Well-written article by Steve Helwagen of Bucknuts.com regarding Ohio State’s current BCS ranking. And I agree wholeheartedly with what he writes at the end – Ohio State needs to win out in order to play for the national championship, something I have been saying all along.
How can that be?
Ohio State is No. 1 in all of the human polls – the AP poll, USA Today coaches poll and the Harris poll – but the Buckeyes are being told they are a distant fifth in what would be the BCS rankings if they were produced today.
How can that be?
Well, there are some simple explanations, really.
While the human polls are in strong like – or tepid love – with the Buckeyes, the computer polls that are averaged to fill one-third of the BCS formula are not quite as convinced.
OSU’s best computer ranking is the Billingsley Index, which has OSU sixth nationally. The others include Colley (eighth), Anderson-Hester (ninth), Massey (19th) and Sagarin (22nd). The BCS factors out the low and high rankings, but OSU’s computer average is still just 10th-best.
So although OSU is No. 1 in the two human poll components (coaches poll and Harris poll), the low computer ranking drops the Buckeyes to fifth in the current BCS projections.
The first “official” BCS rankings will be released this Sunday night on ESPN (8:15 p.m.). The top two teams in the final rankings on Dec. 5 will play in the BCS national title game Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz.
Our friend Jerry Palm at collegebcs.com has crunched the available numbers, though. Here is a look at the top 10 in the BCS rankings right now:
1. Boise State (5-0), third in Harris and coaches polls, second in computer ranking average.
2. Oregon (6-0), second in Harris and coaches polls, seventh in computer rankings average.
3. TCU (6-0), fourth in Harris poll, fifth in coaches poll, fourth in computer rankings average.
4. Oklahoma (5-0), sixth in Harris and coaches polls, second in computer rankings average.
5. Ohio State (6-0), first in Harris and coaches polls, 10th in computer rankings average.
6. LSU (6-0), ninth in Harris and coaches polls, first in computer rankings average.
7. Nebraska (5-0), fifth in Harris poll, fourth in coaches poll, ninth in computer rankings average.
8. Auburn (6-0), seventh in Harris and coaches polls, sixth in computer rankings average.
9. Michigan State (6-0), 12th in Harris poll, 11th in coaches poll, fifth in computer rankings average.
10. Alabama (5-1), eighth in Harris and coaches polls, 12th in computer rankings average.
So How Can That Be?
The biggest explanation is that the teams Ohio State has beaten so far this year have not distinguished themselves (translation: OSU hasn’t really beaten anyone of consequence).
The six teams Ohio State has beaten have exactly one win over a I-A team with a winning record. That's Illinois with a win over Northern Illinois (4-2).
Here's who OSU's opponents have beaten:
Marshall (1-4): Beat OU (3-3, and this is a wash since OSU also played OU and it counts as a loss for OSU just as it counts for a win).
Miami (Fla.) (3-2): Beat Florida A&M (I-AA), Pittsburgh (2-3) and Clemson (2-3). Granted the Pitt and Clemson wins were on the road. But a win over Florida State (now 5-1) would have helped.
Ohio U (3-3): Beat Wofford (I-AA), Eastern Michigan (0-6, and like above this is canceled out because OSU also played EMU and it counts as a loss as well for OSU's opponents) and Bowling Green (1-5).
Eastern Michigan (0-6): Haven't beaten anybody and probably won't.
Illinois (3-2): Beat Southern Illinois (I-AA), Northern Illinois (4-2) and Penn State (3-3).
Indiana (3-2): This really hurts. They beat Towson (I-AA), Western Kentucky (0-5) and Akron (0-6).
OK, OSU's opponents have a combined record of 13-19, although six of those losses were to OSU so they are 13-13 otherwise. Deduct four of those victories because they are I-AA wins and you're down to nine I-A wins for OSU's opponents.
The combined record of the nine I-A teams OSU's opponents have beaten: 15-36
Voila, you have your explanation for why OSU's computer ranking is so low. None of their opponents have a win over a BCS conference team with a winning record. And, moreover, most of their opponents’ opponents wins are over non-BCS teams with losing records.
Heck, even a win at Wisconsin (5-1) on Saturday may not be the cure to all of OSU's ails. One of UW's wins was over I-AA Austin Peay. The rest are UNLV (1-5), San Jose State (1-5), Arizona State (3-3) and Minnesota (1-5). Their loss was to Michigan State (6-0).
The combined record of the four I-A teams the Badgers have beaten is 6-18. What is Arizona State's best win? Washington (2-3).
Comparing Apples To Oranges?
If the season ended today, it looks like Boise State would be the clear No. 1. Oregon would edge out TCU, Oklahoma and Ohio State by percentage points for the No. 2 spot.
Since the difference is in the computer rankings, let’s look at the top three schools in the computer rankings average to see what the difference is.
LSU is tops in the computer rankings average. So far the Tigers have played all six of their games against BCS conference opponents. They have wins over four I-A teams with winning records in North Carolina (3-2), Mississippi State (4-2), West Virginia (4-1) and Florida (4-2). Their opponents’ combined record is 19-14. Deducting the six losses to LSU, those opponents are 19-8 against other teams.
Of those 19 wins, LSU’s opponents have a combined six wins over I-A teams with winning records. (North Carolina has beaten Rutgers and East Carolina, Vanderbilt beat Mississippi, Mississippi State beat Houston, West Virginia beat Maryland and Florida beat South Florida).
LSU’s opponents also have three wins over I-AA opponents, meaning they have 16 wins over I-A opponents to OSU’s opponents’ nine.
Oh, and LSU still has to play at Auburn (6-0), at home against Alabama (5-1)and at Arkansas (4-1). (Egads.)
