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College Football's BCS Swan Song: How It Works, Why It's Going Away

CLEMSON, SC - AUGUST 31:  A view of the BCS National Championship Trophy during their game at Memorial Stadium on August 31, 2013 in Clemson, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Samuel ChiCollege Football Playoff GuruOctober 17, 2013

After 16 years of existence, the Bowl Championship Series will be ushered into the ash heap of history following the completion of this season. The College Football Playoff will replace the BCS starting next season, discarding almost the entire infrastructure of the old system.

But for one last time, we still must contend with BCS's rules and protocols.

For the past nine years, the setup has been actually quite consistent and without any significant changes. As a result, the process is fairly easy to understand, and there is a decent degree of transparency.

The first piece, of course, is the BCS standings. The formula was altered in 2004 and has remained unchanged other than in 2005 when the Harris Interactive Poll replaced the AP Poll in the standings.

The 2004 remake shifted the weight of the standings to the human voters to such a degree that, at least for the purpose of creating the BCS championship matchups, the computers have been rendered irrelevant.

The Coaches Poll and Harris Poll each account for one-third of the standings while the computers make up the other third. The poll numbers are tabulated not by the teams' actual rankings but by the percentage of vote shares. The computer score comes from the average of six computer rankings—with margin of victory forbidden to be used as a component—after the highest and lowest rankings are thrown out.

Since the adoption of the current formula in 2004, every team that finished either first or second in the polls has played in the BCS title game because of the preponderance of human polls.

Alabama finished third in the computer rankings in both 2011 and 2012 (behind Oklahoma State and Florida, respectively), yet played and won both BCS title games because it placed second in the polls for both years.

After the championship matchup is determined, eight BCS berths will be up for grabs at the Rose, Sugar, Fiesta and Orange bowls. The champions of six BCS conferences (AAC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC) are automatically granted berths with the remaining four going to at-large entries. No conference may get more than two teams into BCS bowls, including the national championship game.

Notre Dame is eligible to be selected if it finishes in the top 14—as are any teams from the six BCS conferences—but the Irish would be guaranteed a spot if they're in the final top eight.

A special provision is also set up for teams in the have-not conferences—Mountain West, Mid-American, Conference USA and Sun Belt. If the highest-ranked conference champion among this group finishes in the top 12 of the final standings—or in the top 16 but ahead of a BCS conference champion—it's also guaranteed a spot.

Each of the four bowls has conference tie-ins, and they'll get to replace the the conference champion if it ends up playing in the BCS title game. In the final BCS rotation, the Orange Bowl gets to pick the first at-large team, followed by the Sugar and then the Fiesta.

This entire system will be blown up after the BCS champion is crowned in Pasadena on Jan. 6, supplanted by the new College Football Playoff. 

The BCS standings will be done for, replaced by the internal rankings of the new Selection Committee. The Cotton and Chick-fil-A bowls will be added to the rotation to create six bowls that host semifinal games, while a championship game will be played at a neutral site after bidding.

While the much-maligned BCS served as a punching bag for many college football fans during nearly its entire 16-year existence, it might end up being missed. At least the BCS has a certain level of transparency, and its outcome can be fairly easily projected at the season's end.

With the new committee making all the decisions behind closed doors, it may very well reaffirm the old adage of "be careful of what you wish for."

Follow on Twitter @BCSGuru


BCS Guru Samuel Chi will release projected BCS standings at Bleacher Report every Saturday night through the end of the season. 

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