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For more from Chase and Jason, check out their work at Football Perspective and The Big Lead.

BCS Thoughts

Posted by Chase Stuart on December 2, 2007

The BCS Bowl Selections came out yesterday, and like almost every other year, many people are unhappy. I've got lots of random thoughts, so I figured I'd just start collecting them here.

  • No one got a bad deal here. Yes, if you root for Georgia, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma or USC (we'll get to Hawaii later), you are understandably disappointed today. On Sunday morning you thought your team might luck into the BCS Championship Game, and in the end LSU and OSU took those two spots. But all four schools lost two games each, and had multiple blemishes on their resumes. This is *not* 1998 Tulane, 2000 Florida State or Washington, 2001 Oregon or Colorado, 2003 USC, 2004 Auburn, Boise State or Utah, 2006 Michigan or Boise State. The '04 Tigers probably have the biggest complaint in BCS history, and no one this year has much to complain about. The argument boils down to "we weren't lucky enough to be selected", hardly a sympathetic complaint. Each team had more than enough chances to make the title game.
  • The BCS has increased my interest in college football. Maybe it's because I'm a math geek or maybe it's because I like controversy, but discussing who the top two teams are is pretty fascinating. It's probably not as fair as a playoff, but if it wasn't for the BCS, we wouldn't be talking college football this morning. Further, ...
  • If the BCS never came about, here's what we'd be looking at:
      Rose Bowl: USC vs. OSU
      Sugar Bowl: LSU vs ???
      Orange Bowl: Oklahoma vs. ???
      Fiesta Bowl: ??? vs. ???
      Those ???s would be filled by at large teams, of course. Maybe we'd get Oklahoma against Georgia, LSU against Virginia Tech, and Hawaii facing Kansas. Who knows. But we wouldn't be any closer to crowning a college football champion before the BCS came about.

After showing my pro-BCS stance, let me now get to my biggest pet peeve with the BCS and the polls. No one really knows how teams are supposed to be ranked. This bothers me and perplexes me more than just about anything in sports. How can we have polls where there's no guidance on how to rank the teams? While most rankings are easy, on the edges you really need some guidance. The big question is the retrodictive vs. predictive distinction: we don't know what the rankings are supposed to be. Are the polls supposed to be designed so that the team ranked X is always a favorite in a neutral site over the team ranked X+1? Should the polls reflect who has accomplished the most to date? Should they reflect who has looked the best to date? Should they reflect which team we subjectively think is the best team in the nation? I've got no idea, and frankly, it's impossible to rank the teams in a meaningful way until you know what you're ranking them on.

Here are a few examples:

1. USC of two years ago is 8-0 and ranked #1 in the country. Reggie Bush, LenDale White and Matt Leinart suffer season ending injuries in the 8th game. Where would USC be ranked after that? Where should USC be ranked after that?

2. Same situation, except it's the last game of the regular season when they get injured. So USC is 11-0 and #1. Where would USC be ranked after that? Where should USC be ranked after that?

3. Tim Tebow is injured in the off-season, and misses the first three games next year. UF goes 0-3. Tebow comes back, and UF is unstoppable, and rolls through the SECE and wins the SEC. UF wins every game the rest of the way, and looks to be unbeatable. Where would UF be ranked after that? Where should UF be ranked after that?

The answer is we just don't know. We're not sure if the BCS Title Game should reward the two teams that have accomplished the most this year, or the best two teams right now. And what do we do about when a team's losses occur? Should a 10-1 team that lost its last game be ranked behind a 9-2 team that lost its first two games, assuming equivalent SOS? Once again, I'm just not sure. There's no guidance.

With that all being said, let me explain why the BCS got it right:

