NCAA Football Bowl Championship 1998: Final Recap
Final Week: December 7, 1998
by Michael Morrison
Imagine reading a long novel and then at the last minute, just when you thought you finally had everything all figured out, everything changed. That's exactly what happened on Saturday as the Bowl Championship Series rankings reached its final week.
Since week 3, the top four teams had been, in this order, Tennessee, UCLA, Kansas State, and Florida State. As the only team with a loss, Florida State was on the outside looking in at a shot at playing for the national title in the Fiesta Bowl. Their only hope would be if at least two of the other three lost their final game. Their prayers were answered.
Tennessee trailed Mississippi State in the fourth quarter of the SEC Championship game but staged a stirring comeback behind the passing of quarterback Tee Martin to win 24-14 and solidify their spot at the Fiesta Bowl. The other two teams, however, weren't nearly as fortunate.
UCLA had its 20-game win streak stopped with a 49-45 loss to the Miami Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl. The loss knocked them out of a chance for the national championship and they will now face Big Ten Champion Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. The Hurricanes also ruined things for Arizona. If UCLA had won and advanced to the Fiesta Bowl, it would have opened the door for the Wildcats to play in their first Rose Bowl. Now, they're off to San Diego to face Nebraska in the Culligan Holiday Bowl.
While Arizona may have been disappointed, it was another team with the same nickname that was hit the hardest by the week's events. Kansas State had their hopes of playing for a national title shattered by a thrilling 36-33, double-overtime loss to Texas A&M in the Big 12 Championship Game. The loss not only knocked them out of the Fiesta Bowl, but completely out of the four-game Bowl Championship Series. Despite finishing the season ranked third, the Wildcats were not chosen to play in any of the $12 million BCS contests and now find themselves pitted against Purdue in the $1 million Alamo Bowl.
The two losses cleared the path for Florida State to jump into second by a wide margin for the chance to play Tennessee. The Seminoles suffered one loss as well but it came early in the season — week two against N.C. State. Florida State played one of the toughest schedules in the country, which helped give them the nod over UCLA, Kansas State and Ohio State, who was also hoping for a bid.
College Football's Bowl Championship Series rankings were introduced this season. The new ranking system is the sport's latest attempt to ensure the nation's two best teams play each other in a national championship game by ranking Div. I-A football teams based on their strength of schedule, total losses and ranking in major polls run by the media and coaches. The BCS rankings are used to decide who will play in the BCS bowls (Fiesta, Orange, Rose and Sugar). This year the Fiesta Bowl will host what is being billed as the "national championship" game where the top two teams in the BCS ranking will square off January 4.
However, due to the imperfect nature of this and any other non-playoff system, there could very well be arguments at the end of the season about who the national champion should be. For example, a team could win the rest of its games and finish the season undefeated but, due to their strength of schedule, they could be shut out of the national championship game.