How LSU and Ohio State Met in the 2008 BCS Championship Game The calm voice on the intercom intoned: “We have good news. . . .”
The pilot was informing the Louisiana State University football team, on its way home after winning the Southeastern Conference Championship Game in Atlanta, that the No. 1 team in the country, the University of Missouri, had lost – cracking the door for the Tigers to get a shot at the national title.
Ecstatic cheers, heavy backslapping and hugs ensued, but the sudden celebration was cut short as the plane took a severe dip and the sounds in the cabin changed immediately to shrieks of alarm. But the plane quickly climbed again to its correct altitude and continued a steady journey back to Baton Rouge with its cargo of happy Tigers, now all tightly squeezing their armrests.
“Man, I said, ‘We need to get off this plane before we start celebrating some team losing,'” Tiger tackle Carnell Stewart sagely said afterward. Yet there would be more rejoicing: When LSU landed there was more good news. No. 2-ranked West Virginia also lost, to four-touchdown underdog Pittsburgh, flinging the championship gates wide open for LSU.
The wild plane ride was a precise reflection of the previous four months of college football.
In the craziest season in the almost 140-year history of college football – which opened with an upset of No. 5-ranked Michigan by lower-division opponent Appalachian State and featured the biggest upset of all-time with 41-point underdog Stanford beating Southern California, ranked No. 1 in the ESPN and Harris polls. The season featured Top 10 teams losing to unranked teams a staggering 20 times; Top 5 teams losing to unranked opponents an unprecedented 13 times; and the No. 1 and No. 2-ranked teams both losing on the final day of the regular season, each a step short of a chance to hoist the Waterford Crystal Ball, emblematic of the BCS title.
And, in the end, after the stunning developments on the last weekend of the ‘Season of the Upset,’ the last teams standing were Ohio State and LSU – both of which had been previously ranked No. 1 and lost; the Tigers twice.
This crazy season proved to be a killer of high aspirations for elite standing. But when Missouri and West Virginia lost, the Big Ten champion Buckeyes (11-1), then in third place in the BCS rankings, were lifted to the top spot. LSU (11-2), which had dropped to seventh, rose to second, passing five other contenders.
Oklahoma (11-2) and Southern Cal (10-2) could, and would, make arguments that they were just as worthy, but LSU’s total body of work (a national-best 6-1 against opponents ranked at season’s end, and having beaten five teams in the Top 15 while the Trojans defeated none) appeared to be the deciding factor.
The Buckeyes were getting a chance at redemption. After a 41-14 blowout at the hands of underdog Florida in the BCS title game the year before, all Ohio State heard was that it didn’t belong on the big stage, that Big Ten teams couldn’t compete with the speed of Southeastern Conference teams and that the Buckeye opposition didn’t measure up.
The stage itself was as intriguing as the matchup. Since 1935 more national champions appeared in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans than anywhere else. This was not, of course, truly a Sugar Bowl game, but it wouldn’t have been played in the Big Easy without the Sugar Bowl. This was properly viewed as “The BCS National Championship Game – hosted by the Sugar Bowl.”
Recap excerpted from the book “Sugar Bowl Classic: A History” by Marty Mulé, who covered the game and the organization for decades for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.