabama in the SEC title game, Florida had a date in Miami with Oklahoma in the BCS title game.

USC wasn't so lucky after also an early-September loss at Oregon State. The Trojans had opened the season with a resounding 35-3 pounding of No. 3 Ohio State at the Coliseum. But despite running the table the rest of the way—including three shutouts and five other games where they gave up just one score—that lone loss to the Beavers proved fatal to their title aspirations.

The same was the case for Penn State, which suffered its lone loss on a last-second field at Iowa in early November. It was the second time in four years that Joe Paterno's team was one play away from a perfect regular season. And just like in 2005, the Nittany Lions never got a whiff of the BCS title game.

Then there was the trio of Big 12 teams that managed to deal each other a single loss in a Reservoir Dogs-style Mexican standoff. Texas defeated Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout. Texas Tech shot down the Longhorns on a last-second TD catch by Michael Crabtree. Then Oklahoma slaughtered the Red Raiders to complete the three-way tie for first place in the Big 12 South.

The Sooners edged Texas (and Texas Tech) in the penultimate BCS standings, thanks entirely to superior computer rankings, earning a trip to the Big 12 title game, where they routed Missouri to earn a spot in the BCS title game. Longhorns coach Mack Brown, who had swiped a Rose Bowl berth in 2004 when the BCS standings worked in his favor, now had his comeuppance.

At the end, the team that had the most amount of legitimate grievance might've been Utah, which finished the season as the lone undefeated team. The Utes dominated Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, beating the Tide (31-17) worse than Florida did in the SEC title game (31-20). In the final AP poll, 16 of the 65 voters cast their ballots with Utah No. 1, but that wasn't enough to earn a split championship after Tim Tebow and Co. held off the turnover-prone Sooners in the BCS title game.

Final BCS Standings: 1. Oklahoma, 2. Florida, 3. Texas, 4. Alabama, 5. USC, 6. Utah, 7. Texas Tech.

Likely four-team playoff: Oklahoma vs. Utah; Florida vs. USC.
With preference for conference champions and that Utah had a better resume than fellow unbeaten Boise State, these four teams would've been the most solid picks, even without the benefit of hindsight.


BCS standings as a tiebreaker: The BCS standings were created for the sole purpose of matching up the top two-ranked teams to play for the BCS title. Yet, by the mid-2000s, conferences began using the standings to break ties either for the conference title or within divisions. This misapplication had its worst consequences in 2008, when OU just nudged Texas—a team it had lost to—for a spot in the Big 12 title game and, ultimately, a spot in the BCS title game.

This misuse would continue, without being discouraged by the BCS brass, until the end of the BCS era. In fact, even conferences that had no part in the BCS tried to use it to break ties, leading to the comical Conference USA debacle in 2013.

Boise State snub: For the second time in the BCS era, Boise State went undefeated and was denied a BCS bowl berth, also the sixth time it finished with either zero or one loss and had to settle for a minor bowl.

The Broncos were ranked No. 9 in the final BCS standings, yet they weren't guaranteed a berth because another non-AQ champion, Utah, was ahead at No. 6. The Fiesta Bowl then bypassed Boise to take No. 10 Ohio State as an at-large, while both No. 12 Cincinnati (Big East) and No. 19 Virginia Tech (ACC) had automatic berths.

But this Boise State snub generated enough public outrage that, when the very scenario occurred again the next year, the Broncos were given their just due.

2008 BCS Bowl Matchups
BowlScoreAttendanceTV Rating
BCS Champ*#2 Florida 24, #1 Oklahoma 1478,46815.8
Rose Bowl#3 USC 38, #8 Penn State 2493,29311.7
Fiesta Bowl#3 Texas 24, #10 Ohio State 2172,04710.4
Sugar Bowl#6 Utah 31, #4 Alabama 1771,8727.8
Orange Bowl#19 Va. Tech 20, #12 Cincinnati 773,6025.4

Final analysis: With Florida's win over Oklahoma in the BCS title game, the "SEC-as-top-dog" perception reached new heights as the conference has now won three straight BCS championships. The on-field success helped to fuel the off-field brand building process that permanently granted the SEC a first-among-equals status for the remainder of the BCS era.

The SEC champion reached the BCS title game in each of the eight years between 2006-2013. And in seven of those eight seasons, an SEC team beat out another major conference champion that had the same number of losses for a spot in the championship game—including in 2011, when Alabama advanced to the all-SEC title matchup in spite of not winning its division.

The Tide lost back-to-back games to Florida and Utah to finish the 2008 season, but their dynasty was just on the verge of being unleashed.

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