CollegeFootballNews.com 20th Anniversary Ranking College Football Playoff & BCS Era 20 National Champions: No. 10, 2010 Tennessee
How do the 20 national champions in the College Football Playoff & BCS rank based on how good their seasons were?
CFN, College Football Playoff & BCS Era National Champions Ranking: No. 10, 1998 Tennessee
CollegeFootballNews.com is turning 20 this season, coincidentally starting in 1998 when the Bowl Championship Series era kicked off.
With the BCS, no matter how the teams got there, it was finally No. 1 vs. No. 2 for the national title – that wasn’t a given before – and eventually, it all morphed into the College Football Playoff starting in the 2014 season.
Based on the tried, true, tested and tweaked CFN Historical Season Ranking Formula (criteria breakdown at the bottom of all this), welcome to the ranking of all 20 national champions in the era.
This isn’t about who the most talented or the best national champions were since 1998 – that’s debatable. This is about who had the best and most impressive seasons – the more wins over great teams, the higher the score.
1998 Tennessee Season
FINALLY, college football was going to have a real national championship game with a move from the poll-and-bowl format of determining a champion – leaving the matter to the AP and Coaches’ polls – to the BCS. The system still relied on the human polls, but now there were computer formulas involved to come up with the top two teams after the regular season to square off at the end for the title.
And Tennessee wasn’t supposed to be a huge part of the chase in 1998.
The Vols were coming off the Peyton Manning era, cranking out great teams that couldn’t get the job done at the highest of levels. From 1995 to 1997, Tennessee went 32-5 with an SEC Championship and a whole slew of big wins – and three losses to Florida.
The 1998 was in a bit of a rebuilding mode, ranked tenth in both polls to start to the season with Florida and LSU the expected stars of the SEC, and Ohio State and Florida State the big boys on top. Making matters worse was a schedule that dealt with a trip to Syracuse to start things out, and with Florida to follow.
The season was almost over before it got started, with Donovan McNabb and Syracuse coming up with a 20-point fourth quarter to take a 33-31 lead. But after struggling for most of the game, new Tennessee starting quarterback Tee Martin led the offense down the field late, finishing with Jeff Hall hitting a walk-off field goal for the win.
Close calls would become a big deal for the 1998 Volunteers.
The following week, Tennessee busted through the Florida hex with a tremendous defensive performance and an overtime field goal to take early control of the SEC title chase.
With the win, the Vols moved up into the top three in the polls and hung around there, starting out third in the BCS behind UCLA and Ohio State in the first round go BCS standings. With a run of easy wins over Houston, Auburn, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and UAB, they got up to No. 1 in the BCS standings going into a showdown against Arkansas.
The Hogs looked like they were about to end the dream season, getting up 21-3 in the first half, and hanging on to a 24-22 lead in the final moments. All they needed to do was hold onto the ball for the win, but QB Clint Stoerner stumbled out of the snap, fell, fumbled, and Tennessee had one final shot.
As it did earlier in the season, the offense came through when it needed to, taking advantage of the mistake to roll down the field for a touchdown and the 28-24 win.
With wins over Kentucky and Vanderbilt, the Vols were off to the SEC Championship, beating Mississippi State 24-14 to finish the regular season as the nation’s only unbeaten team. With a 23-16 win over Florida State, Tennessee took the first BCS national championship going 13-0.
– Even with a 13-0 regular season, a No. 1 ranking, and an SEC championship, Tennessee needed a little bit of help to be guaranteed of a spot in the BCS Championship.
No. 2 UCLA was rolling along with its high-powered offense, but a loss to Miami – a postponed game from earlier in the season thanks to Hurricane Georges – knocked out the Pac-10 champs on conference championship Saturday. Kansas State was also in the mix, but it gagged away a phenomenal Big 12 Championship game against Texas A&M.
