It’s going to be a bi-weekly feature this season.
This week, it comes before The Hangover Cure, which you’ll get Monday.
As always, your rankings for this week are here. I’ll be using No. N to denote the Nth team in the AP Poll, and #N to denote the Nth team in the BCS Rankings. (I try to ignore the USA Today Poll if possible, for reasons we’ll get to in a bit.)
So, the questions of the week:
Why is Alabama ranked ahead of Texas Tech in all human polls but behind them in the BCS computer average?
In short, and in what may be the answer to many questions in this column: a lack of creativity.
No. 2/#2 Texas Tech was ranked ahead of No. 1/#1 Alabama in both the AP and USA Today preseason polls, but was leapfrogged by the Tuscaloosa Pachyderms in the AP Poll after the second week of the year and in the USA Today Poll after the Tide swept Georgia aside.
But since, ‘Bama has struggled with four-loss Kentucky and Ole Miss teams and required overtime to give a then-two-loss LSU team its third defeat of the year; Texas Tech had its overtime scare against Nebraska, but came back against the rugged, proven Texas team and annihilated both Kansas and a mildly overrated Oklahoma State squad, and has certainly looked better of late.
Were it not for an unwritten rule about not dropping teams unless they lose, one that’s especially potent as the crop of unbeatens gets culled, Texas Tech would be ahead of Alabama in the human polls like they are in the computers, where greater emphasis on strength of schedule and statistical perspective puts the Red Raiders ahead, 980 to 97, in percentage of computer points available.
(Aside: there are six computer polls used in the BCS, and each awards points for position in its Top 25, 25 for the top slot, 24 for second, and so on. Texas Tech is no worse than second in any computer poll, while Alabama is third in one.)
It’s not something that will matter should Tech and ‘Bama continue to win. But if Tech loses to Oklahoma, which will be the trendy pick of the next fortnight, being second instead of first may mean a drop from below the top that not only knocks them out of national championship contention, but puts them behind Texas (who TTU beat) and Oklahoma (who they would have lost to) in the BCS, making it easier to pass up the light-traveling Lubbock team for their brand-name compatriots with the guise of higher rankings as the reason.
Which BCS buster has the best shot?
It’s Utah. The No. 8/#7 Utes’ 13-10 nailbiter against TCU confirms that this team is the most battle-tested of the current triad of mid-major unbeatens, and it doesn’t hurt that the BCS computers love them, too, putting them fourth ahead of both Florida and Oklahoma; Anderson and Hester’s poll has them third, ahead of all but the BCS conference unbeatens.
And herein lies our problem. The Utes have demonstrated proficiency against their schedule in ways Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, USC, and Penn State have not, and yet they languish behind all of those teams in the AP Poll and back of all but the Nittany Lions in the BCS rankings.
The Utes’ marquee win is against now-No. 15/#18 TCU, which stopped half of Oklahoma’s offense in those two teams’ meeting, but that pales in comparison to even the twin wins by USC and Penn State over ranked Ohio State, now No. 10/#11, and both the Trojans and Nittany Lions have a few other impressive wins over BCS conference teams.
But the Utes don’t have losses like those two teams’ road defeats, or Texas’ to Texas Tech, or Oklahoma’s to Texas, or even Florida’s home debacle against Ole Miss, and that’s the question du semaine: what’s most important, quality of victories, quality of team, or team record?
There’s no sign that the first two will be subsumed by the latter this year, so the Utes, and non-BCS brethren Boise State will probably ensure themselves spots by winning out. Ball State will merely be able to win out and hope the Big East and ACC continue to be unimpressive; considering the putridity arrayed in those two consortia, the Cardinals would look good for the BCS with a zero in the L column.
Speaking of, how are those conferences doing?
Poorly. The numbing effects of numerals continue.
Both teams in those two conferences that were ranked and played Week 10 games, Florida State and South Florida, lost; North Carolina and Maryland escaped unscathed because they didn’t play.
This week, there were six Big ACCeast teams in the final seven slots in the AP Poll, and of those, only North Carolina, Florida State, and Pittsburgh won. UNC’s win came against ranked Georgia Tech, and West Virginia and Maryland both lost to unranked teams, the Mountaineers falling in dramatic fashion after scoring 11 points in the last 18 seconds against Cincinnati.
That loss puts Pitt squarely next to Cincy on the Big East’s rather large driver’s seat; the Panthers and Bearcats play on November 22nd, and if the Queen City’s squad wins, they will be essentially home free, with woeful Louisville and Syracuse bookending the game against Dave Wannstedt’s team.
But if Pitt wins, West Virginia could claim a share of the Big East by beating the Panthers on the following Friday and setting up a three-way co-champions scenario. The Big East helpfully outlines the procedure for that here: basically, each team would be 1-1 in a “mini-conference,” so the highest ranked BCS team would get the bid. With Pitt currently the highest-ranked team in the conference at #22, though, it may be all a futile effort if Utah and Boise State stay undefeated, because those two teams will swipe automatic bids from the Big East and the ACC should no team run its schedule and land in the BCS top 12.
The same trouble may perplex the ACC, where I believe every team but North Carolina State has a chance to win their division and, then, in the conference championship game, the conference. #16 North Carolina’s the highest-ranked ACC team this week, and they would probably rise to the BCS top 12 by winning out while Missouri (to the Big 12 South champion), Oklahoma State (to Oklahoma), and Michigan State (to Penn State) all sustained the losses they should, then jumping Ball State in the final rankings based on strength of schedule, a win in the ACC Championship Game, or whatever excuse the pollsters gin up to get the larger Tar Heel fan base to travel.
Now, with just inferior Maryland, NC State, and Duke left on the schedule, if North Carolina loses, it woul likely be to Florida State in that ACC title game. which would probably only flip the script by replacing UNC with FSU in the above paragraph.
This is the ACC, though, where Wake Forest can be unranked in both human polls and still be #23 in the BCS, and where Virginia can be shut out by Duke, beat North Carolina, shut out Maryland, and plummet from sole possession of first place to sole possession of fifth in the Coastal Division in two weeks.
Nothing should be taken for granted.
Which team that isn’t ranked in the AP Poll deserves to be? Whose spot should they take?
Air Force; Tulsa.
The Falcons have only lost to Utah and Navy, and by a combined 13 points, while rolling up a 5-0 road record against teams that have beaten SEC (Wyoming over Tennessee), Pac-10 and Big 12 (UNLV over Arizona State/Iowa State) schools. Tulsa, meanwhile, has exactly one win over an FBS team above .500, a Rice squad isn’t exactly setting the world on fire, and lost to Arkansas, which could be the worst team in a diminished SEC.
The good news is that Air Force could knock off BYU and TCU in coming weeks to bolster their resume, while Tulsa will play just one other winning team, Houston, and has little to no upward mobility.
I’ll see you Monday Tuesday next week for an extra-potent Hangover Cure.