BCS Rankings 2011: 25 Things We Learned from the First BCS Rankings Poll
The first BCS rankings of the 2011 college football season are out, and the whole college football world is abuzz with discussion.
What does this mean for Team X? Why wasn't Team Y ranked higher? Why is Team Z so overrated? Where do we go from here? Does my team have a chance?
All valid questions, and we're going to attempt to answer a few of them here, with 25 things we learned from the first BCS rankings poll.
25. Things Are Just Beginning
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There weren't too many galloping shocks in the first BCS rankings, but that might have more to do with the fact that we've gotten some big shocks out of the way already this season than anything else.
First off, teams like Clemson have been a pleasant surprise for their fanbases while others like Texas A&M seem to be struggling in ways no one predicted when the season began.
There has been some poll movement early on this year, but nothing shocking, and the BCS rankings bear that out.
While it's way too early to tell where things will end up in December, and there are bound to be some more surprises in store, the initial BCS rankings went off without causing any mass hysteria or civil unrest.
24. Still No Objectivity in Presentation
When it comes to covering sports events, there's no one better in the business than ESPN.
When it comes to giving objective opinions on sports, there's no one worse than ESPN.
It's amazing that one media outlet can be at once so great and so bad at things so closely related.
As if listening to Craig James for another season won't perturb millions of college football fans enough, ESPN saw fit to bring in Skip Bayless. Here's a guy who actually openly advocates allowing football boosters to spend unlimited amounts of cash to lure recruits to “Dear Old U,” paying cash benefits directly into the pockets of college athletes.
How on earth are we supposed to stomach Craig James and Skip Bayless every week?
23. Computers Have Too Much Control
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This will be a recurring theme in this slideshow, but our first example can be found in No. 24 Texas.
Here's a team that wasn't expected to be that great this season, is 1-2 in the Big 12, 4-2 overall, isn't ranked in either of the two human polls used by the BCS, yet finds its way into the rankings at No. 24 based solely on the virtue of microprocessors.
A team that a flesh-and-blood group of humans didn't rank finds a silicon advocate in the BCS, where some polls rank the Longhorns as high as No. 11.
No. 11? Are we sure the computers were programed with the 2011 Longhorns?
22. It's Not Whether You Win or Lose, It's When You Win or Lose
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It's the nature of the BCS. It shouldn't be, but it is.
In today's college football world, if you had to pick between a loss in Week 1 or Week 8, you'd pick week one. For some reason or another, even though the BCS professes differently, an early loss seems to hurt teams less than losing later in the season.
Why? It could be because as the season progresses more teams lose games. It could be because the computer polls have an as yet undiscovered bias toward the here and now. It could be our imaginations.
No matter the cause, we've seen one-loss teams spread across the rankings, with the early losers near the top.
While we learned about this trend years ago, we learned that you can rest assured it will continue in 2011.
21. Penn State Deserves Better
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If you coach a team in a BCS AQ conference, and your only loss thus far in the season is to the No. 2 team in the nation, why wouldn't a No. 21 ranking bother you?
There's a lot of season left to be played, but when a one-loss Penn State team is staring at 20 teams in front of it in the BCS hunt, it has to be a little disheartening.
20. Houston Between Auburn and Michigan? Really?
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There's not a single objective individual that would lump Houston in the same group as Michigan and Auburn. Not one.
Maybe that's just more proof that the BCS isn't anywhere close to an objective measure of a team's strength.
Michigan has computer rankings that span from No. 10 to not ranked, while Auburn spans No. 10 to No. 25. Houston is also sporting a wildly disparate range of computer rankings, from No. 11 to not ranked.
But the difference comes in who Michigan and Auburn play versus who Houston plays.
Thus far on Michigan's schedule we find teams like Notre Dame and Michigan State. For Auburn, it's Clemson and South Carolina.
For Houston, it's North Texas and UTEP.
Any non-AQ program that can't bother itself to play at least one ranked AQ program shouldn't be given a pass, no matter how good their quarterback is.
19. Texas A&M Proves Even Two Losses Can Be Overcome
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Despite the fact that the Aggies have suffered two second-half collapses thus far, Texas A&M is still ranked No. 17 in the first BCS rankings.
What does this mean in a larger sense? First, it's yet another example of how the computers are a little wacky when it comes to determining rankings.
Yes, both of A&M's losses were to top ten teams, but the Aggies are ranked as high as No. 10 in the computer polls, and as low as No. 22. A two-loss team No. 10?
