BCS 101: Very little separates one-loss teams
It happened. USC lost. The floodgates are open. The BCS chaos is upon us. And the numbers provide tremendous insight into just how wide open this whole thing now is -- so let's get right to them.
Without delving into too much mathematical mumbo-jumbo, here's a basic explanation of how to interpret the BCS standings.
The maximum possible score a team could have in the standings is 1.0. This would be a team that was a unanimous No. 1 in both polls (Harris Interactive and USA Today) and No. 1 in the average computer ranking.
Ohio State is actually fairly close to achieving that perfect score -- the Buckeyes are a unanimous No. 1 in the USA Today poll; they received all but one of the first-place votes in the Harris Interactive Poll; and their average computer ranking is 2. Michigan isn't far behind, thanks to an average computer ranking of 1 and a solid second-place showing in both polls.
0.7862: West Virginia is third in the BCS. The Mountaineers' BCS average is way behind OSU and Michigan at 0.7862.
Now for the perspective:
0.1835: The difference between second-place Michigan and third-place West Virginia is 0.1835.
0.0862: The difference between third-place West Virginia and 11th-place Tennessee is 0.0862 -- meaning the difference between second and third place is more than twice the difference between third and 11th.
What does this mean? Ohio State and Michigan are way ahead of everyone else in the BCS. However, assuming the loser of the Ohio State-Michigan game (Nov. 18) falls out of the top two (not a certainty, by the way), the next nine teams are so tightly grouped that any and all of them are very much in the BCS championship game picture. Bottom line -- thanks to USC's loss, this thing is totally up in the air.
As for Ohio State and Michigan, it's hard to imagine a whole lot of scoring when they meet, as both teams are putting up some staggering defensive numbers:
12: Michigan has allowed one touchdown in its last 12 quarters.
13: Not to be outdone, the Buckeyes have allowed one TD in their last 13 quarters.
7.33: Ohio State leads the nation in scoring defense, giving up just 7.33 points per game. I know I've harped on this a bit this year, but it truly boggles the mind -- this is a team that was fifth in the nation in scoring defense last year and had six players drafted from that side of the ball, including three in the first round. The Buckeyes lost nine defensive starters in all, yet they're giving up exactly one touchdown less per game than they did last season.
18: Michigan's offense, which has performed a bit underwhelmingly in its past three games, will have the unenviable task of trying to score on the Buckeyes. Michigan averaged just 18 points in wins over Penn State, Iowa and Northwestern. The 17-point performance Michigan had against Northwestern was precisely half as many points as New Hampshire got against the Wildcats.
Granted, Michigan has been without star wide receiver Mario Manningham for all three of those games, but it does make you wonder a bit about the Wolverines' offensive firepower. They'll try to get well this week on a Ball State team that is 116th nationally in total defense.
22-2: As for Ohio State's offense, it certainly appears to be more explosive than the Wolverines', thanks in large part to Heisman front-runner Troy Smith. Smith has thrown 22 touchdown passes this year and just two interceptions. He's also 22-2 as a starter for OSU. How's that for symmetry?
4: The Buckeyes' opponent this week, Illinois, does appear to be improving a bit under Ron Zook, as evidenced by the fact that it actually led at the half in its last four conference games. Sadly for the Illini, they've won only one of them, which would seem to indicate that Zook's halftime speeches could use a little improvement.
So, that's Ohio State and Michigan for you. Just two weeks of hype to go. In the meantime, with the BCS as tightly grouped as it is, let's take a look at some key numbers among the one-loss challengers.
24: There was a lot of hand-wringing in Austin, Texas, this spring and summer regarding how the defending national champions would replace explosive quarterback Vince Young. Although Colt McCoy obviously is nowhere near as dynamic as Young, he has put up some impressive numbers -- most notably, his 24 touchdown passes -- already the third-best total in Texas single-season history behind only Chris Simms in 2002 and Vince Young last year.
With three regular-season games, presumably the Big 12 championship and a bowl game still to go, McCoy is a virtual shoo-in to break the mark of 26 that Simms and Young share.
As for one-loss Florida, we noted last week in this space that the Gators' offensive production is still well behind where it was in Zook's final year in Gainesville. This could provide part of the explanation:
4: In its eight games this year, Florida has faced four teams in the top 25 nationally in total defense, the most of any top-10 team.
4: The top five teams in the AP poll (Ohio State, Michigan, West Virginia, Texas and Louisville) have faced a combined total of four top-25 defenses heading into this week's games -- or the same amount the Gators have faced individually.
