BCS Flashback: Tennessee's Unlikely Run to the First BCS Title
But on January 4, 1999, the top-ranked Tennessee Volunteers met up with the second-ranked Florida State Seminoles in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
When the season began, most expected Bobby Bowden's team to find their way into the title game. The Seminoles started off the year ranked second in the country, so it was no shocker that they finished the year in the same spot. An early season blowout loss at NC State was quite concerning, but the team managed to cruise the rest of the way, with every win following the loss coming by double digits.
Along the way, Florida State did experience a bit of a setback when sophomore quarterback Chris Weinke was lost for the season after suffering a neck injury in an early November game against Virginia. Marcus Outzen was forced to fill his shoes and did just fine in helping lead the Seminoles through the final few games of the season.
As for Tennessee, well, their appearance in the game had to come as a bit of a surprise.
Despite being ranked 10th to start the year, many wondered how life would be for the Vols in the post-Peyton Manning era. Manning had been drafted in the 1998 NFL draft, and it was up to junior Tee Martin to take over the reigns and keep things going in the right direction for Phillip Fulmer's team.
Martin's first game was less than memorable. He only completed nine passes on 26 attempts, but thanks to a Jeff Hall field goal, Tennessee escaped against a Donovan McNabb-led Syracuse team. From then on, Martin simply got better and better which allowed the Vols to run the table and compete for the national title.
So, you could understand the motivation for Martin and company as they entered the national championship game as the underdog, despite being undefeated and the top-ranked team in the country.
Neither team scored in the first quarter. However, midway through the second quarter, the Vols had suddenly grabbed a 14-0 lead. Florida State chipped into the lead before halftime by making it 14-9, but that was as close as it would get.
Tennessee went on to win the game 23-16, proving all the doubters wrong in the process. Florida State had its chances but couldn't find a way to capitalize.
The problem for Bowden's team was that they couldn't stop the big play. More specifically, they couldn't stop the big plays from Martin and wide receiver Peerless Price.
Martin finished the game with 278 yards through the air, and Price was the recipient of 199 of those yards. Price's 79-yard touchdown catch to put the Vols up 20-9 in the fourth was the icing on the cake.
No one could have seen it coming -- the greatest quarterback in the school's history exits, and a complete unknown comes in and leads the team to a national championship.
But that's exactly what Martin did, making the Vols the first champion in the BCS era.
What are your memories of the 1999 Fiesta Bowl? Let us know by commenting below! For more college football talk, follow @FanIQ or myself on Twitter!