Computer-led BCS will always miss the mark


The BCS rankings were released Sunday, and you know what that means: The controversy has begun.

It may be a blessing for college football, it may be a curse, who knows? Whatever your take is, the Bowl Controversy Series rankings surely make for the kind of midseason drama that is not possible in any other sport.

Held back · While USC has begun to serve it’s bowl ban for the next two seasons, Oregon has managed to work it’s way to the top of the college football world. Although many polls suggest that the Ducks should be No. 1, the BCS computer system has left them hanging in second. - Daily Trojan file photo

As much as I pine for a college football playoff — I put it on my Christmas and birthday list every year, highlighted, in bold and double-underlined — I’ll concede that the ensuing weekly shake-ups sure make me much more attentive on Saturdays.

And with USC banned from the Coaches’ Poll because of sanctions, you won’t see the Trojans holding a spot in the BCS. So with completely unbiased goggles on, let’s look at two things we learned from this season’s first incarnation of what amounts to the antithesis of all that is good in competitive sports:

1. If computers are going to one day dominate the human race, then God help us all.

In numerous works of science fiction, computers grasp control of humanity because they are more logical than the whimsical human race. Computers are supposed to be impartial and balanced.

We humans know Oregon and Boise State are the two best teams in the nation. They have both looked untouchable this season. Nobody has come within 10 points of Oregon, not even Stanford (No. 12 in the BCS).

But who gets the top spot in the BCS? Oklahoma. The Sooners, who struggled to beat Utah State and Air Force, somehow get credit for beating No. 19 Texas (more on them in a minute), and No. 17 Florida State, the most overrated 6-1 team in the nation.

Moving on, in two of the six computer rankings that go into the formula, LSU is the highest rated team in the land. A computer clearly can’t understand luck, which is the only way to spin the Tigers’ victories against Tennessee and Florida.

Coach Les Miles won those games despite himself, and we humans know this. Yet all a computer takes in is the data of wins and losses, then spits out a No. 6 ranking for undefeated LSU.

Then there is two-loss Texas, a team that gets demolished at home by a UCLA team that proceeded to lose by four touchdowns to Cal the next week.

Yet after a win against Nebraska, Texas is the highest-rated two-loss team in the BCS.

If the BCS is a computer’s idea of reason, then I’m thinking about frying my hard drive right now and running for the hills before it corrupts my brain. Apparently, there is no mathematical logarithm for common sense.

2. An undefeated Boise State will not make it to the BCS national title game.

The Broncos started so high in the AP rankings this season (No. 3) that this was supposed to be the year the little guy finally busted into the big time. Based on the fact that the Broncos, No. 2 in both human polls, still ended up No. 3 in the initial BCS standings makes it clear that they will continue getting bucked as the season progresses.

Any undefeated team (except for fellow underdogs TCU and Utah, of course) will end up going to the BCS title before Boise State. Oklahoma could coast to an undefeated mark. Oregon already handled the second-best Pac-10 team when it beat Stanford. The SEC teams will knock one another out, but it’s even possible that a one-loss Alabama or LSU could get to go ahead of the Broncos.

So why the love affair with Boise State?

True, its schedule is as WAC as its conference but every time Boise’s put in the national spotlight, it rises to the occasion, such as against TCU in the Fiesta Bowl last year or against Virginia Tech at the beginning of this season.

How much more do the Broncos have to prove? They can’t strengthen their nonconference schedule because no major conference wants to play them outside of the Pac-10.

There’s no question Boise State vs. Oregon would be the most exciting national championship matchup imaginable. Those offenses and those coaches going head-to-head would produce one for the ages.

But it’s just a pipe dream. It will never happen. This is why I loathe the BCS. I hate the slightest idea that you can measure the talent of a football team with numbers.

I can’t mathematically prove that Boise State and Oregon are the best teams in college football. There’s just a sense, a human inclination that no computer could ever comprehend.

Human intuition could be just as dangerous as logical computers. But based on the rankings this week, I’ll put my faith in the humans while the BCS methodically deprives college football of a true national championship.

“Middle Ground” runs Tuesdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Josh at jjovanel@usc.edu.

11 replies
  1. mmortal03
    mmortal03 says:

    Your criticism of computer rankings in general is unfounded, because the BCS computers have been neutered by humans due to “fairness” or “sportsmanship” concerns with regards to running up the score. Because of this fact, the BCS computers can only use wins and losses, and then you get results like this past week. If you instead allow the computers to use the actual scoring margins (which happen to be the best single predictor of games), you get much better results. Take a look at Sagarin’s PREDICTOR ranking, or Massey’s regular rating, both of which use scoring margin, and you will find Oregon at number 1, and Oklahoma and LSU from 4 to 17 spots lower, just as your human intuition tells you.

  2. jay levine
    jay levine says:

    It’s funny to see the OU bashing from USC who ran from NCAA sanctions for so many years and their former coach still can’t believe that anything really happened bad on his watch. With Coach Kiffen I can tell you USC is pretty much the laughing stock of most fans past CA. But I do think USC is playing very well this year considering all the distractions.
    Boise State got the better of OU will better coaching that game. No doubt about that. Take this as a joke but I’m still waiting for Oregon to decline the gimme win in Eugene when they touched the ball before it went 10 yards and on top of that didn’t come up with the recovery. If the OU player who held the ball up had had better sense he would have run it in for a TD.

