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More Than Undefeated: How Tulane Changed The BCS

by Dan Harralson
Jul 13, 2013 8:40 AM EDT



It has been 15 years since the Tulane football team ran the table. Everyone remembers the 1998 Tennessee football team finishing 13-0 and winning the inaugural BCS national championship, but the '98 Tulane team also was special in itself by going undefeated, 12-0. The level of competition clearly was not as spectacular as what Tennessee and other top BCS teams faced, but Tulane had a magical year and should have been rewarded with a BCS bowl appearance; today's tweaked BCS formula would have included the Green Wave. Tulane, though, paved the way toward today's BCS formula. Anti-trust laws helped force the BCS to change its procedures. These anti-trust laws centered around allowing "mid-major" teams to have a chance of being selected. They also sparked the ambition for the super conferences to establish the soon-to-be College Football Playoff. Tommy Bowden coached the Green Wave in '98 and Rich Rodriguez was the offensive coordinator. The team set school records for total points in a season (538) and wins in a season (12). Quarterback Shaun King, who later became a second-round draft pick (Tampa Bay) and guided the Bucs to the 1999 NFC championship game, led the offense. King set the NCAA passing efficiency record with a rating of 183.3. He also became the first player in NCAA history to record 300 passing yards and 100 rushing yards in the same game (against Army). Bowden left before the Green Wave's bowl game for the head coaching job at Clemson, which he kept for 10 years. Chris Scelfo took over as head coach and guided Tulane to a Liberty Bowl victory over BYU. The win clinched the 12-0 perfect season, but in 1998, that proved nothing within the BCS formula. Tulane did not even appear in the BCS Top 10 until the Nov. 30 poll. The Green Wave once again ranked 10th the following week in the final BCS poll. Texas A&M, ranked sixth, and Florida, ranked eighth, both finished ahead of Tulane with two losses. In the current BCS formula, it is certain that Tulane would have been playing at home in the Sugar Bowl instead of in Memphis for the Liberty Bowl. The Fiesta Bowl was home to the national championship game between Tennessee and Florida State, which means Sun Devil Stadium would have been awarded both the national championship game and the Fiesta Bowl. Having the extra BCS bowl game, which was implemented in 2006, along with securing a BCS bowl bid to a "mid-major" team ranked in the final BCS Top 16, shows the Green Wave would have been Sugar Bowl-bound. It also shows Tulane's '98 snub helped change the BCS and eventually created a playoff. Conference championship weekend was as entertaining as they come for an inaugural season trying to determine two teams at the end. The second-ranked and undefeated UCLA Bruins traveled to Miami and lost, 49-45. At the same time, Texas A&M pulled off a double-overtime upset over undefeated and third-ranked Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game. The upset win earned the then-Big 12 Aggies the Sugar Bowl slot since the Fiesta Bowl was taken by the national championship game. Kansas State was left out of the BCS all together, but would not have been the case if the current extra BCS game model was in tact. The Aggies would have been in the traditional Big 12 champion Fiesta Bowl slot and Kansas State would be in New Orleans against Tulane. The Rose Bowl featured UCLA against Wisconsin since both won their respective conferences (Big Ten and Pac-10). The Orange Bowl had top priority to take the ACC champion or the Big East champion and they selected the ACC champion. Florida State was obviously in the national championship game paving the way for the Orange Bowl committee to select Florida as an at-large team. The Orange Bowl also selected the 1998 Big East champion Syracuse, who finished 8-4. The Sugar Bowl chose Ohio State to replace Tennessee, which in the current BCS model would have placed the Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl due to Kansas State being the additional BCS team. Kansas State would have been playing Tulane in the Sugar Bowl since two teams from the same conference cannot play each other in a BCS bowl game, unless it is the national championship game. Kansas State went on to lose the Alamo Bowl against Purdue, 37-34. Kansas State also would have avoided a bowl pay-cut of $10.2 million, nearly the same Tulane faced as the Green Wave missed out on an additional $10 million by the BCS not having the additional BCS bowl game. Tulane also missed out on a potential upset chance against Kansas State in the Sugar Bowl. Who knows? the Wildcats were not up to the Alamo Bowl challenge after their undefeated season ended in double-overtime the previous game and would have had to face a Rich Rod offense craving the challenge. The BCS came a long way to help non-BCS schools get provisions within the formula and also by adding an extra BCS game. The formula never was fair in everyone's eyes, but it clearly was a stepping stone to a playoff. The 1998 Tulane team can partially be thanked for changes in college football's championship system during the previous 15 years and for years to come. Here is what the inaugural 1998 BCS bowl lineup would have been under today's model, undefeated Tulane included: National Championship Game: Tennessee vs. Florida State
Rose Bowl: UCLA vs. Wisconsin
Fiesta Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Ohio State
Sugar Bowl: Kansas State vs. Tulane
Orange Bowl: Florida vs. Syracuse