Monday, January 20, 2014

BCS Review Series: 2009, Separate and Decidedly Unequal

Part 12 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"

Part 11: 2008, SEC Wins in Polls, Then on the Field


Every second counted in the 2009 season, especially for Texas.

While Colt McCoy vainly ran around as the clock ticked down in the Big 12 championship game, it looked as if the Longhorns were about to throw away their shot at a second BCS title. McCoy did finally throw the ball away, but not before the Cowboys Stadium scoreboard timer read 0:00.

Or did it?

Instead of running off the field, the officiating crew immediately conferred and decided to put one second back on the clock. That was just enough time for Texas' Hunter Lawrence to kick a 46-yard field goal on the game's final play, much to the relief of the Big 12 and BCS brass. Now they could have the dream matchup of unbeaten Alabama and Texas playing for the title at the Rose Bowl.

Among those crying foul weren't just the Cornhuskers, whose defense, led by the indomitable Ndumakong Suh, sacked McCoy nine times and intercepted him three times. Cincinnati, TCU and Boise State were all also undefeated, but none of them would get a chance to play for the national championship. The Broncos, in fact, were staring at the prospect of going undefeated for a second consecutive regular season and still missing out on a BCS bowl berth.

Fearful of a public outcry and renewed interest by the Justice Department to investigate its setup, the BCS swallowed hard and decided to take both TCU and Boise State—and this was tremendously helped by the fact that, outside of the Big Ten and SEC, none of the major conferences had an at-large candidate with fewer than three losses. (For the first time since 1983, every conference produced an outright champion.)

The 2009 season marked the end of one dynasty and the beginning of another. After going to a record seven straight BCS bowl games, including consecutive title games in 2004-05, USC slumped to 9-4 and failed to win the Pac-10 for the first time since 2001. The Trojans held off Boston College in the Emerald Bowl, which, as it turned out, was the final game for coach Pete Carroll, who returned to the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks two weeks later.

Alabama, now in its third season under Nick Saban, first avenged its SEC title game loss by walloping Florida in a rematch, denying Tim Tebow and his team's quest to win back-to-back BCS championships. The Tide went on to claim the first of three BCS titles in four years, knocking out McCoy early in the game and then forcing a pair of turnovers late after Texas had closed to within three to seal the victory.

Final BCS Standings: 1. Alabama, 2. Texas, 3. Cincinnati, 4. TCU, 5. Florida, 6. Boise State.

Likely four-team playoff: Alabama vs. TCU; Texas vs. Cincinnati.
Unfortunately, Boise State would've been left out in a four-team scenario, even though the Broncos defeated the Horned Frogs in the Fiesta Bowl post hoc. TCU had a slightly better resume during the season.


Who's the real No. 2?: Texas' one-second reprieve cost Cincinnati a chance for its first shot at a national championship. The Bearcats actually had better computer rankings and had beaten three ranked teams (to Texas' two) during the season.

But because Texas was ranked no worse than third all season in the polls, Cincinnati was never able to close the gap in the component that made up two-thirds of the BCS standings. Even TCU might've had a case, having beaten a pair of teams in the top 16 with the country's top-ranked defense and fourth-ranked offense.

Separate-But-Equal Bowl: Instead of allowing Boise State and TCU to each face off against major conference champions, it was decided that the Fiesta Bowl would "take one for the team" and match up those two upstarts—or so the allegation went, though it was denied by then-Fiesta Bowl boss John Junker as "a load of crap."

The game was a rematch of the previous season's Poinsettia Bowl in which TCU won 17-16. This time, Boise State prevailed, 17-10, in a hard-hitting contest between two bona fide quality teams. Denying these teams a chance to face a BCS conference team was widely viewed as a conspiracy and brought anew calls to alter BCS's arrangement of granting automatic berths to underperforming major conferences, or at the very least, review the automatic qualifying protocol.

2009 BCS Bowl Matchups
BowlScoreAttendanceTV Rating
BCS Champ*#1 Alabama 37, #2 Texas 2194,90617.2
Rose Bowl#8 Ohio St. 26, #7 Oregon 1793,96313.2
Sugar Bowl#5 Florida 51, #3 Cincinnati 2465,2078.5
Fiesta Bowl#6 Boise St. 17, #4 TCU 1073,2278.2
Orange Bowl#10 Iowa 24, #9 Ga. Tech 1466,1316.8

Final analysis: The Fiesta Bowl, also derisively called the "Quarantine Bowl", the "Fiasco Bowl" and the "BCS Kids' Table," was a real PR disaster for the BCS. It was the first time two undefeated teams faced off in a non-championship game in the BCS era, yet neither team had any chance of winning the title.

Beyond that, the gulf in payouts between major conferences and the so-called non-AQ conference remained enormous. Even by placing teams in BCS bowls, the Mountain West Conference and Western Athletic Conference combined to earn less than any of the "Big Six" conferences banked. Both of the competitive and monetary inequities would remain unaddressed, and the criticism reached a crescendo with the publication of the bestseller "Death to the BCS" a few months later.

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