During the off-season, Forgotten Five has decided to do some research. We launched a multi-part series looking at some of the Group of Five’s most unique conference champions.
Teams such as Boise’s great teams, the 2004 and 2008 Utah teams, and Hawaii’s 2007 team receive so much attention as the Group of Five’s greatest teams in recent memory. Forgotten are the teams that had dream seasons or overcame odd circumstances but did not have a major bowl to show for it. This series tells their tale.
College Football Vagabonds
Louisiana Tech is arguably the vagabond of the college football world. Since beginning Division 1-A play in 1975, they have floated between the Southland, independence, the Big West, the WAC, and Conference USA. When the Southland decided to end their 1-A membership, Louisana Tech went down with them and resurfaced as an independent in 1988.
It is no surprise that, until recently, they were inconsistent, notching only one bowl bid from 1979-1999. They wasted some of their best teams due to the lack of a conference membership and bowl tie. Among these were the 9-2 1997 squad and the 8-3 1999 squad, who both beat Alabama on the road but stayed home during bowl season.
When the WAC needed a couple of schools after the Mountain West’s formation, it was the opportunity the Bulldogs needed, no matter how bad the geography was. Hence in 2001, the Bulldogs found another new home in the WAC.
Should Have Been Someone Else’s Year
2001 in the WAC had the potential to be a landmark year for the conference. Fresno State caught the nation’s attention with wins over Fiesta Bowl-bound Colorado, #10 Oregon State, and #23 Wisconsin. By October 13th, they had reached #8 in the AP Polls.
The following Friday, Fresno State’s BCS bubble burst at home against Boise State in a 35-30 thriller. The slide did not stop there as they lost another Friday night WAC duel against Hawaii, 38-34 to fall out of the polls completely.
Even then, Hawaii and Boise State appeared to be in the front seat, each knocking off the WAC’s most elite team. However, earlier losses to Rice and Nevada doomed the Warriors, while the Broncos had their own loss to Rice to complicate the title picture.
The WAC cannibalized itself further, when Rice, who beat solid Boise State and Hawaii teams, lost to Louisiana Tech, Fresno State, and SMU. All of this chaos left an unlikely front-runner in the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs.
Louisiana Tech faced a similar non-conference gauntlet to Fresno State. They played Oklahoma State, Auburn, and Kansas, losing all three. After an early season loss to Fresno State, Tech won their last 7 WAC games including wins over Boise State and Rice to win the title outright, their first conference crown since their 1978 Southland crown.
Luke McCown followed the footsteps of Terry Bradshaw and Tim Rattay, throwing for over 330 yards and 28 touchdowns. While they lacked a dominant receiver like Troy Edwards, the receiving corps was strong with three receivers exceeding 700 yards.
The reward was a birth in the Humanitarian Bowl against Clemson, their fourth bowl and first non-Independence Bowl appearance. The Bulldogs lost 49-24 to a Tiger squad led by the legendary Woody Dantzler.
The 2001 WAC had an elite team in Fresno State, an emerging power in Boise State, and a sleeping giant in Rice. All of these teams would have been worthy to win the crown of the new-look WAC.
Instead, an upstart, five-loss team that struggled to find a home for years took the title. There is only one fitting explanation for this, and that is college football.