1. Miami (12-0) — Big East champion
2. Ohio State (13-0) — Big Ten co-champion
3. Iowa (11-1) — Big Ten co-champion
4. Georgia (12-1) — SEC champion
5. Southern California (10-2)
6. Kansas State (10-2)
7. Washington State (10-2) — Pac-10 champion
8. Oklahoma (11-2) — Big 12 champion
9. Texas (10-2)
10. Penn State (9-3)
11. Michigan (9-3)
12. Notre Dame (10-2)
16. Florida State (9-4) — ACC champion
The defending-national-champion Hurricanes maintain a hammerlock on the #1 spot for the entirety of the regular season, but a substantial herd of undefeated challengers spend the better part of two months jockeying for the right to challenge them. That is, until the Saturday Night Massacre of November 2, when no fewer than four undefeated top-10 teams (Virginia Tech, Georgia, Notre Dame, and North Carolina State) get bonked — all but one of them, the Dawgs, doing so at the hands of an unranked opponent. And the very next week, season-long #2 Oklahoma gets clapped up by unranked Texas A&M. The last remaining undefeated team other than Miami when the smoke clears and the blood gets scrubbed off the sidewalk? Ohio State, who replaces the Sooners at the #2 spot, whacks Michigan to claim half of the Big Ten title, and sits around waiting patiently for their invite to the big one.
Rose: #7 Washington State (10-2) vs. #3 Iowa (11-1)
The Rose takes Big Ten co-champion Iowa instead of second-ranked Ohio State to avoid a rematch of a regular-season game.
Fiesta: #8 Oklahoma (11-2) vs. #5 Southern California (10-2)
USC won a share of the Pac-10 championship that year, but lost to WSU head-to-head.
Orange: #16 Florida State (9-4) vs. #2 Ohio State (13-0)
The Orange wants to avoid an FSU-Miami rematch, as well as a bunch of Hurricane fans who don’t need to spend money on hotel rooms, so it takes the second-ranked Buckeyes.
Sugar: #4 Georgia (12-1) vs. #1 Miami (12-0)
The Sugar Bowl gets the top-ranked Hurricanes and what might be the best game of the entire bowl season. Not that I’m biased or anything.
WHAT (I THINK) HAPPENS: Iowa beats Washington State in the Rose Bowl. Oklahoma squeaks past Southern Cal in the Fiesta. Chris Rix sleeps through a final exam and the Seminoles get pwnz0rd by the Buckeyes, not that Sexy Rixy would’ve made a lick of difference. And the Bulldogs, sad to say, lose a hard-fought battle to the top-ranked Hurricanes.
With #1 and #2 surviving the bowl round unscathed, they meet in the national-title game, and we get the same double-OT thriller we actually got in January 2003 — and, under this system, the Buckeyes claim their second national title in five years.
ANALYSIS: As with the 1999 scenario, this year’s has the disadvantage of making the last two undefeated teams in the country each play a game before finally squaring off in the official national championship. But you can’t say there wouldn’t have been some great games along the way, particularly Oklahoma-USC and Georgia-Miami; there’s another good matchup in the Rose Bowl, which would’ve gotten the traditional Big 10-Pac-10 game it complained vociferously about not getting in 2002.