How Does The BCS Even Work?

In college football anything can happen -- every game is a playoff game.  Often unpredictable and exciting, the current Bowl Championship Series (BCS) system isn’t completely fair to every team – or their fans.  This season, where the number one teams have been falling like flies, gave us a good reason to figure out how the process even works. 

The BCS system might be one of the most confusing selection processes in all of college sports.  On the BCS website, the selection procedures total over eight-pages of nonsense that not many can make sense of. We tried to break it down for all you college football fans.

Bowl Champisonship Series (BCS)
The BCS is a five-game bowl series, or postseason match-ups if you will. The BCS is designed to ensure that the two top ranked teams make it to the national championship game at the end of the season.  The site of the national championship rotates each year between the four bowl sites. 

This year the national championship game will be played in Glendale, AZ on January 10, 2011.  The other four bowl games are the Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, Rose Bowl, and the Sugar Bowl.

The procedure in selecting which teams is where it gets a little confusing.  There are two different types of teams AQ-teams (automatic qualifying) and non-AQ.  AQ-teams are teams from the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, and SEC conferences, as well as the University of Notre Dame.

Ten teams are chosen to participate in one of five bowl games.  Bowl organizers are contractually obligated to host the champion of one of the five designated conferences. 

- Orange Bowl hosts the ACC Champion
- Rose Bowl hosts the Big Ten Champion
- Fiesta Bowl hosts the Big 12 Champion
- Rose Bowl hosts the PAC-10 Champion
- SEC hosts the Sugar Bowl

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Why these specific conferences? What about the others? Well, all conferences had an opportunity to earn automatic qualifications during a four-year evaluation during the 2004-2007 seasons.  The above mentioned were the five that met the criteria.  Side note: the University of Notre Dame will get an automatic bid if it is in the top eight of the BCS standings.

The champion team from each AQ-conference will automatically earn a trip to one of the five BCS bowl games -- at least until 2013, when their contract ends. Aside from the National Championship Game (NCG) bowl organizers are required to put ALL AQ-champion teams into a BCS bowl game. The AQ conferences have contracts with bowl organizers and T.V. right holders that the champions of the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC will have automatic qualifications till the end of the 2014 season.

The biasness of the BCS system creates an enormous challenge for any team in the seven non-AQ conferences to reach a championship game. 

According to the BCS website, a non-AQ team will qualify for a BCS bowl game if it, “is ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS Standings or a team is ranked in the top 16 of the final BCS Standing and its ranking in the final BCS Standings is higher than that of a champion of a conference that has an annual automatic berth in one of the BCS bowl games”.

BCS Standings
Teams are chosen for bowl games in order of their ranking in the BCS standings.   These standings are an intricate portion of the BCS.  Standings are compiled from a three-part system: the Harris Poll, the USA Today Coaches Poll, and six computer rankings. The two poll percentages are found by dividing each team’s point total by a maximum of 2850 possible points (Harris) and 1525 points (USA Today).

Each computer ranking uses different algorithms in its formula.  For example, the Richard Billingsley ranking bases his formula on how a team goes from one season to the next, a teams’ performance, strength of the opponent, win-loss record, where the game was played, and understanding the scenario.  Jeff Sagrin’s formula only takes into account who each team has played, the score of each game, and where it was played. Out of the six computer rankings, the highest and lowest rankings for each team are dropped and then divided by the remaining total by 100 (the maximum points).  The average of all three parts totals is than taken to produce the BCS standings.

The Controversy
The downside of the BCS calculations is that aside from strength of schedule, the computer rankings don’t take into account season records or stats. Even if Boise State and TCU go undefeated this season there is no absolute guarantee that either will go to the national championship if Auburn and Oregon go undefeated. (Or even if Alabama bounces back) Why? Because Auburn, Alabama and Oregon’s schedules within the PAC-10 and SEC are consider tougher [by the computers] than the WAC and Mountain West conferences.

One of the biggest arguments against BCS buster teams Utah, TCU and Boise are that they don’t have “tougher” schedules than teams like Alabama and Auburn.  People complain that these teams don't have the right or have't earned the right to be ranked in the top five.  In reality there is not much these teams can do about who they play.  The BCS conferences have more than one or two teams on their schedule in the top twenty five of the BCS polls. This allows more BCS conference teams to move higher in the polls, whilst non-conference teams have only two or three games in their schedule that can help them advance in the polls.   REgardless of their schedule, the BCS buster teams are doing the best with what they’ve been dealt. But why not let the stats speak for themselves?

Sunday was the first time in BCS history that three non-AQ teams were in the top five of the BCS polls. TCU, ranked third, leads the country in scoring defense, allowing nine points per game, and have surrendered only 10 points combined in their last four games, Boise State, ranked fourth, is the number one defense team in the nation, and Utah, ranked fifth, is third overall in points for and sixth overall for points against.

This weekend's game between Utah and TCU will prove the ultimate test for the BCS System.  For the first time in the Mountain West conference's history, two teams in the top five of the BCS polls will meet.  The TCU Horned Frogs are favored with a five point spread. This week both Auburn and Oregon play non-ranked teams.  If the Frogs beat the Utes they could leap frog ahead of both Auburn and Oregon in Sunday's BCS Standings. 

The odds are with the Frogs this weekend, and all locals can do is cross our fingers and hope for the best. Go Frogs!

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