The 1998 Tulane squad entered the season with returning C-USA Offensive Player of the Year Shaun King at quarterback and picked to finish tied for second place with East Carolina in the preseason conference rankings. Following their week two victory over SMU, local media started to mention the Green Wave as a potential at-large opponent to play in the Sugar Bowl as pert of the inaugural Bowl Championship Series (BCS). Although Tulane finished the regular season with an 11–0 record, since they finished outside the sixth position in the final BCS standings, the Green Wave did not qualify for a BCS bowl game. Instead they were invited to the Liberty Bowl as C-USA champions. The appearance in the game marked Tulane's first bowl since the 1987 Independence Bowl, and their third all-time appearance in the Liberty Bowl.
Following the conclusion of the regular season, on December 2 head coach Tommy Bowden resigned as head coach to accept the same position at Clemson. At that time offensive coordinatorRich Rodriguez was named interim head coach through at least the Liberty Bowl. Although Rodriguez was thought to be the top candidate for the coaching vacancy, on December 7 Tulane announced Georgia offensive coordinator Chris Scelfo as Tulane's new head coach. At the time of he announcement, officials also stated Scelfo would serve as head coach in the bowl game instead of Rodriguez, and that most of Bowden's staff would remain in place for the Liberty Bowl.
After opening the season 2–3, BYU won seven consecutive games to earn a spot in the WAC Championship Game. In that contest, the Cougars lost to the Air Force 20–13. Prior to the championship game, the Cougars accepted a bid to play in the 40th Liberty Bowl. The appearance in the game marked BYU's first New Year's Eve bowl, and their first all-time appearance in the Liberty Bowl. In mid-December, BYU head coach LaVell Edwards announced that starting running backRonney Jenkins and defensive back Heshimu Robertson would be suspended for the Liberty Bowl for violating the Brigham Young University Honor Code.
In a game ultimately dominated by Tulane, BYU scored the first points of the game. Early in the first, Kevin Feterik hit Ben Horton for an 11-yard touchdown reception, and after Owen Pochman missed the extra point the Cougars took an early 6–0 lead. The Green Wave responded on the following drive with a 31-yard Brad Palazzo field goal to cut the lead in half. With BYU driving on the ensuing possession, Michael Jordan intercepted a Feterik pass and returned it 79 yards for touchdown. The return was the longest in the history on the Liberty Bowl and gave Tulane a 10–6 lead. In the second quarter, Shaun King scored on a three-yard run and Palazzo hit a 23-yard field goal to give Tulane a 20–6 lead at the half. King continued the scoring in the third with a pair of touchdown passes to cap two 82-yard drives. The first came on a 60-yard pass to Kerwin Cook and the second on a 13-yard pass to Jamaican Dartez. With Tulane leading 34–6 entering the fourth quarter, BYU scored the first of three late touchdowns on a three-yard Aaron Cupp touchdown run. Tulane responded on the next drive with its final points of the game on a five-yard Toney Converse run to extend their lead to 41–13. The Cougars closed the contest with an 18-yard Cupp reception for a score and a three-yard Reno Mahe touchdown run to bring the final score to 41–27. For his 276 yards passing, 109 yards rushing and three total touchdowns, Tulane quarterback Shaun King was named the game's Most Valuable Player.