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.
Beginning with the 2002 season, teams were allowed to schedule twelve regular season games instead of eleven leading to additional revenues for all teams and allowing players the enhanced opportunity to break various statistical records.
The NCAA Rules Committee adopted the following rules changes for the 2002 season:
The penalty for violating the so-called "Halo Rule" (two yard restricted area around the punt/kick receiver) without making contact with the receiver is increased from five yards to 10 yards.
Flagrant personal fouls committed during possession by the defense in overtime will be carried over to the next extra period. Previously, those fouls were disregarded but the player committing the foul was ejected from the game.
All players are required to wear facemasks of the same color.
Penalties committed during a touchdown play can now either be enforced on the PAT or the ensuing kickoff.
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.