How I Would Explain the BCS to Mack Brown

February 27, 2009

Texas head coach Mack Brown is bringing in some BCS experts to explain the system to him and his players. Since the BCS poll was used as the Big 12 divisional tiebreaker (and that system has yet to be overthrown), it makes sense that he’d want to understand it better.

Coaches in general make a lot of flippant remarks about how they don’t understand the BCS, so I give Brown a lot of credit for wanting to know more. He’s going about it in a logical way by bringing in experts.

He’s also going about it in an expensive way. Just taking an afternoon and reading some old posts by the BCS Guru would probably be enough. Or, he could just read this guide that breaks it down within its component sections.

The Coaches’ Poll

The Coaches’ Poll should be very familiar to Brown. He was a voter in it last year.

It’s the oldest component of the formula and carries the most tradition. On the surface, it makes sense to poll the coaches. Most are getting paid millions of dollars to teach the game to the fine collegiate athletes of this nation, so wouldn’t it make sense to ask the experts for their opinions?

It’s all great until you take a peek at the coaches’ schedules. I personally have not, but Brown can look at his. I’d be willing to bet that everything on it during the season is in some way related to helping the Texas Longhorns win football games.

In short, the Coaches’ Poll is getting the opinion of people who don’t actually watch many college football games. They know their team and they study their opponents. They have no way of making an informed opinion on all 119 teams, or even just the 66 BCS conference teams, because they don’t have the time to do so.

When pondering what kept his team out of the Big 12 title game Coach Brown asked, “[i]s it margin of victory? Was it not scoring more because if it doesn’t matter to the computers it does to the human vote?”

Well, I know he didn’t watch the Alabama vs. Georgia or Florida vs. Georgia games because Texas was playing Arkansas and Texas Tech, respectively, on those days. Which do you think he probably thinks was more impressive, Alabama’s 41-30 win or Florida’s 49-10 win? I’d bet he’d say Florida’s victory, but really each was about equally as dominant. Alabama just allowed window dressing points while Florida did not.

That’s the problem with the Coaches’ Poll. The coaches don’t watch many games other than their own, which makes their ballots mostly guesswork. They’re also prone to lazy voting where guys move teams around solely on one week’s results instead of stepping back and doing thorough evaluations.

The solution, as Texas found out, is to go Oklahoma’s route and run up huge scores to impress those people who have no idea what really went on in the games.

The Harris Poll

The Harris Interactive Poll replaced the traditional AP Poll, something Brown is probably also very familiar with. It’s not quite so simple to figure out as its predecessor, which simply consisted of sportswriters. Harris Interactive, a polling agency, describes its poll as follows:

“This year, the BCS has again commissioned Harris Interactive to construct a panel of former players, coaches, administrators and current and former media who are committed to ranking the college teams each week during the 2008 college football season. Panelists have been randomly selected from among more than 300 nominations submitted by the conference offices and the independent institutions. The panel has been designed to be a statistically valid representation of all 11 Division I-A conferences and institutions participating in the Bowl Championship Series.”

Basically, every conference and independent in Division I-A gets to nominate some people with ties to the game. Harris then selects a group of them to give everyone proportionate representation. Sounds good, right?

The first problem is that there’s no quality control on the nominations. The conferences can put up anyone they want and Harris doesn’t screen them after that. They could put up a former player who’s been selling insurance for the last 30 years, and that person would have a legit shot at voting.

The second problem is that no one keeps up with the voters to make sure they are actually following the sport. They could be watching even less football than the coaches do. We saw this with Pat Quinn, a 2008 Harris Poll voter who last December thought that Penn State was still undefeated.

The “Computer” Polls

People call the final element “computer” polls for convenience, but they are really just math formulas. They are included as a check against the human polls, which can be influenced by things like allegiances and tradition of schools.

They are supposed to be impartial, but they’re not. They emphasize what their creators believe to be important, reflecting the bias of the mathematician who put it together. That’s fine if the person is reasonable, but it’s bad if the person is not.

They also are limited because they are required to ignore margin of victory. Brown was right about that in his comment that I quoted above. However, that means that the people who put the polls together (most famously, Jeff Sagarin) don’t get to release what they feel is correct.

There are six formulas. Each team’s highest and lowest ranks are tossed out to get rid of any outliers, and the rest are added together to form the third part of the formula.

These formulas are not be able to account for who’s hot, see head-to-head results, or react to injuries. However, that’s exactly their point.

In All

One third of the system is people who know a lot about football but who watch almost no games.

One third of the system is people who may or may not know football that well anymore and who may or may not even pay attention to the scores and standings.

