BCS Rankings 2011: Why Alabama Deserves to Be Ranked Above LSU
Let the annual war of words begin.
Now that the initial BCS standings have been released after seven weeks of college football, there are sure to be heated discussions about these supposedly airtight rankings.
This is one of those discussions.
The coaches, voters and computers have all spoken, with the result being that Louisiana State University and Alabama University are atop the college football world in a tightly-contested race that's far from over.
Analysis of this first edition of the BCS standings shows that both teams clearly represent the best that college football has to offer.
For all the work that goes into generating these rankings that will eventually determine the national championship matchup, the experts never seem to get it exactly right.
However, that leaves us the freedom to scrap these scientifically-determined rankings and formulate our own opinions; which are always better than what the computer spits out.
After all, why base the national title on mathematical analysis? Math is never anyone's favorite subject (And if it is, that person probably doesn't care about the battle between LSU and Alabama for the top BCS spot).
Since college football doesn't have a playoff system, we as fans are forced to make the best of the BCS rankings. Even if "making the best of them" means throwing them out the window; exactly what I plan to do.
That said, here's why Alabama deserves the number one spot in the BCS rankings.
LSU, thanks for keeping the seat warm.
The Numbers Game
Let's talk numbers. More specifically, let's talk fractions.
It's important to note how close LSU and Alabama are in terms of their respective BCS averages. LSU earned a .9522, while Alabama was given a .9519. The fact that only .0003 percentage points separate these two teams is incredible.
As a basis of comparison, we as a society only track monetary amounts (e.g. straight cash, homie) down to the hundredth of a percent.
Money is the driving force in our world; if we don't track something this important farther than two decimal places, why do we give such credence to a BCS average that must be taken out to four decimal places to determine college football's best team?
The difference between LSU and 'Bama in the BCS rankings is negligible. If their BCS averages were assigned values consistent with those of our monetary system, they would both have .95 as their number.
In my mind, the BCS average is a wash and shouldn't be used as a talking point by the analysts on television.
If the experts are falling back on the fact that three ten-thousandths of a point supposedly
indicate that LSU is the stronger team, they're wrong to do so.
These teams are—at best for LSU, at worst for Alabama—evenly matched. LSU isn't the better team, especially if the argument is based on BCS percentage.
Results on the Field
It's obvious that LSU and Alabama are very strong teams, as both have won decisively at home and on the road throughout the year thus far. However, their respective results show that Alabama is the better overall team according to the scoreboard.
LSU has scored 269 points while allowing only 82 points against this year, good for a +187 point differential. Alabama has scored 278 points and has only allowed its opponents to score 49 points this season, making their point differential +229.
Purely from their game scores, Alabama has outperformed LSU when it comes to outscoring opponents and shutting them down defensively.
To go more in-depth, Alabama's closest margin of victory so far was 16 points in a 27-11 road win against Penn State. Meanwhile, LSU looked to be in trouble on the road in Starkville, MS against Mississippi State, but managed to pull off a 19-6 win.
LSU also managed a 13-point victory in its opener against Oregon at a neutral site. Either way, Alabama hasn't forced itself to play the kinds of nail-biters that LSU has.
While I realize that both teams have played different schedules, it's hard to argue with the fact that Alabama is scary on both sides of the ball. Where the Tigers can sometimes struggle to score on offense, the Crimson Tide have multiple offensive threats at its disposal.
And when determining the best team in the country, one of the criteria has to be strength on both offense and defense, right?
Advantage: Crimson Tide.
Machines Can't Lie
The portion of the BCS formula that has always troubled the public has been the computer rankings, and with good reason.
As much as we like to think that computers have all the answers, the truth is that they're only as smart as the people who design and program them. And in the case of the computer responsible for the BCS rankings, those people have often come under fire.
Nevertheless, the NCAA continues to rely on them as an integral part of the BCS system.
That being said, it should be noted that Alabama has a higher computer ranking than LSU in the first edition of the BCS standings. At .950, Alabama has outscored LSU's .920 according to what I
imagine to be a giant supercomputer that sits in a room-sized vault at BCS headquarters.
I also imagine the machine complete with lights and alarms, spewing steam as it works to crunch the variables, then spitting out a single ticket with the rankings on it, much like the machine in Willy Wonka's factory that looks like it could power a small city but only produces a single stick of gum.
Ridiculous imaginative comparisons aside, the computer rankings still hold sway when it comes to the overall BCS standings.
The computer's numbers are still a prime factor in determining college football's strongest team. This means that all other things being equal (as discussed in the opening slide regarding the miniscule difference in their respective BCS averages), Alabama is better than LSU according to the computer.
It's funny how it took a machine to see what the coaches can't. Somewhere, a BCS computer programmer is smiling.
Faulty Common Perception
LSU has played in three games shown on ESPN for a national television audience: Week 1 against Oregon, Week 3 at Mississippi State and Week 4 at West Virginia.
Simply put, they've had the nation's attention since the season's opening kick.
By contrast, Alabama has somewhat quietly gone about its business in workmanlike fashion. Toiling away on the SEC Network (an occasionally on CBS), the Crimson Tide haven't had the national hype that the Bayou Bengals have enjoyed.
We all know that once the hype machine is kick-started, public perception of a team immediately changes for the better—Case in point being LSU.
Sure, they've won games against solid opponents in tough environments (e.g. Morgantown and Starkville), but can anyone argue that Alabama wouldn't have done the same? If Alabama and LSU switched schedules, there would be no argument as to which team was stronger.
For the majority of the season, college football analysts have been touting LSU as the best team because they've played the tougher non-conference schedule. While LSU has certainly exceeded expectations, that doesn't mean that Alabama isn't a better team overall.
It's only because of the national media hyping the "incredibly athletic" LSU defense and all the Heisman talk surrounding cornerback Tyrann Mathieu that have swayed the public's opinion.
Bookmakers have been adjusting point spreads for LSU games all year in accordance with the attention that ESPN pays to their team. As with all public teams, LSU has been drawing a majority of the action to date.
Without the hype, though, they'd be considered the second best team in the SEC.
Just take note of the line when LSU visits Tuscaloosa on November 5; a general rule of thumb is that home field advantage is worth three points.
If LSU is truly Alabama's equal according to Las Vegas, they'll open up as three point underdogs on the road. My guess is that the line will be closer to a touchdown by then, meaning that on a neutral field Alabama would be considered the better team.
As they should be.