Secondly, the ranking probably underscores the stength of the Big 12 as a whole, and Texas A&M in particular. It's no small wonder the SEC went after Texas A&M with such fervor.
18. Just When the Humans Come Around...
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What does a Spartan have to do these days to get a little respect?
In case anyone missed it, Michigan State once and for all threw off the “little brother” persona, and beat a pretty darn good Michigan team on Saturday.
It also happens to be MSU's fourth-consecutive victory of Michigan—something that hasn't happened since the early 1960's.
The defending Big Ten co-champions were rewarded by the human polls, as the one-loss Spartans climbed to No. 13 and No. 15 in the two flesh-and-blood BCS polls.
But as soon as Sparty gets a little love from the pollsters, the computers get involved.
Only four of the six computer polls even ranked MSU in the Top 25, and the four that did placed the Spartans between No. 19 and No. 25.
Impress the computers, like 2010, and the humans keep you down. Impress the humans, and this year it's the computers that give you the boot.
17. The Big East Again Skirts by with Their Inexplicable BCS Auto Bid
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Seriously, this has to stop.
Thankfully, the rash of teams switching conferences will likely prompt the BCS to reevaluate which conference receive automatic bids to the BCS, but for now we're going to be stuck with some team from the Big East making their way into the BCS.
Last season, a nearly unranked Connecticut somehow found itself invited to the Fiesta Bowl. Is there anyone left who honestly thinks that Alabama or Boise State or about a dozen other teams were more deserving?
While West Virginia is the highest (and only) Big East team appearing in the BCS rankings, it's by no means certain the Mountaineers will win the conference this season. Even if WVU does win the Big East, it's likely to be ranked well below teams that won't be receiving a BCS bid. Again, we'll be forced to suffer through watching a Big East team get steamrolled by an SEC or Big 12 team in January.
16. South Carolina in in Some (Real) Trouble
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The next three teams we'll talk about are all in a little bit of trouble.
It's not as if their BCS hopes are over, but all three are now placed in a position where winning their respective conferences will be the best way to gain entry to the BCS.
There are only so many at-large bids available, and all three of these teams won't be getting them. So winning out is probably a must at this point.
The first team, at No. 14, is South Carolina.
After reaching the program's first-ever SEC Championship Game last season, the Gamecocks were hoping for a repeat SEC-East title performance. While that's still possible, a somewhat surprising defeat at the hands of a then-unranked Auburn squad has set things back a bit.
Add in the fact that SC has dismissed senior quarterback Stephen Garcia (after five suspensions, is anyone really surprised?) plus standout Marcus Lattimore is out for the rest of the season, and South Carolina's BCS dreams are dwindling very quickly.
While SC may have had a chance to win the SEC this season with every player in perfect condition and a few lucky breaks, with the personnel issues Steve Spurrier has to deal with now, the safe money is on the Gamecocks not repeating as SEC-East champs, and not even coming close to the BCS this season.
15. Nebraska Is in Some Trouble
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Our second team in some trouble is No. 13 Nebraska.
After an embarrassing blow-out loss to Wisconsin in their Big Ten debut, the Cornhuskers limped back to Lincoln to lick their wounds.
While the cross-divisional loss to the Badgers didn't end the Cornhuskers' hopes for a Big Ten title this season, it did end all discussion of a BCS title.
It also highlighted the fact that Nebraska isn't yet the team Huskers fans were hoping for. There are a number of unresolved issues, and it looks as if Nebraska won't be dominating the Big Ten after all.
14. Virginia Tech Is in Some Trouble
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At No. 12, Virginia Tech suffered a setback against surprising Clemson. The Hokies can still find their way into the ACC Championship Game if they win out, as they have yet to face ACC-Coastal leader Georgia Tech, but any hope of a BCS title run was dashed with the loss to Clemson.
13. Kansas State's Surprising Success Is Sensed
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Back at the start of the season, if you were asked to guess which Big 12 team other than OU or Oklahoma State would be the highest ranked team in the initial BCS standings, you would not have answered Kansas State.
Yet the Wildcats find themselves as the No. 11 team in the BCS. In reality, the only reason KSU is that low is because the humans in the equation haven't quite caught up to the what the computers are saying.
Kansas State is ranked between No. 6 and No. 10 in the computer polls, yet the human polls have the Wildcats at No. 12 and No. 16.
Kansas State has OU and Okie State looming in the near future, and we'll quickly know if KSU is a pretender or true BCS contender this season.