The final third is aggregated formula results that are crippled by the restriction against margin of victory and in at least one case, by its maker’s alarmingly incoherent methodology.

Makes perfect sense, huh?


Best or Most Deserving?

January 3, 2009

After eight years of practice of arguing over the BCS, the ninth season’s controversy finally boiled it down to two options. Do you vote for who is the best team by the eyeball test, or who is most deserving based on everyone’s resumes?

The ninth season was 2006, and Michigan represented the “best” team, while Florida was the “most deserving.” The Gators were helped out by two other factors, namely that voters didn’t want to see a rematch and wanted to honor the value of winning a conference championship. Anyway, that year the “most deserving” team barely won out and got to go to the national title game.

In 2007, LSU jumped from seventh to second in the final ballots because of the “most deserving” argument. However in 2004 undefeated Auburn was the “most deserving” team (having won the toughest conference), but the Tigers lost out to the two “best” teams in USC and Oklahoma.

Since human votes dominate the system, it should be no surprise that the choice of best or most deserving hasn’t been applied evenly. Oklahoma passed Texas in the second to last BCS rankings thanks to being the “best” of the two despite the “most deserving” Longhorns having beaten the Sooners in the regular season.

The fact that “best” won out over “most deserving” this year makes me feel better about the possibility of Florida winning the national title on Thursday. The reason? I have a hard time saying that Utah is not the most deserving.

By the BCS’s own criteria for determining which leagues get automatic bids, the Mountain West was the fifth-best conference, ahead of the sixth-place Big East and seventh-place Pac-10. Utah has defeated four teams that will finish the year ranked in Oregon State, TCU, BYU, and Alabama. Florida has defeated only two that will be for sure in Georgia and Alabama, and maybe a third in FSU (the third-highest in also receiving votes). However, the SEC rated as the second-best conference.

A lot of football is about timing, which is why season-long stats don’t predict the outcomes of bowl games precisely. If Alabama had played Utah the way it played Florida, the Sugar Bowl could have ended much differently. The Tide did not however, and here we sit with a 13-0 Utah team with probably the best resume of anyone.

If you’re going by the eyeball test, then I still say Florida, Oklahoma, and Texas are better. They have better players almost across the board, and on a neutral field I’d take them. There’s a reason all of them finished ahead of Alabama in the final poll, and right now I’d give USC an edge over the Utes as well. None of them had close scrapes with teams as bad as Michigan and New Mexico, two teams that Utah beat by a field goal or less.

We’ll never know, of course, who would win for sure since the university presidents and conference commissioners who run Div. I-A football think that a two-team playoff is adequate. The Coaches’ Poll has no choice about its national champion, but if the AP Poll was to vote Utah No. 1 at the end, I would have a hard time being upset with it. They’ve earned it.

I doubt it will happen, though, since people’s memories are increasingly short these days. Some people who were ready to give USC the national title after the Rose Bowl are ready to give it to Utah now, and they might give it to Texas after the Fiesta Bowl just before crowning either Florida or Oklahoma after the BCS Championship Game.

When history looks back at this year however, it will always remember this Utah team. When the system of determining the champion is such a joke, being remembered forever isn’t a bad consolation prize.


Coaches’ Poll Votes

December 8, 2008

Since this is the final poll, the coaches’ votes are public. There are here, courtesy of the poll’s sponsor, USA Today. Urban Meyer voted Florida No. 1, Oklahoma No. 2, Alabama No. 3, and Texas No. 4. Mack Brown had Florida No. 1 and Texas No. 2. Bob Stoops did not have a vote.

The eight coaches to vote for an Oklahoma-Texas rematch were Iowa State’s Gene Chizik, North Texas’ Todd Dodge, Colorado’s Dan Hawkins, Nebraska’s Bo Pelini, Missouri’s Gary Pinkel, UTEP’s Mike Price, Purdue’s Joe Tiller, and Ohio State’s Jim Tressel (!).

All except Tiller and Tressel, both Big Ten coaches, are either Big 12 coaches or coach in the Big 12 footprint. Good to know that SEC-Big Ten relations are doing so well (see below) and that Tressel is completely over the game from two years ago.

Texas Tech’s Mike Leach also had Florida No. 3 as the rematch folks did, but he had Oklahoma at No. 1 and his own Texas Tech Red Raiders No. 2.

