1. Miami (11-0) -- Big East champion
2. Oregon (10-1) -- Pac-10 champion
3. Colorado (10-2) -- Big 12 champion
4. Nebraska (11-1)
5. Florida (9-2)
6. Maryland (10-1) -- ACC champion
7. Illinois (10-1) -- Big 10 champion
8. Tennessee (10-2)
9. Texas (10-2)
10. Oklahoma (10-2)
11. Stanford (9-2)
12. LSU (9-3) -- SEC champion
19. Brigham Young (12-1) -- Mountain West champion
The Hurricanes and Gators swapped #1 and #2 rankings a couple times before Florida lost to Auburn in a shocker on October 13; at that point the 'Canes grabbed the top spot for good. Nebraska, who climbed into the #2 chair nine days later, never beat anyone by less than a double-digit lead and looked like the obvious national-title opponent for Miami until they faced Colorado at Folsom Field in the last game of the regular season. The Buffs raced out to a 35-3 lead and proceeded to pound the Cornhuskers 62-36, the highest point total ever dropped on a Nebraska team, if memory serves; this not only knocked the 'Huskers from the ranks of the undefeated but the Big 12 title game as well (which, incidentally, was later won by Colorado). With only one undefeated team remaining in D-IA, the race was on between a sizable group of one-loss teams to see who would get the chance to knock off the 'Canes.
Rose: #2 Oregon (10-1) vs. #7 Illinois (10-1)
This was the first year that the Rose Bowl joined the BCS-national-title rotation, so correspondingly it’s the first year that the old-school-plus-one matchup differs from the real-life pairing. Both teams, incidentally, were outright conference champions.
Orange: #6 Maryland (10-1) vs. #4 Nebraska (11-1)
Sugar: #12 LSU (9-3) vs. #1 Miami (11-0)
Fiesta: #3 Colorado (10-2) vs. #5 Florida (9-2)
Here’s where things get a little tricky, because for the first time the #1 team in the country comes from a conference that doesn’t have an automatic bowl tie-in; the bowls also have to try and avoid rematches of two regular-season games (LSU-Florida and Colorado-Nebraska). For the purposes of this scenario, we’ll say that both the Fiesta and the Orange balk at taking the Hurricanes (the former worries that ‘Cane fans won’t travel all the way to Arizona, while the latter thinks they won’t spend enough money that close to home), so the top-ranked team gets snapped up by the Sugar and pitted against the SEC champions. That frees up the Fiesta to invite Florida and the Orange to invite Nebraska, which heads off both potential rematches.
WHAT (I THINK) HAPPENS: Oregon beats Illinois in the Rose Bowl. Nebraska gets up off the mat and beats Maryland in the Orange, but it’s hardly a blowout. LSU gets shellacked by Miami in the Sugar Bowl; Florida lays a beating on Colorado similar to the one they laid on Maryland in real life.
My guess is that, between the Gators’ big win over the Buffs and the lingering memory of Nebraska’s regular-season-ending flop against the same team, Florida would hop over Nebraska in the rankings, but wouldn’t gain enough to displace Oregon in the #2 spot, so the national-championship game is Hurricanes-Ducks. While the old-school-plus-one system does create the national-title matchup a lot of people thought there should’ve been in the first place, though, the outcome isn’t all that different from the real-life Miami-Nebraska blowout — the ‘Canes still win by three TDs.
ANALYSIS: Again, the bowl lineups are just guesswork here, because I don’t know how the bowls would’ve balanced their desire to get the #1 team in the country with their desire to get a team that travels better than Miami. But I think just about any way you arrange the teams, a Miami-Nebraska title game would’ve been avoided, and Miami-Oregon becomes practically inevitable.