Most of us consider the primary purpose of the regular season to be winning games and thus giving us bragging rights at the water cooler. However, there is a second and more important purpose: to win championships and get into BCS Bowls.
Following are what I consider the five keys (in order of importance) to getting your team into the BCS Championship Game (BCSCG).
1. Be a BCS Conference Champion
Since USC was left out of the 2003 BCSCG in favor of Big 12 runner-up Oklahoma, it has become an unwritten rule that if a team is unable to win its conference championship, it does not deserve a shot at the national championship.
Kansas in 2007 is a perfect example. The Wildcats were the only BCS team other than Ohio State that had only one regular season loss. Since they did not win the Big 12 title, they weren't even considered for a spot in last year's BCSCG.
2. Overall W-L record
The strength of a team's schedule is secondary. OSU in 2007 is a prime example. Despite the Big 10+1 being comparatively down and the Buckeyes having a pathetic out-of-conference schedule (Youngstown State, Akron, Washington, and Kent State), they finished the regular season rated No. 1 because they were the only BCS conference champion with fewer than two losses.
3. Preseason Polls/Ranking
LSU benefited from this in 2007 despite having two losses, including their last regular season game at home.
4. Playing a conference championship game vs. not playing one
Winning the SEC CG against a ranked opponent gave LSU a slight edge over Southern Cal in the eyes of the pollsters.
5. Out-of-Conference schedule
Apparently when it comes to ranking, the strength of the opponents in a team's conference is a non-factor when compared to the strength of the team's OOC opponents. This probably has as much to do with regional bias as anything.
In 2007 it was the win over VA Tech—not beating three SEC teams, which also finished in the final top 15, prior to bowl selection day—that enabled LSU to separate itself from Oklahoma.
Having said all the above, what type of OOC schedule works to a school's advantage in its quest for championships? Either of the following is ideal.
1. One top-tier OOC BCS opponent and the rest cupcakes, or
2. Two second-tier OOC BCS opponents and the rest cupcakes.
In most seasons since the advent of the BCS, there has been at least one undefeated BCS team. Thus, the second team in the BCSCG usually can afford no more than one loss.
As a general rule, pollsters ignore strength of schedule except in tiebreaker situations. Regardless of how tough a team's schedule is, it will not overcome the W-L rule.
For example, a 12-1 record that includes the SEC championship game will not be ranked ahead of an undefeated team from the Big East conference at season's end.
Scheduling more than one top-tier OOC opponent significantly increases the likelihood of a team losing two or more regular season games. This is particularly true if the team plays in a highly competitive conference.
If a team schedules all cupcakes, the team almost certainly must go undefeated in conference play. Even then, it is likely to lose any tiebreakers. As much as anything, it was Auburn's OOC schedule of LA Monroe, Citadel, and LA Tech which cost them any chance of playing for the 2004 national championship, despite being undefeated.
That year USC played OOC games against VA Tech, Colorado State, BYU, and Notre Dame, while Oklahoma played Bowling Green, Houston, and Oregon.