#1 Tulane 41; BYU 27 (December 31, 1998)
A crowning achievement of a century-plus of Tulane Green Wave football- the Perfect Season.
Not since 1931 had Tulane finished the regular season undefeated. Then, they were beaten in the Rose Bowl by Southern Cal. Here, they had a date with BYU- the WAC runner-up.
Sporting a 9-4 mark, BYU was a disappointing match-up. Only their fifth ranked defense, extremely annoying future Eagle Reno Mahe playing for benched tailback Ronny Jenkins and some Tulane ennui figured to allow the Cougars to hang around. But after a shaky start by both teams, Michael Jordan returned a late first quarter interception 79 yards to get the initial separation on the scoreboard (10-6). From there, Tulane blew their doors off. Shaun King was outstanding, repeatedly gouging the slow BYU perimeter players: 23-of-38 for 276 yards and rushing 16 times for 109 yards. Buried 34-6 through three quarters, BYU was thoroughly routed. Tulane could have scored fifty.
By then, Tommy Bowden was gone- but his bold remake of C-USA power found vindication that afternoon. We forget what a bold, counterintuitive series of moves he made. In 1997, C-USA was a power League. Southern Miss dominated by being bigger up front, big tight ends and fullbacks, pro-style pocket passers, rushing the football, win the box and point of attack defense- a real vanilla power team, stronger than the other guys.
Bowden changed it all. King was anything but a pure passer, anything but vanilla. Bowden realized the League’s weakness was an utter dearth of speed on defense edge players: DBs, OLBs, big safeties asked first to stop the run. He spread those slower run-oriented guys out- and took this heady quarterback, trusted him to make decisions- and scored and scored. Until ECU won the League this year, no “defense first” team has won a league title in a long time.
This win anchored a pretty darn good six year stretch for Tulane (1997-2002): four winning seasons, two Bowl championships, much good fun. Six years is not an insignificant stretch, particularly at Tulane. It fortified the pro-athletic community during the Review. It changed the BCS. Without Tulane running the table against not a great, but a legit collection of I-A teams (not a Sunbelt schedule), the BCS mid-majors breakers of the past few years are perhaps pushed back another cycle.
But, in the end, it is what we at Tulane hang our hat on- it is our institutional story, our “remember when?”, the banner proudly flying the Dome somewhere up there with the 2010 Super Bowl. In 2023, when Coach Bowden slowly ambles out for the 25th anniversary salute, all will be forgiven. That is the power of it, right? No matter what Tommy probably does, his bio starts “coached, of all places, Tulane, can you believe it, to undefeated season, ranked seventh overall”.
Since that 1998 campaign, only eleven I-A schools have run the gamut. This Retrospective spans some 25 years. In the next 25, Ole Miss won’t run the table. Boston College won’t. Washington can’t. Taking twelve straight against your class is near high impossible. But for one season, that perfection came to New Orleans.