Let The BCS Debate Begin

Well the BCS standings have been released, and as expected, Ohio State is No. 2, not Auburn. Much discussion has ensued, from fans all over the Internet to the talking heads on ESPN. Let me help you sort out all of this.

Keep in mind, anyone can play for the championship. Two-thirds of the BCS rankings are human polls. If those 130 or so voters between the two polls wanted, they could vote Auburn as No. 1 and Florida State as No. 2. That would give Auburn the bump it needs to pass Ohio State in the final BCS standings. So this is a very relevant discussion.

Also, and more importantly, there are still football games to be played. Remember when we were talking about undefeated Oregon, Florida State, Ohio State, Alabama and Baylor? Who would get passed over? Turns out it didn’t matter. Only two are left. Florida State is a 4 touchdown favorite over Duke, so safe to say they will move on. But you never know. Ohio State will have their hands full with Michigan State, so no guarantees there. And Auburn has to face Missouri, so it could be Missouri who comes out 12-1 from the SEC. The real debate begins after next weekend.

So, with that in mind, what if there were no conference championships? What if the season was over right now? Should Florida State play Ohio State for the national championship as the BCS standings say?

A lot is being made over strength of schedule. Auburn fans are saying they play a much harder schedule than Ohio State, so having one more loss should be overlooked because it was harder to win those games. Great, so Stanford should be playing for the championship over Auburn, right? I mean, they played the hardest schedule in the country, and they only lost one more game than Auburn. So by that logic, shouldn’t that be overlooked? Shouldn’t Stanford be ahead of Auburn on strength of schedule?

See how that argument is pointless? Someone always has a stronger schedule. Someone always has a better win. You can go on forever about that, but you get nowhere. Let’s even look at the schedules of all the undefeated and one-loss teams right now. Here is each team with their schedule strength rank according to ESPN’s Power Index, ordered descending:

Auburn: 38
Missouri: 45
Oklahoma State: 48
Alabama: 54
Michigan State: 59
Ohio State: 64
Florida State: 68
Baylor: 69
UCF: 94
Northern Illinois: 106
Louisville: 120
Fresno State: 122

Well look at that, would these Auburn fans suggest Oklahoma State be ranked ahead of Alabama? Or that Michigan State should be ahead of Florida State? You aren’t ranked on schedule strength alone. Now considering we have more games coming, this gets interesting. Auburn or Missouri will drop off this list with the remaining team getting a bump up. Oklahoma State will move up if they beat Oklahoma. Alabama is stuck. Michigan State and Ohio State will play and that will boost both their strengths of schedule. FSU will get a bump from Duke. Baylor gets a bump from Texas. Northern Illinois gets a bump from Bowling Green, but they are pretty far down there.

So these numbers will definitely change. But the order will probably be close to the same. Here’s what doesn’t make sense. Auburn has played the hardest schedule there, but not much harder than anyone else. The Pac-12 teams have played the hardest schedules, all of them in the top 10 for schedule strength. But they all have two losses. So ask yourself, if Auburn played Stanford’s schedule, would they still have just one loss? So again we can’t make this argument because then Stanford and Arizona State would be playing for the national championship since they had just two losses in such difficult schedules.

Now let’s look at quality of wins and losses. I’ll order those same teams again:

Auburn: Best win- Alabama. Loss- LSU
Missouri: Best win- Texas A&M. Loss- South Carolina
Oklahoma State: Best win- Baylor. Loss- West Virginia
Alabama: Best win- LSU. Loss- Auburn
Michigan State: Best win- Nebraska. Loss- Notre Dame
Ohio State: Best win- Wisconsin. No loss.
Florida State: Best win- Clemson. No loss.
Baylor: Best win- Oklahoma. Loss- Oklahoma State
UCF: Best win- Louisville. Loss- South Carolina
Northern Illinois: Best win- Ball State. No loss.
Louisville: Best win- Houston. Loss- UCF
Fresno State: Best win- Boise State. Loss- San Jose State

Let’s say anyone who lost to someone else on the list should probably be off the contenders for national championship. So Alabama, Baylor and Louisville are gone.

Auburn: Best win- Alabama. Loss- LSU
Missouri: Best win- Texas A&M. Loss- South Carolina
Oklahoma State: Best win- Baylor. Loss- West Virginia
Michigan State: Best win- Nebraska. Loss- Notre Dame
Ohio State: Best win- Wisconsin. No loss.
Florida State: Best win- Clemson. No loss.
UCF: Best win- Louisville. Loss- South Carolina
Northern Illinois: Best win- Ball State. No loss.
Fresno State: Best win- Boise State. Loss- San Jose State

Next we’ll remove anyone who does not have a ranked team in the win or loss (if there is a loss). So long Northern Illinois, Fresno State and Michigan State. Here is who is left, ordered by quality of win:

Auburn: Best win- Alabama. Loss- LSU
Oklahoma State: Best win- Baylor. Loss- West Virginia
Florida State: Best win- Clemson. No loss.
UCF: Best win- Louisville. Loss- South Carolina
Ohio State: Best win- Wisconsin. No loss.
Missouri: Best win- Texas A&M. Loss- South Carolina

Here they are ordered by quality of loss:

Florida State: Best win- Clemson. No loss.
Ohio State: Best win- Wisconsin. No loss.
UCF: Best win- Louisville. Loss- South Carolina
Missouri: Best win- Texas A&M. Loss- South Carolina
Auburn: Best win- Alabama. Loss- LSU
Oklahoma State: Best win- Baylor. Loss- West Virginia

Oklahoma State has the second best win but the worst loss. Ohio State has one of the worst wins but no losses. UCF and Florida State are the most solid with wins over top 15 teams and only one loss between them, to a top 10 team. There are so many ways to look at this it makes your head hurt. But at the end of the day, here’s the point.

The differences between Florida State, Ohio State and Auburn are small. The differences between those three and Northern Illinois are big. Hence, we can rule NIU out of the championship discussion because we’re not talking about minor differences in opponents. But when you’re talking about Auburn and Ohio State and who should be number two, the answer is clear to me. That belongs to Ohio State. They haven’t lost. And when there is little difference between the two, the team that has not lost gets ranked ahead of the team who has lost.

Is Auburn better? Maybe. But “better” is a different discussion. We’re talking about who is more deserving to play for a national championship, not who is better. Those are two different things. Auburn might be better than Ohio State. Alabama might be better than Ohio State. They both might be better than Florida State. But if you play in a major conference and don’t lose any games, you have earned a spot in the national championship. You deserve it more than someone who didn’t win all their games. It’s that simple.

This is why the BCS had to go. As fans, we want to see the best teams play. Take pro playoffs for example. Right now in the NBA’s eastern conference there are just two teams with winning records. TWO! In the Western conference there are 10. But guess what? 8 teams from the east and 8 teams from the west will make the playoffs, even though there will be a handful of teams that won’t make the playoffs in spite of being better than some who do. Why? Because the other teams earned it. Playoffs aren’t about who is better. Playoffs are about who is deserving. And then they sort out of all the teams who is best.

In college football, we want to see the best teams play. The playoff committee will have a tough job. After every season, they have to decide not only who deserves to be in the playoff, but who is best and how to seed them. That’s a tall order. The BCS won’t determine who is best, just who deserves it most. And no one loss team will deserve it more than an undefeated from a major conference. Just how it is.

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