Are you starting to understand why OSU’s body of work so far is deficient in the eyes of the computers? (Remember, OSU’s opponents are 13-13 in their other games, have nine I-A wins and have just one win over a I-A team with a winning record.)
The other two notables at the top of the computer rankings are Boise State and Oklahoma, which each come in with an average computer rank of No. 2.
Boise State has two of its five wins against I-A teams with winning records in Virginia Tech (4-2) and Oregon State (3-2). Their opponents’ combined record is 13-15. Deducting the five losses to Boise State, those opponents are 13-10 against other teams.
Of those 13 wins, Boise State’s opponents have a combined five wins over I-A teams with winning records. (Virginia Tech beat East Carolina and N.C. State, Oregon State beat Louisville and Arizona and Toledo beat Purdue).
Boise State’s opponents have a 1-1 record against I-AA opponents, meaning they have 12 wins over I-A opponents to OSU’s opponents’ nine.
Now Boise State is by no means invincible where the computers are concerned. In fact, my guess is as they get into the meat of their WAC schedule and play the likes of San Jose State (1-5) and Utah State and Louisiana Tech (both 2-4), some things will catch up to them and their computer ranking will start to fall.
Oklahoma has three of its five wins over I-A teams with winning records in Florida State (5-1), Air Force (5-1) and Texas (3-2). Their opponents’ combined record is 17-11. Deducting the five losses to Oklahoma, those opponents are 17-6 against other teams.
Of those 17 wins, Oklahoma’s opponents have three wins over I-A teams with winning records. (Florida State beat Miami, Air Force beat Navy and Texas beat Texas Tech).
Oklahoma’s opponents also have four wins over I-AA opponents, meaning they have 13 wins over I-A opponents to OSU’s opponents’ nine.
OK, nine of the 13 remaining unbeaten teams currently have better computer ranking averages than Ohio State. (The three unbeatens below OSU in the computers are Nevada, Utah and Oklahoma State.)
Any way you chalk it up, OSU’s schedule does not match up to any of the schools above them – at least to date – and that’s why the Buckeyes are lagging behind in the computer rankings.
Possible Remedies For OSU
The operative words in the last paragraph are probably “at least to date.”
Short of an act of Congress enacting a college football playoff for this season, it looks like the Buckeyes probably need to win out and get some help in their quest to play for a national title.
Here are my keys to Ohio State getting to the promised land at that gigantic spaceship-like stadium in the desert (University of Phoenix Stadium) on Jan. 10:
* Win Out – This one is obvious. The competition for the spots in this year’s title game seems as fierce as ever. In six of the first 12 years of the BCS format, the title game has matched unbeaten teams. We are down to 13 unbeatens through the first six weeks of the season. There are still eight more weeks until the BCS pairings will be announced. A one-loss team like Alabama would have to be extremely impressive the rest of the way to steal a bid from an unbeaten team.
There were five unbeaten teams last year with Alabama playing Texas for the title, while Cincinnati, Boise State and TCU were all on the outside looking in.
Moreover, Cincinnati was just the second BCS conference school to finish the year unbeaten but not qualify for the title game, joining Auburn in 2004. The AP’s No. 1-ranked team has been excluded from the title game only once before when USC missed it in 2003.
I like Ohio State’s chances if the Buckeyes can get to 12-0.
* Look Good Doing It – The Buckeyes can actually improve their standing in the human polls by commanding more first-place votes.
The Buckeyes have 49 of the 59 first-place votes in the coaches poll. That means they can still improve by gaining the other 10 first-place votes in that poll.
There is even more room for improvement in the Harris poll, where OSU has 79 of the 114 first-place votes.
How do the Buckeyes garner more support from the voters? Look good doing it (translation: Win by large margins and don’t play any close games. Show no weakness, take no pity.)
Jim Tressel has never been known as a coach to run up the score. But this has become a beauty contest. Margin-of-victory means nothing in the computer rankings. (That is nowhere more apparent than in the Sagarin rankings, where OSU is 15th when victory margin is factored in but 22nd when it’s not.)
But big margin-of-victory wins can cloud the judgment of the human poll voters.
* Hope The Teams They Play Win Some Games – The Buckeyes obviously have no control over this one. It hurts that Michigan State and Northwestern each figure to win three to five more games and those will all be against teams OSU is playing (well, except when they play each other). That hurts since the Buckeyes don’t play those two schools this year.
But this is where OSU desperately needs Marshall to do well in Conference USA, Miami to get some things going in the ACC and Ohio U. to keep it rolling in the MAC. (Eastern Michigan is beyond a lost cause.)
* Hope The Teams Ahead Of Them In The Computers Lose – This is an inevitability since there are upsets every weekend in college football.
In the eight weeks that remain, there are no fewer than 11 games scheduled that match teams in the current top 16 in the BCS rankings. That list includes: Utah-TCU, South Carolina-Arkansas, Auburn-Arkansas, Auburn-Alabama, Oklahoma-Missouri, Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, Nebraska-Oklahoma State, Nebraska-Missouri, LSU-Arkansas, LSU-Auburn and LSU-Alabama.
Plus, there are potential conference title game match-ups with Oklahoma-Nebraska in the Big 12 and South Carolina against whoever survives the rough-and-tumble SEC West.
So the top 16 in the BCS rankings will look a lot different two months from now.
Ohio State’s three toughest remaining games? At Iowa (19th in BCS), at Wisconsin (21st) and at home against Michigan (24th).
* One Last Thought -- After all of this analysis of the numbers, if the Buckeyes can even move up one spot from 10th to ninth in the computer rankings average then the Buckeyes would have enough points to move past Oregon and into the No. 2 spot in the overall BCS rankings.
So that will tell you the difference between second and fifth in the current standings is oh-so-close. So just win, baby.