Falling Behind: Why TCU Will Stay Ahead of Boise State in the BCS Standings

Pete MisthaufenAnalyst IOctober 27, 2009

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 23:  Quarterback Andy Dalton #14 of  TCU runs with the ball against the tackle of Safety Jeron Johnson #23 of Boise State during the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium on December 23, 2008 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

In the second edition of this season BCS rankings, No. 6 TCU jumped ahead of Boise State, as the Broncos fell down to No. 7.

Boise State still owns a healthy lead in the human polls (up one in the Coaches' Poll and up two in the Harris), but was killed by the computers (No. 8 overall).

This was largely a foreseen circumstance as many had analyzed Boise State's schedule and called it a weak at best and a one-game season at worst.

Of course, Boise State's last loss was to TCU in their incredible bowl matchup last year.

So, does Boise State have any real chance of passing up TCU to secure an automatic berth to a BCS bowl?

Or does Boise State just need to sit back and hope that TCU loses or that the BCS takes two non-automatic qualifiers this year?

Let's take a closer look.

How Did We Get Here?

TCU finished last season as the consensus No. 7 after defeating Boise State in the Poinsetta Bowl. Boise State finished at No. 11 in the AP and No. 13 in the USA Today Coaches' Poll.

Inexplicably, TCU started this season at No. 17 in both the AP and the Coaches' Poll.  Meanwhile, Boise State started off the season at No. 14 in the AP and No. 16 in the Coaches' Poll. I guess they should be glad not to be Cincinnati and start the season unranked.

While teams like Alabama, USC, Oklahoma, and Texas are automatically assumed to be as good as they were the year before and start off the season in the top 10, teams from outside major players in the Big Six are lucky even to be ranked in the preseason polls, even when they return much of their talent from very successful teams.

Even worse, teams like LSU start off the season with top 10 rankings even when they finished the previous season unranked. 

It creates an enormous mountain for outsider teams to overcome part of the inherent difficulty that outsiders face in reaching the BCS title game.

The Season Starts

Of course, Boise's big win over Oregon rightly bumped Boise State up, going to No. 11 and No. 12. TCU advanced to No. 16 with a bye week. Both schools remained behind fellow would-be buster BYU, who notched a huge win over then-No. 3 Oklahoma at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

For Boise State, the win over the Ducks opened a door to a BCS win. Few observers expected the Broncos to be challenged in any of their other games, an observation that has largely proven correct so far.

Week Two

TCU opened with a solid win at Virginia, holding the Wahoos scoreless for 55 minutes.  However, this win lost some of its luster in Week One as Virginia lost at home to a FCS school.

Boise advanced with a win over a MAC school to reach a consensus No. 10 ranking.  TCU slid up to No. 15 in both polls.

Week Three

Week Three created a huge opening for both schools, as BYU fell inexplicably at home to Florida State.

Boise State defeated WAC rival Fresno State in an exciting game.  TCU rolled over its FCS opponent at home. 

The Broncos jumped to No. 8 in both polls, essentially taking over for BYU as primary BCS buster, while TCU languished at No. 14 and No. 15.

Week Four

TCU won a hard-fought contest in Death Valley during a monsoon against Clemson, while Boise State went to Bowling Green and had another convincing win.

Boise State jumped all the way to No. 5 in both the Coaches' Poll and the newly-released Harris Poll, as well as the AP.  

TCU became reached No. 10 in the AP and Coaches' Polls and No. 11 in the Harris Poll.

TCU was 303 votes behind the Broncos in the AP, 216 in the Coaches Poll, and 606 in the Harris.

Week Five

TCU defeated its local rival, SMU, in another rainstorm, pulling away in the second half.  Boise hosted a FCS school and scored a touchdown in the final minutes to make the final score more respectable.

Boise State remained at No. 5 in the Harris and TCU advanced to No. 10, but the gap closed to only 472 votes, a gain of 134 votes for TCU.

Boise State fell back in the Coaches' Poll to No. 6 and TCU advanced to No. 9. The gap narrowed to 168 votes, a gain of 48 votes.

TCU also made up ground in the AP, as the Frogs rose to only 245 votes behind the Broncos.

Week Six

With Boise State having a bye week, TCU travelled to icy and windy conditions at Air Force, where the game time temperature was somewhere around 19 degrees.

TCU led easily for most of the game before the opportunistic Falcons (No. 1 in turnover ratio in the country) forced their third turnover from TCU and scored a late touchdown on a short field, making the final score 20-17.

The AP voters punished TCU for winning a game in awful conditions on the road and against a solid team, dropping TCU to No. 12, while returning Boise State to No. 5 for their stellar performance during the bye week. TCU fell to 282 votes behind Boise State.

The Coaches' Poll, perhaps reflecting an understanding of what it actually means to win a game in Colorado Springs in difficult conditions, moved TCU up to No. 8, though TCU actually lost ground in the vote totals, being 191 back of Boise State.

TCU remained 469 votes and five sports behind Boise State in the Harris poll.

Week Seven

This is the week where the situation turned for the worse for Boise State. In a ESPN midweek contest, Tulsa's tough play against Boise State was noticed and "experts" started to cast doubt on the quality of the Broncos. 

Meanwhile, TCU rolled against Colorado State, in a game which featured a well-played highlight of Jeremy Kerley returning a punt in spectacular fashion.

The writers moved TCU up again to No. 10, but a mere 155 votes behind No. 6 Boise State.

The Coaches erased most of the separation between the two schools, moving TCU to No. 7 and a mere 84 votes behind Boise State, closing the gap by 107 votes.

TCU also moved to No. 8 in the Harris, 274 votes behind Boise State, cutting the margin in half.

