Dear Auburn fans,
Let me first say Auburn has a tremendous team, one that deserves to play in the Orange Bowl if it goes undefeated. However, as I mentioned in my last column, I don't think Tigers fans should book plane tickets to Miami.
Obviously, many of you disagreed with me and articulated such in hundreds of strongly worded e-mails. So after reading every one of your comments, I have concluded that you think I know nothing about college football. So my goal this week is to confront your objections and, with the help of some of my unbiased computer programming friends, show you why USC and Oklahoma deserve to play in the Orange Bowl.
1. I know nothing about football because ... I think USC and Oklahoma are the top two teams in college football.
If that's the case then the majority of coaches and writers also know nothing. Not only are USC and Oklahoma the top two teams in both polls, but they also are the top two teams in every computer ranking and the all-important BCS standings.
2. I know nothing about football because ... I think recent history plays a part in rankings.
Say what you will about preseason polls, but they have as much a chance of being a thing of the past as a playoff system has of being part of the future. I wish that weren't the case, but it is, so deal with it. The fact is most preseason voters go off of last year's polls and how a team has performed recently with its returning players and coaches when mapping out their Top 25. If you look at Auburn the past couple of years, especially last season when it began the season in the top 10 and finished unranked, it has been a disappointment.
It's essentially a domino effect. Past performance affects preseason rankings, which affects current rankings. Auburn began the season ranked 17th and 18th in the polls, while USC and Oklahoma were ranked in the top two after finishing the previous two seasons in the top five. So Auburn has been playing catch-up all season, a tough thing to do when the top two teams remain undefeated.
"Of course recent history plays a part in the human polls," said Dr. Peter Wolfe, whose computer rankings are used in the BCS formula. "I think one of the reasons the computers are part of the process is the recognition that the human polls have an element of self-fulfilling prophecy, which is fine if you start at the top and not so fine if you don't."
Some of you misunderstood my reasoning and sent me winning percentages from 1983 to the present, which means nothing. I'm looking at the previous two seasons, since preseason voters are looking at returning players and coaches.
3. I know nothing about college football because ... I feel college football fans have wanted to see USC-Oklahoma play for two years.
If you go back to last November, what was the national title game everyone was talking about? For two months last fall before Oklahoma got embarrassed in the Big 12 title game, every media outlet was salivating over a USC-Oklahoma matchup. It hasn't changed.
Many of you were also upset that I brought up star quality as a reason why people want to see USC play Oklahoma. In a society that craves seeing superstar players and coaches face off, I hope most of you can see the logic of people wanting to see four-fifths of the Heisman Trophy contenders and the two winningest coaches of the past three seasons play each other for the first time instead of a third straight season of watching USC play Auburn.
4. I know nothing about college football because ... I think Auburn has played a week non-conference schedule.
Facts are facts, folks. Many of you complained that Oklahoma stole Bowling Green from Auburn's schedule and how the Tigers' game with Georgia Tech fell through. Do you think voters care? Do you think the computers care? Save the excuses. Auburn's schedule is what it is. Bottom line. Games fall through, rescheduling happens, Auburn isn't unique in that respect.
Many bragged, putrid non-conference schedule aside, the Tigers beat three top 10 teams: Georgia, Tennessee and LSU. Clearly these fans are living in the past. None of those teams was ranked in the top 10 going into last Saturday, and it wasn't just because Auburn beat them. Anyone who believes Tennessee and LSU are top 10 teams this season hasn't watched them play.
So let's be fair and say Auburn beat three Top 25 teams, and played only one other team with a winning record (Alabama). USC also has beaten four teams with winning records, three ranked in the Top 25, but Oklahoma had beaten five teams with winning records and four Top 25 teams, including three on the road.
"Oklahoma and USC have beaten better opponents," Wolfe said. "And it is not just the six algorithms represented in the BCS that 'think' that way, if you look at [the other ratings], you'll see that dozens of other rating systems say the same thing."
Overall, Auburn easily has the weakest schedule of the title contenders. Jeff Sagarin has USC at ninth, Oklahoma at 18th and Auburn at 74th. Kenneth Massey has USC at fourth, Oklahoma at ninth and Auburn at 58th. Wes Colley has Oklahoma at 29th, USC at 39th and Auburn at 48th.
"USC and Oklahoma are ranked in the top two because they have not taken essentially one-third of the season off, as Auburn has," said Jeff Anderson, who co-runs the Anderson and Hester computer rankings used in the BCS. "The Tigers have played I-AA Citadel, Louisiana-Monroe, Kentucky and Mississippi State. Between them, Oklahoma and USC have played only three teams as bad as these."
5. I know nothing about college football because ... I think the SEC is not that much better than the Big-12 and the Pac-10 this season.
I'll admit I was wrong on this one. The Pac-10 and Big 12 are better this season. As much as you want to get on me for bringing up history, you guys are living in the past when it comes to SEC football.
"While the SEC is arguably the strongest conference in the country in general, it is not so this year," Anderson said. "With all due respect to the SEC, this year it ranks fifth among the conferences, far behind the Big 12 and Pac-10."
Wolfe's computer ranking lists the SEC as the sixth-best conference behind the Big 12 (second) and the Pac-10 (fifth). Sagarin's computer ranking lists the SEC fifth behind the Pac-10 and the Big 12, which are ranked as the top two.
"By most objective measures, the SEC trails all of the other major conferences because of a very poor non-conference schedule and very poor non-conference results," said Jerry Palm, the man who broke the BCS code and runs collegebcs.com. "Florida's win over Florida State finally gave the league a quality non-conference win. Prior to that, the best was Alabama over Southern Miss, while the league had losses to the likes of Ohio, Navy, Rutgers and Maine. With Mississippi, Mississippi State, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, no league has a worse bottom than the SEC. Every conference has their dog, but the SEC has a pack."
Palm is not alone in his assessment.
"The SEC has been closer to the Mountain West, Conference USA, and the Big East than it has been to either the Big 12 or the Pac-10," Anderson said. "Arizona State has posted more non-conference wins versus the current BCS Top 25 (No. 9 Iowa and No. 25 UTEP) by itself than the entire SEC."
The worst excuse for the SEC's poor season is that its teams beat each other up. (Was Notre Dame in the SEC when it beat Tennessee at Neyland Stadium?)
"That argument doesn't make sense," Wolfe said. "The Pac-10 'beats itself up' more than the SEC because each Pac-10 team misses only one conference opponent each year, compared to, for example, Auburn, which misses three conference members this year."
While the Pac-10 and Big-12 each have two teams that have survived their schedules to remain in the top five, the SEC only had one team in the top 10 entering last Saturday. (Georgia has since moved up to No. 8).
6. I know nothing about college football because ... I think USC got slighted more last season than Auburn would this season if it goes undefeated and does not play in the Orange Bowl?
We're splitting hairs here since I already said an undefeated Auburn would be slighted if it was left out of the national title game. And although I agree that you can't really complain if you lose a game, I think we can all agree that what happened to USC last season -- falling to No. 3 in the BCS despite being ranked No. 1 in both polls -- was unprecedented.
However, Auburn would not be the first big-name school to go undefeated and not win at least a share of the national championship (see: Penn State, 1994). The Tigers never have been the consensus No. 2 team, let alone the No. 1, at any point this season. USC or Oklahoma, if they finish unbeaten, would have more to complain about if they are left out after being the consensus top two teams in the major polls all season.
With all that said Auburn fans, I hope for your sake that the Tigers are playing in the Orange Bowl come Jan. 4, but I just don't see it happening, and as much as you won't to fool yourselves, neither do the majority of the voters and computers.
War Eagle! Arash Markazi