What were our criteria? The BCS stays and determines the top-12 teams in the 16-team tournament (Sorry Alabama and Georgia fans). The remaining bids go to the champions of the mid-major conferences, with the exception of the Sun Belt conference (They were allowed to send North Texas to a bowl game despite the Mean Green having an overall record of 5-6 in 2001. Ridiculous).
The first round began on Dec. 10 and took place at campus sites, with the higher-seeded team hosting. Southern Cal, Virginia Tech and Louisiana State rolled in front of their respective home crowds and Texas won easily despite a late run by Boise State. Notre Dame squeaked by in double overtime over Auburn but the best game of the first round took place at the Horseshoe.
Down 31-10 at the half, UCLA once again wasn’t phased when presented with a daunting task. Just like he had done numerous times during the season, quarterback Drew Olsen led his team to another improbable comeback and his touchdown pass with just seconds left sent Ohio State packing.
The second-round contests were played on Dec. 17 at two BCS bowl sites and two major, non-BCS bowl sites. Three of the four games were boring – Southern Cal, Penn State and Louisiana State won easily – but the Fiesta Bowl was a nail-biter.
Vince Young and the Longhorns drove down the field, picking apart the Fighting Irish defense. Countering the Texas attack, Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn threw for four touchdowns and demi-god Charlie Weis drew up an effective gameplan to stretch the Longhorns’ daunting defense. Down by two with five seconds left in the game, Texas set up for a 40-yard field goal to win the game, but a sudden gust of wind in the Tempe air pushed the kick wide right and Notre Dame survived their second straight close game.
The semis were a Christmas Eve celebration and hosted by the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. Southern Cal continued its dominance in the tournament with a 42-21 drubbing of Penn State. The defeat was so harsh, not only did Joe Pa not allow the press to talk to his players; he didn’t allow their friends or families to talk to them until Monday. Paterno also decided to trade in his antique glasses for a brand-new model-T Ford and tour the country looking for answers to life’s questions.
The Sugar Bowl was down to the wire and with Notre Dame again hoping for the luck of the Irish. But their luck ran out and the Tigers came away with the win to earn a spot in the championship game, and a chance to avenge the split national championship in 2003.
On Jan. 2, Louisiana State and Southern Cal battled in the Michigan Daily National Championship Bowl, played in the basement of 420 Maynard Street in Ann Arbor.
In the highly anticipated matchup between powerhouses Southern Cal and Louisiana, Southern Cal proved too much for the Tigers to handle. Southern Cal pulled ahead 26-23 with 2:43 left, giving the Trojans a glimpse of another National Championship – this one even more special because of the playoff format. But Louisiana State wasn’t ready to return to the Bayou without putting up a fight.
Tiger quarterback JaMarcus Russell drove Louisiana State down the field, quieting the rowdy Trojan fans. Though the Tigers threatened, they faced a fourth-and-three with 23 seconds left on Southern Cal’s 15-yard line. Russell dropped back and lofted a fade to the corner of the endzone, but the pass floated just past Skyler Green’s outstretched hands and landed harmlessly out-of-bounds. Southern Cal could celebrate again, but this time with a legitimate title.