This is it. This is the last time we’ll ever have to care about the BCS ever again. Next year at this time the college football world will finally — FINALLY! — be rid of the dreaded BCS. And instead fans, coaches and pundits everywhere can instead focus their ire and angst on the playoff committee and whatever four teams end up making the cut for — cue dramatic music with thunder clap — the College Football Playoff.
But before we look ahead, let’s look back. It’s been a while since the regular season ended with a real BCS mess. Remember, it’s easy to pick the top two teams if there are only two unbeatens from big conferences (or Notre Dame) left standing. If the BCS is really doing its job, it’s able to compare apples to oranges and wade through all the rhetoric and beliefs. Yeah, a one-loss team from one power conference really might be more deserving than an unbeaten team from another power conference, but that problem hasn’t come up yet.
The BCS is overdue to get messy.
For the most part, the BCS has lucked out over the years — especially recently — with few major controversies in terms of coming up with the two teams to play in the BCS Championship Game. And as goofy as the system might be, and for all of its flaws and quirks, it has yet to leave us with a cheap national champion. There’s no wild card and there’s no seven-game series. If you end up holding up the crystal ball in a shower of confetti, no matter how you got there, you earned the title.
So with Sunday’s release of the first BCS standings of 2013, it’s time to dig deep within the numbers and gauge the college football landscape, and try to predict some of the twists and turns we will encounter on our way to Pasadena, Calif., for Jan. 6’s championship game,
But before diving into the most important aspects of these initial standings, here are three key things to keep in mind.
1) It’s all about the humans. The computers had Virginia Tech No. 1 in the 2007 final BCS standings, and that meant a fat load of jack squat when it came time to make the actual national title matchup — LSU and Ohio State got the nod. The computers count for a third of the rankings, while the humans account for the other two-thirds. In other words, if The Man doesn’t want Northern Illinois or Fresno State to play for the national title, Northern Illinois and Fresno State aren’t playing for the national title.
2) Don’t get into a twist over the computer rankings over the first few weeks — especially right now. Many of the formulas kick into gear once the entire season is over, so the difference between the second-to-last computer rankings and the final ones could be night and day. Basically, the first half of the season doesn’t matter at all according to some of the formulas.
3) The AP poll is meaningless. Many major media outlets still use and reference the AP rankings, but the coaches’ poll counts for a third of the BCS standings, and the ever-mysterious Harris Poll counts for another third (and the other half of the human equation). Those are the ones to focus on and scrutinize.
Here’s what matters from the first BCS ranking of this season …
Oregon fans … relax
Again, don’t get too hung up on the first ranking. First of all, there’s a long, long way to go, and these things usually work themselves out on the field. But even if No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Florida State and No. 3 Oregon all win out, the Ducks will almost certainly finish in the top two. At the moment, Oregon is just 0.0028 behind Florida State, and as long as it’s No. 2 in both human polls, and as long as it keeps winning — with Stanford, UCLA, Oregon State and a possible Pac-12 championship still on the schedule — the computers will come around. Right now, FSU is first and Oregon fourth among the computers.
Missouri controls its own destiny
An undefeated SEC champion will almost certainly be on top of the BCS pecking order, so even though Missouri is No. 5 in the first BCS standings, everything is there for the taking. The computers adore the Tigers, ranking them No. 3, and that will only get better if the wins keep coming. Beat South Carolina, beat Tennessee, beat Ole Miss, beat Texas A&M — and beat Alabama in the SEC championship game — and it’s a done deal.
Ohio State doesn’t control its own destiny
The Buckeyes need a ton of help. The computers have them at No. 5, and that won’t likely change without some big losses by teams ahead of them. More importantly, the humans have to ramp up the ranking from No. 4. An unbeaten Ohio State would get into the BCS Championship Game over a one-loss Pac-12 champion and a one-loss ACC champ, but it’s a coin-flip on whether or not it would make it over a one-loss SEC champion. It would be a huge help if Oregon and Florida State both lose to avoid a choice between Ohio State and an SEC champ.
If a team from outside of the BCS conferences finishes in the top 12, it’s automatically in the BCS. Or, if a team from outside of the BCS finishes in the top 16 and ahead of a BCS conference champion — AAC schools Louisville and UCF are currently 20th and 23rd, respectively — it’s in. Fresno State (Mountain West) is No. 17 and Northern Illinois (MAC) No. 18. The BCS doesn’t have to take both of them if they qualify, but as long as one moves up a few spots, which it most certainly would by winning out, it’ll get into a big-money game.
The human polls are wrong
At the end of the day, the BCS is still a beauty contest with judges deciding the top teams. The problem is that two-thirds of the equation comes from the humans, and the polls have fatal flaws, especially this week.
For example, UCF, whose only loss came to South Carolina, just handed Louisville its first loss at Louisville. At the moment, based on what happened on the field so far, there’s no rational explanation for not ranking UCF ahead of Louisville. However, UCF is ranked 25th in both the Harris and coaches’ polls while Louisville is an inexplicable 16th.
Worse yet, Auburn has just one loss on the year — at then-No. 6 LSU — on the way to its 6-1 record. Texas A&M is 5-2 with a loss to Alabama along with Saturday’s loss to Auburn. That means the Tigers have a better record and a head-to-head win over the Aggies, but Texas A&M is 13th and Auburn is 15th in the Harris Poll, and A&M is 15th in the coaches’ poll while Auburn is 17th.
Fortunately, the computers helped the cause to help make Auburn No. 11 in the BCS standings, five spots ahead of Texas A&M. But Louisville is 20th in the BCS (despite being 28th by the computers) and UCF is 23rd even though it’s 19th among the computers. Blame the humans.
The BCS standings are determined by these polls, so if there’s something off, it hurts the overall credibility, and it throws the whole thing out of whack.