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College Football Rankings

NCAA Football Rankings

College football rankings are all-important in Division I NCAA football. Whoever is ranked highest in the final polls will qualify for the BCS bowl games, specifically the BCS Championship game. The BCS rankings are based on a variety of criteria, including record, margin of victory, strength of schedule and rank in the coaches poll. Playing in one of the BCS conferences helps, while playing in certain regions of the county helps.

The result is a college football system left up to a lot of debate. Instead of using a playoff system at the end of the season to decide the NCAA champion, like the NFL Playoffs or NCAA March Madness, who is #1 is decided by coaches who were coaching instead of watching the schedule of games and a computer crunching numbers somewhere. On the other hand, defenders of the BCS system will say that the college playoff system is called the regular season: because every loss counts, every week of the regular season has to be treated like a playoff game.

Bowl Championship Series

The “Bowl Championship Series” or BCS is the transition phase between the traditional old bowl system and an eventual college football playoffs. In the old days, the winners of the Pac-10 and Big Ten played in the Rose Bowl. The winner of the SEC would play in the Sugar Bowl. The winner of the Southwest Conference would play in the Cotton Bowl, while the winner of the Big 8 would play in the Orange Bowl.

That was a pretty rigid system, because it was rare that the bowl games would pit the #1 and #2 teams in the rankings to decide the national championship. Instead, you might have the #1 ranked team against the #4 ranked team and the #2 ranked team against the #6 ranked team. This didn’t make for a very satisfying system, because if the #1 and #2 teams rolled over their lesser opponents, you really didn’t have much of a measure of which team truly was better. It just made sense to put them on a field together and let them play it out for themselves.

Instead, the final college football rankings seemed like a popularity contest, more about which coach had more friends in the media or coaching ranks, or which team won with more style or had the bigger personalities. Year after year, fans felt cheated by the system.

So the BCS alleviated some of the problems. At the very least, a #1 team in the ratings and a #2 team in the ratings would play one another. That shifted the focus from the limitations of the college bowl system, to the limitations of picking who was #1 and #2 at the end of the regular season schedule.

BCS Rankings

These days, the controversies tend to fall into two categories: small conference/big conference and what to do with 1-loss teams.

There are six conference considered “major conferences”: Southeastern Conference (SEC), Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-10, ACC and Big East. The Big East is often dismissed in the discussions, though, while the ACC is less likely to play into the national championship picture, at least now that Florida State and Miami are experiencing a brief downturn, and Virginia Tech hasn’t been in the picture in a few years. Still, these are the BCS conferences and the BCS schools, the ones with most of the money and most of the national prestige.

Then there are the mid-major conferences: Mountain West Conference, Western Athletic Conference (WAC), Conference USA, Mid-American Conference and Sun Belt Conference. Over the last several years, schools have come out of these conferences with unbeaten records – TCU, Utah, Boise State – but been denied the opportunity to play for the national championship.

BCS Championship Game

In some cases, these teams were passed over for two unbeaten BCS schools, like the Texas Longhorns and Alabama Crimson Tide this year. In other years, these teams have been passed over for a BCS school with 1 loss.

This is where the discussion gets really heated. It’s easy to defend placing just about any undefeated Division I college team in the BCS Championship Game.

But what happens when you place a team with a loss into that game?

2009 BCS Bowl Controversy

What happens when you have 5 or 6 teams, each with one loss, but each having flaws? Who deserves to get the nod in that situation?

This has occurred several times, where there’s one unbeaten BCS school and a collection of 1-loss BCS schools, like in the 2008-09 season. Everyone believed Florida should be in the BCS Championship Game, because they were undefeated. But the #2 and #3 teams were the Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners.

The Texas Longhorns had beaten OU on a neutral field decisively, 45-35. But the Longhorns lost a month later to Texas Tech on a last minute touchdown. Then Texas Tech lost to OU in a blowout. This left all three teams tied for the Big 12 South lead. A controversial tiebreaker rule determined the Sooners would play in the Big 12 Championship Game against a lesser opponent, so they got the shot at the Florida Gators in the BCS Title Game. They were routed.

This left UT Longhorn fans infuriated. They had defeated the Sooners by 10 points on a neutral field, after spotting the Sooners a 21-10 lead. They felt they were clearly the better team, having been one play from a perfect season. But OU had the Heismann Trophy Winner and the season most spectacular offense, so they tended to have the more impressive margins of victory.

Voters decided they were the better team, even though Texas had a 70+% passer and one a better defense than OU. When the Sooners were crushed in the title game, it seemed like the rightful team never got a shot at the title.

Utah Utes Denied BCS Title Shot

Even more infuriating for most college football fans, this didn’t take into account the mid-major school, the Utah Utes, who went 12-0 on the season. The Utes weren’t given much credit for their regular season exploits, but they were pitted in the Sugar Bowl against the Alabama Crimson Tide, who had been #1 much of the season and whom Florida had defeated in the SEC Title Game to assume the #1 mantle.

The Utes decisively beat the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl, 31-17, further proving they deserved to be in the national title game against the Florida Gators. If the Gators’ reputation was based on a big win against Alabama, then why was the Utes’ win over the same Alabama team any less impressive?

But the Utah Utes could not climb to #2 in the college football rankings in the regular season, thus qualifying for the BCS Championship Game. The same happened this year, when the TCU Horned Frogs were impressive in going undefeated, while defeating those same Utah Utes, as well as the BYU Cougars, who had upset highly-touted Oklahoma to start the season. Instead, the BCS conferences sent their teams to the title game, because they were #1 ranked and #2 ranked.

In other words, the college football rankings are all-important in college football these days.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 30th, 2009 at 2:46 pmand is filed under College Football. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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