Until the advent of the conference championship games in 1992, the number of games played in December prior to the bowl season were few. Yet throughout history there have been a significant number of games played in the first weekend in December that saw a team’s national championship aspirations become staler than ten day old Thanksgiving leftovers.
With the current playoff system selecting the top four teams in the nation, it is interesting to note that since the advent of the polls, 20 teams ranked in the top four have lost early December games. Thirteen of those games have occurred since 1992 with ten being in conference championship games.
The first team to lose a national title in December since the advent of the polls was Notre Dame in 1938 when the top ranked Irish lost 13-0 at Southern California. Four other #1 teams lost conference championship games all within the past dozen years. In 2003, Oklahoma was routed 35-7 by Kansas State in a Big 12 championship game as was #1 Missouri vs Oklahoma (38-17) in 2007. In 2008 and 2009 Alabama and Florida traded upsets with #1 Bama falling to Florida and the following year the top-ranked Gators lost to the Tide.
Two particular years stand out for wide spread melt downs. In 1998, Kansas State was ranked #2 looking for a bid in the BCS title game with #3 UCLA. While the polls had the Wildcats rated ahead of the Bruins, UCLA led in the BCS rankings. With the Bruins in the lead for most of the game, the Canes were able to make a comeback with a Bruin fumble at the Miami 26 yard line allowing a Miami Hurricane victory.
Knowing UCLA’s championship dreams were finished, Kansas State had gained a 17-6 lead over Texas A&M. Much like Miami, Texas A&M mounted a comeback by forcing a fumble that led the game into overtime. The teams traded field goals causing the game to go into a second OT when finally the Aggies were able to convert for the game winning score. Florida State who entered the day at #4 would go on to meet Tennessee in the championship game.
December 1, 2007 would also be a hot day for upsets. Missouri and West Virginia were ranked #1 and #2 in the polls and the BCS rankings. The teams played nearly simultaneous games with the Mountaineers hosting Pittsburgh in the “Backyard Brawl” while the Tigers would meet Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game. A 14-14 game at the half became a 38-17 Sooner blowout in the second half. In Morgantown, WVU was expected to have an easy time with the 4-7 Panthers. However, Pitt’s defense limited West Virginia’s high power offense to 183 yards. Pitt miraculously gained a 13-7 lead and ended the game by taking a safety on the game’s final play. The BCS title game would now match #3 Ohio State with #7 LSU for the national championship.