Each year for the past 16 college football seasons, eight to ten select teams have profited nicely thanks to an arbitrary system designed by college presidents and conference commissioners known as the Bowl Championship Series or BCS. The stranglehold that the BCS has had on college football has finally loosened its grip, with the end of this illogical era coming to a close after Florida State’s 34-31 victory over Auburn on January 6, 2014. While the BCS era ended on a high note thanks to a last minute length-of-the-field drive by Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston, for much of the past decade-and-a-half that the BCS system was intact, college football fans have suffered through plenty of controversy and head-scratching decisions.
In national championship games alone there were multiple years where teams made the pinnacle game without even winning their own conference division (see Nebraska 2001 and Alabama 2011). Additionally, three national title games were blowouts of 27 points or more (USC vs. Oklahoma, Florida vs. Ohio State, and Alabama vs. Notre Dame). But rather than look at the awful BCS national championship match-ups, today we’re going to look at the least deserving teams to have gotten an invitation to a BCS game. After all, teams who were selected to play in BCS games earned nearly four times more money than other bowl participating teams, with BCS payouts ranging between $11.5 million in 1999 and $18 million in 2014.
10. 2000 Notre Dame Fighting Irish – $13.5 million & 2006 Notre Dame Fighting Irish – $17 million (tie)
Nobody has likely benefited more from the BCS system than the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Where other teams with a conference affiliation are to share some of their profits with conference foes, Notre Dame for its first eight years in its BCS contract got to keep all of its profit from making a BCS game by being independent. For their first two BCS games, the 2001 and 2006 Fiesta Bowls, the Fighting Irish earned a combined $27.5 million. Since then Notre Dame has still pocketed $21.6 million in the final eight years of the BCS–playing in two other BCS bowls: the 2007 Sugar Bowl and the 2013 National Championship game–where it took more of a guaranteed money approach whether or not it qualified as a BCS game.
With a 0-4 record to show for, the Fighting Irish have been defeated by some unsightly margins, losing by 32, 28 and 27 in three of its BCS appearances. In the 2001 Fiesta Bowl on January 1, 2001 the Fighting Irish, who finished No. 11 in the BCS standings, lost to the #6 Oregon State Beavers by 32 points 41-9. Six years later, once again finishing with a BCS ranking of #11, Notre Dame got smashed losing the 2007 Sugar Bowl to the #4 LSU Tigers 41-14.
9. 2006 Wake Forest Demon Deacons – $17 million
As undeserving as the 2006 Notre Dame team was, another team that year was less deserving and it came in the form of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Winning the ACC title by a score of 9-6 over Georgia Tech, the Demon Deacons finished with an 11-2 record to capture a berth in the 2007 Orange Bowl. Finishing the BCS standings ranked 13th, Wake Forest got a BCS berth ahead of teams like a one-loss Wisconsin Badger team and a two-loss Auburn team, which were both ranked higher.
Wake Forest actually played decently in their second Orange Bowl in five years, a lot better than their first appearance when they lost by 33 points to Florida in 2002. The Demon Deacons lost to #6 Louisville Cardinals 24-13, competing valiantly for three plus quarters having a 13-10 lead before Louisville tacked on two touchdowns to win by an 11-point margin.
8. 2002 Florida State Seminoles – $13 million
Two years removed from an underwhelming performance in their third consecutive BCS national championship game, the Florida State Seminoles made their fourth appearance in a BCS match, the first time being a non-title game appearance on January 1, 2003 in the Sugar Bowl. The Seminoles, who had lost four games during the regular season and finished ranked #14 in the BCS standings, surprisingly were still awarded a BCS game despite a 9-4 record.
Florida State had to face an 11-win Georgia Bulldog team that dominated the under-matched Seminoles losing by a score of 26-13, and trailing by as much 16 points during the game. Clearly there were several teams more worthy of the $13 million that Florida State walked away with as Kansas State, Norte Dame and Texas each finished ranked eighth, ninth and tenth respectively with 10-2 records and didn’t earn a BCS bowl berth.
7. 2012 Northern Illinois Huskies – $17 million
The Huskies were exposed in their BCS matchup against Florida State, proving that running the table in conference play wasn’t much to boast about, and it sure didn’t warrant a $17 million payout. After an opening week one-point loss to Iowa, Northern Illinois reeled off 12 straight victories including nine against fellow MAC opponents to finish 12-1. With their play, the Huskies finished #15 in the BCS standings and earned an automatic berth under the new rules that gave non-automatic qualifying teams who finish in the top 16 a chance to play in a BCS bowl game if they finish ranked higher than an AQ champion, which they did (Louisville was ranked #21).
Playing in the 2013 Orange Bowl, the Huskies got beat rather easily losing to the Seminoles by a score of 31-10. Clearly a more deserving choice for the game would have been any of the teams ranked between 7-10, Georgia, LSU, Texas A&M or South Carolina, all SEC teams which happened to be ineligible due to BCS bylaws preventing more than two teams per conference from qualifying for BCS games.
