Again, the BCS Gets It Wrong

The new, improved Bowl Championship Series formula was supposed to solve the problems of last season. So why is Oklahoma--No. 2 in both polls--on the outside looking in this week?
October 24, 2004

Thought all the tweaks and retweaks to the Bowl Championship Series formula would finally end all controversy? Think again. The Orange Bowl--this season's BCS title game--is more than two months away, but griping about the process to select the two teams has already begun. In the season's first BCS rankings, released on Monday, USC, which clobbered Arizona State 45-7 last Saturday, rightfully sat at No. 1. But Miami, which squeaked past Louisville 41-38 last Thursday, occupied the No. 2 position ahead of an Oklahoma team that shut out Texas two weeks ago and ground past Kansas State 31-21 on Saturday. Needless to say, the AP and coaches' polls saw things differently. Oklahoma was No. 2 in both polls; Miami was ranked No. 3 by the coaches and No. 4 (behind 7-0 Auburn) by the AP.

As usual, the fault lay with the BCS's six computer rankings--ironic given that the BCS made changes in the off-season to give humans more say than machines in the national championship race. Strength of schedule (the culprit in shutting USC--the AP and coaches' No. 1--out of the Sugar Bowl last year) was tossed out, as were the penalties for losses and the bonuses for defeating high-ranked teams. This season's "simplified" formula gives one-third weight to each of the polls and one-third to the average computer ranking. The Sooners' computer score this week was low enough to drag them below Miami.

The reason is that schedule strength still factors into the individual computer rankings. The Hurricanes have beaten two one-loss teams, Florida State and Louisville, while Oklahoma has beaten just one, Texas. In addition, margin of victory is no longer a factor in the computer rankings. "The machines can't see the scores," says Jeff Sagarin, who had Oklahoma 10th in the ranking that the BCS uses but second in another of his systems, which takes winning margin into account. "They don't know that Miami had a miracle comeback against Florida State, or that the Miami quarterback almost had a pass intercepted by a Louisville player in the final minute."

It's a twist of fate for the Sooners, a team that many thought didn't deserve to play in last year's national title game after losing to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game. But on Monday afternoon Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops didn't seem worried. "There is too much of this season left to play for anyone to get too worked up about this now," he said. "The bottom line is that you have to go out there and win your games."

If they do, the Sooners should reach the Orange Bowl. According to the computer experts, the schedule strength of teams such as Miami and Auburn (BCS No. 4) and, for that matter, non-BCS conference teams such as Utah (BCS No. 7) is likely to fall, while that of Oklahoma, which has yet to face one-loss Texas A&M and Oklahoma State, should go up. Moreover, a lower-ranked unbeaten such as 7-0 Wisconsin (No. 6 in the BCS) is too far down in the polls to enter the picture unless the unbeatens above it fall. "With so little data, the computers haven't caught up to the Sooners yet," says BCS analyst Jerry Palm. "Oklahoma controls its own destiny."

College football fans can only hope that's true, given the vagaries of this confounded system. --Kelley King

COLOR PHOTOGARY BOGDON STILL SOARING Ronnie Brown (23) and Auburn hurdled Arkansas to stay unbeaten. COLOR PHOTOSIMON BRUTY KEY POINT Brandon Williams and Wisconsin need help from other teams to end up in Miami.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)