So What if it Was 1997, Not 2011?
By Paul Myerberg // Dec 8, 2011
On Monday, Boise State’s Chris Petersen told local reporters that “everyone was tired of the B.C.S. system.” Petersen is wrong: not everyone is tired of the B.C.S. system. Why, Frank Beamer likes it just fine, thank you. As does Michigan and Brady Hoke. Alabama adores the B.C.S., as you’d think, and so does the SEC as a whole. The entire B.C.S. conference landscape has little issue with the B.C.S. in its current formation, and this year’s B.C.S. slate has done little to diminish those feelings of content. It’s the little guys, the Boise States of the world, who aren’t exactly tickled pink. But what if the B.C.S. didn’t exist? What if we were back in the old bowl system, the pre-B.C.S. days? Would that make everyone happy?
Forget 35 bowl games. There were 20 bowl games in 1997, the final season prior to the formation of the B.C.S., meaning 17 bowl-eligible teams stayed home in December and January. How would the 2011 postseason play out according to the 1997 system? Here’s the hypothetical, with the 1997 tie-ins listed alongside the bowl and the 1997 — or early 1998 — matchup listed in parentheses following the 2011 pairing.
Rose Bowl: Big Ten No. 1 vs. Pac-10 No. 1
Wisconsin vs. Oregon (Michigan vs. Washington State)
Orange Bowl: Big 12 No. 1 vs. SEC No. 1 (At-Large)
Oklahoma State vs. L.S.U. (Nebraska vs. Tennessee)
Sugar: A.C.C. No. 1 (At-Large) vs. Big Ten No. 2 (At-Large)
Clemson vs. Alabama (Florida State vs. Ohio State)
Cotton Bowl: Pac-12 No. 2 vs. Big 12 No. 3
Stanford vs. Oklahoma (U.C.L.A. vs. Texas A&M)
Citrus Bowl: SEC No. 2 vs. Big Ten No. 3
Arkansas vs. Michigan State (Florida vs. Penn State)
Gator Bowl: A.C.C. No. 2 vs. Big East No. 2
Virginia Tech vs. Cincinnati (North Carolina vs. Virginia Tech)
Fiesta Bowl: Big 12 No. 2 vs. Big East No. 1
Kansas State vs. West Virginia (Kansas State vs. Syracuse)
Outback Bowl: SEC No. 3 vs. Big Ten No. 4
Georgia vs. Michigan (Georgia vs. Wisconsin)
Peach Bowl: SEC No. 4 vs. A.C.C. No. 3
South Carolina vs. Florida State (Auburn vs. Clemson)
Independence Bowl: SEC No. 5 vs. At-Large
Auburn vs. Notre Dame (L.S.U. vs. Notre Dame)
Sun Bowl: Pac-12 No. 3 vs. Big Ten No. 6
Washington vs. Penn State (Arizona State vs. Iowa)
Alamo Bowl: Big Ten No. 5 vs. Big 12 No. 4
Nebraska vs. Baylor (Purdue vs. Oklahoma State)
Holiday Bowl: WAC No. 1 vs. Big 12 No. 5
Louisiana Tech vs. Missouri (Colorado State vs. Missouri)
Aloha Bowl: Pac-12 No. 4 vs. Big Ten No. 7 (At-Large)
California vs. Ohio State (Washington vs. Michigan State)
Liberty Bowl: C-USA No. 1 vs. Big East No. 3 (At-Large)
Southern Miss vs. Texas (Southern Miss vs. Pittsburgh)
Las Vegas Bowl: Pac-12 No. 5 vs. WAC No. 2 (At-Large)
Utah vs. T.C.U. (Oregon vs. Air Force)
Carquest Bowl: A.C.C. No. 4 vs. Big East No. 4 (At-Large)
Virginia vs. Iowa (Georgia Tech vs. West Virginia)
Humanitarian Bowl: C-USA No. 2 vs. Big West No. 1
Houston vs. Boise State (Cincinnati vs. Utah State)
Motor City Bowl: SEC No. 6 (At-Large) vs. MAC No. 1
Arkansas State vs. Northern Illinois (Mississippi vs. Marshall)
Insight: Pac-12 No. 6 (At-Large) vs. WAC No. 3 (At-Large)
Georgia Tech vs. B.Y.U. (Arizona vs. New Mexico)
A few bowls retain the same flavor. The Rose Bowl still pits Oregon and Wisconsin, the winners of the Pac-12 and Big Ten, respectively, and has little bearing on the national title race. The Holiday Bowl still features the WAC champs, Louisiana Tech, against the five-ranked team from the Big 12. As in 1997, the Independence Bowl still features Notre Dame against the fifth-ranked team from the SEC.
