What's BCS With No 'C'?

by Adam Small | 11/12/03 6:00am

As hockey and basketball start to warm up in their early season schedules, and the rumors abound in the baseball world, those of us with a hard dedication to sports know that what matters right now is football. Most of you assume I'm going to talk about the NFL, the undefeated Chiefs, the resilient Patriots and the coaching job of the mighty Tuna. But you are all wrong.

College football is where it's at right now, and with the BCS polls heating up and contenders losing by the boatload, we have some interesting developments. For example, the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs are the first team from a non-BCS conference to reach the top six in the polls. In other words, if the season ended today, TCU would be guaranteed a spot in one of the four major bowls at the end of the bowl season. This is absolute crap.

Let us analyze what allowed this travesty to occur. TCU is undefeated, an incredible feat in this day and age. TCU is ninth and 10th in the national polls, positions which I feel to be high, but at least somewhat reasonable, given that they are undefeated. The trouble comes with the computer rankings, which determine one-third of the BCS standings. Seven computerized rankings, done by such entities as The New York Times and gambling guru Jeff Sagarin, give their own rankings. The lowest ranking is dropped, and the remaining six are averaged into a composite number. TCU's average is 4.67.

Let's look more closely. TCU was ranked #2 by Anderson & Hester, #3 by Sagarin and #4 by the Colley Matrix computer and Peter Wolfe. Are you kidding me? TCU as a top five team? Have you watched them play?

We'll return to this in a moment. Let's first look at the never-understood-by-me dropping of one computer ranking. None of the other top 10 teams in the BCS standings is ranked below 15. In fact, #7 Tennessee is ranked no lower than sixth. TCU is ranked 25th by The New York Times! If this ranking alone were considered, as it ought to be, TCU would slide to eighth, bare fractional points ahead of Georgia. As an aside, this would affect no one in the top 20 other than TCU and Miami of Ohio, who is currently 16th.

But let us leave this world of numbers aside for just a moment and take a look at TCU's resume. A three-point win over 4-6 Tulane to open the season, a 13-10 squeaker over dismal 2-8 Arizona (its only BCS conference opponent), a fourth-quarter comeback to beat 4-6 Alabama-Birmingham by three, a narrow touchdown win over mediocre Houston and, most recently, a gifted three-point win over Louisville (the only top 25 team they've faced) when Louisville missed three field goals, included a last-second kick that hit the crossbar. This is the resume of a team that people consider in the top five in the country? What have said people been smoking?

To return to numbers for a moment, a third factor in the BCS rankings is strength of schedule. Each school's schedule is ranked according to opponents' winning percentage and opponents' opponents' winning percentage. They then multiply your rank by .04. TCU has the 87th hardest schedule in Division I-A.

The offset for this used to be a measure of margin-of-victory, which was supposed to take into account how well you really played against your schedule. This became problematic because Steve Spurrier's Florida teams would beat bottom-of-the-barrel opponents by 60 points by keeping their starters in for an entire game.

If margin of victory were still used today, TCU would have a 30.72 BCS average. This would rank them 15th, right alongside 3-loss Florida and just behind 2-loss Virginia Tech. This is an acceptable place for this football team.

In an era when members of small-conference teams like TCU complain about how unfair it is that they don't get bids to major bowl games, and that the million-dollar bowls prefer major-conference teams with 7-5 records to a 10-2 league runner-up from a small conference, I say, "tough." If you were a marquee program, you'd gain the consideration you deserve, and you'd be beating up on the weak teams you play. Such was the case over the last few years at Marshall, where they consistently were given fair shakes by pollsters and even given games against the big conferences, only to lose in their own conference and prevent the current controversy.

TCU is a joke. The Horned Toads have survived on luck, which is necessary for all great teams, and solid play, but they are not one of the top five teams in the country. Just look down the list of teams from 12-17, where I feel they belong: Miami, Florida State, Florida, Virginia Tech and Nebraska. Does anyone outside the TCU campus believe that they'd come within 10 points of any of these teams? Would Vegas even have single-digit odds in these games? No.

If TCU winds up in a BCS bowl at the expense of high-quality teams like Georgia or Michigan who can play with anyone in the country, including the vaunted Oklahoma Sooners, the BCS should disband itself, and all the individuals who ranked TCU in the top five should be banished to a year-round hell of accordion music and stale beer.