The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) was created in 1998 to ensure the top two teams in college football played each other for the national championship. The BCS uses a complex formula to rank teams, but controversy has arisen, with calls for a playoff system. In 2003, USC was shut out of the national championship game despite being ranked No. 1 in two human polls due to weaker schedule strength.
The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) is a system created in 1998 to ensure that the No. 1 and no. 2 of college football always played each other for the national championship. BCS itself brought controversy, but took some away by eliminating the scenario where the top two teams squarely played in different bowl games, leaving it up to voters to decide the champion if both win.
The reason something like the BCS was needed in college football is that the system for picking teams for bowling games was based more on conferences than standings. The Big Ten champion would always play the Pac-10 champion in the Rose Bowl. The champion of the Southeastern Conference always played in the Sugar Bowl, and so on.
But if the top two teams in the country were from the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference, they would be forced to play in separate bowl games, and determining a single national champion would become difficult. Or impossible: The year before the BCS was born, 1997, saw Big Ten champion Michigan and Big 12 champion Nebraska split the national championship because both were undefeated and both won their respective bowl games, the Rose Bowl and the Orange Bowl.
The BCS uses a complex formula — including media and coaching polls and computer rankings that take into account, among other things, program strength — to rank the best teams in college football. The top two teams in the BCS standings play each other in the national championship game, which alternates between the Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, and Sugar Bowl. Slots in the other three BCS bowl games are filled by ranked teams and general selections.
While the BCS has, at least for the most part, achieved its goal of pairing the no. 1 against No. 2, has done little to appease those calling for a playoff system in college football similar to the hugely popular NCAA basketball tournament. The BCS has run into something of a controversy several times in its short history.
Most notable was in 2003, Southern California (USC), Louisiana State University (LSU), and Oklahoma suffered one loss after the regular season. USC was ranked No. 1 in each of two human polls in the BCS system, but due to his weaker schedule strength, he was shut out of the national championship game, which pitted LSU and Oklahoma. The BCS received a lot of flak for 2003, and it only got worse in 2004, when five teams went undefeated for the first time since 1979. There were also questions about the credibility and integrity of the coaches poll used in the BCS formula.