10.3: Amazingly, after getting steamrolled for 50 points and 472 yards in its season-opening loss to USC, Arkansas, another of the one-loss BCS hopefuls, has worked its way up to No. 25 in total defense. Even more remarkably, after yielding half a hundred in the opener, the Hawgs are 18th nationally in scoring defense, having given up just 10.3 ppg in their seven outings since USC put up 50 on them.
6-12: That record stands in stark contrast with how Wake fared against those three in the six seasons before Grobe took over in Winston-Salem, as the Demon Deacons went 6-12 against the Blue Devils, Tar Heels and Wolfpack.
1-13: Of course, a lot of Grobe's success against those three programs can be explained quite simply -- they're not very good, and really haven't been for a while. On the other hand, this week's opponent for Wake, Boston College, is good; the Eagles also have one loss, and they're ranked No. 16. This does not bode well for Grobe, who's just 1-13 at Wake against ranked teams.
1958, 1975: Now that USC has lost, Cal resides in first place in the Pac-10, but it too has one loss, having been pummeled by Tennessee in the season opener. Still, the Cal athletic department is quick to point out that the Golden Bears lost their first game in 1958 and 1975, the last two times they won a conference championship. A good omen, perhaps?
1960, 1961, 1962, 1965, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1984, 1986, 1989, 1994, 1995, 2001, 2003: Since its last Rose Bowl appearance after that 1958 season, Cal also lost its first game in 1960, 1961, 1962, 1965, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1984, 1986, 1989, 1994, 1995, 2001 and 2003, and didn't win a conference championship, so it might be a bit risky to make those Pasadena travel plans based solely on that little 1958, 1975 trend.
2nd: The Wisconsin Badgers' Bret Bielema has done a truly remarkable job in his first year as the head coach. In fact, if Wisconsin can win two of its final three regular-season games (Penn State, at Iowa, Buffalo), the Badgers would have just the second 10-win regular season in school history.
35: If he reaches that 10-win plateau, Bielema would need to post just 35 more 10-win seasons to reach Joe Paterno's current win total of 360.
101-7: Before we leave the one-loss BCS championship hopefuls, a thought about Tennessee's challenge as it tries to remain in that category. The Vols host an LSU team Saturday that has outscored its opponents 101-7 in the first quarter this year.
1st: The Bayou Bengals are first in the SEC in total offense, total defense, scoring offense and scoring defense. Bottom line: Despite its two losses, LSU is really, really good, yet the Tigers aren't even among the SEC teams with a shot at playing in the BCS championship game. It does lend some credence to the argument that a team that can make it through the SEC with one loss deserves a chance to play for all the marbles.
Leaving the one-loss teams behind, there are a couple of other games worth examining with major implications in conference races.
18-31: Maryland still controls its own destiny in the ACC Atlantic as the Terps prepare to face Clemson on Saturday (ESPN2, noon ET). Yet you'd be hard-pressed to find many outside College Park who believe the Terps are for real. The six teams they've beaten so far are a combined 18-31, and their average margin of victory in their three ACC wins is less than four points.
10: The Terps would gain some believers if they could win at Clemson, though -- especially as they'll be facing a Tigers squad likely to be motivated after getting humiliated last time out against Virginia Tech. Clemson's high-powered offense was forced to punt 10 times in that game. That's as many times as the Tigers had kicked it away in their previous five games combined.
Meanwhile, in Lincoln, it's the battle for the Big 12 North Division lead between Nebraska and Missouri (ABC, noon ET). No great secret as to what the Blackshirts will need to do to slow down the Tigers.
360, 359: Missouri totaled 360 yards of total offense in its loss to Oklahoma last week. Tigers quarterback Chase Daniel was responsible for 359 of those yards.
281st: The Missouri-Nebraska game will be the 281st straight sellout in Lincoln, dating back, coincidentally, to another game against Mizzou back in 1962. That sellout streak is nearly 100 ahead of Notre Dame, which is second nationally with 189 in a row.
Finally, we return to one of the six remaining unbeatens for the always-dangerous transitive property, which works perfectly in mathematics (if a=b and b=c, then a=c), but has some scary applications in sports.
Still, consider this one as Boise State tries to stake its claim to a BCS spot:
42-14: Boise State beat Oregon State 42-14 back on Sept. 7. Looks a tad more impressive after what the Beavers did to USC on Saturday.
We'll be following all the teams -- BCS hopefuls, also-rans and everyone in between on ESPN Radio's "College GameDay." Hope you'll join us then.
Dave Revsine is the host of "College GameDay" on ESPN Radio. Listen every Saturday from noon to 7 p.m. ET as Gerry DiNardo, Todd McShay and Revsine break down the action.
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