12. Arkansas and Oregon Are Easily the Best One-Loss Teams
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Okay, so we didn't need a ranking to tell us this, but the BCS has confirmed that Arkansas and Oregon are the best one-loss teams in America right now, and until someone from the top five loses, it will likely stay that way.
Consider the fact that these two teams each have one loss, and those losses came at the hands of either the current No. 1 or No. 2 team in the nation.
11. Not Everyone Is Sold on Stanford
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With Andrew Luck returning this season, there were many in the west who believes the stars were aligning for the Cardinal in 2011.
While Stanford has beaten everyone they have faced thus far, there just doesn't seem to be the level fo excitement nationally this season for the Cardinal like there was in 2010.
Perhaps it was the plethora of departures from Stanford after last season, or the fact that Stanford has beaten a whole host of bad teams by expected, but not crazy margins.
Whatever it is, people just don't seem to be very high on Stanford yet. The computers certainly aren't.
10. As Expected, the Badgers Need Help
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The Wisconsin Badgers have been very impressive so far this season, thanks in large part to their transfer senior quarterback Russell Wilson.
For the first time in quite a while, the Badgers have a threat at quarterback that can do more than occasionally throw the ball.
For what seems like forever, quarterbacks in Madison have been called upon to do little more than hand off the ball, and occasionally throw it down field. There's been little need for a gunslinger at Wisconsin, because the Badgers running game has been so prolific.
The Badgers still have a powerful Big Ten run game, but now Wilson has added a Heisman-caliber threat at quarterback capable of throwing for big yardage. Wilson can also account for big yardage on the ground, making this dual threat quarterback a huge asset to a team that now has a complete package offense.
Wisconsin was very good when the relied mostly on their running game. Now, the Badgers have the ability to be scary-good.
Still, even with a dominating Big Ten performance this season, the cards are stacked against the Badgers. There are too many good teams ranked above Wisconsin to allow the Badgers a straight shot to New Orleans. Wisconsin needs help, and it's not all that likely they'll get enough of it when the time comes.
9. The Computers Love Oklahoma State
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The Oklahoma State Cowboys are discovering that courage will be rewarded—as long as you're a member of a BCS-AQ conference.
The Cowboys have found themselves ranked No. 4 in the initial BCS rankings, thanks mainly to the computers, which have ranked them as the top team in the nation.
Why? Who knows. The non-conference strength-of-schedule isn't the best in the nation (Louisiana-Lafayette, Arizona, and Tulsa), and the Cowboys have played just one team that remains ranked, but the computers love them Cowboys.
With such digital love making its way to Stillwater, the Cowboys can punch their own ticket as long as they keep winning.
8. Oklahoma Has Fallen DOWN to "BCS Title Contender?"
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When the season started, it seemed as if the Sooners were the “chosen ones” this season, and nothing short of divine intervention would stop Oklahoma from destroying everything that dared cross its path.
Well, the Sooners are still winning, but—shocker—there are other good teams in the nation.
It might be hard for Sooners fans to see it, but OU has benefited from their lofty start to the season. While LSU and Alabama have climbed above Oklahoma, the Sooners still are in a position to write their own check when it comes to the BCS. A preseason No. 1 spot and an undefeated (so far) season will do that. Beat Oklahoma State (along with everyone else left on the schedule), and the Superdome will be the destination.
7. Alabama Fans Have Nothing to Worry About
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Being No. 2 in the initial BCS rankings isn't a bad spot to be in, especially when you have the No. 1 team in the rankings on your schedule down the road a few weeks.
While Alabama fans have this inexplicable need to be No. 1, just remember it's quite rare to go wire-to-wire as the BCS's No. 1 team.
Besides, the Tide still control their own desitiny. Continue to win, and the rest will fall right into place.
6. LSU Deserves What They Got
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Unless you're an Alabama fan, you probably are okay with where the LSU Tigers ended up in the first BCS rankings of 2011.
After all, LSU had one of, if not the hardest non-confernce schedule of the season, and the Tigers have performed very well.
Sorry, Alabama fans, but Kent State and North Texas don't exactly measure up to West Virginia and Oregon.
LSU will take a late-season cake walk against Western Kentucky—a week before Alabama welcomes FCS Georgia Southern to Tuscaloosa.
With all the BCS gets wrong—you'll see—the system at least got this one right.
