Taking the BS out of BCS

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Without a doubt, in the short history of the BCS, 2005 was its crowning achievement. It was its best season. It was its most controversy-free season. And it ended with its best game, in the best setting possible for a college football game – the Rose Bowl.

It was a dream season for the BCS.

USC, after winning back-to-back AP national titles, was back for an unprecedented three-peat. It had a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who surprised everyone by returning for his senior season. It had a soon-to-be Heisman-winning running back. It had NFL first-round picks up the ying-yang on offense. But its defense was somewhat suspect.

No matter, the Trojans blew through the schedule by outscoring everybody. They won a thriller in South Bend when their Heisman combo Matt Leinart-Reggie Bush orchestrated a final second touchdown to beat Notre Dame. They escaped Fresno State when Bush produce a career worth of highlights in a single game, piling up 513 total yards. USC rolled into the Rose Bowl for the national championship with a 34-game winning streak after destroying UCLA, 66-19.

Keeping on the Trojans’ heels was No. 2 Texas, led by junior quarterback Vince Young, a Heisman hopeful himself. The Longhorns were ranked right behind USC the entire season, and were a juggernaut in their own right. After getting by Ohio State in Columbus in the second game of the season, Texas scored at least 40 points and won by double-digits every game. The Longhorns claimed their date with USC by atomizing Colorado in the Big 12 title game, 70-3.

In this BCS perfect season, everything fell into place. Penn State, the only other team that might otherwise had a claim on the title game, was done in by Michigan’s Mario Manningham, who caught a TD pass on the game’s final play to thwart perfection for the Lions. Alabama, the last unbeaten team besides USC and Texas, bowed out of the race on Nov. 12 after a loss to LSU.

The national championship game was a classic. The Trojans jumped ahead. The Longhorns took the lead by halftime. USC regained control in the second half and was one play away from finishing off its three-peat. On fourth-and-2 at the Texas 45, with 2:13 remaining and Texas out of timeouts, the Trojans elected to go for a first down instead of punting to protect a 38-33 lead.

Bush, the Heisman winning back, was on the sideline. The Trojans loaded up the left side of the line and ran Lendale White off tackle. It was a play full of machismo. USC had run this play three times in crucial situations in this game and prevailed each time. It dared Texas to stop it.

The Longhorns did. White was stuffed a yard short and Young got the ball back. He methodically drove Texas downfield, scoring the game-winner on fourth-and-5 with 19 seconds left. Texas ended the Trojans’ reign and won its first national title since 1970.

Final BCS Standings: 1. USC, 2. Texas, 3. Penn State, 4. Ohio State.

Alternative Methods

Using 1998-2003 (BCS I) Formula: 1. USC, 2. Texas, 3. Penn State, 4. Ohio State.

Using human polls only: 1. USC, 2. Texas, 3. Penn State, 4. Ohio State.

Plus One: USC vs. Ohio State; Texas vs. Penn State.

Controversy: There was little regarding the BCS. The title game was only slightly marred by instant replay malfunction, which allowed a disputed Texas touchdown to stand in the second quarter. Young’s knee was down on the play before he lateraled the ball to Selvin Young, who ran 12 yards for the score to put Texas ahead, 9-7. The play was not reviewed because the equipment wasn’t working.

BCS Formula Review: After the controversy of the previous year when Texas leapfrogged California for a Rose Bowl berth, the BCS made another tweak with the formula, out of necessity. A number of AP voters were besieged by angry fans who found fault with their ballots. As a result, the AP sent a cease-and-desist letter demanding that the AP poll be removed from the BCS formula.

The BCS hastily contracted Harris Interactive to furnish a replacement poll, which debuted in 2005. The poll features over 100 voters who are former athletic directors, coaches and players, as well as members of the media. Unlike the AP poll or the coaches poll, the Harris Poll does not have a preseason poll and isn’t released until four weeks into the season; and it also does not have am end-of-season final poll.

With the installment of the Harris Poll as part of the standings, the BCS formula would remain unchanged to this day. The 2009 season will be the fifth consecutive with the exact same BCS formula.

Analysis: The USC-Texas game was easily the most-watched BCS championship game and its most thrilling, thanks to the star power of both teams. And the BCS deserved credit for making it happen. Under the previous bowl regime, USC would’ve played (and most likely, beaten) Penn State in the Rose Bowl whereas Texas would’ve faced (and also beaten) either one-loss Oregon or two-loss Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.

The 2006 Rose Bowl also marked the end of the phase I of the BCS bowl rotation. After two consecutive cycles of playing four BCS bowls with eight berths, the BCS, partly under pressure, would expand to a "double-host" setup following the 2005 season. An extra game would be added to allow more access for non-BCS teams. And a championship game was added, to be played a week after the traditional New Year’s Day bowl games.