This is the final season under review on MNC Wednesday before the B(C)$ era in college football began. This was another year with split poll decisions for the top team—the third time in eight seasons, actually. And really, it’s a shame that the 1994 season wasn’t split as well at the time, and that would have given us a 50-percent fail rate in this decade. So you can see why the Bowl Championship Series became a “thing” in this problematic sport.
What happens with this specific split scenario? Read on to find out!
The 1997 MNC: This is why we do this, because you just never know …
Here is the Associated Press Top 10, including final record with key bowl results:
1. Michigan: 12-0-0 — W, Rose, 21-16
2. Nebraska: 13-0-0 — W, Orange, 42-17
3. Florida State: 11-1-0 — W, Sugar, 31-14
4. Florida: 10-2-0 — W, Citrus, 21-6
5. UCLA: 10-2-0 — W, Cotton, 29-23
6. North Carolina: 11-1-0 — W, Gator, 42-3
7. Tennessee: 11-2-0 — L, Orange, 17-42
8. Kansas State: 11-1-0 — W, Fiesta, 35-18
9. Washington State: 10-2-0 — L, Rose, 16-21
10. Georgia: 10-2-0 — W, Outback, 33-6
The Wolverines won the AP title, while the Cornhuskers won the coaches poll. What about the Seminoles, the Tar Heels, and the Wildcats? And do the Gators, the Bruins, and Bulldogs have an argument here? Let’s start with the one-loss teams above first.
Florida State lost its regular-season finale on the road to Florida by 3 points, so we have to put the Seminoles in a holding pattern for now, until we look at the Gators’ eligibility. We will note, though, that FSU finished first in the SRS rankings, so there is that. As for UNC, its sole loss was to the Seminoles, so the Tar Heels did not win the ACC, and they’re out. Kansas State lost to Nebraska, so the Wildcats are out, too.
Now, on to the two-loss teams: Florida did not win the SEC, so it’s out—and that means the Seminoles are in. Tricky how that works, huh? For the record, the Gators were No. 3 in the SRS, despite losses to Georgia and LSU. Moving down the list to UCLA, we see the Bruins did not win the Pac-10, so they’re dropped from consideration as well. Finally, Georgia did not win the SEC, either; Tennessee did, and the Vols lost their bowl game. Doh!
Only one small school figures in this time, and that’s the Colorado State Rams, who posted an 11-2 record with a conference title (WAC) and a bowl-game victory (Holiday Bowl). We throw them in for good measure, although we do not expect the Rams to be able to overcome any SOS deficits at all.
Overall, that leaves us with four teams to examine more closely this year, and here are the respective SOS ratings for our finalists, after analyzing all the information above:
- Colorado State: 13 Division I-A opponents, -2.85 SOS rating, 75th of 112
- Florida State: 12 Division I-A opponents, 6.88 SOS rating, 10th
- Michigan: 12 Division I-A opponents, 4.47 SOS rating, 32nd
- Nebraska: 13 Division I-A opponents, 2.53 SOS rating, 41st
Hello, hello, hello … this is why sabermetrics are a complete game changer for college football, when there is no legitimate tournament championship to decide the mythical national champs. We knew the Rams were not really going to survive here, but we had no idea the data would tell us that the Seminoles were truly the best team. Luck worked out for Florida State, in the sense its one loss was to a team that failed to meet our established criteria.
The Wolverines rated out to No. 5 on the SRS, while the Cornhuskers were No. 2 based on serious MOV factors that helped them overcome the weaker SOS. If you play a weak schedule, you have to dominate it—and Nebraska did, winning each game by an average of over 30 points. Meanwhile, Michigan only posted a 17.3-point MOV average. The Cornhuskers had the No. 1 offense, while the Wolverines had the No. 1 defense.
That would have been a fun bowl game to watch, of course, but the Seminoles can thank the gods that the BCS did not start one year earlier, right? Florida State was the clearly the best team, when looking at the SOS ratings—and the SRS rankings (which are secondary to us, due to the other criteria).
This is the Seminoles’ second MNC in our analyses, along with the unexpected one from 1992, because as you remember, we stripped FSU’s 1993 AP title due to head-to-head realities. You just never know how this is all going to shake out, do you?
Congratulations to the 1997 Florida State Seminoles, the mythical national champion!
Check in every Wednesday for a new feature on the mythical national championship in college football on The Daily McPlay!