  • Hawaii. You can tell who follows college football by asking them what they think of Hawaii. No, a 12-0 record against terrible opponents does not impress me. Sagarin ranks Hawaii as the 16th best team in the country, and the Warriors have the 137th toughest strength of schedule. Sagarin's ratings are not subjective (Hawaii isn't dropped automatically just because they play in the WAC; Boise State last year ranked 6th, and Utah in 2004 ranked 4th) Hawaii just isn't that good. There are only 119 teams in Division 1, which means over 20 teams not in Division 1 had a tougher schedule than Hawaii. Hawaii went into overtime in games against San Jose State (#113 in Sagarin ratings) and Louisiana Tech (#107 in Sagarin ratings). Hawaii simply isn't a great team; they're not even a very good team. Being undefeated isn't impressive when you're playing against inferior competition.
    Suppose the Cowboys played the Patriots, Colts, Chargers, Steelers, Redskins, Dolphins and Rams, and went 6-1. If Team X played the Jets, Dolphins, Bengals, Raiders, 49ers, Rams and Falcons, and went 7-0, would you think that Team X was better than the Cowboys? You'd be correct in saying you don't know -- Team X, in fact, could be as good as the Patriots. But what if I said that Team X went into overtime against the Dolphins and Rams, and got a lucky break when they beat the Raiders? You'd probably feel a lot more confident in saying the Cowboys were better than Team X. Teams can play in non-BCS conferences and still be one of the top two teams in the country. But one of the top two teams in the country wouldn't narrowly escape victory against non-top-100 teams, twice. Hawaii almost lost at home to Washington this weekend, which is hardly an impressive statement. A 49-0 blowout might have given the Warriors an argument that Hawaii can play with the big boys; a controversial one score win does not.
  • USC. The Trojans underwhelmed this year, and only the biggest of USC homers can cry foul. An out-of-conference schedule of Nebraska (#63), Notre Dame (#87) and Idaho (#168) underwhelms. Washington, Washington State and Arizona had losing records. The Oregon loss wasn't bad, but the Stanford loss is staggering. I understand the argument that USC is healthy now -- but did you think Florida in my hypothetical Tebow example should be in the championship game? The Trojans ended the season winning four straight -- over Oregon State, Cal, Arizona State and UCLA. The two California teams both have .500 records, and UCLA had lost three of its last four before playing USC. Cal lost six of its last seven games. Neither of those wins are impressive. Arizona State and Oregon State are good teams, but is that really enough to lift up USC? The Trojans didn't play a great schedule, had one of the worst losses of the season, and had too much to climb at the end of the year. No sympathy here.
  • Virginia Tech had two really bad losses. They got absolutely destroyed in Baton Rouge, and a home loss to BC (#19 in the Sagarin ratings) is not impressive. Yes, the Hokies avenged that last loss, and had a nice run at the end of the season. But where's the signature win? Clemson? BC? If you're not going to beat a top 10 team, and you're going to lose two games, you don't deserve to be called National Champions.
  • Oklahoma got a lot of late praise, since the Sooners just destroyed the #1 team in the nation. But while Oklahoma has the signature win, a loss to 6-6 Colorado, a late loss to Texas Tech, and the 59th best schedule in the nation sink OU's case. Beating Missouri twice is impressive, although we don't know how good the Tigers really are. But getting into a dogfight against Iowa State? Losing in Boulder? You can make the USC-when-healthy argument for the Texas Tech loss, but it's no more convincing here. Oklahoma was ranked 9th three days ago, and I don't think they deserve to jump all the way to two. A very good team, but the Sooners' awful OOC schedule dooms them. Maybe if the Hurricanes were the Miami of old, OU would be in the National Championship game. But without that, a weak SOS and two losses make it hard for fans in Norman to complain.
  • Georgia has the best case of all the snubbed teams. The Bulldogs weren't ever given a fair chance since Georgia lost its division, but that isn't fair. Georgia's a better team than Tennessee, and how the SEC decides its tiebreakers shouldn't control how the BCS picks its teams. I think Georgia would have had a terrific chance against LSU, and then we'd be excited for a Georgia-Ohio State championship game. As it stands, Georgia may have been the hottest SEC team but they weren't the best. LSU was clearly a better team over the course of the year, and accomplished more. LSU had a slightly harder SOS, and was closer in both its losses. A 21-point loss in Knoxville is way worse than a triple overtime defeat at the hands of Arkansas or Kentucky. Georgia was hotter than LSU, and may be the better team. But LSU had the same record, was closer in its two defeats, had the tougher schedule, and won the conference. LSU's win over Virginia Tech was also more impressive than anything Georgia's done.
  • LSU and OSU have their black eyes, but consider what they've done, too. LSU wasn't losing after regulation in a single game this year. Yes, we know they lost in overtime, but in terms of deciding how good the Tigers actually are, that's important. College football could still have the rule that games tied after regulation are counted as ties; in which case, no one would argue against LSU. They've got the two best losses -- by far -- of any two loss team. They also have the toughest schedule of any two loss team. They won the toughest conference in the country. I'm not much of an LSU fan, and I think they've been over hyped by the media -- but they're the most accomplished of the two loss teams. Ohio State and Kansas are the only one loss teams, and I don't think anyone is arguing for Kansas these days. The Buckeyes are not a controversial selection except by Big 10 haters, but consider: Ohio State didn't lose to the Stanford of its conference (USC), or a .500 team (Oklahoma, Georgia), or get blown out by anyone (Virginia Tech). A two-loss Buckeyes squad wouldn't deserve to make the title game, but OSU did not have a bad loss like everyone else in college football. Except the Tigers.