6. 2011 Clemson Tigers – $17 million
The 2011 Clemson Tigers actually had a pretty good season, but you wouldn’t have known that if you had just sampled their final six games. Including their 37-point loss in the 2012 Orange Bowl to the #23 West Virginia Mountaineers, the Tigers’ four losses were by a combined 96 points. What makes Clemson’s spot on this list even more validated is the fact that they’re the only team on the list to have played a team lower ranked then they were. The Mountaineers were questionably worthy of a BCS game themselves, winning the Big East Conference’s automatic berth with a 9-3 record and a three-way tie atop the conference. However, the Mountaineers’ spot in the BCS was soon validated when the team put a shellacking on the Tigers, which included a 35-point second quarter to win 70-33.
Other teams that were likely more worthy of the $17 million the Clemson Tigers pocketed included #6 Arkansas and #9 South Carolina–neither of which were considered since they played in the fully allotted SEC–as well as three Big-12 teams who were eligible, #8 Kansas State, #12 Baylor and #14 Oklahoma.
5. 2012 Wisconsin Badgers – $17 million
A 5-loss team made it to the Rose Bowl in 2013 all because the Wisconsin Badgers upset the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Big 10 title game by a dominating score of 70-31. But it took more fortune than just that for the Badgers to punch their ticket to the Rose Bowl. Because Ohio State and Penn State, who finished first and second place in the Leaders Division, happened to be ineligible for postseason play, Wisconsin got a fortuitous chance after finishing third place in their division to compete in the Big 10 title game.
Considering their fallible record and their head coach bolting for supposed greener pastures in the SEC, the unranked Badgers played tough in the Rose Bowl against #5 Stanford losing by a score of 20-14. Still, it’s hard to accept that a team that ultimately had six losses on its record played in the Rose Bowl and took home a cool $17 million.
4. 2007 Hawaii Warriors – $17 million
The 2007 Hawaii Warriors are the highest ranked BCS team on this list not to deserve BCS money. The Warriors had a flawless regular season in 2007 finishing 12-0; good enough to finish #10 in the BCS standings and become just the third ever non-BCS team to bust the BCS. But unlike their predecessors in Utah and Boise State who went on to prove their worthiness, Hawaii was exposed in the Sugar Bowl by the Georgia Bulldogs, getting pounded 41-10.
Examining their regular season schedule, the Warriors were never really challenged facing two FCS teams, nine WAC opponents and one major conference opponent, the University of Washington. Additionally, in two of their WAC victories the Warriors needed overtime to survive against teams with losing records (Louisiana Tech and San Jose State). The other team that would have been more deserving of the $17 million payout was a one-loss #6 Missouri team, which ended up getting bypassed for a BCS bowl by archrival #8 Kansas getting an invitation to the Orange Bowl.
3. 1998 Syracuse Orange – $11.5 million
The first year of BCS games didn’t go without controversy as #15 Syracuse Orange got an invitation to face #8 Florida Gators in the 1999 Orange Bowl. The result wasn’t pretty as the Gators won by a 21-point margin despite losing their starting quarterback early in the game. The 31-10 final gave Syracuse its fourth loss of the season, finishing with an 8-4 record behind future NFL pro-bowler Donovan McNabb.
Clearly there were several teams more worthy of the $11.5 million Syracuse banked, none more so than the #3 Kansas State Wildcats who were overlooked completely despite an 11-1 record. Even after the Wildcats there were seven teams ranked ahead of Syracuse left out of a BCS bowl, six of which had two or fewer losses.
2. 2004 Pittsburgh Panthers – $14 million
The Pittsburgh Panthers came into the 2005 Fiesta Bowl with three losses, ranked #21 in the BCS standings and clearly were an outmatched team. Facing non-automatic qualifying Utah, who busted the BCS system for the first time ever, Pittsburgh never stood a chance falling behind 28-0 by the middle of the third quarter before ultimately losing 35-7.
A plethora of teams could have taken Pittsburgh’s place and given Utah a better match-up, but because of the Big East’s tie-in to the BCS system, Pittsburgh made a clean exit worth $14 million. The 10-1 California Golden Bears were the biggest snub, finishing #5 in the final BCS standings, yet they laid an egg in their bowl game leaving doubt if they would’ve been successful. Other potential replacements for Pittsburgh included #7 Georgia which finished with a 9-2 record, and the other undefeated non-BCS team Boise State, which finished the regular season 11-0 and ranked #9.
1. 2010 Connecticut Huskies – $17 million
How would it be to start off your season 3-4, win your last five games having never even sniffed the BCS rankings and make off with $17 million? Just ask the 2010 UCONN Huskies because that’s what they did. That’s right, after falling to 3-4 in late October with a loss to Louisville, it looked as if UCONN would be lucky to just become bowl eligible. But miraculously the Huskies survived an overtime win the next week against West Virginia and then won their final four games against conference foes to claim the Big East title and a BCS berth. Their 8-4 regular season record and an unranked finish in the BCS standings didn’t matter–proving how flawed the BCS system could be–giving the Huskies a date with the Oklahoma Sooners in the 2011 Fiesta Bowl.
This game was a slap in the face to college football fans everywhere as #7 Oklahoma pummelled UCONN by a score of 48-20. Obviously, dozens of teams were more worthy than the Huskies to square off against the Sooners, including #9 Michigan State and #11 LSU–neither of which qualified under BCS bylaws, with two other teams from their conferences getting in–and #10 Boise State (11-1) to name a few.
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