  3. palisooner
    palisooner says:

    Sure we all know that Oregon-Boise would be a great championship game. What?

    Kinda like that turnover-suckerpunch-snooze fest they played last year. Or do you mean the Oregon squad that literally peed in their panties in the Rose Bowl against tOSU in January. And did you even watch the Boise-TCU Fiesta Bowl? Talk about two middleweights.

    Just because SC is sitting this one (or two) out, please don’t get the idea the rest of the Pac-10 has suddenly grown cajones.

    Oregon will lose at least one game during Pac-10 play. They always do. Boise will get exactly what they deserve for another unbeaten season.

      • Mike
        Mike says:

        Okay, here’s the latest that I’ve heard on the subject…

        Back when the build up to the Feista Bowl matchup between Oklahoma and Boise State was building, one of the articles came out about how OU Athletic Director Joe C stated that OU was in the process of sending out 2-1 offers to all of the mid-major powerhouse teams for Oklahoma’s future OOC needs. Joe mentioned that Boise was one of the teams that got on offer.

        After the Feista Bowl game both the Boise State Head Coach and the BSU Athletic Director was approached as a follow up piece about Joe’s comment about Oklahoma’s 2-1 deal.

        Both representatives stated that Boise turned it down for several reasons. The one’s that follow are what they stated in the piece :

        #1: With the victory over Oklahoma, Boise State had NOTHING to prove and that their victory meant that they DESERVED a 1-1 deal. Oklahoma did not want this as it would hurt them fiancially.

        #2: Boise State Head Coach Stated that Boise would receive no “benefit” from a three game series with Oklahoma and listed recruiting as a prime reason. He stated that Boise does not recruit the area where Oklahoma resides in and that they, (Boise), only wanted to play/schedule teams in the areas where they recruit, (i.e. MWC & Pac-10 teams).

        Interesting fact was this was back in 2007. IF Boise would have accepted the three game series, (I am certain Joe could have made it a 1-1-1 series, (i.e. one game in Norman, one at a neutral location, (Jerry World, Denver, etc), & then one at Boise), then all of their crying & moaning would be moot at this point as they would have played Oklahoma this season.

        Also, it is humorous to hear them scream & cry about the “big boys” not wanting to play them when it is known that Oklahoma attempted to play them.

        Interesting sidenote here, Boise did have a three game series with Utah scheduled. However, the Utes had to cancel the series as they chose to carry one of their OOC games as the annual game against BYU every year.

  4. Footballfan
    Footballfan says:

    I disagree with the assumption that Oregon and Boise St are the two most deserving and best teams in the land. If that were a national championship game, Oregon would probably blow Boise out by 4 TDs.

    My next point is the comment about Boise really impressing when they are in the national spotlight. Boise got a whole month before facing TCU in the battle of two non BCS schools. Boise got the whole off season to prepare for Virginia Tech and still had to have a key drive in the 4th quarter to win. Yeah, that’s a real impressive resume.

    Boise likes to schedule home and home games with the big boys as long as the games away from the blue turf is not actually the home field. i.e. Virginia Tech. however most big schools dont want to travel to boise to play in front of less than 35,000, where they actually lose money. Let’s not forget it’s a money making business, this thing we call college football.

    Last point, Put Boise into a BCS conference where they dont get a month or an offseason to prepare for their “big games” and you get a middle of the pack school with 2-5 losses a year. Put them in a situation where their schedule is this: At LSU, Alabama, At Aburn, South Carolina, At Florida, Tennessee, At Mississipi State.

    Or how about At Oklahoma, Texas, At Nebraska, Missouri, At Texas A and M, Oklahoma State.

    Or At Iowa, Ohio St., At Michigan, Wisconsin, At Michigan St.

    Get my drift? put them through some of those gauntlets and if they get through unscathed then they deserve to be in a national championship.

  5. Random Fan
    Random Fan says:

    Fantastic article. A counterpoint:

    Human intuition also said Utah couldn’t hang with the “big boys” in 2008 and were lucky Alabama was deigning from the untouchable SEC to blow them out in the Sugar Bowl. I also believe that Barry Switzer said Alabama wouldn’t have recruited a single player on Utah’s team and the talent gap couldn’t be overcome.

    After Utah handed Alabama an ass whooping, that same flawed human intuition, fresh off of being proven dead wrong, ranked Utah, the only undefeated team in college football, #2 and #4 (WTF?). Utah’s average ranking in the computer polls post-bowls? #1. Conveniently, the BCS ignores the computer rankings post-bowls.

    The moral of the story is sometimes human intuition is wrong and sometimes a computer with its admittedly flawed/biased algorithm can see the truth humans want to sweep under the rug.

    Postscript: The Utah players that Barry Switzer claimed weren’t good enough to play for Alabama… So far 11 of the Sugar Bowl team have been drafted to the NFL, and that number could grow next draft. Someone needs to tell Barry that there’s more to talent scouting than looking at conference affiliation and making assumptions. Sometimes human intuition isn’t enough.

  6. justme
    justme says:

    Well if USC can’t win it we should give it to another team that plays a weak schedule to keep the usc championship tradition of all flash but no actual test. WE COULD CALL IT HUMAN HUNCH. Get off your high horse. The team that plays the tough schedule and wins should go to the bcs championship even if sissies like you don’t like it

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