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The Inside Track | Chris Dufresne / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

All Geeked Up to See Their Favorite Program

October 20, 2003|Chris Dufresne

In terms of anticipation, it may not rank up there with Arbor Day or renewing a subscription to "Quartile Rank Quarterly," yet today's release of the first bowl championship series standings is certainly a goose-bump moment for anyone who has ever been fitted for corrective lenses.

For the computer geeks, this is opening day.

We hear Steve Urkel is singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at BCS Matrix Stadium while Jeff Sagarin has been designated to throw out the first decimal point.

This is the sixth year that college football will use a rating system to determine its championship-game participants. And, while it is controversial, the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs might kill for such a system to advance teams into the World Series.

Why the BCS?

In 1998, after the Rose Bowl agreed to join the alliance in a move that would allow the nation's top two teams to be paired in a title game, college football needed a way to provide those participants.

You couldn't rely on the writers' and coaches' polls, because they operated independently and often disagreed on the top teams. Besides, a number of voting writers were wary of becoming more a part of the story than they already were.

With input from others, including a couple of national college football writers (but not me), then-Southeastern Conference commissioner Roy Kramer created a four-pronged ratings system that would mesh the poll system with a computer poll and strength-of-schedule index.

Has the BCS worked?

Sure, but so did the Spruce Goose.

In three of the previous five years, most would agree, the system has correctly identified No. 1 and No. 2.

As any foul-ball seeking Cub fan can tell you, that is a .600 batting average.

Of course, college football is supposed to do better than that.

In 2000, Florida State edged Miami for the No. 2 spot by 0.32 of a point in the BCS rankings despite the fact Miami was No. 2 in both polls and had defeated Florida State head-to-head.

David Rothman, one of the computer men then, confessed he had not even seen the Florida State-Miami game because he was attending a seminar.

"We have standings," Rothman said. "I don't have to watch a minute of football."

And they called this progress.

In 2001, Miami and Oregon finished No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in both the Associated Press and coaches' poll.

Miami and Oregon for the national title in the Rose Bowl?

Well, no. Miami played Nebraska, which had edged out Colorado in the final BCS rankings by 0.05, even though Nebraska was coming off a 62-36 loss at Colorado.

Oregon was a distant fourth because the Ducks were penalized by the computer men for winning too many close games.

That prompted the BCS to order computer operators to eliminate margin of victory from their rankings or get out. A few operators, including Rothman, did leave.

There are now seven computers involved in the system, and this component remains the most volatile in a formula that includes components of poll average and schedule strength.

As the saying goes in the computer poll business, we agree to disagree: Last weekend, for example, undefeated Northern Illinois was No. 3 in Jeff Sagarin's ratings and No. 22 in the New York Times'.

There shouldn't be any early-season BCS drama. Oklahoma and Miami are going to be No. 1 and No. 2 this week, but things could get interesting in the coming weeks.

Virginia Tech also is undefeated, yet the Hokies could get jumped by one-loss Georgia because the Bulldogs' schedule is tougher.

If it comes down to a battle of one-loss teams for one or both BCS spots, USC will be a factor in the race for the Sugar Bowl.

No one said the BCS was the end-all, or the answer to a playoff.

After five years going on six, though, it isn't boring, either.

*

Weekend Wrap

Sugar Bowl tracking poll: In the game this week: Oklahoma and Miami. The game we all wanted to see in 2000 when the schools finished No. 1 and No. 2 in the polls but the BCS handed us Oklahoma vs. Florida State in the Orange Bowl.

In the hunt: Virginia Tech, Georgia, USC, Florida State, Washington State, Ohio State, Louisiana State ... for now. The BCS bake-off picture gets murkier Nov. 1 when No. 2 Miami (7-0) plays at No. 3 Virginia Tech (6-0), which will add another one-loss team to the mix.

Taking care of business: Pete Carroll's USC Trojans have won their last four games against Notre Dame and UCLA by the cumulative score of 168-48.

Collision-course alert: Ohio State has the 114th-ranked offense this week, while UCLA checks in at No. 112. If the schools don't improve, they may end up playing in ... the Rose Bowl. That's right. UCLA is tied for the Pacific 10 Conference lead while Ohio State is only a game behind Michigan State in a tight Big Ten race, and the Buckeyes can get the tiebreaker advantage if they beat the Spartans on Nov. 8.

Link or missing link, you decide: On the heels of fireronzook.com, there's now an Internet site devoted to the ouster of Penn State Coach Joe Paterno. You'd think 338 career wins would buy you some job security, but not even college football icons are safe in cyberspace. "The more JoePa coaches, the better he was," the Web site "reports." The page also makes the disclaimer: "This site is not affiliated with Penn State University in any way." Gee, really?

Good move: I sure was glad to see Mississippi State Coach Jackie Sherrill announce his "retirement" before someone announced it for him.

And you thought Dennis Rodman could rebound: With Texas' win over Iowa State on Saturday, Longhorn Coach Mack Brown is 6-0 in weeks after he has played Oklahoma.

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