1. Southern California (11-1) — Pac-10 champion
2. LSU (12-1) — SEC champion
3. Oklahoma (12-1)
4. Michigan (10-2) — Big 10 champion
5. Texas (10-2)
6. Tennessee (10-2)
7. Ohio State (10-2)
8. Kansas State (11-3) — Big 12 champion
8. Florida State (10-2) — ACC champion
10. Miami (10-2) — Big East champion
11. Georgia (10-3)
12. Purdue (9-3)
13. Iowa (9-3)
14. Miami (Ohio) (11-1) — MAC champion
15. Washington State (9-3)
18. Boise State (12-1) — WAC champion
19. Texas Christian (11-1)
For the first time since the BCS was implemented, we finish the regular season with no undefeated teams. Oklahoma comes the closest, blazing through 12 regular-season games with an average victory margin of five touchdowns, but craps their pants in epic fashion in the Big 12 title game and loses to then 13th-ranked Kansas State, 35-7. That boots them back into a trio of one-loss teams that includes Southern California, who lost to California in a triple-OT thriller on September 27 but replaces the Sooners in the #1 spot; and LSU, who lost to Florida at home two weeks later but pummeled Georgia in the SEC championship game to rise to #2. Everyone else has at least two losses save for a trio of dominant mid-majors, the best of which (Miami-Ohio) is still stuck in the mid-teens.
Rose: #1 Southern California (11-1) vs. #4 Michigan (10-2)
Same as the actual 2003 game.
Sugar: #2 LSU (12-1) vs. #3 Oklahoma (12-1)
Sensing an opportunity to be the "play-in" for the national-title game, the Sugar jumps on the Sooners despite the Big 12 championship fiasco to re-create the actual BCS national-title game from that season.
Fiesta: #10 Kansas State (11-3) vs. #6 Ohio State (10-2)
Another matchup that’s the same as the actual ’03 game, engineered primarily out of necessity since the Fiesta doesn’t want a rematch of a regular-season Big 12 conference game (KSU played both Oklahoma and Texas that year).
Orange: #8 Florida State (10-2) vs. #5 Texas (10-2)
Why this and not FSU vs. Miami, the Big East champion from that year? With no requirement to take anyone’s conference champion other than the ACC’s — remember, the Big East doesn’t have a specific tie-in with any of the top bowls — the Orange Bowl decides to invite fifth-ranked Texas (with a pumped-up, eager-to-travel fan base that hasn’t been to a BCS-level bowl in seven years) over #9 Miami, which would be a rematch of a regular-season game (and which would result in FSU-UM being played three times in the span of a single year). This would most likely bump the Hurricanes down to the Gator Bowl.
WHAT (I THINK) HAPPENS: Since most of these games were played in real life, it’s not too hard to predict — USC takes care of Michigan; LSU beats Oklahoma; and Ohio State takes out Kansas State. In the last bowl, I think Texas would’ve beaten Florida State in a close game.
So now we get the USC-LSU national-title matchup everyone had been clamoring for from the beginning. Who wins? Well, I’ve got my own ideas about how that game would’ve unfolded — I think LSU’s top-ranked defense would’ve given them a slight edge there — but either way, I don’t think anyone could say that the eventual winner wouldn’t have been a deserving national champion.
ANALYSIS: In a way, parts of this scenario are a little superfluous, because if the bowl bids had shaken out the way I’ve projected them, only two games (the Sugar and Rose bowls) would’ve mattered in terms of deciding the national-title pairing. But in that sense, at worst it would’ve only recreated what a BCS plus-one system would’ve done anyway. And anything that would’ve somehow given us a definitive LSU-Southern Cal matchup, I think, has to be seen as a good thing.
This is pretty much the kind of scenario that the Old School Plus One was tailor-made for: three teams at the top, all with the same record, and instead of just plucking two teams out of that group based on rankings and arbitrary computer data, we actually play a few games to determine which two get to spar for the national championship. The consensus #1, Southern California, isn't left out of the national-title picture like they were in 2003, but they don't get a free ride, either, having to get past a 10-win Michigan team before they can get their ticket punched to the Big One. And perhaps best of all, we can finally put to rest the endless back-and-forth between LSU and USC fans over who was really the national champion that year.