This match up was only possible because of the new Bowl Alliance. Under the old system, Nebraska would have been tied to the Orange Bowl and Florida to the Sugar Bowl. The Bowl Alliance created a national championship game which would rotate between the Orange, Sugar, and Fiesta Bowls free of conference tie-ins and featuring the #1 and #2 teams as chosen by the Bowl Alliance Poll. The Pac 10 and Big Ten chose not to participate, keeping their tie-ins with the Rose Bowl.
Nebraska was showing signs of dynasty, playing in its third consecutive national title game, and became the first school to claim back to back titles since the 1970s. This was an amazingly dominant Nebraska team, averaging 52 points per game and a 39 point average margin of victory, including a 62-24 victory over Florida. Interestingly, this lopsided victory came after Florida was picked by many sportswriters to win the game.
Ohio State almost managed to create a national title controversy, going into its final regular season game against Michigan undefeated and ranked #2. Had they finished the season #2 the Bowl Alliance would have been unable to pit #1 vs. #2 as the Big Ten champ was tied to the Rose Bowl. Fortunately for the Bowl Alliance, Michigan upset Ohio State, but Buckeye running back Eddie George still managed to win the Heisman Trophy.
Things were lively in the state of Florida, where the Florida Gators won their third straight SEC championship. Florida State started the season #1, but lost an ACC game for the first time ever when Virginia stopped a last minute drive a few inches from the end zone, knocking them out of the national title race.
However, Northwestern was able to steal the show as the year's Cinderella story. Its only regular season loss came against Miami-OH. Northwestern began the season with an upset of Notre Dame and went on to defeat Michigan and Penn State later in the season. Undefeated in the Big Ten after decades as a doormat, the Wildcats went on to face USC in the Rose Bowl. However, the Wildcats lost to the Trojans in what was a see-saw game until USC pulled away in the fourth quarter.