Breaking down the BCS rankings

BY foxsports • October 16, 2011

The BCS is necessary for the national championship only if the LSU-Alabama winner and Oklahoma don't go unbeaten. At least, that's how it looks after the Tigers (No. 1), Tide (2) and Sooners (3) topped the first round of rankings released Sunday.

In 2009, the college football path went the straight and narrow, with everyone knowing that if Texas and the winner between Florida and Alabama in the SEC championship were unbeaten, then that was it. Everyone else was playing for giggles.

This year, the potential is there for a bit of controversy if Stanford, Boise State, Wisconsin, Clemson and Houston go unbeaten, but again, if the SEC champion and the Big 12 champion don’t have a blemish, then the title game most likely is set.

Because of the way the system is set up, the human pollsters don’t generally like to move teams out of the spots at the very top. Oklahoma was the preseason No. 1 team according to the coaches poll, and it’s not going to finish lower than second if it finishes 12-0. The same goes for Alabama and LSU if one of them goes 13-0 and wins the SEC title.

It doesn’t matter if Wisconsin beats everyone by 70, and it doesn’t make a difference if Stanford shuts out the rest if its opponents; the BCS will be interesting, at least in terms of the national championship, only if there’s a one-loss SEC champion and/or a one-loss Big 12 champion.

For all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the BCS, every bowl game other than the BCS championship is nothing more than a fun exhibition. There’s no playoff and there’s not going to be one for a long time, if at all, so while the BCS standings matter for bowl money and prestige, when it comes to the season, either you’re in the top two or you’re not.

Three key things to keep in mind when looking at the initial BCS rankings:

1) It’s all about the humans. The computers had Virginia Tech No. 1 in the final BCS rankings four years ago, and that meant a fat load of jack squat in the national title pairing. 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 Boise State playing for the national title, Boise State isn’t playing for the national title.

2) Don’t get into a twist over the computer rankings over the first few weeks. 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 different. Basically, the first half of the season doesn’t matter too much according to some of the formulas.

3) The AP poll is meaningless. Many major media outlets still use the AP rankings and reference them like they make a difference, but the coaches poll counts for a third, and the ever-mysterious Harris Poll counts for the other third of the human equation. Those are the ones to focus on and scrutinize.

The Big Winners: Oklahoma State (4th), Clemson (7th), Arkansas (9th).

The Big Losers: Wisconsin (6th), Stanford (8th), Kansas State (11th).

LSU beat Oregon, won at West Virginia, beat Florida and whacked around Tennessee and Mississippi State, but the computers didn't seem to care too much, putting the Tigers third. It doesn't matter. The humans always will have LSU in the top two, and as long as the wins keep coming, and as long as there's a win over Alabama next month and in the SEC championship, it'll be a short trip down the road on Jan. 9 for the bowl game.

Predicted Wins: Auburn, Western Kentucky, at Ole Miss, Arkansas
Predicted Losses: at Alabama
Predicted Final Record: 11-1
Predicted Bowl: Sugar
Toughest Remaining Tests: Auburn, at Alabama, Arkansas

Remaining Schedule: Auburn, at Alabama, Western Kentucky, at Ole Miss, Arkansas

2. ALABAMA (Score: .9519)

Alabama and LSU are in the same boat. If the winner of the epic showdown goes on to win the SEC championship and finishes unbeaten, it doesn't matter what anyone else does. The computers have the Tide No. 2, with four of the six putting them in the top two. Keep winning and all is fine.

Predicted Wins: Tennessee, LSU, at Mississippi State, Georgia Southern, at Auburn, SEC championship.
Predicted Losses: None
Predicted Final Record: 13-0
Predicted Bowl: BCS championship
Toughest Remaining Tests: LSU, at Mississippi State, at Auburn

3. OKLAHOMA (Score: .9301)

The No. 3 spot doesn't mean anything for the Sooners since Alabama and LSU play each other. Fifth according to two computer formulas and fourth in two others, there's still a "prove it'' factor, but that's because Florida State suffered a few key losses and Missouri has been a bit of a disappointment. No. 1 in the coaches poll and No. 3 in the Harris, OU is seven wins away from playing for the national title.

Predicted Wins: Texas Tech, at Kansas State, Texas A&M, at Baylor, Iowa State, at Oklahoma State
Predicted Losses: None
Predicted Final Record: 12-0
Predicted Bowl: BCS championship
Toughest Remaining Tests: at Kansas State, Texas A&M, at Baylor, at Oklahoma State

The computers love their Cowboys, ranked No. 1 in four formulas more because of the teams OSU is about to play than because of the mediocre schedule faced so far. Apparently, beating Louisiana-Lafayette is a big deal, and beating Texas A&M means the world. This ranking means the world, though, because now OSU controls its own destiny. With several good games left, including the date with Oklahoma, a 12-0 record means a shot at the national title. Not everyone can say that.

