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The 2008 BCS and Texas

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I've put a lot of thought (and even more teeth gnashing and head-beating) into this post. I've tried to support it with data, but by necessity a lot of it is conjecture, although well founded in my opinion. If anybody can hack the numbers better, I would like to hear them.

The November 30 BCS, which had OU 2nd and UT 3rd, drove a lot of the endgame of the 2008 season in college football. It sent OU to the B12 title game, which swung a lot of Harris and USAToday voters to their side. It also seemed to give Bradford the edge he needed to win the Heisman.

There has been a lot written about the Nov. 30 BCS, and why Texas fell short. Some say that Texas blew it by losing to Tech. Sure, if Texas beat Tech, everything would be settled. Remember, however, that winning all of your games is a standard that no team in college football in a BCS conference has accomplished in three seasons (can anyone remember the last team to do so?). Oklahoma and Florida both lost games and are still going to the BCS CG.

Some say that Texas brought this on by having a weak schedule. The problem with that argument is that Texas did not have a weak schedule. Rich Tellshow calculates UT as having the toughest schedule in D-1A.

Others say that Texas lost by not scoring enough "style" points. Texas certainly tapped on the brakes in the 2nd half of blowouts of Baylor, Kansas, and TAMU. That may have made a difference with some voters. I think the fact that OU is a scoring juggernaut of the kind not seen since the '83 Cornhuskers has more to do with their success in the human polls, which incorporate subjective judgement.

Why do I think Texas lost out? I think Texas is out of the BCS because Nebraska kicked a 57 yard field goal to beat Colorado. With less than 2 minutes to go, Nebraska had 4th down on CU's 40 yard line while trailing 31 - 30. They made the field goal, and CU then threw a pick 6 to finish out the game, losing 40 - 31.

Why is that significant? It's significant because OU played Nebraska, but not Colorado, while Texas played Colorado, and not Nebraska. Of the six computer ratings used, three are algorithms that take into account the results of opponents' games. How can you measure the impact of one game?

The Colley Matrix is the one rating system that lets you remove or change games. If you change the result of the NU/CU game, and remove the OU win over Missouri (we're trying to create a 11-30-2008 "what if"), you get this result compared to the actual result:

What If Result:

Texas .94480

Florida .93466

OU .91776

In the actual Colley rating that date, OU jumped to #2 from #5 the prior week (Texas stayed at #1). Wow. Change one game, and OU falls from #2 to a distant third. In the Sagarin and Wolfe systems, OU also made a big jump that week (that was the week they had a quality win over OSU, while Texas beat the Ags). In Sagarin, they jumped from #4 to #1, and in Wolfe they jumped from #4 to #1. After dropping the highest and lowest ratings, OU scored a .98, and Texas scored a .94, giving the tie-breaker to OU. Sagarin and Wolfe don't have tools to "what if" it, but they do show Texas just a hair behind OU in their Nov. 30 ratings. It's not a stretch, considering their algorithms, to think that if the Husker had missed the field goal (he made it by a hair), Texas would have finished over OU in Sagarin and Wolfe.

If Texas had stayed ahead in those ratings (in other words, if OU had leapt from #4 to #2, instead of #1 due to a proposed CU win over NU), Texas would have had a rating of .96, and OU would have had a rating of .95. That would have allowed Texas to edge OU .9290 to .9252.

But he made the kick. That game was settled on the field, and I'm certainly not going to quibble with that. The BCS did what is is made to do- provide two teams, and only two teams. Is there any point to this exercise? I think so. I think we can learn the following:

1. The idea that the system has proven OU to be the better team is a myth. There is a razor thin hair between the teams, per the system. OU just edged Texas in the individual computer ratings, and not much needed to change in games not even involving the teams to give Texas the edge.

2. The idea that Texas screwed itself with a weak schedule is a myth. The major part of the schedule that affected Texas- which Big 12 North teams were played- is out of the control of Texas and OU. Also remember, when talking strength of schedule, that two computer ratings throw out games against D-1AA schools. In Billinsley and Colley, if Chattanooga had beaten OU, there would have been no impact to OU's rating.

3. AP voters should vote their conscience. They should not accept the BCS decision as authoritative, but instead trust their own eyes. The BCS is a tool, and as a wise professor once told me, "You use tools, you don't believe them."