Interesting:

  • Leach and Baylor’s Art Briles have Texas at No. 5
  • Both Steve Spurrier and Ron Zook have Oklahoma No. 1 and Florida No. 2
  • Every SEC coach with a vote except Spurrier had Florida No. 1
  • Where other coaches in Florida had the Gators: FIU’s Mario Cristobal and FAU’s Howard Schnellenberger had them at No. 1, while FSU’s Bobby Bowden, USF’s Jim Leavitt, and UCF’s George O’Leary had them at No. 2. Miami’s Randy Shannon did not have a vote this year.
  • Bobby’s son Tommy got to keep his vote despite losing his job, and he voted Florida No. 1
  • Not one single Big Ten coach had Florida at No. 1. Tiller and Tressel had the Gators at No. 3, and Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema, Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio, Michigan’s Rich Rodriguez, and Zook all had Florida at No. 2. Florida got 26 of the 61 first place votes, so by percentages, UF should have got 2 or 3 first place votes from the Big Ten voting bloc.

It’s Official

December 7, 2008

It’s No. 1 Oklahoma versus No. 2 Florida for it all.


It’s Close, but Looking Good

December 7, 2008

The Coaches’ Poll has come out, and Florida is just a single point behind Oklahoma for No. 1. That doesn’t matter as much as the fact that Texas is just 73 points behind Florida.

What is notable is that four coaches switched their first-place votes from Alabama to Texas, keeping both the Gators and Sooners out of the top spot. This poll will become public so it’ll be interesting to see where those four have UF and OU and if they were trying to game the system.

Anyway, the Coaches’ Poll component of the BCS looks like this:

Oklahoma – .9718
Florida – .9711
Texas – .9232

We know that UF is #4 in Sagarin’s computer poll. I project the others this way, just eyeballing it off of last week and not in any way using the formulas:

Anderson/Hester: OU 1, UT 2, UF 3
Billingsley: OU 1, UF 2, Bama 3, UT 4
Colley: UT 1, OU 2, UF 3
Massey: OU 1, TTU 2, UT 3, UF 4
Wolfe: OU 1, UT 2, TTU 3, UF 4

If that is the case, the computer element looks like this:

Oklahoma: 1.000
Texas: 0.95
Florida 0.90

Now comes the Harris Poll. As we all know, Florida was No. 2 in it last week and should move to No. 1. If everyone in the Harris Poll voted UF #1, OU #2, and UT #3, then the Harris component could look like this:

Florida: 1.000
Oklahoma: 0.9600
Texas: 0.9200

If you take all those numbers I ran for each component, this is the final BCS standings:

Oklahoma: 0.9773
Florida: 0.9570
Texas: 0.9310

So we should be good.

UPDATE 4:45 PM

A poster on the GatorSports.com message board who seems to have high credibility as well as high Gator Boosters standing says the UAA has already called him about ordering tickets to the BCS title game in Miami. Usual grains of salt are required for any “inside info” coming from message boards, but this seems about a legit as they come.

The official announcement comes a little after 8:00 on Fox, though ESPN has a much longer bowl show at the same time and will be mirroring the information with much better analysts. Say what you want about ESPN’s guys, but the network does college football better than anyone else. For Fox, it’s nothing more than a hobby.


Final SEC Power Poll Released

December 5, 2008

Here it is, the final SEC Power Poll of the season. There won’t be one next week because there’s only one game this weekend. Full poll with comments here.


SEC Power Poll Ballot, Final

December 3, 2008

1. Florida

As a Florida fan, I consider it an honor to be a participant in the biggest conference title game ever. It only gets better that it is against the SEC team with the richest history.

2. Alabama

Given everything I’ve seen, the Tide can actually play the “no respect” card with justification. They’re the only undefeated BCS conference team, yet few expect them to win Saturday.

3. Georgia

Even with the loss to GT, my general impression of Georgia is better than anyone else in the conference except the above two. That’s why they stay.

4. Ole Miss

Even though I have the Rebels behind Georgia, they are probably played better ball down the stretch.

5. LSU

6. South Carolina

7. Vanderbilt

All of these teams lost, so I have no good way of sorting them out. Therefore, I’m putting them in the same order as last week.

8. Tennessee

If they had just scheduled Middle Tennessee instead of UCLA out of conference, they’re probably sending Fulmer out with a bowl. That, or if they had beat Wyoming. One or the other.

9. Kentucky

I have a hard time rewarding them for cleaning up on cupcakes out of conference.

10. Auburn

The season is mercifully over, but will Tuberville survive? The Kiffin and Swinney hires seem to indicate a weak coaching market right now, so Auburn might be wise to wait one more year.

11. Arkansas

Now where was this Arkansas team last week? Consistency is something Petrino will need to work on in his second year.

12. Mississippi State

The loss to Ole Miss showed how much progress was made in Oxford during Orgeron’s losing years and how little was made during Croom’s losing years.