The BCS truth

Man, I loved seeing Auburn spank Georgia yesterday (and of course I loved seeing LSU whack “Bama). And as an SEC West homer, I like that ESPN is now questioning whether Auburn should be ranked ahead of Oklahoma and get a shot at the Orange Bowl.

So, as a public service, I set out tonight to demonstrate why Auburn of the mighty SEC was more worthy than Oklahoma of the weak Big 12 – and perhaps even USC of the weak Pac 10 – to play for the National Championship.

And then a funny thing happened. I proved myself wrong.

What I”m not wrong about is that the human polls are garbage, driven by the politics of popularity and uninformed perceptions. And I sort of proved that, too.

[editor"s note: Ladies, if you haven"t stopped reading this yet, feel free to click on over to Grumpybunny at this point.]

OK, so with Auburn tearing up Georgia after beating LSU and Tennessee, I figured an objective analysis of their season would show that they are at least as strong as Oklahoma, if not USC as well.

But here are the facts:

Auburn has beaten three teams (ranked 11, 14, 15) in the current AP Top 25. USC has also beaten three (4, 15, 20). Oklahoma has beaten four (6, 22, 23, 25).

What ESPN has latched its pro-Auburn star to is the Tigers” and Sooners” performance against ranked teams. Against its three ranked opponents, Auburn has an average margin of victory of 14 points. Oklahoma”s average win margin is 10 points. USC”s is 18 points.

But where Auburn”s case falls apart is its overall schedule strength.

The 10 teams Auburn have played have a combined 48% winning percentage. USC”s have a 49% winning percentage, and Oklahoma”s have a whopping 57% winning percentage.

Auburn has beaten three 2-loss teams, two 5-loss teams, three 6-loss teams, a 7-loss team and an 8-loss team. USC has beaten one 1-loss team, two 2-loss teams, two 5-loss teams, three 6-loss teams, an 8-loss team and a 9-loss team. Oklahoma has beaten one 1-loss team, one 2-loss team, two 3-loss teams, one 4-loss team, two 5-loss teams, one 6-loss team and two 7-loss teams.

But how good are the teams everyone”s played? Looking at the all-school rankings of Sagarin and Massey (the two BCS services that have released [non-BCS] rankings so far this week), Auburn”s opponents have an average ranking is 84.1 (as in 1 = good). USC”s is 45.3 and Oklahoma”s is 42.4.

That last stat is the really shocking one. How can Auburn”s schedule be that much weaker than USC and Oklahoma?

Two words: The Citadel.

Well actually, ten words: Mississippi State, The University of Louisiana at Monroe, Kentucky, The Citadel. Each of those four teams are ranked below 100 in the composite Sagarin/Massey ratings above. And The Citadel is ranked 219. 219!.

USC played one team (Washington – 121) ranked below 100, as did Oklahoma (Houston – 108). And Auburn played four.

There”s not much Auburn can do about the rankings of SEC foes Mississippi State and Kentucky, but putting two sub-100 teams on the non-conference schedule is just asking for trouble.

If last year”s BCS formula were in effect, Auburn would be getting clobbered on its computer average, strength of schedule and lack of quality win points. But this ain”t your grandfather”s BCS.

The BCS is now driven by the human polls. And the human poll voters are starting to love Auburn. “They beat Georgia 24-6! Oklahoma didn”t beat Texas A&M by that much!”. And thus Auburn is tied for second in the AP and just two points behind in the coaches” poll.

And this, of course, is why the BCS worked better before. Chris Fowler talking up Auburn on GameDay to get more No. 2 votes for the Tigers didn”t have that big of an impact on the ratings. And I”m sure AP voters are more likely to change a vote now that they control 33% of the BCS formula. Did you notice the story about Tommy Tuberville playing politics in the press box after the game? Smart on his part, but there should be no such lobbying needed.

Of course, if the AP voters and coaches spent a few minutes digging into the actual facts (doing a computer-type analysis, you might say), then perhaps human polls would be fairly accurate.

But they are not. Congrats on the Orange Bowl bid, Auburn. And Coach Stoops, don”t forget to send goodie baskets to AP voters next year.

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