Confessions of a Football Junkie: Big 12 Fail
by Russell Levine
In the wake of Oklahoma passing Texas, a team with the same record and to which Oklahoma lost by 10 points on a neutral field, it is tempting to blame the BCS and proclaim this just the latest disaster of the system.
Such arguments are low-hanging fruit. If the BCS had an approval rating, it would make the Bush administration and Congress seem like smashing successes by comparisons.
But such arguments are also misplaced.
The BCS was created to perform a single task: Match the Nos. 1 and 2 teams at the end of the season in a championship game. Nothing more, nothing less. It was not intended to create a single bowl matchup beyond the title game. It was not even intended to provide midseason rankings, as the computer rankings on which it relies for one-third of its formula weight need an entire season's worth of data to approach accuracy. And it certainly was not designed to break conference ties.
If there is a villain in the Texas-Oklahoma-Texas Tech (and make no mistake, this is a three-team argument; more on that in a bit) kerfluffle, it is the Big 12 conference for allowing the BCS formula to be used to settle its standings conundrum. Granted, it is the fifth tie-breaker and the conference organizers probably never felt it would come into play.
The reasons against using the BCS for such a task are numerous, but ABC's Brent Musburger gave the best argument during Saturday night's Oklahoma-Texas Tech telecast: Why would the Big 12 willingly allow coaches from other conferences (who vote in the coaches poll) and writers from other areas of the country who never cover the Big 12 (who vote in the Harris poll) to determine the outcome of its divisional race and potentially its representative in the national championship game?
Musburger's proposed solution was to use a formula of point differential against common opponents to break the deadlock, and he's exactly right. Coaches get nervous any time point differential comes into play, because we have all seen many a 21-point game that was far closer than other 10-point games, plus it brings into to play the potential for running up the score, a label that no coach wants to wear.
Still, as a fifth tiebreaker, it's innocuous enough to use point differential, and only when applied to common opponents. Don't like point differential? Fine -- use points allowed as a standard. Either way, the key is to look at how a group of teams, in this case three, played against the same group of teams to determine which one is better.
Doing so would remove the ugly specter of politicking that we saw from Mack Brown, who was interviewed during Saturday's broadcast -- and who seems to find himself in this situation a lot. It also would remove the stench of voter shenanigans, some of which came into play in this week's polls, as expertly detailed by ESPN.com's Brad Edwards.
Some voters, having no doubt heard the week's worth of propaganda from the Texas delegation about the head-to-head result with Oklahoma, tried to alter the outcome. These are the same voters who willfully, and without hesitation, put Oklahoma in front of Texas a week ago after the Sooners destroyed Texas Tech (a team that had beaten Texas in a nail-biter). How else to explain Oklahoma losing ground to Texas in both polls on the heels of a 61-41 road win at Oklahoma State -- a team that Texas had narrowly beaten in Austin? There is no other explanation other than the obvious: Having decided a week ago to forget about the head-to-head result between Texas and Oklahoma, the voters did a John Kerry flip-flop (have to get in a dig at each party in the interests of remaining politically neutral here at FO) once they realized the ramifications of their move a week ago. Only it was too late -- the die was cast and Oklahoma remained ahead in the BCS.
I feel for Texas, and I don't blame Brown for lobbying for his team's cause. I continue to rate Texas ahead of Oklahoma in the BlogPoll (although I consider Texas, Oklahoma, and Florida to basically be equal) based primarily on that head-to-head result. But I didn't fill out a BlogPoll ballot in order to break a three-way tie, and I'm also fine with the results of the BCS standings and think that sending Oklahoma to the conference title game is the fairest result.
The fact that this is a three-way tie and not a head-to-head argument removes all the injustice from Texas's cause. The Texas contingent would simply like to dismiss Texas Tech from the argument because the Red Raiders are buried in the BCS thanks to the blowout loss at Oklahoma. But this three-way tie is strictly a Big 12 matter, and has nothing to do with national standing. Texas can no more dismiss Texas Tech from the discussion than Oklahoma could dismiss Texas. Doing so would make Texas, not Oklahoma, the primary beneficiary of the Sooners' impressive performance against the Red Raiders.
