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Understanding the College Football BCS System

One of the things I like most about having this blog is that I get to look at a lot of things from different perspectives. We have now done Pre-Season Previews for 70 different teams (with more to come), we have conducted interviews with former college football players (Rob Harley and Michael Felder) and we have fans blogging independently about their teams here at the site. I was recently approached about a link exchange with BCS Know How. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to learn more about how the BCS works and get another perspective going into this college football season. BCS Know How is a website that explains the BCS on a week-to-week basis as well as provides much more information and analysis. We had a chance to bounce some questions off of the editor of BCS Know How, Asher Feldman, and here is the result:

Can you give us a quick explanation on how the BCS works?

The BCS utilizes three elements – two human polls (Harris Interactive and Coaches) and the six computer ratings taken as one element.

The BCS calculates a “perfect score” for each element – for the two human polls the maximum total points a team could receive from the poll (if they received all of the polls’ first place votes) and for the computers if the team received four of six first place votes.

The points the team receives in each of the human polls is divided by the perfect score to reach a decimal. For the computers, all six ratings are taken, with the highest and lowest ratings thrown out, leaving four behind. Like in the human elements, a first-place vote is worth 25 points, a second-place vote worth 24, and so on until one point is awarded for a 25th place vote. The four point values are added and divided by 100 (the score for four first-place votes).

These three are averaged together and result in a decimal BCS score between .000 and 1.000.

In your opinion, what could be done to make the BCS formula better?

The major problem in my opinion with the BCS formula is the presence of preseason polls. The formula itself seems pretty sound to me, but I believe a fairer and more representative ranking system would emerge if no polls were allowed until the fourth or fifth week of the season. This would allow for less reliance on your earlier polls to fill out your ballot as the season progressed. Other than that, I find the formula to be a pretty strong one.

Are there any conferences or teams that you feel the BCS favors?

Absolutely. Because of the set up of some of the conferences, those that feature conference championship games are often times favored by the set up of the BCS. Any conference that has 12 teams is allowed a conference championship game, and simply by the nature of a championship game, teams in those conferences have an extra chance to play another high-quality opponent.

Teams in the SEC, Big 12 and ACC all prosper from the boost that they get in both the computers and in the minds of the human voters from playing high quality opponents on the last weekend of the season. We saw the proof last season, when the SEC and Big 12 champions were seemingly destined for a meeting in the BCS national championship game before the season even started.

It’s also likely that the rules that allow for conference championship games were behind the recent conference expansion push, with conferences like the Big 10 and Pac-10 looking for that extra boost for their member teams.

At your site you are predicting the conference and you have Virginia Tech taking the ACC over FSU, Ohio State winning the Big 10 and Oklahoma beating Nebraska for the Big 12 title. Are there any other teams in those 3 conference could you see making a run at the BCS Title game this year?

A team I wouldn’t overlook is Wisconsin. Not only do the Badgers return much of the core that nearly tied for second in the conference last season, but the schedule is extremely favorable, as the Badgers will welcome Ohio State, Minnesota and Northwestern to Camp Randall. Their biggest test of the season will likely come on a trip to Iowa. Watch for running back John Clay to be the key to the Badgers offense, and a possible Heisman candidate if the Badgers reach their full potential. Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema may finally have a team to break through to the BCS this year.

Boise State has a strong chance this year to make it to the BCS Title game if they can go undefeated. What type of things need to align correctly for a non-BCS school like Boise State to get to the title game?

It’s become clear to voters and analysts alike that there is enough talent in the non-BCS conferences to warrant BCS bids. However, its been a struggle to get those teams near a BCS national title game bid, as neither TCU nor Boise State – with undefeated records last season – were able to crack the top three in the final standings.

This year, however, things might be different.

The key is that Boise State is highly touted coming into the season as opposed to previous seasons where the Broncos had to climb the rankings just to get to a BCS bowl game. The Broncos will get the love they need from the computers, what they need to do is be convincing and dominant for the human voters, and have a couple of things fall their way around them in the rankings.

A season like 2007, where underdogs caused a BCS meltdown and fluidity that had been unseen till that point would be ideal for Boise State. In ‘07, South Florida, Boston College, West Virginia, Missouri and Kansas – all of whom were never considered national title threats – were in position at some point or another to make the championship game. There’s no reason the Broncos or a team like TCU or Houston can’t make it happen this year if the national powers start falling.

On your site you also do a "Heisman Watch". Who are your top 3 guys going into this year that you think can win the award and who are some darkhorse candidates that you think could emerge?

Last season may have been the most open Heisman race in the BCS era. In total, I named 13 different candidates among the top five and was unsure of the winner until the very last week, when Mark Ingram did just enough to clinch the trophy. This season might be more of the same.

The frontrunners at this early stage, at least as far as I see it are Alabama running back and defending Heisman recipient Mark Ingram, Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor and Pittsburgh running back Dion Lewis. All three are key to BCS conference title contenders’ hopes and can all easily win the trophy.

Along with some familiar names that could become Heisman finalists like Jake Locker and Ryan Mallet, players like Houston quarterback Case Keenum, Boise State QB Kellen Moore and Stanford QB Andrew Luck could make some unexpected noise.

Which do you prefer, the BCS or a playoff?

I’ve always said I think the BCS formula is a solid way to evaluate teams, just the system it feeds into is convoluted and short-sighted. I would prefer a playoff system that ranks according to the BCS formula.

A system that I think would create the most opportunity would be a six-team playoff, much like one half of the NFL playoffs, with the top two teams getting first-round byes, and the other four playing games No 3 vs. No. 6 and No. 4 vs. No. 5 – lowest remaining seed takes on No. 1. Last season that would have given both TCU and Boise State a shot at Florida, Alabama, Texas and Cincinnati.

The system would still make the regular season very important as none of those teams lost more than once, while keeping spots open for teams from non-BCS conferences. No auto bids here, just prove your way into a chance at the title.

Thanks to Asher and BCS Know How for taking some time out of their schedule and talking college football with us. Make sure to visit their website and follow them on twitter @bcsknowhow.

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