I bet you didn’t know who was crowned the national champions by the Bowl Championship Series (BCS). You’re probably going to guess “Alabama” or some state out West like “Wyoming State University” who went undefeated by not playing anyone harder than “Nevada State University.”
Did you know it was Notre Dame?
That’s right, the BCS powers-that-be plugged in the numbers to determine the national champion after all the games were played and assumed that it would spit out an answer like Alabama. But the computer threw them for a loop, selecting “the Fighting Irish.”
How can that be? The answer is one of those reasons why statistics geeks like me occasionally need to look at the numbers a little closer, and revise the formula used, or rethink a few assumptions about the whole formula itself.
You see, the smart folks at the BCS, like me, love creating indices. You know…variable X1, variable X2, variable X3. They are all added and stuffed into a computer which spits out the answer. But just because you SEEM scientific doesn’t mean you really are.
The computer weighted “strength of schedule” more than a lot of other measures. They valued Notre Dame’s wins over Stanford, Oklahoma, and USC more than Alabama’s victories in the Southeastern Conference (SEC), like Georgia, LSU, and Vanderbilt. And each team had one loss, so that should even things out, right?
Of course that Notre Dame loss came at the hands of Alabama, by a score of 42-14 in the BCS national title game, but nobody seemed to account for that somewhat important variable. And it wasn’t even as close as the final score would seem. A friend’s nephew told me about how a Notre Dame fan at school remarked “We would have won…if the game was touch football!”
Meanwhile, SEC teams often pounded their opponents while Notre Dame’s opponents performed about as well as the Fighting Irish did in their bowl game (Stanford won in underwhelming fashion against a three loss Wisconsin team by only a touchdown).
By the same token, Georgia lost by four points to Alabama by coming up four yards short of the end zone, and fell four spots in the bowl, not making it into a BCS game. Northern Illinois was ranked almost as highly as Florida State University, though the best team they beat all year was called “The Golden Flashes.” FSU humbled NIU in their BCS game, showing that Georgia should have been there. Heck, Auburn might have given FSU a better game.
As a longtime fan of the college bowls (having worked one for years), I’ve come to the conclusion that we actually need a limited playoff (for the top 8). Keep the small bowls with some tradition for other teams that win at least seven games, so we have something to watch in late December and early January and can give a little tourism boost to a couple of cities that host these games.
But for the love of Bear Bryant, don’t give us another year where the team that gets hammered in the championship game wins the big trophy. On the other hand, that would give a non-SEC team a chance at the title, right?
John A. Tures is an associate editor of political science at LaGrange College