With the 2013 college football season almost upon us, and this the last year in which we have the BCS to argue and feud over, it is only appropriate we kick it all off as soon as possible. While official BCS ranking aren't published until halfway through the season, two thirds of the components are available prior to the first snap.
Think about that for just a second. Not a single down has been played, not a single touchdown scored, not a single attempt on 4th and goal from the one... nothing. And yet two thirds of the decision is already there. The human component is on the table. Subject to change mind you, but as well know, first impressions are lasting ones, and those that don't make it as media darlings early will have a very steep hill to climb and a very short season to do so. While officially the Harris Poll will replace the AP poll, due to the media's influence on public perception, the two are almost always identical.
What's worse, it will be even more difficult next year, without the shred of objectivity thrown into the polls by the computer rankings.
Speaking of our electronic counterparts, you may notice they don't fill out preseason polls. There is a very good reason for why, and that is because computers don't care about the off season. They don't care about recruiting classes, don't care about spring camps, don't even care about coaching changes or conference realignment. Computers care about the actual games, which means, they won't have anything to say on the subject for a few weeks.
In the meantime, I've substituted in Jeff Sagarin's final computer rankings from 2013. Obviously this will not be completely accurate, and those teams that lost a great deal of talent will get a slight boost from their 2012 success, while the up and comers may be slightly hindered. This will be replaced in a few weeks time with my own computer rankings, which have been tuned to simulate the average of the six BCS computer rankings, and down the road, by the actual computer values themselves when they become available.
Since we've all been away from the BCS for awhile, many seemingly in a euphoric wash of the "fairness" and "clarity" of the promised playoff, let's take a minute to review how the BCS works. We are, after all, living with it for one more year, tiptoeing awkwardly around the situation like an unwanted roommate with one week left on his rent.
The BCS formula is comprised of three parts:
The Harris Interactive Poll is a polling of approximately 115 college football personalities conducted by Harris, an independent and extremely respected polling agency who covers everything from eating habits to, well, college football. These voters are meant to be a representative sample of the college football community, much in the way the new playoff selection committee will be modeled. The sampling consists of media, former players and Heisman champions, among others.
Each voter ranks teams from 1 to 25 and each team scores 25 points for a No. 1 ranking, 24 points for a No. 2 ranking, and so on. The number of points are totaled for each team and divided by what is considered a perfect score, or all No. 1 rankings. This yields the Harris Poll percentage, and it accounts for one third of the BCS formula.
For preseason rankings, the Harris poll is replaced by the AP poll, as the Harris Poll has not yet been released. Because the AP poll also consists of media members, who in turn shape Harris Poll voters opinions through media coverage and public opinion, it is very similar to the Harris Poll, and in fact, used to be a part of the BCS rankings.
USA Today Poll
The USA Today Poll is extremely similar to the Harris Interactive Poll, it differs only in the makeup of those being polled. The USA Today poll members consist of current college football coaches, and which is why it is commonly known as the coaches poll. The coaches involved in this poll rotate, and are meant to represent all conferences.
Publication of the final USA Today Poll from 2012 demonstrated clearly the numerous regional and specifically targeted biases found within the coaches poll. Nearly every conference rated teams from their own contingent higher than average, and several coaches specifically dropped teams like Northern Illinois in an attempt to keep them out of the BCS bowl games. In addition, many coaches have admitted to not actually filling out their ballots themselves, and often pass this responsibility off to an aid.
The USA Today Poll points are added and divided by the perfect score value similarly to the Harris Poll, and the percentage is used as the second third of the BCS formula.
There are six computer rankings that make up the BCS formula, including Jeff Sagarin, Anderson & Hester, Richard Billingsley, The Colley Matrix, Kenneth Massey and Dr. Peter Wolfe. The computer rankings each have their own unique features, and value different aspects differently, such as favoring success later in the season as more important for example. Each computer system, however, is centered around evaluating the complex system of college football teams through the wins and losses that connect them. Margin of victory was removed from these computer rankings by order of the BCS, though many of the computer systems also compute values including this factor, which are used outside the BCS formula.
Once all six computers produce rankings, the highest and lowest rank for each team are thrown out. The remaining four are added in the same way as the polls and divided by the perfect score to create the computer percentage, the third component of the BCS formula.
These three components are now averaged together to produce a final BCS average. These results are ordered from highest to lowest to create the BCS rankings. The preseason results are shown above. Now that we've suffered (or skipped through) the refresher, let's take a look at what the rankings tell us.
If we skipped the 2013 college football season altogether and just went straight to the championship game, it would be the Oregon Ducks battling against the Alabama Crimson Tide. Not a bad championship game, but I for one would like to watch the fifteen weeks leading up to it as well.
While the SEC holds the top spot without yet having padded their records with a diabetes-inducing quantity of cupcakes lined up in their non-conference schedule, they also hold the third, fifth, seventh and ninth places as well. This indicates not only that the SEC will pick off many of its own once the conference slate begins, but also that if voters are not careful, we could wind up in a 2011 all SEC championship debacle once again.
The Pac-12 has also placed two teams within the top six. If all goes as planned, a near impossibility in the chaos of college football, Stanford and Oregon will face each other on November 7th to determine whether either one can represent the conference in the fight for the crystal football.
Ohio State represents the Big Ten's National Championship chances, claiming the number four spot on the preseason list. While both human components hold the Buckeyes up at number two after their undefeated 2012 campaign, the computer averages never thought much of their schedule. Ohio State can only hope that their non-conference opponents, California and San Diego State, have strong seasons themselves, and that the Big Ten in general gets a boost from their non-conference matchups.
While the season hasn't yet begun, it's never too early to get a sense of where the 2013 storyline is headed. Preseason rankings tell us a great deal, but we will take an even closer look each week as the view of the crystal football becomes ever clearer.