Pay no attention to these BCS standings
When the first Bowl Championship Series rankings came out in 2003, Louisiana State was ranked 12th. The Tigers ended up winning the title. Four years later, LSU lost its regular-season finale, dropping its record to 10-2 and sliding to seventh in the BCS standings. A week later the Tigers were selected for the title game anyway. They went on to hold the crystal football.
The BCS unveiled its first poll of the season Sunday – Oklahoma is No. 1, Oregon is No. 2, Boise State is No. 3 and so on.
There is and will be much consternation. There is and will be much fear. Much of it will be unnecessary. The BCS propaganda is about how every game matters or every week is a playoff or some other talking point.
History shows the exact opposite.
The first poll rarely matters – just once have the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the first standings met in the title game (2005: Texas vs. USC). While the No. 1 has reached the title game six of 12 years, twice those teams dropped before returning.
In 2007, South Florida, ranked second initially, didn’t even finish in the top 20.
Almost no major Big Six conference team in the top 10 or 12 is out of it. Those teams can sustain a loss (sometimes two) over the course of a season and still play for the BCS title. They can still lose this season. They can lose in November. They can even lose the final game they play.
Forget every game matters. In some years, with the BCS, a game can actually not matter at all.
In 2001, Nebraska lost its final game 62-36 to Colorado, watching the Buffaloes rack up more than 600 yards of total offense. The loss meant the Cornhuskers didn’t even advance to the Big 12 title game as champions of the league’s North Division. Two weeks later, without playing another game, they were selected for the BCS national title game anyway.
The Huskers somehow edged out Oregon, which, its then coach, Mike Bellotti, noted didn’t lose its final game by 26 points. He then unleashed what remains the gold standard of anti-BCS rants.
“I liken the BCS to a bad disease, like cancer,” Bellotti said.
In 2003, Oklahoma did manage to win its division, but the Sooners did the Huskers one better by losing the Big 12 title game to Kansas State by 28 points (35-7). The next day they got picked for the BCS championship game anyway.
We can go on. On message boards and in bar rooms across the country they still do. This isn’t to rehash every argument, some of the selections may have been proper (as least as “proper” as the flawed polls and non-math-based computer formulas of the BCS can be).
About the authors
Dan Wetzel and Jeff Passan write for Yahoo! Sports, the most-read sports site on the Web. Josh Peter, a former Yahoo! Sports reporter, is a freelance writer. Wetzel has coauthored four books, including the New York Times bestseller “Resilience: Faith, Focus, Triumph” with Alonzo Mourning, and lives in Michigan. Peter is an award-winning investigative journalist who has earned national attention for his reporting on the Bowl Championship Series. In 2005, he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for a series on race and high school football in the South. He lives in Los Angeles. Passan has won multiple Associated Press Sports Editors awards and lives in Kansas.
This is to tell the college football world to not panic about the initial standings. The debate rages, which is a fine distraction from looking at the inherent foolishness of determining a championship matchup – let alone revenue shares, conference power and recruiting might – based on the silly BCS standards.
Mostly it’s not to fall for the drivel about the importance of each game unless you know of another “playoff system” where losing by four touchdowns is cause for immediate advancement to the title game.
The BCS isn’t big on math, science or logic. It really isn’t big on history. It would rather forget previous disasters and count on broadcast partners to trot out the same tired public relations spin.
We’ve had teams such as Ohio State in 2007 lose at home in November and make it. We have had teams finish second despite losing head to head to the third-place team (Miami-Florida State in 2000, Nebraska-Colorado in 2001).
We’ve had teams not lose at all and not get a crack at the title – including an unbeaten SEC team, Auburn, in 2004.
“We beat five top 15 teams that year,” lamented then-Tigers coach Tommy Tuberville, now the head man at Texas Tech. “It’s just so much politics.”
In a bizarre way, that profound screw-job actually serves the BCS well. It’s what feeds the fury, the angst and the headlines that declared Alabama’s hopes over when they lost last week to South Carolina.
Were the Tide done? Not even close. If Alabama wins out (which would include victories over No. 4 Auburn and No. 6 LSU), there is probably only one scenario that can keep it out: if Oklahoma and Oregon are both unbeaten. The odds of both teams doing that aren’t good.
This could be a year a bunch of unbeatens get screwed. It could be a year where you can end the season with an ugly loss and move on anyway.
The only wild cards are the hopes of Boise State and No. 5 TCU (or No. 9 Utah). They’ve received a lot of attention yet they’ll need significant losses by everyone else to make the title game. That was always the case, though. Last year Boise State was ranked fourth in the first BCS standings, won every single game and finished sixth.
More intriguing is what if big conference teams that lack big brand recognition (Michigan State, Missouri, Oklahoma State) win out? Presuming Oklahoma and/or Oregon slip up, would they get a nod over Boise State? How about over a once-beaten Alabama? Perfect LSU or Auburn would certainly trump them.
There’s no way to know and there is nothing the BCS loves more than not knowing. All you can go with is history, which tells us the first standings don’t matter. The second-to-last standings don’t either.
So don’t fret, with the BCS it is always all an illusion. At least until the money gets counted.