[This story is part three of a series of stories which chronicle the evolution of college football’s postseason. This series originally appeared in the Official Game Program for the 2014 Allstate Sugar Bowl.]
Part 1: The Bowls: A Historical Perspective
Part 2: The Father of the BCS
Part 3: Looking Back at the BCS
Part 4: The College Football Playoff and the Allstate Sugar Bowl
Looking Back at the BCS The date was January 4, 2000. While the Sugar Bowl was long-established as a championship destination, the early days of the new millennium were also the early days of a new championship system in college football – the Bowl Championship Series (BCS).
The Allstate Sugar Bowl had hosted 19 national championship teams in New Orleans in its first 65 years; it had also hosted three match-ups between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation (1979, 1983 and 1993). However, when top-ranked Florida State met No. 2 Virginia Tech on that notable day in January, it was the first time the city of New Orleans was home to a new “BCS Championship” game.
The stated goal of the BCS was to match the top two teams in the nation for a true national title game. For years, fans, media and players had yearned to see the best teams go head-to-head. In the 56 years before the arrival of this new BCS system, the top two teams in the nation had played just eight times in bowl games – including the three memorable Sugar Bowl match-ups.
The first BCS Championship game, played in the Fiesta Bowl the year before, saw Tennessee upend the Seminoles, 23-16, in a defensive battle. But the 2000 Sugar Bowl showed why the masses had clamored for a true national championship. Florida State took charge of the game early, jumping out to a 28-7 lead behind a sensational performance from Peter Warrick, who had a 64-yard touchdown reception and a 59-yard punt return score. However, Virginia Tech turned to a freshman who had begun to make a name for himself during the season. That freshman, Michael Vick, sparked an amazing comeback for the Hokies, displaying a combination of passing and running rarely seen at any level of football.
Despite taking a 29-28 lead, the Hokies ran out of gas, and Warrick continued his dazzling day, adding a key two-point conversion and a 43-yard TD grab. Though Vick finished with 225 passing yards and 97 rushing yards, it was Warrick who took home Most Outstanding Player honors for his 163-yard receiving effort (and the punt return TD). And it was the legendary Bobby Bowden who capped his first undefeated season with a national championship.
But the real winners were the fans, both the crowd at the game and the massive television audience. They had seen a true national championship game between a team from the Atlantic Coast Conference and a team from the Big East Conference. And it had happened in the Sugar Bowl. The Bowl Championship Series had brought together all of the conferences and the major bowls to guarantee the match-up, regardless of previous affiliations or contracts. In just its second season, the BCS had proven itself a success.
The BCS has continued to evolve through the years; rules were changed, the ranking systems were tweaked, an additional game was added and more access was given to teams from around the country. Eight teams from conferences without annual automatic qualification have played in BCS bowls in the last nine years. This marks a drastic change from the 54 years before the BCS was created, when teams that are currently members of the non-AQ conferences played in top-tier bowl games only five times.
In New Orleans, fans followed up that memorable Florida State-Virginia Tech game with three more National Championship games, two won by nearby LSU and the other taken by a powerful Alabama squad (which vanquished that same LSU team). The Rose Bowl, long the home of the Big Ten and the Pac-12 elite, saw Vince Young and Texas, from the Big 12, win a title on its hallowed grounds in 2006. The Fiesta Bowl, a Big 12 partner, saw the Big Ten’s Ohio State win a controversial overtime game against Miami in 2003. Notre Dame, an independent, had a shot at regaining its tradition of greatness in a game hosted by the Orange Bowl just last year – against a team from the SEC. None of those memorable match-ups would have been possible without the BCS system.
“The BCS did its job and then some,” said Bill Hancock, the executive director of the BCS. “We are proud of that, and I am confident that history will view it positively. It guaranteed that the No. 1 and No. 2 teams would meet in a bowl game. But it also enhanced the regular season by turning the game into more of a national sport than ever before. Because of the BCS, people in the Southeast and in Big Ten country, for example, had to pay attention to a game like Boise State-TCU. That was a remarkably positive-and admittedly unintended-consequence.”
However, despite meeting its goals, the Bowl Championship Series will step aside (or evolve) for a new system. Starting next season, the College Football Playoff will commence. The top four teams in the nation will be selected by a Selection Committee, which will then assign those teams to national semifinals match-ups. The winners will then meet in the new College Football Championship Game. One of next year’s semifinals will be played right here in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, while the other will be played in the Rose Bowl.
The first National Championship game in the new system will be played in Arlington, Texas, at Cowboys Stadium on Jan. 12, 2015. While the future sites of the championship have not been determined, it would be fitting to see the title game back in New Orleans, the city where champions are crowned.