And there aren’t many snoozers; there is no Little Caesars Bowl, for example. The worst game, going by name recognition, pits Arkansas State and Northern Illinois in the Motor City Bowl. Not a great game in terms of pure talent, but you can’t argue against either team being included in the mix: Arkansas State, winners of the Sun Belt, and Northern Illinois, winners of the MAC, have earned every right to reach bowl play.
It’s funny to note how many teams were left out in the cold prior to the recent proliferation of bowl games. In 1997, the 20-bowl slate left 17 bowl-eligible teams out of postseason play. Thanks to the growth of the F.B.S., there would be 33 bowl-eligible teams left out of postseason play.
Of course, a significant portion of today’s F.B.S. gets to bowl eligibility by taking care of cupcakes in September; in 1997, the 11-game slate meant that a team needed to finish at least .500 in conference play to reach six wins. In 1997, 35 of the 40 bowl teams won more than six games.
So no Florida in this format, or Texas A&M, N.C. State, Northwestern, U.C.L.A. or Mississippi State, among others. And the little guys? Good luck. There are only six non-B.C.S. conference teams in this hypothetical, if we include B.Y.U. and Notre Dame as part of the B.C.S. conference landscape.
But that’s not the issue: in terms of non-B.C.S. bowl play, 2011 is far kinder to the non-B.C.S. conferences than was 1997. But would the old bowl system do a better job deciding the 2011 national champion? Take a look at the two key bowls with national title implications:
Oklahoma State meets L.S.U. in the Orange Bowl; Alabama meets Clemson in the Sugar Bowl. Alabama would have the opportunity to pull a Nebraska — winning its bowl game by a huge margin — while Oklahoma State upsets the Tigers. Would Alabama get the top spot in the polls?
Or would L.S.U.’s regular season win over the Tide keep them in the top spot? Or would Oklahoma State’s 12-1 finish, complete with an Orange Bowl, make them the pick for national champs? In short: the whole argument may be as heated as it is with the current B.C.S. system.
But at least Oklahoma State would have a chance. Imagine a scenario where the Cowboys beat L.S.U. by, say, 24 points. Alabama beats Clemson, but only by a field goal — a game most think the Tide should win by at least two scores. Wouldn’t Oklahoma State have to be the pick for No. 1?
And do you miss the pre-B.C.S. system? Few bowls more meaningful than another, though the prime time, January games certainly stood out. No dead weight; at least seven wins, more often than not, and fewer shortcuts — playing a weakling in September — to bowl play.
More than anything, the old bowl system may have placed a heavier emphasis on the regular season. Under the 1997 system, it would have been difficult for this year’s Alabama to win the national championship: not even the winner of its own division, the Tide would be the third wheel in a two-team game of musical chairs.
The national champ would be the winner of L.S.U. and Oklahoma State. Again, does any part of you miss postseason play before the advent of the B.C.S. in 1998?
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Tags: Alabama, Arkansas State, B.C.S., Boise State, Chris Petersen, L.S.U., Louisiana Tech, Missouri, Northern Illinois, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Wisconsin
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