5. The System (Still) Isn't Perfect
Pretty much everyone other than the BCS and those who make the most money from it (cough... ESPN... cough...) will admit this is a fact, but the BCS isn't anywhere close to perfect.
First off, the computer rankings are a complete joke. One of many simple examples shows up in Stanford's rankings. The Cardinal are ranked No. 5 and No. 7 in the two human polls, averaging at No. 6. The computers place them anywhere from No. 8 to No. 20! Really? Does anyone not currently a ward of the state believe there are 19 etams that should be ranked ahead of Stanford right now?
Going further, Stanford is listed as having No. 8 as the average computer ranking. Okay, fine. But how is that number reached? According to the BCS, the Cardinal were ranked 8, 9, 8, 20, 15, and 10 by the six computer polls. That's an average of about 12. Well, the BCS drops the lowest and highest of the six, which leaves us with 9, 8, 15, and 10—an average of 10 or 11. So where does the average of No. 8 come from?
Similarly odd, Arkansas also averages No. 8 in the computer rankings with the six polls ranking them 15, 11, 17, 8, 7, and 8. Explain that.
The problem is no one can explain it, and the BCS refuses to explain it.
4. The Computers (and Craig James) Still Hate Boise State
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Poor Boise State.
Will they ever get a break?
The short answer is, no.
The long answer is, heck no, not as long as the current BCS system stays in place and the questionable Harris Poll and mind-numbing computers have anything to say about it.
No matter where you come down on the argument, every sane and objective college football fan knows that you can't blame Boise State for being left out year after year. After all, the players and coaches don't determine the schedules, and they don't determine the conference affiliations. The only thing they can do is go out on the field every Saturday and beat the stuffing out of whoever lines up across from them.
And they do.
Unless Boise State gets some massive, highly improbable help this season, they will yet again have a 12-0 season capped off by a bid to the Fiesta Bowl, given out by the BCS in the most condescending of manners: “Wow! You actually made it to the BCS! Good for you, tiny little non-AQ program!”
One thing is clear: Boise State's rejection from the title game won't do anything to mollify the Justice Department's investigation into the BCS.
3. The Top Four Teams in the BCS Rankings Control Their Own Destinies
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If ever you wanted a playoff, this is the year for you.
This season, we are going to have the closest thing we've ever had to a playoff in the FBS.
The top two teams at the end of the season will meet in the BCS title game. The top four teams will meet each other before the season is out. No. 1 LSU will play No. 2 Alabama, while no. 3 Oklahoma will play No. 4 Oklahoma State. No matter who wins which game, it's pretty clear that if two of the top four win out, they will earn a trip to New Orleans for the BCS Championship Game.
Everyone else needs at least three of the top four to lose at least once.
2. The Pundits Have No Clue About the Computers
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When the BCS rankings were announced, there weren't a ton of surprises. Some may say that this team or that could have or should have been a few places higher or lower, but for the most part, each team that was expected to be in the top ten was, and the teams that we all expected to be 11 through 25 were about where they should have been.
But almost predictably, the conversation turned to the computers and the consideration of non-conference schedules.
Even in the announcement, ESPN analysts pointed to Wisconsin's utter lack of non-conference difficulty, which inevitably hurt the Badgers in the computer rankings.
But let's take a closer look.
Both Wisconsin and, for example Alabama, are undefeated. Both have played non-conference games against opponents that are not ranked in the human polls (for Alabama, three, and for Wisconsin, four). Both have played against one conference opponent currently ranked in the human polls.
So why is Wisconsin deserving the ire of the computers?
The fact is, no one really knows for sure. But for some reason, ESPN talked about Wisconsin's strength-of-schedule as if they are privy to the inner workings of the computer formulas that are notoriously kept a closely guarded secret.
And even if strength-of-schedule were to explain some separation between the two, it doesn't explain the difference between Alabama's .951 and Wisconsin's .771.
Why can't we just all admit that no one has any fricking idea what the computers will do?
1. It's a Long, Long Season
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In the end, everyone should remember this one point: we're only half way through the regular season. There's still a ton of football left to be played.
The BCS will shake itself out, at least for the most part.
Many of the teams in the top ten have games coming up against other teams in the top ten.
First, there's LSU and Alabama.
Then there's Stanford and Oregon.
Plus Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
Basically, it's way too soon to push the panic button, and it's not worth getting all bent out of shape about your team's ranking until we get three or four more BCS rankings under our belts.
A lot can change in seven weeks, and there's just as much football in front of us as there is in the rear view mirror of 2011.