November 30, 2008
In a perfect world, the Doc would be given carte blanche to publicly torch the Bowl Championship Series in effigy and institute the elaborate, double-elimination battle royale of his dreams. But we live in the world we live in, so each Sunday the Doc looks at what the new BCS numbers mean for the rest of the season. Rooting interest: chaos. Always chaos.
As predicted, the machines bit hard for Oklahoma's win over Oklahoma State, despite the paper-thin finish in the human polls: Oklahoma finished one measly point ahead of Texas for No. 2 in the Coaches' poll, 1,397 points to 1,396, and just six points back of the Longhorns in the Harris poll, whose members were apparently swayed enough by the Horns' "45-35" sloganeering to move UT back in front of the Sooners, 2,575 points to 2,569. If you had to pick a winner in the human polls, by the narrowest possible margins, it's probably Texas. But essentially, it's a tie.
It's not as close according to the computers: Oklahoma took three first-place votes from the machines to only one for Texas (which was subsequently dropped from UT's average as the high score) and finished in front of the Longhorns in four out of six computer ballots. The Sooners are headed to the Big 12 Championship game because of the computers, and it has nothing to do with "style points" -- the algorithms aren't even allowed to note OU's gaping point totals or margins of victory. If the conference schedule was basically a wash, I have to think the difference was strictly Oklahoma's non-conference wins over a pair of top-20 teams, TCU and Cincinnati, which were vastly better than Texas' best out-of-conference wins, over Arkansas and Rice.
This is simultaneously fair to Oklahoma and unfair to Texas, and also not the most interesting result of this week's effort. Take a look at the computer averages: Alabama ranks third, behind the 'Horns and Sooners, and the Tide were ranked fourth or fifth by three out of the six machines (again, strength of schedule, people. Think twice about those body bag games with Tulane and Western Kentucky). In the same vein, an email from a worried Florida voter popped up this morning in my inbox for the second time in just a few days:
UF is still #6 in Sagarin's rankings today, and not really anywhere close to #5 Utah. How sure ARE we that the computers will jump UF up after playing a 13th game? And how sure are we that if they don't, even a #1 ranking from the humans would be enough to keep UF #2 ahead of the Big 12 South runner-up? I would like someone somewhere to run through this with more than just a "Florida and Alabama in a semi-final" bit of "analysis."
This is a great point that I'm not sure I would have considered otherwise, and that most people are overlooking in their rush to deem Alabama-Florida the winner-take-all primer for the mythical championship. That's certainly true for Alabama if it finishes 13-0, and I assume it's true for Florida in the human polls if the Gators take the mighty SEC at 12-1. But the computers? That's not so certain.
My concerned emailer is right: Florida's highest rank in any of the six computer polls is third (Richard Billingsley); after that UF is fouth, sixth, sixth, sixth and seventh, respectively. Compare that with Texas:
There is at least three positions difference between the Horns and Gators in every computer poll except Richard Billingsley's. So how much is beating Alabama -- which, again, comes into the game ranked behind Texas and Oklahoma in the computer average -- worth? The humans are all but guaranteed to vote Florida into the championship with a win Saturday, any kind of win. But will it be worth enough in the computer polls (I'm thinking at least two positions per computer) to close that very wide gap with Texas? That's a shaky guess.
Chaos is not Missouri upsetting Oklahoma; in fact, that's very clean: Texas will play the SEC champion, whoever it is. Chaos is Florida beating Alabama, and still missing out because the computers are set on an OU-Texas rematch.