The Bowl Championship Series—college football's post-season barometer—released the first standings of the year on Sunday. The rankings ultimately determine who plays in the national championship game, as well as the coveted high-dollar elite BCS Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, and Rose bowls. Here's how things shook out:
1. Louisiana State
4. Oklahoma State
5. Boise State
(*Denotes teams in the BCS top 10 that have at least one loss and are not counted in the formula below.)
Boise State has taken some heat over the years for playing what the BCS considers to be "soft" schedules in the WAC and now, Mountain West.
I ran the numbers, and came up with some interesting results to the contrary (depending on how you choose to look at it). Nearly midway through the season—and with the majority of non conference games in the bag—many of the 10 remaining undefeated teams have played at least one non-conference game against an FCS (Division II) opponent. Boise has only played FBS (Division I) opponents and will continue to do so until the end of the season. From a pluses and minuses standpoint, here are the combined records of the opponents of the remaining undefeated teams, in ranking order:
1. Louisiana State: 26-19, +7, 58%
2. Clemson: 24-20, +4, 55%
3. Oklahoma State: 20-17, +3, 54%
4. Boise State: 21-18, +3, 54%
5. Oklahoma:19-18, +1, 51%
6. Alabama: 23-23, E, 50%
7. Kansas State: 18-19, -1, 49%
8. Wisconsin: 16-23, -7, 41%
9. Stanford: 14-24, -10, 37%
10. Houston: 13-24, -11, 35%
Using this formula gives us a good idea of the quality of the opponents that the top undefeated teams have played against overall. While you may find the No. 1 and No. 10 spots to be no surprise, virtually everything in between conflicts heavily with the BCS outlook—most notably, the fact that Wisconsin, Stanford and Alabama's opponents are all .500 or less.
Yes, Alabama has marquee wins over Arkansas and Florida, but they have also gone toe-to-toe with Kent State and North Texas—true cupcakes. Clemson's wins over Troy and Wofford were nothing to write home about, while follow-up wins against ranked Auburn and Virginia Tech have given their schedule more strength than the BCS currently indicates.
In a nutshell: Boise State plays mediocre (Tulsa) to excellent (Georgia) teams out of conference each year—as scheduling allows. Automatic qualifying schools like Alabama have the luxury of scheduling terrible out-of-conference teams, while hiding out behind the prestige of their conference for the rest of the year. Nobody would argue that the Crimson Tide is an excellent football team. Its just difficult to gauge how good they are compared to a Boise State or Houston because they play and schedule games using a completely different, polarized approach in order to leverage the BCS.
Looking strictly at X's and O's, you can see that the BCS formula perhaps has less to do with quality and more to do with familiar faces. Unfortunately for the Broncos, their opponents' wins to losses schematic doesn't get any better down the stretch. With teams like 1-5 UNLV and 0-6 New Mexico to come, even convincing wins won't help the Bronco's National Championship odds unless several other top teams finish with at least one loss. Conversely, Stanford and Wisconsin's surprisingly bad strength of schedule thus far means that their true tests will come in the second half of the season, and their odds of being knocked off are much greater than that of Boise's boys in blue.
Oklahoma State and Oklahoma play each other, as do Louisiana State and Alabama—which means that at least two teams currently ranked ahead of the Broncos in the BCS will go down in flames before the end of the season.
On a final note, the BCS's complex formula, including human elements and general lack of objectivity, have made it the target of much criticism over the years—and rightly so. With this many teams still undefeated, 2011 may be the year that one or more AQ schools gets left out of the big dance and learn what it feels like to be on the outside looking in. This could be the year that critical mass is achieved to change the system to allow for a more equitable shot at playing for the crystal football. The jury will be out until early December.