Predicted Wins: at Missouri, Baylor, Kansas State, at Texas Tech, at Iowa State
Predicted Losses: Oklahoma
Predicted Final Record: 11-1
Predicted Bowl: Fiesta
Toughest Remaining Tests: at Missouri, Kansas State, at Texas Tech, Oklahoma

5. BOISE STATE (Score: .8027)

Boise State isn't buying this spot; it's just renting. The computers aren't really interested, and they're going to be less and less enamored as the schedules get better for the BCS teams and weaker for the Broncos. The humans aren't going to help the cause and aren't going to give the respect due, since apparently no one can tell the difference between a great team playing a mediocre slate and a good team that looks great playing a mediocre slate. But Boise will win and win and win, and it'll keep hanging around until the end.

Predicted Wins: Air Force, at UNLV, TCU, at San Diego State, Wyoming, New Mexico
Predicted Losses: None
Predicted Final Record: 12-0
Predicted Bowl: Sugar
Toughest Remaining Tests: TCU, at San Diego State

6. WISCONSIN (Score: .7708)

When all is said and done, the Badgers probably are going to be at the center of the biggest controversy. Michigan State's defense could give some trouble, and Ohio State and Illinois could mess things up, but if Wisconsin plays like it did over the first half of the season, forget about it. However, the secondary has yet to be tested, and that's sort of the problem; the computers are happy to point out just how weak the slate has been, putting UW a painful 11th with one formula hammering home a No. 17 ranking. Winning out in the weak Big Ten probably isn't going to help the cause. Fortunately for the Badgers, the humans in both polls have Bucky No. 4.

Predicted Wins: at Michigan State, at Ohio State, Purdue, at Minnesota, at Illinois, Penn State, Big Ten championship
Predicted Losses: None
Predicted Final Record: 13-0
Predicted Bowl: Rose
Toughest Remaining Tests: at Michigan State, at Ohio State, at Illinois

All right, explain this one. Wisconsin at least beat Nebraska, and beating Northern Illinois is better than it looks — the Huskies have scored 40 or more on everyone but the Badgers — but it's 11th according to the computers, and Stanford, who has played no one, is ranked eighth. To be fair, the same formula that ranks Wisconsin 17th has Stanford 20th, and the Harris Poll isn't impressed with a No. 7 ranking, but everything could change with wins over Oregon and Notre Dame. But in a lousy Pac-12, it'll be tough to get too much respect.

Predicted Wins: Washington, at USC, at Oregon State, Oregon, California, Notre Dame
Predicted Losses: None
Predicted Final Record: 12-0
Predicted Bowl: Rose
Toughest Remaining Tests: Washington, at USC, Oregon, Notre Dame

8. CLEMSON (Score: .7582)

The Tigers deserve to be higher, but blame the humans who aren't on board yet. They've beaten Florida State, Auburn and Virginia Tech and have a better resume than anyone other than LSU, but it doesn't seem to matter with the No. 8 ranking. That will turn if the team keeps on winning, but a blowout over someone like Georgia Tech or South Carolina would be nice.

Predicted Wins: North Carolina, Wake Forest, at NC State, at South Carolina, ACC championship
Predicted Losses: at Georgia Tech
Predicted Final Record: 12-1
Predicted Bowl: Orange
Toughest Remaining Tests: North Carolina, Wake Forest, at Georgia Tech, South Carolina

9. ARKANSAS (Score: .6263)

The Hogs are could be in this. They need LSU to beat Alabama to have a shot, but they'll most likely end up being a victim on the silly rule that only two teams from the same conference can get a BCS bid. This is hardly a complete team, but it's the third-best team in the league. That's good enough to just miss out on a BCS bid, but the ranking will go up, with a top-five spot possible just before the LSU game.

Predicted Wins: at Ole Miss, at Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi State
Predicted Losses: at LSU
Predicted Final Record: 10-2
Predicted Bowl: Capital One Bowl
Toughest Remaining Tests: South Carolina, at LSU

10. OREGON (Score: .6190)

The Ducks are lurking, and could end up moving up in a big way if they can beat Stanford. The problem is the conference; it's awful. There are some nice wins, and beating Arizona State wasn't bad, but essentially, the national-title dream went goodbye with a loss to LSU in the opener.

Predicted Wins: at Colorado, Washington State, USC, Oregon State
Predicted Losses: at Stanford
Predicted Final Record: 10-2
Predicted Bowl: Fiesta
Toughest Remaining Tests: USC, at Stanford

In Range:

11. Kansas State (Score: 0.5688)

12. Virginia Tech (Score: 0.5048)

13. Nebraska (Score: 0.4972)

14. South Carolina (Score: 0.4914)

15. West Virginia (Score: 0.3730)

16. Michigan State (Score: 0.3288)

17. Texas A&M (Score: 0.3074)

18. Michigan (Score: 0.2995)

19. Houston (Score: 0.2863)

20. Auburn (Score: 0.2645)

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