Posted by Doug on September 27, 2007
As everyone knows, there are lots of reasons to dislike the BCS. But today I'll tell you one reason to like it. Or at least one reason I like it. The fact that the computer ranking algorithms play a real role in the process means that, at least theoretically, every one of the dozens of games played each Saturday has the potential to affect your team's chances of making the title game.
As an example, let's take a look back at 2004, when Oklahoma, USC, and Auburn were all undefeated. You'll remember that USC demolished OU in the championship game while Auburn ended up playing a consolation game against Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. In that particular case, Auburn probably wouldn't have ended up in the title game even if they had ranked higher in the computer polls, but the possibility certainly exists that this year (or any year), a few thousandths of a point on a few of the computer rankings could determine who plays in the big game. My personal margin-not-included ranking algorithm, which is very similar to at least one of the official BCS computer polls, shows the following pre-bowl rankings for that season.
1. SouthernCalifornia 12- 0 22.53 2. Oklahoma 12- 0 20.46 3. Auburn 12- 0 19.75
Auburn played a slightly weaker out-of-conference schedule than Oklahoma, and the Pac 10 was stronger than the SEC that year, so that's how Auburn ended up third. They were third in almost all the computer polls if I recall correctly. But the margin between Auburn and OU was close enough that changing the outcome of just a game here or there could flop them. The only SEC / Big 12 matchup of the regular season was a very close Texas win over Arkansas. Had Arkansas won it instead, we would have had this.
1. SouthernCalifornia 12- 0 22.66 2. Auburn 12- 0 21.54 3. Oklahoma 12- 0 16.88
The point is: every single interconference game, especially those between two BCS conferences has the potential to make significant changes in the rankings.
That's pretty obvious. What's less obvious is that even intraconference games can make a difference. Let's flip the Arkansas/Texas result back, so that OU outranks Auburn again. Now, if you flip the results of the North Texas / Middle Tennessee State game and the Louisiana Tech / UTEP game, Auburn jumps OU again. Why? Because the Big 12 played three games against North Texas, winning all three. So where North Texas finishes in their conference is relevant to determining the overall strength of the Big 12, which is obviously is a key factor in determining how strong Oklahoma is. Likewise, SEC teams played a couple of games against La. Tech, so an extra win by them raises their stature just enough to prop the SEC up just enough for Auburn to slip ahead of the Sooners.
Once you've got that in mind, you begin to realize that you might have a rooting interest in lots of intra-conference games that you never thought you cared about.
If you're an Ohio State fan, you have to root for Oregon (who beat a Big 10 team) to beat Cal (who beat an SEC team) this weekend. If you're a West Virginia fan (who doesn't have any particular animosity for any of your conference-mates), you were happy about the South Florida win over Auburn and disappointed about the Louisville loss to Kentucky, obviously, but you were also not pleased about Mississippi State's win over Auburn. If you like West Virginia, in fact, you are now a big fan of Auburn and Kentucky in all their SEC games and you like Michigan State (who beat Pitt) in the Big 10 and Oregon State (who lost to Cincinnati) in the Pac 10.
So while it's very unlikely that the outcome of the Washington / Arizona State game will be the deciding factor in getting Oklahoma or Texas into the championship game instead of Ohio State or Wisconsin, games are always more fun to follow if you have a rooting interest. And whether you know it or not, you almost always do.