I'm going to close here with one final list, courtesy of Doug. It's the Simple Rating System for college football, with two caveats. All wins by less than 7 points are considered seven point wins, and all losses by over 24 points are maxed out at twenty-four. Why? The SRS usually underrates teams that win close games, so the seven point cushion helps. And in college football, some teams are less "classy" than others and run up the score against inferior opponents. I think a 24-point cap on a victory is a better indicator of true strength, and does not reward teams that run up the score. Finally, note that all 1-AA teams are grouped together as a single "team." This hurts Michigan, for example, and therefore hurts OSU a little bit, too. Note who is on top of the list:

The rating column shows how many points each team is better than the average team, and the last column shows the strength of schedule adjustment. Note that Washington, at +8.0, had the most difficult schedule in college football this year.

  Team                       Record      Rate      SOS
  1. Florida                  9-  3      19.4      6.7
  2. WestVirginia            10-  2      18.2      2.8
  3. LouisianaState          11-  2      17.8      5.3
  4. SouthernCalifornia      10-  2      17.0      4.1
  5. Oklahoma                11-  2      16.6      1.1
  6. OhioState               11-  1      16.5     -0.1
  7. Georgia                 10-  2      16.3      5.8
  8. Oregon                   8-  4      16.2      6.4
  9. Missouri                11-  2      15.7      3.5
 10. VirginiaTech            11-  2      15.3      2.5
 11. ArizonaState            10-  2      15.2      4.9
 12. Cincinnati               9-  3      14.3      1.2
 13. SouthFlorida             9-  3      14.2      3.6
 14. Kansas                  11-  1      13.8     -2.7
 15. Clemson                  9-  3      12.4      1.3
 16. Tennessee                9-  4      11.6      6.1
 17. Auburn                   8-  4      11.5      5.5
 18. BrighamYoung            10-  2      10.7     -0.8
 19. Arkansas                 8-  4      10.2      2.2
 20. BostonCollege           10-  3      10.2      1.8
 21. Illinois                 9-  3      10.0      1.2
 22. OregonState              8-  4       9.8      6.8
 23. PennState                8-  4       9.8      0.8
 24. Kentucky                 7-  5       9.4      5.4
 25. Texas                    9-  3       9.0      0.7
 26. Connecticut              9-  3       8.9      0.6
 27. UCLA                     6-  6       8.2      7.6
 28. California               6-  6       8.1      6.2
 29. Hawaii                  12-  0       8.1     -7.1
 30. MichiganState            7-  5       7.9      1.9
 31. Alabama                  6-  6       7.9      4.5
 32. BoiseState              10-  2       7.9     -5.4
 33. Utah                     8-  4       7.7      0.9
 34. TexasTech                8-  4       7.5     -1.8
 35. SouthCarolina            6-  6       7.4      6.1
 36. Michigan                 8-  4       7.3      2.2
 37. Virginia                 9-  3       6.9      1.7
 38. CentralFlorida          10-  3       6.4     -4.3
 39. WakeForest               8-  4       6.4      1.2
 40. Rutgers                  7-  5       6.4      1.4
 41. Wisconsin                9-  3       6.2     -0.0
 42. Arizona                  5-  7       5.8      6.3
 43. AirForce                 9-  3       5.7     -3.2
 44. Troy                     8-  4       5.7     -1.7
 45. FloridaState             7-  5       5.6      4.3
 46. GeorgiaTech              7-  5       5.5      1.6
 47. Louisville               6-  6       5.5      3.9
 48. OklahomaState            6-  6       5.4      3.9
 49. TexasA&M                 7-  5       5.4      3.0
 50. Purdue                   7-  5       5.2     -0.6
 51. Maryland                 6-  6       4.8      3.0
 52. Washington               4-  9       4.7      8.0
