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BCS Week 4 -- Kicking Off a New Season

Bad economy got you sad? Market meltdown freaking you out? Rumors of rogue traders at European banks rattling your confidence? Starting to see a few more foreclosures and short sales pop up on your block?

Wait a minute, let me think about this some more. Oklahoma is number 1 early, Florida is kicking ass, Boise State is trying to make a play, Texas is playing better after a terrible season....

Hey, this smells a hell of a lot like 2008, doesn't it?

But no! This is 2011!

Sure, it may be yet another miserable, post-Lehman apocalyptic year in the real world for pretty much everyone. Well, maybe you're not miserable if you are a gold speculator, repo man, or here in scorched earth Texas, running a foundation repair company. So for the rest of us, what to do to ease the pain? You can either drink a lot, or you can keep your attention fixated on this wonderful game played on Saturdays by twenty-year-olds (some combination of A or B is also encouraged). Save looking at those crappy 401k statements for Monday, damn it.

And with that, I roll out my inaugural BCS post for 2011.

Consistent with prior years (hard to believe, this is my eighth year "analyzing" this god forsaken Bowl Championship Series system), we will start in the season's early weeks by looking more at conference strength, as it is far too early to think about specific computers and individual team scenarios. Big headlines thus far: the Big XII is exceeding expectations (even as it implodes off the field), the Mountain West has fallen from grace, and there are still a heck of a lot of undefeated teams left in Division I-A (or, the "FBS" as we now call it).

Conference Strength Sweepstakes

I am probably not the first to bring this to your attention, but the Big XII is having an exceptionally strong year in its out-of-conference games, with a solid 20-2 record against teams outside the league (not counting wins against FCS). This 0.909 winning percentage for the Big XII is almost a full 0.100 higher than the #2 conference, the SEC (19-4). Ironically, both of these conferences have a key head-to-head match up coming in six days when Arkansas and Texas A&M play in Arlington.

The Big 10, Big East, and ACC are a fair amount behind the top two. This can have a very important effect on BCS jockeying later in the year. The last time the Big XII put together this kind of solid result was 2008, and both OU and Texas would benefit throughout that year with a neck-and-neck showdown toward the top of the BCS standings, despite each team losing one regular season game.

Bear in mind, the Big XII's schedule strength is a huge benefit for all of the teams in this conference given they all play nine conference games in the season (rather than 8 for most other conferences). This means all of these teams get an extra "strong" game in their schedule when compared with the rest of the teams around the country. That effect is the crux of the explanation on why you see Oklahoma (SOS #4), OSU (SOS #7), Texas A&M (SOS #3), Baylor (SOS #6) and Texas (SOS #5) all having fairly strong schedules. As the year goes on, this effect will fade somewhat, but it is still a powerful tailwind.

The Undefeated

There are 22 teams in FBS that remain undefeated through Week 4. One-third of them are in the Big XII, a tribute again to the Big XII’s very high win percentage out-of-conference.

Big XII (7): Baylor, Iowa St, Kansas St, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St, Texas, Texas Tech
Big Ten (4): Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin
SEC (4): Alabama, Florida, LSU, South Carolina
ACC (3): Clemson, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech
Big East (1): South Florida
Conference USA (1): Houston
MWC (1): Boise St
Pac Twelve (1): Stanford

The Befuddled

For the second straight year, we have seen a fair amount of FBS teams lose what were supposed to be cupcake OOC games against FCS competition. Thus far, there have been six "toe-stubs," committed by Duke, UNLV, Oregon State, New Mexico, Western Kentucky, and Minnesota.

Major Conference Contenders

Any team that runs the table in the Big XII and SEC will effectively control its destiny. While Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are regarded as the key contenders out of the Big XII, and LSU and Alabama are in strong position in the SEC, do not rule out other teams quietly lurking undefeated in those leagues (most notably Baylor and Texas in the Big XII and South Carolina and Florida in the SEC).

The teams that win the SEC and Big XII championships will also be in a strong position to contend for the national championship even if they have one loss, although the earlier the loss the better. Aggie fans should bear this in mind, as a one point loss to a top 10 Oklahoma State team can be forgiven should A&M eventually defeat Arkansas, Oklahoma, Baylor, and Texas.

Stanford, while looking dominant on the field, may face a similar problem that the Ducks felt in 2009: a weak schedule held back their computer scores. Nebraska’s schedule has come together very nicely given tough match-ups in conference, not to mention Washington (who Nebraska solidly beat) has gotten off to a surprising 3-1 start. Wisconsin’s schedule is mediocre thus far, but it would likely be good enough if either an SEC or Big XII conference winner ended up having at least one loss.

Boise State

Not to beat a dead horse (er, I mean Bronco), but we have yet another year where Boise State may make noise as a BCS national title contender. Unfortunately, other than winning all of their games in impressive fashion, the season thus far has gone horribly for Boise State. The only ranked foe remaining on the schedule is TCU, which itself has fallen to #20 after an opening game loss to Baylor. Worse yet for Boise, the Mountain West has fallen below all of the AQ-BCS conferences in league strength, including the aforementioned toe-stubs by New Mexico and UNLV to FCS competition. As a result, I project Boise’s schedule to remain near the bottom-quartile of all FBS teams, which is going to obviously be a major problem for Boise’s national championship aspirations when it comes to the computers. With the lack of a major "platform" game and a soft schedule, I think Boise is going to be challenged to get a national championship game bid. Boise could benefit big if Georgia puts together a solid year, but we would be foolish to make that a base case scenario at this point.

That's all for now. In a couple of weeks, we'll start to get more granular with the computers and the rankings.

Now, back to your dreary real world. It's Sunday night. Why not go take a quick look at Bloomberg to see how the S&P futures are faring on the latest weekend developments coming out of Europe?

Y'know what? Never mind... get some good sleep tonight. It's just money, anyways.

Conference Rankings Top 20 SOS