Well, well, well … we’ve made it to the modern-modern era of college football on MNC Wednesday as the Bowl Championship Series was initiated in this year to try to ensure, ahem, that the best team in college football was picked as the still-mythical national champion. Yes, we know you see the flaws in this idea, too, so …
Without further pretense, let’s get to the data.
The 1998 MNC: Did the BCS work in its first year? Well …
Here is the Associated Press Top 13, including final record with key bowl results:
1. Tennessee: 13-0-0 — W, Fiesta, 23-16
2. Ohio State: 11-1-0 — W, Sugar, 24-14
3. Florida State: 11-2-0 — L, Fiesta, 16-23
4. Arizona: 12-1-0 — W, Holiday, 23-20
5. Florida: 10-2-0 — W, Orange, 31-10
6. Wisconsin: 11-1-0 — W, Rose, 38-31
7. Tulane: 12-0-0 — W, Liberty, 41-27
8. UCLA: 10-2-0 — L, Rose, 31-38
9. Georgia Tech: 10-2-0 — W, Gator, 35-28
10. Kansas State: 11-2-0 — L, Alamo, 34-37
11. Texas A&M: 11-3-0 — L, Sugar, 14-24
12. Michigan: 10-3-0 — W, Citrus, 45-31
13. Air Force: 12-1-0 — W, O’ahu, 45-25
The Volunteers won the first BCS “title” by beating the Seminoles in the Fiesta Bowl, but clearly, there are a lot of other teams that could have been more deserving of either team’s spot in the “title” game. Start with the Buckeyes: They tied for the B1G championship with the Badgers, as the two teams didn’t play each other, so actually, both squads get advanced along with Tennessee.
The Wildcats did not win the Pac-10, having lost to UCLA early in the season. The Gators did not win the SEC, either, having lost to the Vols in the second game of the year. The Green Wave went undefeated with a bowl win, so it is in our final analysis below.
The Yellow Jackets did not win the ACC, having lost to Florida State. The Wildcats started 11-0 but lost the Big XII game in a huge upset against Texas A&M. Considering UCLA had been 10-0 when it lost on the same day, the polls took a big hit on December 5, 1998.
Finally, there are the Falcons: Their only loss came on the road by one point to Texas Christian University. If AFA, KSU, and UCLA had gone undefeated as well—and Ohio State hadn’t lost to Michigan State in a huge upset—we could have been looking at half a dozen undefeated teams come bowl season. What a mess we dodged!
Usually these things sort themselves out, but this had some insane possibilities (like if Wisconsin hadn’t lost to Michigan, too). Overall, though, that still leaves us with 5 teams to examine more in-depth this season. Here are the respective SOS ratings for our finalists, after analyzing all the context above:
- Air Force: 13 Division I-A opponents, -3.25 SOS rating, 84th of 112
- Tennessee: 13 Division I-A opponents, 4.42 SOS rating, 26th
- Ohio State: 12 Division I-A opponents, 4.77 SOS rating, 21st
- Wisconsin: 12 Division I-A opponents, 1.78 SOS rating, 50th
- Tulane: 12 Division I-A opponents, -5.24 SOS rating, 93rd
Air Force and Tulane played weak schedules, and Wisconsin pretty much did as well—even in the B1G. The Badgers won their first 9 games, all against unranked opponents, before losing to ranked Michigan, beating ranked Penn State, and beating ranked UCLA.
Meanwhile, Ohio State finished No. 1 in SRS overall, while Tennessee finished just third. The Buckeyes would have been a 3-point favorite over the Vols on a neutral field, but the BCS “formula” at the time spit out Florida State as the No. 2 team in the country.
We can make the case here that the BCS did not work in its first season, even if our analysis ends up in the same place. That’s just a coincidence, really. The reality is that the BCS “title” game should have been Ohio State against Florida State, and since it was not, we will never know really about this season—just as we most often never really knew in prior years.
Thus, using the available data and our established criteria/process, the Vols hang on to the MNC since their SOS was good enough to fend off the Buckeyes. This is Tennessee’s fourth MNC in our analyses (1938, 1985, 1989)—and the first time we have confirmed the Vols as the mythical champs.
Congratulations to the 1998 Tennessee Volunteers, the mythical national champion!
Check in every Wednesday for a new feature on the mythical national championship in college football on The Daily McPlay!