Florida State was talented, but it lucked out a bit to get into the BCS Championship. It put up a good fight, but without injured QB Chris Weinke, it wasn’t the same team. Marcus Outzen did what he could to fill in, but Tennessee caught a break not having to face the 1999 Heisman winner.
– The point differential was among the lowest of the first 20 champions in the BCS era. Only 2002 Ohio State and 2006 Florida won by fewer overall points, even though the Vol defense allowed just 189 points on the year.
– The 1997 team lost eight players to the NFL, including Manning, but the 1998 team was still loaded with 20 Vols taken over the following three drafts including Jamal Lewis, Travis Henry and Al Wilson.
– In place of Manning, Tee Martin was okay, doing his best work in the clutch. He hit only 58% of his passes for 2,442 yards with 21 scores and eight picks and seven rushing scores, but unlike Manning, he beat Florida and won a national title.
Opponent Final Record in Parentheses
Sept. 5 Tennessee 34, at Syracuse 33 (8-4)
Sept. 19 Tennessee 20, Florida 17 (10-2)
Sept. 26 Tennessee 42, Houston 7 (3-8)
Oct. 3 Tennessee 17, at Auburn 9 (3-8)
Oct. 10 Tennessee 22, Georgia 3 (9-3)
Oct. 24 Tennessee 35, Alabama 18 (7-5)
Oct. 31 Tennessee 49, at South Carolina (1-10)
Nov. 7 Tennessee 37, UAB 13 (4-7)
Nov. 14 Tennessee 28, Arkansas 24 (9-3)
Nov. 21 Tennessee 59, Kentucky 21 (7-5)
Nov. 28 Tennessee 41, at Vanderbilt 0 (2-9)
Dec. 5 Tennessee 24, Mississippi State 14 (8-5)
BCS Championship: Fiesta Bowl
Jan. 4 Tennessee 23, Florida State 16 (11-2)
CFN Historical Season Rankings Breakdown
Wins: 13 (at Syracuse, Florida, Houston, at Auburn, at Georgia, Alabama, at South Carolina, UAB, Arkansas, Kentucky, at Vanderbilt, SEC Championship vs. Mississippi State, BCS Championship vs. Florida State)
Quality Wins: 8 (at Syracuse, Florida, at Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, SEC Championship vs. Mississippi State, BCS Championship vs. Florida State)
Elite Wins: 3.5 (Florida, at Georgia, BCS Championship vs. Florida State)
Bad Wins: 4 (Houston, at Auburn, at South Carolina, at Vanderbilt)
Elite Losses: 0
Point Differential: Tennessee 431, Opponents 189
Winning %: 1.000
TOTAL SCORE: 26. 920
The Season Formula’s Components
If you win, everything else falls into place. Each win counts as 1.
If you lose, everything stinks. Each loss counts as -1.
3. Quality Wins
The number of wins over teams that finished with a winning record. Each Quality Win counts as 1.
4. Elite Wins
The number of wins over teams that finished with two losses or fewer. Each Elite Win counts as 1 with a road win over an Elite team getting an extra 0.5.
Also counting as 1 is a road win over a team that finished with three losses or fewer (but the extra 0.5 isn’t added). A win over a team that finishes with three losses in a bowl game also gets counts as 1.
5. Bad Loss
The number of losses to teams that finished with three wins or fewer, or a loss to an FCS (DI-AA) team. Each loss counts as minus-1. Take away an additional 0.5 for a Bad Loss at home.
6. Bad Win
The number of wins to teams that finished with three wins or fewer, or a win over a an FCS (D-IAA) team. Each win counts as -0.25
7. Elite Loss
The number of losses to teams that finished with two losses or fewer. Each loss counts as 0.25.
8. Point Differential
Points for minus points against divided by 100.
9. Winning Percentage
Created as a sort of tie-breaker, the winning % is added to the total score.
CFN 20th Anniversary lists compiled by Rich Cirminiello, Pete Fiutak, Phil Harrison & Russ Mitchell
Photo Credit: Tennessee Athletic Department