The 2002 NCAA Division I-A football season ended the season with what most consider an exciting double overtime national championship game. Ohio State and Miami both came into the Fiesta Bowl undefeated. The underdog Buckeyes defeated the Hurricanes 31–24, ending Miami's 34 game winning streak. Jim Tressel won the national championship in only his second year as head coach.
Rose Bowl officials were vocally upset over the loss of the Big Ten champ from the game. Former New England Patriots coach Pete Carroll returned the USC Trojans to a BCS bid in only his second season as head coach. Notre Dame also returned to prominence, as Tyrone Willingham became the first coach in Notre Dame history to win 10 games in his first season.
The only conference move during this season saw the University of Central Florida leave the Independent ranks to join the Mid-American Conference as its 14th member.
Bowl Championship Series Rankings
Final BCS Rankings
Main article: 2002–03 NCAA football bowl games
The Rose Bowl normally features the champions of the Big Ten and the Pac-10. However, Big Ten-champion Ohio State, finishing #2 in the BCS, had qualified to play in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl for the national championship against Miami (Fla.) Earlier in the season, Ohio State had defeated Washington State 25-7.
After the national championship was set, the Orange Bowl had the next pick, and invited #3 (#5 BCS) Iowa from the Big Ten. When it was the Rose Bowl's turn to select, the best available team was #8 (#7 BCS) Oklahoma, who won the Big 12 Championship Game. When it came time for the Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl to make a second pick, both wanted Pac-10 co-champion USC. However, a BCS rule stated that if two bowls wanted the same team, the bowl with the higher payoff had priority. The Orange Bowl immediately extended an at-large bid to the #5 Trojans and paired them with at-large #3 Iowa in a Big Ten/Pac-10 "Rose Bowl East" matchup in the 2003 Orange Bowl. The Rose Bowl was left to pair Oklahoma with Pac-10 co-champion Washington State. Rose Bowl committee executive director Mitch Dorger was not pleased with the results.
As such, the BCS instituted a new rule, whereby a bowl losing its conference champion to the BCS championship could "protect" the second-place team from that conference from going to another bowl. This left the Sugar Bowl with #14 BCS Florida State, the winner of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Notre Dame at 10-2 and #9 in the BCS standings was invited to the 2003 Gator Bowl. Kansas State at #8 also was left out.
Other New Years Day Bowls
December Bowl Games
- Holiday Bowl: Kansas State 34, Arizona State 27
- Peach Bowl: Maryland 30, Tennessee 3
- Tangerine Bowl: Texas Tech 55, Clemson 15
- Sun Bowl: Purdue 34, Washington 24
- Independence Bowl: Mississippi 27, Nebraska 23
- Alamo Bowl: Wisconsin 31, Colorado 28
- Insight Bowl: Pittsburgh 38, Oregon State 13
- Liberty Bowl: TCU (C-USA Champ) 25, Colorado State (MWC Champ) 3
- Humanitarian Bowl: Boise State (WAC Champ) 34, Iowa State 16
- Motor City Bowl: Boston College 51, Toledo (MAC Champ) 25
- Hawai'i Bowl: Tulane 36, Hawai'i 28
- Seattle Bowl: Wake Forest 38, Oregon 17
- San Francisco Bowl: Virginia Tech 20, Air Force 13
- Music City Bowl: Minnesota 29, Arkansas 14
- Las Vegas Bowl: UCLA 27, New Mexico 13
- GMAC Bowl: Marshall 38, Louisville 15
- Silicon Valley Classic: Fresno State 30, Georgia Tech 21
- Houston Bowl: Oklahoma State 33, Southern Miss 23
- Continental Tire Bowl: Virginia 48, West Virginia 22
- New Orleans Bowl: North Texas (Sun Belt Champ) 25, Cincinnati 19
Heisman Trophy Voting
The Heisman Memorial Trophy Award is given to the
Most Outstanding Player of the year
Winner: Carson Palmer (Sr.), QB, USC (1,328 points)
Other Major Awards
- Maxwell Award (College player of the Year): Larry Johnson, Penn State
- Walter Camp Award (top back): Larry Johnson, Penn State
- Associated Press Player Of the Year: Brad Banks, Iowa
- Davey O'Brien Award (quarterback): Brad Banks, Iowa
- Johnny Unitas Award (Sr. quarterback): Carson Palmer, USC
- Doak Walker Award (running back): Larry Johnson, Penn State
- Fred Biletnikoff Award (wide receiver): Charles Rogers, Michigan State
- John Mackey Award (tight end): Dallas Clark, Iowa
- Dave Rimington Trophy (center): Brett Romberg, Miami
- Chuck Bednarik Award (defensive player): E. J. Henderson, Maryland
- Lombardi Award (top lineman): Terrell Suggs, Arizona State
- Outland Trophy (interior lineman): Rien Long, Washington State
- Dick Butkus (linebacker): E. J. Henderson, Maryland
- Jim Thorpe Award (defensive back): Terence Newman, Kansas State
- Lou Groza Award (placekicker): Nate Kaeding, Iowa
- Ray Guy Award (punter): Mark Mariscal, Colorado
- The Home Depot Coach of the Year Award: Ty Willingham, Notre Dame
- Paul "Bear" Bryant Award: Jim Tressel, Ohio St.