It’s New Year’s Day, which means lots of great college football action. It also means that the national championship game, this year between LSU and Clemson, is coming up soon. The concept of a national champion, at least one that was decided on the field, is relatively new to college football, and we have the College Football Playoff today largely because of what took place during the 1997 season.
That year, we had two undefeated teams from the major conferences: the Michigan Wolverines and the Nebraska Cornhuskers. It would have been great to see those two teams square off to determine who was the best team in the nation, but it didn’t happen because Michigan, the Big Ten Champion, was obligated to play in the Rose Bowl against Washington State.
Michigan won its game against WSU, while Nebraska took care of business against Tennessee in the Orange Bowl. Because of that, we had a split national championship: Michigan finished as the #1 team in the AP poll, while Nebraska finished first in the coach’s poll.
The next year, the NCAA instituted the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), which included an automatic national championship game between the country’s two highest ranked teams. In 2014, this system was replaced by the College Football Playoff (CFP), which takes the top four teams and has them play each other to determine the national champion.
I would have loved to have seen a 1997 game between Michigan and Nebraska, yet I’m not sure whether I like the current system. There’s something to be said for having a clear-cut best team determined on the field. Yet I’m also a fan of the traditional Rose Bowl matchups between the Big Ten and the Pac-12. Thankfully, we do get that this year, between Wisconsin and Oregon, though Wisconsin was only chosen because Big Ten Champion Ohio State was in the CFP.
Who do you think would have won in 1997 between Michigan and Nebraska? Anyway, enjoy this year’s bowl action!