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Goodnight, BCS: remembering perhaps the biggest debacle of them all (2001 with Miami, Colorado, Nebraska, Texas et al)

The BCS said goodbye last night with a doozy of a game — 24 points were scored in the final 5:15 — and actually, with a doozy of a BCS season overall (MSU-Stanford was great, UCF over Baylor was interesting and made Blake B. a household name, Oklahoma over Alabama was surprising, Clemson-OSU was a knuckle-up, and the title game delivered). That said, no one is going to truly miss it (except the people who made tons of money from it, who will continue to make money from the new system). There were a couple of different things I wanted to write off the game, notably about Tre Mason’s draft stock (short answer: people think he’s a system back, apparently) and about how Gus Malzahn even being in that game represents the idea that your career is a marathon, not a sprint (eight years ago he was a high school football coach), but ultimately I thought the best bow to put on the BCS would be to look back at one of its biggest travesties. Now, which travesty would I choose?

The one that usually pops is 2004 Auburn (undefeated, didn’t play for it all). The other one people bring up in the more modern sense is the year Bama didn’t win the SEC West but won the national title. Both are good cases, but I wanted to talk about 2001 for a second. The title game that year ended up being Nebraska vs. Miami; Miami routed ’em (the game was 34-0 at the half), which isn’t surprising given that 38 members of the team were drafted into the NFL, accounting for 41 total Pro Bowl trips. (Some of the bigger names are Ed Reed, Andre Johnson, Vince Wilfork, etc.) But the controversy of who got to play Miami actually started the previous year with what happened with Miami and FSU in 2000 — that year, Oklahoma was the clear No. 1, but there was confusion about No. 2 between Miami and FSU.

So… prior to the 2001 campaign, the system shifted:

The BCS changed the formula in an effort to come up with something that would eliminate the scenario that led to Florida State finishing ahead of Miami despite a better ranking and head-to-head win by the Canes in 2000. There were three changes. In an effort to minimize margin of victory, some of the computer rankings were replaced. The Dunkel Index and New York Times rankings were removed and replaced by the Colley Matrix and Peter Wolfe’s rankings. Also, Richard Billingsley changed his formula to remove margin of victory, and Ken Massey created a new, non-MOV version of his rankings for the BCS to use. As a result, the eight computer rankings were now split, with four considering MOV and four ignoring it.

The formula was also changed to calculate the computer average by throwing out both the best and worst ranking for each team and averaging the other six. That is the one change that made sense.

The most significant (and ridiculous) change was the addition of a quality win component (QW). After calculating the basic formula, a bonus reduction was given to any team that had a win over a team in the top 15 of the basic formula. If a team had beaten the No. 1 team, its BCS score would be reduced by 1.5 points. If it had beaten the No. 2 team, the bonus reduction was 1.4 points, and so on down to a bonus of 0.1 for a win over No. 15. One particularly illogical piece of this component was that a team could only earn one bonus if it beat the same team twice during the year. For example, if a team had beaten the No. 15 team twice, it would only get 0.1 for a bonus instead of 0.2.

Had all these changes been in place in 2000, Miami would have finished ahead of Florida State, and, again, that was the goal.

Miami was a relatively clear No. 1 in 2001. They didn’t lose, and they mostly routed opponents. Their only really close game was VT on December 1st, where they only won by two:

Now, it got confusing in the middle of the country, though. During the regular season, Colorado had beaten Nebraska — in fact, ’twas a massacre, 62-36. (Musburger and Gary Danielson, working together!)

Because of that result, Nebraska didn’t even play for the Big 12 title — despite being No. 2 in the BCS. Colorado played Texas, and that one was a nailbiter:

Colorado won, so they had a claim to No. 2, right? They had beaten Nebraska and won the Big 12 Championship. OK. We’ll come back to that in a second.

Meanwhile, Oregon — nearing the end of its time with Joey Harrington — was 10-1 that year. Just like in the modern era, the Ducks’ problem was not beating Stanford — they had lost 49-42 to them during the regular season. Check out Keith Jackson saying “abandon” at the beginning of this one:

So now you have Miami as an unquestioned No. 1, with Colorado, Nebraska and Oregon all laying claim. It should be Colorado or Oregon, right? Nope. It was Nebraska. But why?

Here’s Jerry Palm again:

Despite two regular-season losses, the Buffaloes finished third, 0.05 BCS points behind the Huskers in the closest race for second of the low-score-wins part of the BCS era. Oregon, which was 10-1 and No. 2 in the polls, finished fourth in the BCS primarily because of poor MOV-based computer rankings. The Ducks were ahead of Colorado in the basic BCS rankings, but the Buffs moved past based on a whopping 2.3 QW bonus. Nebraska actually finished fourth in the human polls but overcame that due to strong computer rankings and one fewer loss than Colorado.

Colorado actually lost their opener that year, 24-22, to Fresno State. Had they won this game, then —

— they might have played for a title.

Meanwhile, the Pac-10 in 2001 wasn’t elite, which cost Oregon its shot.

While many people consider the 2001 Hurricanes essentially unbeatable due to the NFL talent they had assembled, many also think Oregon could have given them a much better (and more interesting) game than Nebraska ultimately did. Hell, the 2001 Longhorns — a fairly dominant team aside from losing to Oklahoma — could have beaten Colorado in the Big 12 title game and probably given Miami a better game than Nebraska did. It was a ridiculous series of late-season upsets, timing and luck that propelled us to arguably the worst BCS Title Game in its history (OK, Oklahoma-USC was pretty bad too).

Under the four-team system coming in next year, Miami-Nebraska would have been a semifinal (1 vs. 4) and Oregon-Colorado would have been the other semifinal (2 vs. 3).

Final interesting thing about all this: we’re talking about 12 years ago. In college sports, that is a long time, because it’s three turnovers or so (assuming people are staying 3-4 years), but Oregon is still a top-10 program consistently, and Miami (while they swooned late) had a stay in the top 10 this year (and have racked up a couple of good recruiting classes, although Al Golden as an on-field coach might be a question). Nebraska has never achieved the Osborne glory in recent years (this year they had some lumps, but won their bowl game), but those three programs are still typically in the top 25-30 and nationally-relevant. Meanwhile, what the hell happened to Colorado football? They’ve won a national championship, produced a Heisman winner, and were ranked every year between 1988 and 2003. And now… damn. Hopefully they turn it around.

Ted Bauer

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