 53. TexasChristian           7-  5       4.1     -1.5
 54. MississippiState         7-  5       4.1      4.0
 55. Vanderbilt               5-  7       3.2      4.4
 56. KansasState              5-  7       3.2      1.5
 57. Colorado                 6-  6       2.8      3.8
 58. Pittsburgh               5-  7       2.3      3.5
 59. Indiana                  7-  5       2.2     -1.0
 60. FresnoState              8-  4       2.2     -2.8
 61. WashingtonState          5-  7       1.7      5.6
 62. NewMexico                8-  4       1.3     -2.4
 63. Nebraska                 5-  7       1.2      5.6
 64. EastCarolina             7-  5       0.0     -2.0
 65. NorthCarolina            4-  8      -1.0      2.5
 66. Miami(Florida)           5-  7      -1.0      2.2
 67. BallState                7-  5      -1.0     -5.0
 68. Stanford                 4-  8      -1.1      6.5
 69. Mississippi              3-  9      -1.3      6.2
 70. Tulsa                    9-  4      -1.4     -4.7
 71. Houston                  8-  4      -1.9     -6.6
 72. Iowa                     6-  6      -2.4     -1.1
 73. SouthernMississippi      7-  5      -2.5     -5.9
 74. BowlingGreenState        8-  4      -2.6     -6.7
 75. Northwestern             6-  6      -2.6     -0.4
 76. Navy                     8-  4      -2.7     -6.0
 77. NorthCarolinaState       5-  7      -2.8      3.3
 78. FloridaAtlantic          7-  5      -3.1     -1.7
 79. Nevada                   6-  6      -3.2     -5.3
 80. Wyoming                  5-  7      -3.2      0.4
 81. CentralMichigan          8-  5      -3.3     -5.9
 82. WesternKentucky          7-  5      -4.2     -8.2
 83. NotreDame                3-  9      -4.6      5.3
 84. MiddleTennesseeState     5-  7      -4.8     -3.2
 85. ColoradoState            3-  9      -6.2      0.3
 86. SanDiegoState            4-  8      -6.4      2.2
 87. Louisiana-Monroe         6-  6      -6.7     -3.9
 88. WesternMichigan          5-  7      -6.7     -4.3
 89. IowaState                3-  9      -7.3      2.3
 90. Memphis                  7-  5      -7.7     -8.0
 91. LouisianaTech            5-  7      -7.9     -2.0
 92. SanJoseState             5-  7      -7.9     -2.6
 93. ArkansasState            5-  7      -8.2     -4.9
 94. Ohio                     6-  6      -8.2     -8.0
 95. Miami(Ohio)              6-  7      -8.3     -4.7
 96. Nevada-LasVegas          2- 10      -8.7      1.2
 97. Buffalo                  5-  7      -8.8     -6.1
 98. Duke                     1- 11      -9.6      4.1
 99. Texas-ElPaso             4-  8      -9.7     -5.3
100. Syracuse                 2- 10      -9.9      5.4
101. Marshall                 3-  9     -10.1     -1.8
102. UtahState                2- 10     -10.6     -1.4
103. Minnesota                1- 11     -10.7      1.0
104. EasternMichigan          4-  8     -11.0     -4.7
105. Toledo                   5-  7     -11.1     -5.3
106. Akron                    4-  8     -11.3     -4.1
107. Kent                     3-  9     -11.4     -6.0
108. Baylor                   3-  9     -11.5      2.3
109. NewMexicoState           4-  9     -11.9     -4.5
110. Louisiana-Lafayette      3-  9     -13.2     -4.0
111. Army                     3-  9     -13.7     -2.4
112. Temple                   4-  8     -13.8     -6.0
113. Tulane                   4-  8     -13.9     -6.2
114. Alabama-Birmingham       2- 10     -14.1     -2.5
115. Rice                     3-  9     -15.1     -6.2
116. NorthTexas               2- 10     -15.6     -3.5
117. FloridaInternational     1- 11     -15.7     -0.7
118. SouthernMethodist        1- 11     -15.8     -4.8
119. Idaho                    1- 11     -16.5     -3.2
120. 1AAOpponent              9- 71     -16.7      0.2
121. NorthernIllinois         2- 10     -17.3     -7.5

This entry was posted on Sunday, December 2nd, 2007 at 11:30 pm and is filed under BCS, College. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.