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The Inside Track | Chris Dufresne / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

It Doesn't Compute to Give the BCS Nerds Such Power

November 17, 2003|Chris Dufresne

There is nothing wrong with the bowl championship series that I cannot fix with seven phone calls.

These would not even be tough dials compared with firing the baby sitter or Uncle Max, your tax accountant.

The problem with the BCS standings this year, last year and every year since 1998 are the computer nerds who dazzle us with their mumbo-jumbo math but have contributed only miscalculation and mayhem to the process.

With another potential potboiler controversy on the horizon -- Ohio State passing USC for the all-important No. 2 spot in the BCS even as USC continues to blow out opponents and Ohio State ekes out victories -- there will be calls to junk the system and demands for a playoff.

Because a full-blown playoff isn't going to happen anytime soon, a point reiterated by Oregon President David Frohnmayer at Sunday's BCS meetings in New Orleans, I have a better idea:

Keep the BCS standings but 86 the computer component, the most volcanic of the four components that make up the rankings system.

Ring, ring, hello, New York Times? I have some news for you that may not be fit to print.

Anderson & Hester? Get out of town and don't forget your ampersand.

Richard Billingsley? We'd rather have Barbara Billingsley recite a ratings system to us ... .in jive.

It's amazing what happens to the BCS standings when you remove the computer average from the equation ... they work.

Take this year. Almost everyone would agree Oklahoma and USC are the top two teams in the country and probably ought to play each other for the national title in the Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl.

Yet, Ohio State is making a serious push on USC for the No. 2 spot and it appears more and more, to earn a Sugar Bowl bid, the Trojans will need Michigan to defeat Ohio State on Saturday at Ann Arbor, Mich.

One reason: Ohio State may be a full point ahead of USC today in the BCS computer component for reasons we are at a loss to explain.

Ohio State was second in five of the seven computers last week while USC was second in one.

Sunday evening, USC received another blow when the New York Times computer incredibly dropped the Trojans from third to fifth after a 45-0 victory at Arizona.

Meanwhile, the New York Times moved two-loss Texas from fifth to third, yes, the same Texas that lost to Oklahoma, 65-13.

If you removed the computer component, Oklahoma, USC and Ohio State are still your top three teams, with a difference.

In last week's BCS standings, USC held a 1.46-point lead over Ohio State.

Without the computer element, USC would have held a 2.12-point margin, more reflective of the cushion it deserves.

Last week's top 10 without the computer average would have had Texas Christian at No. 9 instead of No. 6, also a more accurate assessment of a team with the No. 87 schedule strength.

The BCS seems to work just fine if you total poll average and strength of schedule, deduct one point for each loss and reward a team for a "quality win."

In fact, if you go back to 1998, the BCS standings minus computers would have rendered the fairest final national standings.

The two most controversial outcomes occurred in 2000 and 2001, when many people believed the best two teams did not meet for the national title.

In 2000, Oklahoma and Miami were No. 1 and No. 2 in both polls but Florida State nipped Miami for the No. 2 BCS spot by 0.32 even though Miami had beaten Florida State.

The 2000 BCS standings, without computers, would have justly rendered Oklahoma (1.44), Miami (3.12) and Florida State (4.08)

A year later, Nebraska nosed out Colorado for the second BCS spot by 0.05, even though many believed Oregon, No. 2 in both polls but No. 4 in the BCS, should have played No. 1 Miami in the Rose Bowl.

If you recalculate the 2001 standings and take out the computers, the finish would have been Miami (1.72), Oregon (4.24), Colorado (5.08) and Nebraska (5.56).

What could have been more fair than that? Colorado had two losses, so it really didn't have a claim against one-loss Oregon. But Colorado should have finished ahead of Nebraska after drubbing the Cornhuskers, 62-36, the day after Thanksgiving.

Of course, telling the number-punchers to take a hike this late in the BCS game, well, maybe that just makes too much sense.

Weekend Wrap

Best guesses about today's BCS standings: If USC hangs on to the No. 2 spot, it will be very, very close. The New York Times' dropping of the Trojans from third to fifth could make USC-Ohio State a virtual dead heat.

Also, look for Texas Christian to slip for now from last week's No. 6 spot, which is important because, as a non-BCS school, the Horned Frogs have to finish in the top six to earn an automatic BCS bowl berth. TCU can be picked as an at-large so long as it stays in the top 12.

Flip-flop. Two years ago, the BCS demanded the computers remove margin of victory from their equations in part because Oregon was penalized for winning too many close games. Interestingly, that rule change is now hurting USC, which has blown out several opponents, and helping Ohio State. In the last two years, Ohio State is 12-1 in games decided by seven points or fewer.

Penn State Coach Joe Paterno couldn't brag much about picking up career victory No. 339 on Saturday against Indiana. "We're still 3-8," he said. Paterno left no doubt that he was returning in 2004, "even if we lost today and next weekend."

And although no single statistic will stop the flow of "Joe must go" sentiment, this one might provide some context. With his record of 339-108-3, Paterno would have to go 0-12 every season for roughly the next 19 years to fall to .500 for his career, a winning percentage that still would exceed those of current top coaches Gary Barnett of Colorado and Glen Mason of Minnesota.

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