The initial BCS rankings gave Boise State the No. 4 position, with a healthy score from both the computers and the voters.  Boise ranked between one (Colley and Wolfe) and eight (Sagarin) spots ahead of TCU.

Boise State had scored .8083, with a total lead of .0944 over TCU in the BCS.

Week Eight

TCU's complete domination and destruction of BYU played well both with humans and computers, though Boise still retained substantial voter love.

TCU remained two spots behind Boise State in the Harris poll, but only by a mere 154 votes, essentially gaining an entire spot.

Boise remained above TCU in the Coaches' poll, but only by 21 votes.

In the AP, TCU closed the gap to 45 votes.

Most importantly, the BCS computers jumped all over TCU, while penalizing Boise State for playing another weak opponent. Now that the Oregon win is only one of seven Boise State wins, its importance has declined. 

Moreover, Clemson's upset of Miami has transformed TCU's win at Death Valley into a quality win.

The much referenced Sagarin rankings remain the only computer to have Boise ahead of TCU. Since the BCS drops the lowest and highest computer ranking, it is now virtually meaningless in the this discussion.

The remaining computers rank TCU at No. 4 or No. 5, giving TCU a .850 score.

Boise, beloved by Sagarin at No. 4 (dropped by the BCS), earned between six and 11 for a total of .740.

TCU largely benefits from having the No. 28 strength of schedule of all teams for games played to date, third-highest among the top eight teams.

Boise State, having played the No. 79 schedule, is only ahead of Cincinnati among the top eight teams.

BCS Formula Helps TCU

The current makeup of the BCS formula is currently helping TCU over Boise State.

The human polls make up two-thirds of the BCS ranking, but do not do so based upon ranking. Instead, the actual vote totals are the measuring stick.

So, using that basis, TCU is only about one-and-a-half spots behind Boise State in the Harris Poll and a half spot in the Coaches' Poll.

TCU is thereby much closer in the human polls to Boise State than appears at first glance.

The computers use the rankings for each team, thereby exaggerating differences. For example, Boise State is just a hair (0.005) behind TCU in the Massey BCS rankings, but is a spot (.04) behind TCU in the same computer ranking as used in the BCS. 

The computer polls will be somewhat volatile for the two teams going forward, depending upon the relative success of their opponents, but TCU's leg up in the computers will most likely stay.

So, Where Does It Go from Here?

This week, both TCU and Boise State face seemingly helpless foes in home games. In the Colley Matrix, UNLV comes in at No. 99 and San Jose State at No. 100. 

At home, San Jose State is a competitive team having pushed Utah to the limit before losing. Likewise, UNLV had Oregon State beat at home until a very suspect pass interference call helped the Beavers pull out a win.

Both teams have failed to meet expectations (and both were expected to reach bowls this year), so playing tough against their respective conference leaders might happen.

But if the Frogs and the Broncos both blow out their opponents as expected, the computers will impact each in similar fashion. Any change in Week Nine will most likely occur with the human voters.

Week Ten will unlikely cause much change either. TCU heads to an improving San Diego State, while Boise State travels to Louisiana Tech, both ranked in the 90s by Colley.

Unless there is an unexpectedly close game, do not expect to see much change in the human polls. The computers, prohibited from judging margin of victory, just ding both teams for playing weak opponents.

Week Eleven is where the Frogs look to gain some serious mileage, facing BCS No. 16 at home, while Boise State hosts BCS No. 39 Idaho. 

Even if both TCU and Boise State win, look for TCU to gain both in the computers and the humans.

Week Twelve in mid-November has Boise State traveling to Utah State with a high-powered offense and no defense, while TCU heads up to an improving Wyoming at college football's highest stadium (7,200 ft.). 

With bad weather a serious possibility, TCU faces the tougher challenger from both their opponent and likely gametime conditions.

Week Thirteen has TCU closing out at home with one of the worst teams in college football, New Mexico, while Boise State hosts the very dangerous Nevada Wolf Pack.

Boise State could potentially make up some computer ground here, but also faces its last chance to lose, as Nevada has pushed Boise the last two years in high-scoring affairs.

Week Fourteen has Boise State closing out with a home game with the awful New Mexico State Aggies, while TCU has a bye.

This game actually should hurt Boise State more than help. Playing 13 regular season games is good, but it further reduces the Broncos' schedule strength and this win will impress no one, even if it were 80-0.


Unless TCU loses, do not expect Boise State to jump back over the Frogs.  With the upcoming contest with Utah, TCU has a trump card for the BCS computer rankings. The computers more closely follow strength of schedule and track quality of opponents.

Now, the human polls, being largely a beauty contest, could stick with the Broncos, but look for them to follow the computers, especially as voters are reminded that TCU handed Boise State its last loss in a game featuring mostly the same players on each team.

Given all this, a TCU win over Utah should all but guarantee the Frogs a spot in a BCS bowl game.

In a rational world, this would not matter. An undefeated Boise State should be given an at-large spot for the BCS. However, the Broncos face the unwelcomed, but regular role of having being passed over by the BCS in favor of a school that would provide higher television ratings and a higher chance at a sell out of the game.

The Broncos can console themselves with the idea of the improved schedule for next year and the possibility that their fellow WAC teams will actually improve, making the Broncos true national title contenders in 2010. The Broncos are a very young team and will likely be even better next year.

Of course, TCU will return most of its starters again on offense and has shown a strong ability to reload on defense, even when losing stars the caliber of Jerry Hughes and Daryl Washington, both of which will be playing on Sundays next season.

So, we can expect another TCU versus Boise State contest for a BCS bid next season.  The way these teams are playing with young players this season, maybe we can even get one of the two teams into the BCS title game.

Now, wouldn't that just upset the powers that be in the college football?


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