Commentary

BCS antics leading to disturbing poll trend

Originally Published: November 30, 2008
By Brad Edwards | Special to ESPN.com

In the end, it was what we expected.

It just happened far differently than anyone had imagined.

Oklahoma will represent the Big 12 South in the conference championship game against Missouri on Saturday, giving the Sooners a chance to play their way into the BCS National Championship Game with a victory.

OU earned a berth in the Big 12 title game by being ranked higher than both Texas and Texas Tech in Sunday's BCS standings -- because the BCS ranking is the fifth and final tiebreaker to determine the division winner.

Oklahoma entered last week with a lead on its competition in the polls which account for two-thirds of the BCS formula, but the Sooners still trailed Texas in the computer element. A road win against No. 12 Oklahoma State vaulted Oklahoma ahead of the Longhorns in that part of the equation, giving OU an advantage which seemed insurmountable.

But it was barely enough.

Even after Oklahoma's 61-41 win at Stillwater, a significant number of voters decided to drop the Sooners behind the Longhorns on their ballots, allowing Texas to take a six-point lead in the Harris poll and come within one point of OU in the coaches' poll.

In other words, the cumulative total of the human element of the BCS formula had Texas ranked ahead of Oklahoma by the slimmest of margins. It was the computers that ultimately boosted the Sooners into the Big 12 championship game, and into the national championship game if they can beat the Tigers, as well.

Whether you side with Oklahoma or Texas in this debate, it's hard not to be disturbed by what happened in the polls on Nov. 30. Certainly, voters have every right to change their minds from week to week, but in this case, there seemed to be a much larger agenda at work.

In any normal week, there would be no rational explanation for Oklahoma (after winning 61-41 at No. 12 Oklahoma State) and Florida (after winning 45-15 at No. 20 Florida State) to both lose points in the polls and get jumped by a team that had a similar victory margin in a home game against an opponent with a losing record.

[+] EnlargeTexas Longhorns
AP Photo/Erich SchlegelApparently, Texas' victory over Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night carried a lot of weight with the voters.
In this particular week, it's just part of the BCS game.

In the previous two seasons, several final ballots had very questionable orderings of teams, and there's little doubt that we'd see the same thing this week if these ballots were made public. But they won't be, because this isn't the final week of the regular season.

Regardless, it's clear the polls have gotten out of control.

When the BCS was created many years ago, the polls were supposed to provide a passive element of the overall formula. But as the polls have been given more power, there's been a trend toward voters attempting to serve a very active role as a virtual selection committee.

Ballots have ceased to be one man's opinion. Some of them are trying to manipulate the outcome of the race, and that's not what the polls were intended to do.

Thanks to the Big 12 for exposing yet another flaw in this system!


Thanks in part to SEC opponents Georgia, South Carolina and Vanderbilt all losing nonconference games Saturday, No. 4 Florida lost some schedule strength in the BCS computers and still trails the No. 3 position in the BCS standings by a decent margin.

That raises the question: Is it still certain that Florida reaches the BCS National Championship Game by simply beating No. 1 Alabama on Saturday?

While there's obvious reason for Gators fans to be concerned, it remains highly unlikely that No. 3 Texas will stay ahead of Florida with many voters if UF wins the SEC title. If Oklahoma goes on to win the Big 12 championship, chances are good that some (if not most) of this week's Longhorns supporters will move the conference champion back ahead of UT on next week's ballots.

Also, with Alabama-Florida being a 1 versus 2 matchup in the Harris poll, and the Gators trailing No. 2 Oklahoma by only 12 points in this week's coaches' poll, it's probable that Florida will move to No. 1 in both polls if it wins the SEC title. That would pretty much ensure the Gators reach the top 2 of next week's BCS standings.

But if Florida wins the SEC and somehow doesn't climb higher than second in one of the polls, there's a chance Oklahoma and Texas could have a rematch for the BCS title.

Brad Edwards is a college football researcher at ESPN. His Road to the BCS appears weekly during the season.

• Analyzes college football and the CFB Playoff as part of ESPN's Stats & Information Group
• Analyst for both College GameDay on ESPN Radio and the ESPN College Football app

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