College Football Playoffs: How The BCS Years Would Have Looked Part 2 (2003-2007)


With university presidents’ stamp of approval on the FBS commissioners’ playoff proposal, a tournament is a reality. The early years of the Bowl Championship Series were certainly not without controversy, but the system’s faults really shone through in the mid-Aughties. The BCS promised no more indecisive championships after Michigan and Nebraska were co-title holders in 1997, but just six years later, it happened again.

The following season was tailored for a four-team (perhaps more) playoff, and 2007 was a topsy-turvy campaign that ended less with a coronation and more of a shrug. Only 2005 broke out in the tidy package TV and university brass were hoping for when the BCS was forged.


The 2003 season might be the quintessential model for the four-team playoff being a marked improvement over the BCS. LSU and USC splitting national championship honors really ignited playoff chatter almost a decade before the proposal. Oklahoma was in the championship game, despite losing its conference title to Kansas State — handily, at that.

OU pushed LSU to the limit though, while USC scored a dominant win over Michigan in the Rose Bowl. All 14 Wolverine points came after the game was no longer in doubt.

Beyond the clamoring for a decisive finish that the Trojan-Tiger tie generated, the Cinderellas made their cases for inclusion in the championship discussion. With Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, Miami U. won 13 games and finished in the top 6 of the final polls. Of the few teams ahead of the RedHawks was Boise State.

BSU emerged on the national radar two seasons prior with a national broadcast upset of Fresno State. The 2003 Broncos did not have a clean sheet; they lost early in the season at Oregon State. The thought of a non-automatic qualifier sporting a blemish playing for all the


Nokia cellphones is probably exasperating in this age. However, so few of the power conference teams handled business in 2003, leaving the fourth hypothetical playoff position for the taking.

OK, so with status quo to maintain perhaps BSU would not have achieved the unthinkable in 2003, even sporting a top 4 rank. Big Ten champion Michigan, Texas and ACC champion Florida State may have leaped the Broncos. Still, it’s a compelling “what if” to add to the discussion.

  • 1. LSU (12-1, SEC champion) vs. 4. Boise State (12-1, WAC champion)
  • 2. Oklahoma (12-1) vs. 3. USC (11-1, Pac-10 champion)
  • First Four Out: Michigan (10-2, Big Ten champion), Miami (OH) (12-1, MAC champion), Texas (10-2), Florida State (10-2)


Another of the most cited seasons in the argument for a playoff, the SEC champion went undefeated yet concluded without a share of the championship. That’s simply unfathomable in this era.

With a lineup that included Jason Campbell, Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown, and with guru Al Borges pulling strings, the Tigers boasted a quality offense. Unfortunately for AU, its inability to flex those muscles against Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl stymied any split talk. USC thrashed Oklahoma, and it’s unlikely AU could have fared any worse.

Alas, the conspiracy theorist in me believes USC defeating AU in Jordan-Hare Stadium the season prior factored into voters’ minds though it should not have.

Utah became the first non-automatic qualifier to earn a BCS bowl bid, but it was lackluster. The Utes wrecked a Pitt team that had no business playing in the Fiesta Bowl. Featuring the next spring’s No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft and Heisman candidate Alex Smith, Urban Meyer’s Utes deserved better. A shot at the title is certainly better.

1. USC (12-0, Pac-10 champion) vs. 4. Utah (11-0, Mountain West champion)

2. Oklahoma (12-0, Big 12 champion) vs. 3. Auburn (12-0, SEC champion)

First Four Out: Boise State (12-0, WAC champion), Louisville (10-1, Conference USA champion), Texas (10-1), Cal (10-1)

The 2004 BCS was the penultimate with a four-game layout. The expansion to five, instituted in 2006, was likely due to Cal’s exclusion. An argument could have been made Cal was the second best team in the nation, but was excluded from the BCS due to

Mack Brown’s nonstop campaigning

a lesser strength of schedule. Of course, Cal laid an egg in the Holiday Bowl while UT won an epic Rose, so there was some vindication for the system.

Nevertheless, Brown’s media blitz left a bad taste in many mouths.


This was the shining beacon of the Bowl championship Series, the one time when all the pieces fell into place. There were just two undefeateds at season’s end. They clearly were the two best teams in college football, each with a Heisman-worthy player at the helm. And before the BCS, this match-up would not have been possible. As Pac-10 champion, USC would have drawn Penn State in the Rose Bowl. Texas likely would have been in the Cotton Bowl or Sugar Bowl.

A playoff would have been superfluous in 2005. If anything, extra games instituted retroactively could change everything and rob us of arguably the best college football game of modern times. Think The Butterfly Effect. And like The Butterfly Effect, no USC-Texas would be awful.

  • 1. USC (12-0, Pac-10 champion) vs. 4. Ohio State (10-1)
  • 2. Texas (12-0, Big 12 champion) vs. 3. Penn State (10-1, Big Ten champion)
  • First Four Out: West Virginia (10-1, Big East champion), TCU (10-1, Mountain West champion), Oregon (10-1), Virginia Tech (10-2)


The bitter Michigan-Ohio State rivalry took on new significance on Nov. 18, 2006, when unbeatens and top ranked Big Ten foes collided in Columbus. The winner was bound for Glendale and the Fiesta Bowl, but popular belief was the loser would be as well. A rematch helped set the wheels in motion for change in 2012; perhaps playoff proponents would have pushed harder for a Michigan mulligan

1. Ohio State (12-0, Big Ten champion) vs. 4. Oklahoma (12-1, Big 12 champion)

The championship game controversy that stemmed from Florida’s selection (and thus, Urban Meyer’s first national championship) could have been averted had it not been for a fateful series of events in Eugene, Ore.

2. Florida (12-1, SEC champion) vs. 3. Michigan (11-1)

First Four Out: Louisville (11-1, Big East champion), USC (10-2, Pac-10 champion), LSU (10-2), Boise State (12-0, WAC champion)


Don’t blame the BCS for the calamity that was 2007. Blame Georgia, which by season’s end looked the part of national No. 1, for getting trounced at Tennessee in October. Blame Dave Wannstedt’s mustache for firing up his Pitt Panthers in the Backyard Brawl and keeping West Virginia out of the title game. Blame the intensity of Jim Harbaugh, which took on palpable force when Stanford uprooted USC in the “Upset of the Century.”

OK, go ahead and blame the BCS. The silly limitation on participants per conference kept out Missouri, pretty clearly one of the five best teams in the nation. MU went to the Cotton Bowl after losing the Big 12 championship, while Kansas played in the Orange Bowl. Explain that one.

1. Ohio State (11-1, Big Ten champion) vs. 4. Georgia (10-2)

2. LSU (11-2, SEC champion) vs. 3. Oklahoma (11-2, Big 12 champion)

First Four Out: West Virginia (10-2, Big East champion), Kansas (11-1), USC (10-2, Pac-10 champion), Virginia Tech (11-2, ACC champion)

No Hawai’i, the sole unbeaten at regular season’s end? Nope, no Hawai’i. The Warriors defeated a ranked team just once all season, Boise State.