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Are you sick of college football’s national champion being decided by rote, unthinking, mechanical algorithms? I have the solution.

Posted by Doug on July 27, 2007

Get rid of the human polls.

As I've said before, "The BCS" has become one of those abstract entities, like "bureaucrats" or "the government", that essentially means "something I don't like." So many people dislike so many different things about the BCS that it's almost impossible to have a conversation about it. In my opinion, the funniest kind of anti-BCS rant is the one that rails against the computer rankings. Computers don't understand football! Computers can't weight the myriad strengths and weaknesses of each team!! A computer has never felt the raw intensity of a Saturday night SEC game!!! How can it possibly tell us whether one team is better than another?

Those are legitimate points. As it stands now, though, the alternative --- the human polls --- is even more rote, mechanical, and formulaic, and even less likely to have involved serious thought. In fact, I'm pretty sure that the human polls actually are computer algorithms, and the code looks something like this.

Rankings = LastYearsRankings
For i = 1 to NumberOfWeeks  {
  For j = 1 to NumberOfTeams  {
    if (Team j lost a close game in week i OR Team j lost to a better team in week i)
      drop team j four slots in the rankings
      drop team j nine slots in the rankings
  move everyone who didn't lose up to fill in the gaps

I'm going to test this out in 2007 by seeing just how close this ridiculously naive system can get to mimicking the final human poll.

I'll start by taking last year's final poll*, and then filling in the unranked teams in order of their records, with ties broken by perceived strength of conference (SEC > Big 10 > Big 12 > Pac 10 > ACC > Big East). I'll define a "close game" as one decided by less than 10 points and a "better team" as one that was ranked higher (according to this system) at the time of the game.

* - In order to account for the perceived divide between the BCS conferences and the non-BCS conferences, I will rank all the BCS teams from top to bottom, then I will rank the non-BCS teams from top to bottom. Then, for the initial rankings, I will place all the BCS teams ahead of all the non-BCS teams. I think this is about right. The pollsters will allow a non-BCS team to get pretty high up in the rankings if they keep winning. But they will always choose a BCS team over a non-BCS team with an equal record.

Final note: I reserve the right to make changes to my algorithm until the season starts on August 30th, but the system will maintain the ridiculous naivety of the one I'm printing here. Feel free to add suggestions if you have them.