A Walk Through Alternate History: 1998

So since we've pretended our way through the 2008 National Championship Tournament, let's play like Huey Lewis and Marty McFly and go back in time to pretend this tournament has been in place since the start of the BCS.  Let's say this was the solution that was put in place back then.

We'll start with 1998, the first season where the BCS replaced the "Bowl Alliance" and "Bowl Coalition."  Ohio State was far and away the best team in the country for a majority of the season, but an inexplicable home loss to an average Michigan State team knocked them out of the ranks of the unbeaten.  Heading into the final weeks of the season, Tennessee, UCLA and Kansas State were all unbeaten, and when UCLA lost a hurricane-delayed road game to Miami-FL, the road was paved for K-State...until they blew a lead and lost in OT to Texas A&M in the Big 12 title game.  Out of nowhere, Florida State and their unproven QB, Marcus Outzen (who had replaced an injured Chris Weinke, who had more-or-less replaced an injured Dan Kendra), found themselves in the BCS championship game, where they lost to a Peyton-less Tennessee team led by Tee Martin.

With so many freak upsets in the final weeks, Tennessee certainly deserved the national title for just plain winning.  But...this would have been a perfect year for the first BCS National Tournament.

As a refresher, here are the rules:

  1. Every conference champion qualifies.  Each year, that means 11 automatic bids and 5 at-large bids

  2. Seeding is not affected by conference championship.  It is pulled strictly from the BCS rankings.  Winning a title just gets you in the door.  If a team isn't ranked in the BCS, then other subjective rankings apply.

  3. No conference championship games.  In this case, that means K-State goes into the tourney undefeated.

  4. First rounds are played at home stadiums.  If you lose in the first round of the tournament (which takes place the first weekend in December), you are eligible for a bowl three weeks later.

  5. Quarterfinals are played at home stadiums.  If you lose in the quarterfinals (played in the second weekend in December), you will play in a BCS bowl.

  6. The semifinals are played in rotating BCS bowls.

  7. The championship is played the week after the BCS bowls, in a rotating BCS slot.
  8. There can only be a maximum of three teams (i.e. one champ and two at-large bids) from one conference.  There is, however, no "two conference teams in BCS bowls" limit.  If three conference teams make the quarterfinals, all three will play in BCS bowls.

Got it?  So let's see what happens.

Oh, and these results have no scientific basis, mind you.  They are totally based on looking at how teams performed in bowls and conference title games and ascribing their "tourney" performance from that.

1998

Conference Champions: Air Force, Florida State, Idaho, Kansas State, Marshall, Syracuse, Tennessee, Tulane, UCLA, Wisconsin

At-Large Bids: Arizona, Florida, Georgia Tech, Nebraska, Ohio State, Texas A&M

Round 1

1 Tennessee def. 16 Idaho in Knoxville
8 Texas A&M def. 9 Wisconsin in College Station
12 Georgia Tech def. 5 UCLA in Pasadena
4 Ohio State def. 13 Syracuse in Columbus
6 Arizona def. 11 Nebraska in Tucson
14 Air Force def. 3 Florida State in Tallahassee
7 Florida def. 10 Tulane in Gainesville
15 Marshall def. 2 Kansas State in Manhattan

That's right, Idaho was a conference champion in 1998. 

The first ever "Round of 16" in 1-A results in an uncommon three upsets: 1) Georgia Tech over UCLA--the Bruins limped home, losing the Rose Bowl to Wisconsin after losing to Miami; 2) Air Force over Florida State--because that's how much I think of Marcus Outzen; and 3) Marshall over K-State, who completely peed the bed when November rolled into December.  Losing to Marshall is the tourney equivalent of blowing a lead and losing to ATM, then laying a big egg in the Alamo Bowl.  That, and Marshall was pretty damn solid.  Sorry, TB.  I had to do it.

Best game of the first round: a gritty ATM team beating a gritty Wisconsin team.  I give the edge to the Ags simply because of home-field advantage.

Quarterfinals

1 Tennessee def. 8 Texas A&M in Knoxville
4 Ohio State def. 12 Georgia Tech in Columbus
6 Arizona def. 14 Air Force in Tucson
7 Florida def. 15 Marshall in Gainesville

Two blowouts, a near-upset in Tucson, and a helluva game between Tennessee and ATM.  Florida is starting to benefit from the bottom half of the bracket completely falling apart.

Semifinals

4 Ohio State def. 1 Tennessee in Fiesta Bowl
7 Florida def. 6 Arizona in Sugar Bowl
8 Texas A&M def. 14 Air Force in Rose Bowl
12 Georgia Tech def. 15 Marshall in Orange Bowl

The first year of the BCS National Tournament is likely considered a slight-failure, as small TV audiences take in an ATM/Air Force Rose Bowl and a GaTech/Marshall Orange Bowl.  But oh freaking well.  I love upsets, and this would have made me positively giddy.  (It would have also made me twice as regretful for the three games Mizzou lost in the final seconds that kept us out of this wide-open tournament.)

This wasn't Steve Spurrier's best team at Florida, but they happily take advantage of the bracket, defeating a happy-to-be-there Arizona Wildcat team to advance to the finals, while conference rival Tennessee falls to Ohio State.

Finals

7 Florida def. 4 Ohio State in Tempe

Sorry...couldn't help it.  Ohio State was the better team, but...late-'90s Steve Spurrier versus late-'90s John Cooper?  That's not very fair.  So...Jesse Palmer: Bachelor and national champion.

So it takes us just one tournament to get our first 2-loss national champion.  That bugs me a little bit, but as you'll see in future seasons, this tourney results in so many awesome-for-college-football matchups that I'll get over it.

1998 National Champion: Florida

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