Bcs Controversies Revisited: 2003 - The System Breaks


Hartselle Tigers (15-0) 5-A State Champ
Jul 28, 2008
Reaction score
2002 gave the BCS a relatively controversy free year, at least in regards to the championship matchup. Ohio State upset Miami to become the fifth different BCS champion in five years, and the only real controversy was about whether or not the Buckeyes were aided by a questionable pass interference call that extended the game.

Unfortunately for the BCS, 2003 pretty much exposed the entire setup as a sham. With a system set up to prevent split national championships, it somehow managed to produce.....a split championship. How did this happen?

The pre-season AP poll was as follows:
1) Oklahoma
2) Ohio State
3) Miami
4) Texas
5) Kansas State
6) Auburn

Auburn had one place first vote and was considered a potential national champion by The Sporting News and a Top Five team by nearly everyone else. By September 7, they were 0-2 and out of the national title picture. The most significant fallout from this was that one of those losses was to USC by a score of 23-0. The Trojans began the year at number eight and immediately were in the discussion for the title. As the season unfolded, teams began to fall by the wayside. October 11 was a real separation Saturday as OU trounced Vince Young's Texas team, 65-13, while #6 LSU was losing to Florida and Ohio State's 19-game winning streak of mostly nail biters wound up with the Buckeyes on the losing end to Wisconsin, 17-10. A week later, the first BCS polls were as follows:

1) Oklahoma
2) Miami
3) Virginia Tech
4) Georgia
5) Florida State

Georgia had lost to LSU and Florida State was undone by Miami, but the top three were still undefeated. Perhaps looking ahead to Miami the following week, the Hokies were beaten soundly by West Virginia and when USC knocked off Washington, the Trojans replaced Va Tech in the rankings, settling in at number four while FSU's demolition of Wake Forest lifted them to #3.

The following week, the Miami dynasty crumbled when Va Tech blew them out, 31-7. A loss the next week to Tennessee by a 10-6 score ensured the Canes dynasty was not only dead but buried. And now was when the BCS rankings really began an earthquake-like shuffle. On November 9, the BCS rankings were:

1) Oklahoma
2) USC
3) Ohio State
4) LSU
5) Texas

Yes, despite two losses (a fact that would play a huge role in what happened at the end of the season), Texas was now ranked fifth in the BCS. They had lost to both mediocre Arkansas and been blown to pieces by OU, yet the Longhorns sat safely at number five. The following week despite everyone winning, the ratings changed again:

1) Oklahoma
2) Ohio State
3) USC
4) LSU
5) Texas

The Buckeyes moved up by virtue of their overtime win over Purdue while USC was blasting 2-10 Arizona by 45 points. Ohio State was primed to play for a repeat championship despite not looking overly impressive. Michigan, however, ended that dream with a 35-21 beating at the Big House. When LSU beat Ole Miss to clinch the SEC West, the nightmare scenario began to unfold for the BCS. Entering December, the BCS rankings were:
1) Oklahoma
2) USC
3) LSU
4) Michigan
5) Ohio State

The most relevant factor at this point became the fact that everyone below the bottom three had two losses. This ensured that if Oklahoma by some weird chance of fate lost to Kansas State - a virtual impossibility or so went the conventional wisdom - that OU could not possibly fall further than third in the rankings. During the Big 12 title game, ABC announcer Gary Danielson revealed that the math formulas showed that even if Oklahoma lost to Kansas State, they would not drop any further than number two. It appeared as though LSU, the potential SEC champion, was going to be kept out of a title game shot. And then it happened.

Despite being liberally compared to the greatest teams of all-time, Oklahoma played their most lackluster football game of the first five years of the Stoops era, sleepwalking while receiving a 35-7 demolition at the hands of three-loss Kansas State. In the most disputed controversy of the BCS era, this 28-point loss - which if you saw it was more like a 48-point loss - did not even register with the BCS. Despite being blown out by four touchdowns to a three-loss team, the final BCS standings still had the Sooners ranked at number one. If that wasn't bad enough, two blowouts - Boise State beating Hawaii and then Syracuse pasting Notre Dame - elevated SEC champion LSU's argument just enough to lift them over USC and into the number two spot, good enough for them to play Oklahoma for the BCS championship.

The AP responded as polls always had in the past. USC was number two heading into the weekend and Oklahoma lost. USC moved up to one and LSU to two, with the Sooners settling in at number three because everyone else had two losses or more. That ranking is certainly defensible. What is not defensible is that eight AP voters still voted Oklahoma as number one after that humiliating loss. At number one in the two polls that didn't really matter, USC prepared for the Rose Bowl while LSU got ready for what was basically a home game against Oklahoma for the national championship.

So why did Oklahoma get the nod over USC? Indeed, were it not for the complication of the BCS computer system, this would never have happened. In the old days of poll voting, USC would have played LSU and not one whit of protest would have ensued. Even the one sure objection that would have been made - "well, it's unfair we had to play a conference championship and USC didn't" - would have been dismissed with the retort, "if you couldn't beat Kansas State, you don't deserve to play for the title anyway."

But why Oklahoma? Well, this was a BCS-created problem, manufactured by the BCS' failure to defend their system after the 2000 season. OU had the best SoS of the top three teams and one loss but more importantly, the elimination of the margin of victory component meant that OU's four touchdown loss to Kansas State was treated exactly the same as LSU's 12-point loss to Florida or USC's triple overtime narrow loss to Cal in the computers. And the quality win component likewise helped LSU because they had played one more game than USC had.

The selection of Oklahoma in 2003 proved that despite the assets of the BCS - and they were many - you could still wind up with the wrong team in the national championship game. A perfect storm of events set up the entire thing. The irony is that if Ohio State had simply beaten Michigan, there would have been a different kind of controversy and yet it would not have been as bad as what ensued. The Buckeyes would have been number one in the joint polls and nobody would have overly cared that OU got into the game against Ohio State. True, both LSU and USC would have been left out of the game, but we would never have had the specter of USC at the top of the polls but not even getting consideration. While OU would have dropped to four rather than three in the AP polls, it would not have made a difference. The match would have featured Ohio State going for a repeat against Oklahoma, going for their second in four years.

As it turned out, we got a split national championship. LSU won "the one that counts" while USC did their part by pasting Michigan in Pasadena. Three coaches - Lou Holtz, Ron Turner, and Mike Belotti - violated their oaths and voted USC number one in the coaches poll, a poll with the mandate of selecting the BCS game winner.

Of all the BCS controversies, this one was the most relevant and talk began of the necessity of a Plus One game or perhaps a four-team playoff.

One of the most ironic quotes came from Sooners coach Bob Stoops:

"For his part, Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops said that a post-bowl championship game would penalize a team that goes undefeated and wins its bowl game, as the Sooners did in winning the 2000 championship.

"It's never going to be perfect, and it doesn't need to be. It's easy to say, 'Let's keep playing games,' but these guys are 18-22 years old. They go to school every day, they're not NFL guys; they've been going at it since August," Stoops said.

A playoff system, Stoops added, would diminish the importance of a regular season in which every game is important for teams with title aspirations."

Stoops did not bother to point out that this same system literally rendered his supposedly more important POST-season game with K-State utterly meaningless.

The cry had begun. It would grow louder the very next year.
Last edited:
Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Top Bottom