The fact remains that if head-to-head is to be the deciding factor, Texas loses the argument to Texas Tech just as it wins the argument against Oklahoma, leaving us right back where we started -- in a three-way tie.
We've seen similar situations in college football before. In 2000, Miami felt it had been robbed of a national championship game berth that went instead to Florida State, a team Miami had beaten and which had the same record. But the argument had no legs. Miami had suffered its only loss that season against Washington, another team with an identical record and which had beaten Miami head-to-head. If head-to-head was to be the deciding factor between the Hurricanes and Seminoles, why wouldn't the same standard apply to the Hurricanes and Huskies?
Getting back to the Big 12 South, a deeper analysis such as the one performed by BCS Guru Sam Chi suggests that Oklahoma was the most worthy of the three candidates. The entire piece is worthy of a read, especially for anyone who feels Texas got the short end of the stick, but the talking points boil down to this: Oklahoma performed better against the rest of the Big 12 South and had more impressive non-conference results (two wins vs. BCS top 15 teams in Cincinnati and TCU). Oklahoma also had a more impressive resume in the entire OU-Tech-UT round robin, with bigger point- and yardage-differentials in their favor (hat tip: Saurian Sagacity).
No matter what method had been used to break the three-way tie, someone would have been unhappy. That's just the nature of the beast. Texas has its arguments and the win over Oklahoma is a strong emotional factor in its favor. But it's not the only factor.
Regardless, expect the Big 12 to change its tie-breaking procedures in the wake of this result. The Texas backers will demand, and get, at least that pound of flesh. In the meantime, do not blame the BCS. It has enough issues of its own without being saddled with a misplaced responsibility as it has been here.
John L. Smith Trophy
There were many worthy candidates for this week's JLS. There was Nebraska's Bo Pelini, whose fake field goal try went just a bit awry (apparently, the Raiders didn't see the highlight). There was also LSU's Les Miles, who mismanaged the clock after Arkansas took the lead late in an eventual win. But the trophy goes instead to West Virginia's Bill Stewart for another clock mishap. The Mountaineers led Pittsburgh, 15-13, in the final minutes when the Panthers drove into potential game-winning field-goal territory. The conditions were bad, and Heinz Field is a notoriously difficult stadium in which to kick, so the proper play was to try and force the field goal. But once Pitt moved into extra point-like range, Stewart needed to think about the clock. He called his final timeout with 2:21 remaining and Pitt having a first-and-goal at the West Virginia 5-yard line. At that point, Stewart should have instructed his defense to allow Pitt to score a touchdown. Since a team can burn roughly 45 seconds per play, even a heroic goal-line stand would have burned all but the final few ticks off the clock and left Pitt with a field goal attempt of less than 25 yards. Instead, West Virginia played tough defense for two downs before appearing to allow Pittsburgh to score from the one with 52 seconds left. Even with that little time remaining, West Virginia drove to the Pitt 18 before an incomplete pass in the end zone sealed the game. Had they allowed Pitt to score on first down, they could have had more than two minutes left -- invaluable given that their best offensive weapon is a scrambling quarterback.
This season, I am again voting in the BlogPoll, hosted by mgoblog, and now available on CBS Sportsline. I'll post my ballot in Junkie each week. Feel free to comment, and I may make changes based on comments for a revised ballot later in the week.
Rankings that may require further explanation: As mentioned above, I'm keeping Texas ahead of Oklahoma because I'm not trying to break a three-way tie. I watched the Longhorns beat the Sooners once and I think they could do it again, but I'm not making any predictions about my top three. I do feel there is a dropoff to Alabama, but they may prove me wrong this week and a 'Bama win probably moves them back up to No. 1. Not a whole lot of change elsewhere in the poll, other than a major leap up for Georgia Tech.
Games I watched at least part of: Texas A&M-Texas, West Virginia-Pittsburgh, LSU-Arkansas, Colorado-Nebraska, Georgia Tech-Georgia, Florida-Florida State, Auburn-Alabama, Oregon-Oregon State, Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, Notre Dame-USC.