2001: JOEY HARRINGTON
2001 might well be the most compelling argument Pac-12 honks have for the existence of East Coast bias. The Oregon Ducks, champions of the then-Pac-10, were snubbed repeatedly that season, first when they were denied a Rose Bowl bid.
The Bowl Championship Series had not yet adopted the title game format, introduced in the 2006 season, so the Rose Bowl hosted the national championship. The right to face undefeated Miami was more or less a one-way ticket to a lopsided loss — and indeed, the Hurricanes blasted Nebraska in Pasadena, 37-14.
Still, the right to play for the national championship meant something. Oregon was denied in favor of a Nebraska team that was blasted in its regular-season finale by Colorado, and the Ducks would then rout the Buffaloes in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Rose Bowl snub was the first of two slights against the Ducks. The second was quarterback Joey Harrington finishing fourth in the Heisman voting.
Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch ran the option effectively, and was a threat to score whenever he touched the ball. Crouch’s win isn’t all that egregious in a vacuum, but for Crouch to more than double Harrington in the final vote, 770-to-364, was one more sprinkling of salt in the Pac-10 wound.
Harrington finished the 2001 regular season with 2,415 yards, 23 touchdown passes and just five interceptions. He trumped third-place finisher Ken Dorsey across the board statistically, threw seven fewer interceptions as second-place finisher Rex Grossman, and, when added his seven rushing touchdowns, accounted for just nine scores less.
Harrington’s snub is a case-study in hype setting a player’s expectations too high. The “Joey Heisman” billboard that graced Times Square in the summer of 2001 dictated that the Oregon quarterback needed to be more than just awesome that season (which he was); he needed to be historically excellent.
— Andy McIlvaine (@andymcilvaine) July 31, 2015