How would Tennessee fare in a 1998 BCS playoff?

How would Tennessee fare in a 1998 BCS playoff?

Football

How would Tennessee fare in a 1998 BCS playoff?

KNOXVILLE — The 2018 season marked 20 years since Tennessee last played for and won a national championship game.

That year, the Vols capped off an undefeated, 13-0 campaign in Tempe, Ariz., with a 23-16 win over the No. 2 Florida State Seminoles in the Fiesta Bowl.

The season itself was full of close calls, from the season opener, when Jeff Hall won the game late on a field goal to top No. 17 Syracuse in the Carrier Dome, to beating No. 2 Florida in overtime for the first time in five years, to Clint Stoerner’s fumble that led to go-ahead touchdown in the final minutes against Arkansas, to the SEC Championship game where the Vols needed two fourth quarter touchdowns to outlast Mississippi State, that Tennessee team was heralded nationally as a team of destiny.

By the time the dust had settled on conference championship games in early December, Tennessee stood alone as the only undefeated team among the major conferences (Tulane of Conference USA finished the regular season 11-0), and were no doubt worthy of their No. 1 ranking in the BCS standings. But what if a playoff system had been implemented in 1998?

As an undefeated SEC Champion, there would have been no debate about the Vols top billing, but what three teams would have clinched playoff berths based on modern-day playoff standards? Here’s a look:

1.) Tennessee (12-0) SEC Champions

2.) Florida State (11-1) ACC Champions

3.) Ohio State (10-1) Big Ten co-Champions

4.) Texas A&M (11-2) Big 12 Champions
Florida State dropped their one game of the season on the road against an unranked NC State team 24-7. During the BCS era, the loss, although early, virtually eliminated them competing for a national championship later that season, but the cards fell in place for the Seminoles who managed to win out over ranked teams like USC and Florida.

Other teams floundered along the way, as well, which put Florida State in prime position to make the inaugural BCS championship game with their strong finish and a conference title.

Ohio State has a strong case for the No. 2 spot, but the Buckeyes’ loss was more recent, having fallen to unranked Michigan State late in the season. They recovered, however and laid their claim to a share of the Big Ten title, which like the ACC at the time, did not have a conference championship game.

Here is where it gets controversial. The Texas A&M Aggies had two losses entering the postseason, but they managed to pull off a major upset in the Big 12 Championship Game with a 36-33 double overtime win over then-No. 2 Kansas State. That wasn’t the only win over a No. 2 team for the Aggies that season, either. Back on Oct. 10, Texas A&M beat No. 2 and defending national champion Nebraska by a touchdown. They also had big wins against ranked Missouri and Texas Tech teams before losing their regular season finale to Texas. Their other loss came in the season opener to Florida State on a neutral field.

While Arizona was 10-1 at the time, the Wildcats failed to win the Pac-10, having lost the head-to-head match up to UCLA during the regular season, and while the Bruins were the Pac-10 champion, they too did not have a conference championship game and lost their final game of the season to unranked Miami. The only other team that would have a gripe over getting in over Texas A&M would be the other co-champion of the Big Ten, the 10-1 Wisconsin Badgers. However, the Badgers played only two ranked teams and lost to one of them (Michigan, 27-10) late in the season.

Sugar Bowl Semifinal: No. 1 Tennessee vs No. 4 Texas A&M

Rose Bowl Semifinal: No. 2 Florida State vs No. 3 Ohio State

The Vols would have drawn a first round bout with Texas A&M, 14-years before this would be a conference game. Behind their defense, Tennessee would have beaten the Aggies in another close game to advance to the national championship game (I can hear the the cries of outrage from Wisconsin fans now), as they did anyway that season, but the opponent would be different.

Florida State had a strong defense themselves, and on the offensive side of the ball, they were led all season by eventual Heisman trophy winner Chris Weinke (you know, Tennessee’s current running back’s coach). Weinke, however suffered a season-ending neck injury against Virginia which clearly hindered the Seminoles in their championship bid that season. Ohio State would have beaten Florida State to set a rematch of the 1996 Citrus Bowl between the Buckeyes and Tennessee.

National Championship Game-Fiesta Bowl: No. 1 Tennessee vs No. 3 Ohio State

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