BCS Week 4: TCU Is on the Verge of the BCS Title Game By Mastering the System

Pete MisthaufenAnalyst INovember 9, 2010

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - NOVEMBER 6: Head coach Gary Patterson of the TCU Horned Frogs calls a play against the Utah Utes during the second half of an NCAA Football game November 6, 2010 at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah. TCU Beat Utah 47-7.  (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
George Frey/Getty Images

The BCS system was supposed to prevent things like this from happening.  Among the Sports Information Directors Poll (aka the Coaches Poll), a made-for-the-BCS Poll (the Harris) and six hand-picked and dictated computer systems, a team like TCU should be nowhere near the top two in the BCS standings.

And yet, after four weeks of the BCS, TCU is closer to No. 1 overall than No. 4.  One-loss major name teams like Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ohio State and LSU all sit behind TCU in the BCS computer and human polls.

TCU currently has a BCS score of .9259, just .0382 behind second-place Auburn and .0409 behind first-place Oregon. 

The BCS formula was largely designed to protect the powers that be and make sure that the "right" teams made the BCS title game.  Interestingly enough, current BCS No. 1 Oregon and No. 2 Auburn have previously suffered from the system as not being the "right" teams with the "right' pedigree.

Schools from outside the automatic qualifying conference are not supposed to get close enough to the BCS title game to actually get in.

For fans of the many one-loss teams on the outside looking in, if you want to blame something, blame the BCS itself.

Once upon a time in the BCS, a 12-0 BYU team was released from BCS consideration in 2001.  That BYU team was behind five one-loss and five two-loss teams at the time the decision was made.  Of course, BYU went on to lose its final regular-season game, making the decision moot, but still, that was what was supposed to happen to non-AQ teams.

In 2004, three non-AQ teams reached the final BCS Top 10, as undefeated Utah stood at No. 6, undefeated Boise State at No. 9, and one-loss Louisville, then in Conference USA and with a three-point loss at Miami, at No. 10.  Utah never reached higher than No. 4 in the BCS computers and slid back to No. 5 in the computers (No. 6 overall) when it became the original BCS buster.  Boise State could not get higher than No. 7 in the computers and lost in a Top 10 epic showdown at the Liberty Bowl versus Louisville.

In 2006, we all remember how Urban Meyer and the SEC successfully lobbied against a Ohio State-Michigan rematch to get the BCS title game and win his first title.  Boise, also undefeated and with a great team that went on to beat Oklahoma in one of the greatest games in the BCS era, was nowhere close to the No. 2 spot in either the human or computer polls.

In 2007, with no one-loss or undefeated Mountain West Conference team, undefeated Hawaii slipped into the BCS to receive its massive beatdown in the Sugar Bowl at the hands of Georgia.  Hawaii was No. 12 in the BCS computers and No. 10 in the human polls. 

Of course, Hawaii had the benefit of the doubt because of Utah and Boise State.  But even so, Hawaii was so far outside the BCS title game that a three-loss team would have gone instead of Hawaii if no two-loss teams were available.

But something started to change in 2008.  In the first week of the BCS standings, both Boise State and Utah had pretty decent computer numbers.  By the fourth week, Utah had the fourth-best computer ranking and Boise State had the ninth.

Utah finished with a .860 computer score, not far behind one-loss Florida's .890.  But, of course, Urban Meyer again successfully lobbied himself into the BCS, even with a home loss to a very average Ole Miss, and even though Texas had far better computer rankings.  Utah, who had escaped defeat at the hands of TCU by a final-minute touchdown, would go on to the Sugar Bowl and dominate Alabama.

Three non-AQ teams finished ahead of the Big East and ACC champions and the other two, Boise State and TCU, battled in San Diego in one of 2008's best bowl games.

While some thought that the non-AQ teams would start higher in 2009's preseason polls, Boise State and TCU were just happy to not be in ranked in the 20s.

When the first BCS standings came out in 2009, Boise State stood high at No. 4 (No. 5 in the computers) and five of the top 18 teams came from outside AQ conferences.  TCU, in spite of its win the previous season over Boise State, stood back at No. 8 overall.

TCU leaped over Boise State in the second week of the BCS standings, based in large part by a huge shellacking of BYU, showcased by ESPN GameDay.  TCU jumped to No. 6 overall and No. 4 in the BCS computers, even though TCU lagged behind Boise State in the human polls.

The Boise State-TCU battle for the top non-AQ spot was essentially over at that point, although TCU actually started to get close to a spot in the BCS title.  In the end, a single second restored in the Big 12 title game knocked TCU out from facing Alabama.

And, as a dejected and disappointed TCU was rewarded with the consolation prize of heading to the kids' table to face Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl, the revenge-minded Broncos took advantage and won a game decided only in the final minutes over a very unmotivated TCU team.

Playing at the kids' table did come with a huge reward for TCU and Boise State, as both teams started the season near the very top.

Since then, however, both have seen teams ranked well below them jump ahead.  Auburn started at No. 22 in the AP Poll and Oregon at No. 11.  Boise State has now been jumped by TCU and could be in danger of finishing the regular season behind one-loss teams from AQ conferences.

TCU is now close enough to the BCS title game that if either Auburn or Oregon loses, TCU will be playing for the BCS title.

Now, How Did We Get Here?

If you want to find a culprit in this whole mess, blame the expansion of the season to 12 games in 2006.

With the expanded schedule, most schools have filled in the extra game not just with a cupcake, but with a lower division school from the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS, formerly I-AA). 

Mainly major schools play all four OOC (out-of-conference) games at home, facing at best one decent team.

While scheduling cupcakes has been a way of life for some conferences for decades, this was a process once frowned upon and usually resulted in lower rankings.  One needs only to look at the large number of inter-sectional contests involving top 25 teams in the 1980s and 1990s to see how far this trend has gone.

Of course, teams took notice of how Hawaii made a BCS game without playing any real competition.  More teams took notice of how Florida won a BCS title in 2008 while playing only two regular-season games against teams that had won seven regular season games versus FBS competition, and even losing one of those.

Last season, Texas skated by without any real competition in a very down year for the Big 12.  Texas's only OOC road trip was to MWC bottom dweller Wyoming, and Horns were losing at halftime.  Texas had several close calls versus bad teams in conference play as well.

This severe downgrade in scheduling has led to the Big Ten having a very hard time in the BCS computers.  Three one-loss teams are ranked ninth (Michigan State), 10th (Wisconsin) and 15th (Ohio State), while two-loss Iowa is 14th. 

Filling OOC schedules with three to four cupcakes may help teams become bowl eligible more easily, but it also opens the door for teams like Boise State and TCU to climb above one-loss teams in all the major conferences.  Even Utah is poised to finish in the BCS Top 10 after its destruction at the hands of TCU.

Ultimately, by making the BCS into a beauty contest, it opened the door to TCU having a chance yet again to be knocking at the door of the BCS title game.

And so, all you supporters of the Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and Pac-10 who think you won college football and teams like TCU and Boise State don't deserve a shot, you all better become playoff supporters in a hurry.

Non-AQs have figured out the system and can play it as well as any other team.  And while TCU coach Gary Patterson hates the soap opera and lobbying, he is having his team lobby voters on the field with one of the most dominating defenses in the BCS era (which will ultimately be Patterson's fifth No. 1 defense in the BCS era).

If Auburn passes Oregon in the human polls, TCU could very easily leap over the Ducks, even without an Oregon loss. 

Now, wouldn't that just serve the BCS right?


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