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# New BCS will have fewer plot twists

10/18/2004

It's that time of year again.

The initial release of the BCS Standings has become an annual excuse to look at a few categories and calculations and vent about all that is wrong with the world of college football. But for those who love controversy, this week should leave little to get excited about.

A revamped BCS formula will end everyone's fun by creating great symmetry between the BCS Standings and the traditional polls of record. That means no more blaming your team's misfortune on some computer programmer you've never met. Now, your frustrations must be directed at the 65 media members and 61 head coaches who collectively hold the authority to decide which teams will play for college football's national championship. That really puts a damper on your autumn, doesn't it?

Over the next several weeks, you'll see references in this column to the six computer ratings systems that are part of the BCS formula. Each team is rated by all six computers, its best and worst rankings are thrown out, and the other four numbers are used to derive that team's computer points. In the new BCS formula, these points are expressed as a percentage of a perfect score (a perfect score would be all No. 1 rankings) and account for one-third of a team's total BCS score. The rest of that score comes from the team's points in the AP media poll (one-third) and its points in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll (one-third).

These six computers are not allowed to consider scores of games (margin of victory) in their computations. For the most part, they are simply looking at wins and losses in relation to the strength of a team's schedule. Even so, they are different in their methods of applying these factors to their specific formulas and, therefore, all produce different results. Sometimes, the results can be noticeably different.

Here is a very brief overview of what makes these computers unique. Each ratings system is identified by the name of its creator.

Anderson & Hester: In addition to the conventional use of opponent records, these ratings also utilize conference strength to calculate the difficulty of a team's schedule. For example, when Alabama beat Southern Miss on Saturday, it also gave a slight boost to Auburn, Georgia and Tennessee.

Billingsley: These ratings put more emphasis on recent games than on early games, which helps a team like Florida State that started slow but has quality opponents late in the year. On the flip side, Utah's season-opening victory over Texas A&M will not be as significant in December as it might be in other computers.

Colley: With a heavy schedule strength element, these ratings favor teams that play in strong conferences and also challenge themselves in the non-conference schedule. If a few teams are undefeated at the end of the season, the ones with the tougher overall schedules will be ranked higher.

Massey: The BCS version of these rankings is very simple. It's half who you play and half what your record is. No other factors are taken into account.

Sagarin: Schedules are judged by quality opponents rather than a cumulative winning percentage. And because the schedule strength calculations take into account location of games, if two teams have the same record against comparable schedules, the team with the better road wins would likely be ranked higher.

Wolfe: Like Sagarin's, these ratings take into account game location as part of a complex formula to derive schedule strength. And because schedule strength is a point of emphasis, a once-beaten team with a killer schedule can surpass an undefeated team with no quality wins.

Since we're no longer able to discuss far-fetched scenarios resulting from factors such as schedule strength and quality wins, let's just take a look at some recent trends regarding the first look at the BCS Standings. This isn't as reliable as forecasting postseason failure for the Red Sox, but these numbers may offer some insight as to which teams have the best chance to be playing for a certain crystal football in January.

A look at the brief history of the BCS shows us that holding one of the coveted top-two positions means relatively little at this stage of the season. In the first six years of this system, only five of the 12 teams that had the inside track when the first standings were released still held one of those spots when the final standings were published. Only three of the 12 went undefeated through the rest of the regular season.

As you can see, the top two teams in the initial release have never met in the BCS title game.

Controversy brewing?

The biggest potential BCS controversy will happen if the regular season ends with more than two major undefeated teams.

Entering this week, there are five teams from major conferences that are still unbeaten. None play each other, but history says the odds of having more than two survive still aren't good.

The only time it's happened in the last 20 years involving three teams eligible for postseason play was 1992 (Miami, Alabama and Texas A&M).

The outsiders

Utah is in the Top 10 of the initial release, which is the highest debut position ever for a team outside of the major conferences.

Northern Illinois currently has the record at No. 10 last year.

Only one non-BCS school to be ranked in the initial Top 15 has ever completed the regular season undefeated (Marshall in 1999).