The Orange Bowl was once among the premier games in all of college football, but the BCS has squeezed all the life out of the Miami showdown.
Talk about a Faustian bargain. No BCS bowl has been as negatively impacted since its formation in 1998 than the Orange Bowl. Once the glowing powerhouse on New Year's night, when no championship could be decided until things were settled in Miami, now the Orange Bowl game itself is almost always irrelevant.
In the 15 seasons between 1983 and 1997, eight national champions were crowned on the Orange Bowl field, more than any other bowl during that span. Its tie-in with the Big Eight Conference, with Oklahoma and Nebraska at the height of their powers, along with the meteoric rise of the Miami Hurricanes, made the Orange Bowl an ideal matchmaker for teams vying for the title.
But all that changed with its participation in the BCS, as well as the demise of the Big Eight. After the conference reconstituted itself as the Big 12, its alliance shifted to the Fiesta Bowl, leaving the Orange Bowl scrambling to hitch its star to the ACC. While the Orange Bowl had hoped that Miami, which joined the ACC in 2004, and Florida State would be frequent flag bearers for the conference, both erstwhile powers have gone into a tailspin they have yet to emerge out of.
The result is a disaster, both on the field and in terms of television ratings. In the 13 seasons since the formation of the BCS, the Orange Bowl has finished with either the worst or second-worst TV ratings in the 11 years it didn't host the BCS title game. Only twice, which turned out to be two overtime games, have the ratings crested into double digits.
That trend has only worsened, with the Orange Bowl bringing up the rear three of the five years in the double-host era, including the all-time BCS worst 5.4 rating for the 2009 game between Virginia Tech and Cincinnati. This year's game between Clemson and West Virginia, the two lowest-ranked BCS teams in the final standings, is certain to once again consign the Orange Bowl to the worst TV ratings among BCS games.
Even when it got to host the BCS title game, the Orange Bowl got no break and ended up with two of the biggest duds. The title game for the 2000 season was a 13-2 snoozer, with Oklahoma never threatened by an inept Florida State offense that was shut out the entire game (the defense scored a safety in garbage time). The 2004 game between USC and Oklahoma turned out to be the biggest blowout in BCS history, with the Trojans taking a 38-10 halftime lead en route to a 55-19 rout.
Here's a look at the Orange Bowl in the BCS era:
Best Game: It took the two winningest coaches in Division I-A history to give the Orange Bowl an unlikely lift. The 2006 game featured Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions against Bobby Bowden's Florida State Seminoles. Penn State was within one second of a perfect season, losing only on the last play at Michigan, and therefore the heavy favorite. Yet Florida State hung in all game, but was done in by a familiar foe - a shaky kicking game. FSU's Gary Cismesia missed a PAT in the first half and two field goals in overtime. Penn State was finally able to take advantage, with Kevin Kelly drilling a 29-yarder for a 26-23 win in triple overtime. The game's 12.2 TV rating remains the highest for a non-title game for the Orange Bowl in the BCS era.
Worst Game: The title game for the 2004 season had everything - two reigning Heisman winners in Oklahoma's Jason White (2003) and USC's Matt Leinart (2004), not to mention the winner the next season, Reggie Bush, and freshman wunderkind Adrian Peterson. But the game turned into a massacre as USC jumped on an avalanche OU turnovers in the second quarter. While White was harassed by the Trojans defense into three interceptions, Leinart tossed an Orange Bowl-record five TD passes in a 55-19 rout. The Sooners' ineptitude was somehow topped by Ashlee Simpson, who performed perhaps the worst halftime show in the history of halftime shows and was promptly booed off the stage. And making matters worse: This game technically never happened because the USC victory was later vacated due to Bush's NCAA violations.
Best Performance: In a bowl in the BCS era that's featured Heisman winners Leinart, White and Carson Palmer, plus Andrew Luck, the best quarterbacking performance belonged to ... Tom Brady? The Michigan quarterback completed 34 of 46 passes for a school bowl record 369 yards and four touchdowns - including three to David Terrell - in a 35-34 overtime victory over Alabama in the 2000 game. The outcome wasn't decided until Alabama's Ryan Pflugner sailed his PAT attempt in overtime wide right. Despite the fantastic performance in his final college game, Brady was lightly regarded by NFL scouts and wound up being drafted in the sixth round. He turned out to be an OK pro.
Biggest Controversy: The best available team after the 2002 regular season was USC, featuring Palmer, the newly minted Heisman winner. The Trojans lost to the tie-breaker to Washington State, which headed to the Rose Bowl, and became the object of a bidding war between Sugar and Orange bowls. Adding to the intrigue is Iowa, which tied with Ohio State for the Big Ten title but also lost the tie-breaker because of a nonconference loss to Iowa State. Taking advantage of little known loopholes, the Orange Bowl essentially created a Rose Bowl East, matching up Iowa and USC. This greatly annoyed the Sugar Bowl but absolutely incensed the Rose Bowl, which lost Ohio State to the Fiesta Bowl for the BCS title game. The game turned out to be a blowout for the Trojans, who scored 28 straight points in the second half for a 38-17 win. After the season, a BCS provision was added so that each bowl would be able to "protect" teams from conferences with which it has an affiliation.
Prediction for the 2012 Game: Two wholly uninspiring teams, each with three losses, neither of whom has beaten a particularly noteworthy opponent. No. 15 Clemson started the season 8-0, but lost three of four before rebounding against Virginia Tech for the ACC title. No. 23 West Virginia barely squeezed into the BCS final standings in perhaps its final season in the Big East.
But somebody has to win, so we'll go with WVU, 35-31.