Let the BCS Fretting Continue (For Real, This Time)

The latest BCS standings are in, and like last week Florida is No. 4. That really is not surprising, given that Alabama, Texas, and Oklahoma all won in blowouts just like the Gators did.

Here’s the problem that makes this week more precarious than last week: beating FSU did almost nothing for Florida’s standing in the computer rankings. Granted, FSU wasn’t all that high in the BCS rankings at No. 20, but they were a team the computer polls liked better than the humans. The algorithms had the Seminoles at No. 18 overall.

But then, a lot of Florida’s past opponents happened to lose to teams with similar or worse records. Miami lost to NC State, LSU lost to Arkansas, Kentucky lost to Tennessee, Georgia lost to Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt lost to Wake Forest, and South Carolina lost to Clemson. None of those outcomes were friendly to the Gators, leaving only two vanquished teams (Georgia and FSU) with more than seven wins on the season.

So, Florida moved up just .03 in the computer rankings in the BCS. No sweat though, just beat consensus No. 1 Alabama and we’re in the title game, right? Well not so fast there cowboy, because Alabama fell to No. 3 in the computer rankings behind both Texas and Oklahoma. It would certainly be the best win for the Gators all year, but it carries less weight this week than it did last week.

After all, the human polls are generally nothing to worry about. They will likely have the Big 12 and SEC champs in the top two slots with a noticeable gap between No. 2 and No. 3. The computer polls however still have Florida at No. 6. An upset of Texas Tech by Baylor would have helped a lot, as the Red Raiders are still ranked above Florida in all but one computer poll.

As UF is already No. 2 in the Harris Poll, a win would put the Gators at No. 1 there. The Coaches Poll dropped Florida to No. 4 as the voters all focused on Texas and Oklahoma this week. That one could get a little hairy.

Best as I can tell, here are the possible outcomes for this weekend with the attached implications for the Gators. Obviously a loss to Alabama knocks them out of the national title race, so I’m not even going to go over it.

BEST CASE SCENARIO

Big 12 Championship Game: Oklahoma loses to Missouri

SEC Championship Game: Just win, baby. Doesn’t matter how.

Outcome: Texas and Florida in the national title game. Clean and simple.

WORST CASE SCENARIO

Big 12 Championship Game: Oklahoma barely squeaks by Missouri on something controversial or fluky.

SEC Championship Game: Florida barely squeaks by Alabama on something controversial or fluky.

Outcome: Human voters have a crisis of conscience, wondering if Texas should have gone to the Big 12 Championship Game instead of Oklahoma. There is a general sympathy towards the Longhorns, and some try to rectify the perceived mistake by voting them in the national title game. Florida takes No. 1 in the Harris Poll but comes out No. 2 or (gulp) No. 3 thanks to those warring factions. The computers continue to hate Florida, and we get a rematch of Texas and Oklahoma.

SOMETHING IN BETWEEN, V. 1

Big 12 Championship Game: Oklahoma demolishes Missouri.

SEC Championship Game: Florida barely squeaks by Alabama.

Likely Outcome: A gaudy blowout by the Sooners assuages the minds of the humans. They all stick to the script of Big 12 vs. SEC in the national title game and there is a noticeable gap between the top two and No. 3 Texas. The computers (who cannot look at margin of victory) will still have Florida a spot or two behind Texas, but the gap in the human polls is too much to overcome. Florida gets in the national title game by a razor-thin margin.

SOMETHING IN BETWEEN, V. 2

Big 12 Championship Game: Oklahoma barely squeaks by Missouri on something controversial or fluky.

SEC Championship Game: Florida solidly beats or blows out Alabama.

Possible Outcome 1: Human voters agree on having Florida in the national title game, but they waffle on Texas and Oklahoma. Gators are No. 1 in one or both human polls, but the computers yawn at the win over Alabama and keep UF behind Texas Tech and Utah. Controversy keeps the Big 12 guys close, and the formulas break the tie in favor of a UT-OU rematch.

Possible Outcome 2: Human voters agree on having Florida in the national title game, but they waffle on Texas and Oklahoma. Gators are No. 1 in one or both human polls, and the computers look favorably at the win over Alabama. They have UF jump over Utah and possibly Texas Tech, and Florida plays Oklahoma for the title.

Possible Outcome 3: The humans stick to the precedent of the past two seasons and keep to the unwritten rule that requires a conference championship to go to the national title game. There is a noticeable gap between the top two and No. 3 Texas, and that is enough to make the algorithms moot. Florida plays Oklahoma.

Now, I still think Florida will most likely play for the national title with a win over Alabama no matter what else happens. It all depends two things: how impressed will the computers be with adding the Crimson Tide to the Gators’ schedule strength and whether there will be a general sympathy for Texas if Oklahoma barely defeats Missouri. We’ll get a better feeling on the status of the latter as the week goes on.

Here’s the good news, Gators. ESPN’s BCS guru Brad Edwards (who actually knows his stuff well and isn’t a chattering empty suit like Mark May) seems to agree with me on Florida’s chances. He reminds us that when it comes to the BCS, your ranking doesn’t matter as much as the points do. No. 4 UF is only 12 points behind No. 2 Oklahoma, with 1,385 points to OU’s 1,397.

We know a Gator win puts them on top of the Harris Poll, and Edwards seems to think the impact of defeating No. 1 Alabama along with any residual controversy between the Sooners and Longhorns will vault Florida to No. 1 in the Coaches’ Poll too. His theory is that if Florida is No. 1 in both human polls, that will be enough to send them to Miami instead of New Orleans. If the Gators are only No. 2 in the Coaches’ Poll though, it could spell trouble.

From my observations over the past couple years, I have noticed that the Coaches’ Poll doesn’t generally take big leaps of logic. The AP Poll tends to shuffle teams around more often, with poll inertia and lazy voting affecting the coaches’ side more.

My feeling is that, as with 2006 and 2007, the coaches will vote a Big 12 champion Oklahoma and the SEC champion No. 1 and 2 to affirm the value of winning a conference and because it’s the easiest road to take. The vast majority will do this, and I would expect to see little dissent. That is especially true since the coaches’ ballots will become public after this week’s voting.

As it is, I think Oklahoma will hammer Missouri. The Sooner machine is nearly unstoppable in the regular season against inferior competition, and they will probably lay waste to the mildly disappointing Tigers. Mizzou will not be able to protect Chase Daniel enough for him to lead the normal offense, and there is no way the defense will slow down Sam Bradford and company.

The most important thing is beating Alabama. None of this matters without winning the conference. In all likelihood, a win puts Florida at No. 1 in both human polls but still not above OU or UT in the computers. The points matter more than the rankings, remember, so how distant a No. 3 Texas becomes in the human polls will play a huge part in deciding who plays for it all.

If you are a Gator fan though, be nice to your computer this week. Don’t swear at it or abuse it. We’ll need all the help from them we can get.

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