After their dominant performance against South Carolina, Auburn emphatically laid claim to a spot in the BCS Title Game. But the Tigers' opponent is a mystery.
Well, it should be a mystery. But every sports website out there penciled in the Oregon Ducks to face Auburn in Glendale. ESPN; Yahoo! Sports; CBS Sports. It is a foregone conclusion and really renders ESPN's self-promoting farce this evening about as intriguing as "THE DECISION!!!"
But while everyone else is penciling in the Ducks, I have to question that choice. Not that Oregon is not a good team, but why isn't TCU receiving any consideration whatsoever?
I laid it out elsewhere questioning why Oregon was given preferential treatment while Boise State was ignored despite a similar resume. Well, with Boise State out of the way, maybe it is time to examine TCU head to head with Oregon.
There are two common opponents between the two teams—New Mexico and Oregon State. Oregon and TCU both beat those two teams in similar fashion—the Lobos were blown out while the Beavers fought valiantly but just did not have enough to take down their opponent.
Now, here is where someone will point out that Oregon State is Oregon's chief rival and the game was in Corvallis. But the counter to this is that the Beavers were a shell of their former self going into the Civil War, and the Horned Frogs beat a fully-healthy Oregon State squad.
This latter fact is a reason I am not too keen on using common opponents as a measuring stick. There are different circumstances surrounding each game and comparing one game to another is an utter fallacy. So, what other factors could be examined in the comparison between Oregon and TCU? How about rankings?
Well, the final BCS poll will not be released until later this evening, but it is safe to say that both TCU and Oregon will only have one opponent in the Top 25 of the BCS (Arizona should drop out of the Top 25). Obviously both teams beat their Top 25 opponent so they are 1-0 versus BCS Top 25 opponents. Oregon does have an advantage because they beat Stanford, who is ranked No. 4 in the BCS while TCU defeated Utah (20th in the current poll). However, three side notes with this comparison.
First, Oregon faced Stanford early in the season, which allowed the Cardinal a chance to crawl back into the Top 10. But also, Stanford went from unranked to No. 13 in the USA Today Coaches' Poll going into their October 2 game against the Ducks. Who exactly did the Cardinal beat to jump up so much? Sacramento State, UCLA (0-1), Wake Forest (2-0) and Notre Dame (1-2)! Really?
Meanwhile, Utah, which was also unranked, at least beat Pittsburgh to open the season and justified their early jump in the polls. Utah went into the TCU game undefeated and was destroyed...at home! But because that game occurred a little more than month after the Oregon-Stanford game, Utah—and vicariously TCU—was punished more because late season losses have a greater impact than early season losses.
Second, Utah followed up the TCU loss with a dismal performance at Notre Dame. Back-to-back losses are lethal and tend to cause greater total drop than non-consecutive losses. For example, Utah dropped a total of 18 slots in the coaches' poll (sixth to 15th after the TCU loss; 15th to 24th after the Notre Dame loss).
Oklahoma fell a total of 15 slots after losses to Missouri (third to 11th) and Texas A&M (ninth to 16th), with a Texas Tech win sandwiched in between the two losses. While only a difference of three, the point is that consecutive losses are more damaging than those of the non-consecutive variety.
The third thing to consider is the conference perception theory that has been laid out here before. Without regurgitating the entire theory, essentially because Utah is in the Mountain West conference, their loss to TCU carries a heavier impact than Stanford's loss to Oregon. This is because it is believed that Utah's ranking was a fraud due to their conference and that the Utes cannot be "legitimate." Or to put it another way, Stanford's loss was "respectable" because it occurred in a "tougher" (read "BCS") conference. Hence, why did Stanford only fell five slots while Utah fell nine slots.
Nevertheless, the fact does remain that Stanford is fourth in the BCS poll going into tonight's unveiling while Utah is 20th, and even if the polls are flawed, this perception will carry the day. So the Ducks likely will win this comparison 99 percent of the time.
Another potential comparison is to examine the average ranking of the opponents. This can be achieved by looking at the CBSSports.com 120. By taking the rankings of each FBS team, we find that Oregon's average is 65.36 while TCU's average is 73.45. While the same caution above with regards to losses and poll position apply here (and has been addressed elsewhere), the fact that there really is not a great difference between Oregon's opponents and TCU's opponents should bring pause.
If one wants to argue that TCU does not belong in the BCS title game discussion because of their opponents, then what has Oregon really done to prove that they belong? That Oregon's opponent's average ranking is only eight spots higher than that of TCU's opponents does not make the Ducks a clear cut choice.
Which leads us to strength of schedule. While this is not completely objective due to the fact that intangibles unrelated to records are not taken into account (not to mention that the formula used is up to the evaluator), it at the very least avoids emotion and perception.
The NCAA implements a formula to determine the "toughest schedule," which is simply the winning percentage of all of the opponents of a given team. According to their formula, Texas A&M has the toughest schedule in the FBS (0.65289) while Middle Tennessee State has the weakest schedule (0.305).
Based on the same formula, TCU is ranked 75th (0.47058) while Oregon is one slot below the Horned Frogs at 76th (0.46956). If you include FCS schools, both drop considerably, but Oregon falls all the way into a tie at 150 while TCU drops to a tie at 135. So, using the NCAA's standard, TCU has faced a tougher schedule.
Well, can we get more sophisticated than just total winning percentage of opponents? Sure. What about a simple strength of schedule formula and well as the Rating Percentage Index that is often used for basketball?
- SOS = ((2*Opponent Record)+(Opponents' Opponent's Record))/3
- RPI = (Record*0.25)+(Opponents' Record*0.5)+(Opponents' Opponents' Record*0.25)
If we do this, the difference between the Ducks and the Horned Frogs is minuscule.
- Oregon: SOS - 0.485; RPI - 0.614
- TCU: SOS - 0.483; RPI - 0.612
In both cases, Oregon's "lead" is only 0.002 points. It is such minuscule difference that it would be safer to call both teams even. Although I did not go through and rank every team based on these two measures, it is safe to say that the difference between Oregon and TCU would likely be one or two spots.
It is difficult to state that TCU deserves to be in the BCS title game over Oregon. But what makes it so easy to claim that Oregon deserves it over TCU? Based on every comparable measure examined here, both teams are even and should receive equal consideration. There should be mystery going into tonight's "BCS DECISION!!!" but it seems that the decision has already been made.
Actually, the decision to have Oregon and Auburn play for the BCS title was made over a decade ago when this current system was designed. The system was created by the power conferences and designed to give their members direct access to the title game. Oregon and Auburn are both in BCS conferences and as such it only seems "natural" that those teams "belong" in the BCS Title Game. It is their party and so of course they are going to be invited.
Meanwhile TCU, who appears to be able to party just as hard as Oregon, is left standing on the front porch.
At least in two years they can snatch the Big East's ticket to a BCS bowl game and maybe the Big Party. Maybe then TCU will be "accepted."
This article first appeared at Uncle Popov's Drunken Sports Rant on Sunday, December 5, 2010.