- Brad Edwards, ESPN Insider
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The early warning signs came in September.
When Purdue and Minnesota were still undefeated on Sept. 25, both teams attempted to score late touchdowns in their respective conference openers after victory was already in hand. Joe Tiller and Glen Mason were criticized by the media for their decisions, and we might never know what each coach's motivation was on that day, but I sure thought there was a strong argument for doing what they did.
Last week, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops presented that case loud and clear.
"...when it gets down to if you're trying to impress voters, maybe in other parts of the country that haven't seen the game, that are looking at the score and looking at statistics and wanting to see, 'Hey, how did you really play here?' Another score helps you in that regard."
After seeing his team ranked third in the initial BCS Standings, Stoops seemed to lament not taking advantage of a late scoring opportunity against friend and former assistant coach Mike Leach when the Sooners played Texas Tech on Oct. 2, thinking it could have possibly made a slight difference in the polls.
"I think it's fair to say, in some of those instances, we might do something different (from now on) if need be," added Stoops.
And that's exactly what Stoops did on Saturday. Against another friend and former assistant coach, Mark Mangino of Kansas, the Sooners had a 25-point lead with less than a minute-and-a-half to play and the ball on the Jayhawks' 8-yard line. On first-and-goal, Jason White threw incomplete into the end zone. On third-and-goal, he connected with Mark Bradley for a touchdown with just 35 seconds remaining in the game.
Uninformed observers may have thought Stoops was just blatantly trying to cover the 27-point betting line, but he acknowledged afterward that the BCS Standings were indeed on his mind.
"As opposed to just sitting on the ball the last minute of the game, it forces you to play," he said. "For me to sit here and say it's no factor, I don't think that'd be telling the truth."
Mike Lupica and every other columnist in the country could accuse Stoops of running up the score this year, and he'll probably agree with them. He's just doing what any coach should do for his players: giving them the best possible chance to win the national title. Don't blame Stoops. Don't blame Tiller or Mason either. They're just playing the hand they've been dealt.
After the 2000 season, the BCS brain trust decided to eliminate margin of victory as a factor in the computer ratings, feeling it encouraged coaches to run up the score on overmatched opponents to gain favor in the BCS Standings. That wasn't in the spirit of the game, they said. That wasn't what college football is all about.
Well, those people who sought to promote all that sportsmanship apparently changed their minds when people started yelling at them after USC got a raw deal from their adjusted formula a year ago. In their haste to rid themselves of future controversy, the BCS leaders decided to allow the polls to count for two-thirds of the new-and-improved BCS formula. That, of course, is the root of this problem.
Most coaches know, because they either are or have been voters themselves, that the majority of people who vote in these polls don't see many games on a given Saturday. And knowing the voters are looking at scores and stats to see what they missed, the secret to impressing them is, well, not a secret at all.
Whether the BCS folks like it or not, sportsmanship will take a backseat to championship dreams this season.
Brad Edwards is a college football researcher at ESPN. His Road to the BCS appears weekly during the season.
2hAndrea Adelson and Matt Fortuna
2hSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information