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Harris Poll added to BCS mix

Top three teams all undefeated. Check.

Top three teams all with one loss. Check.

No. 1 team in both polls finishes third in the standings. Check.

No. 2 team in both polls finishes fourth in the standings. Check.

No. 4 team in both polls finishes second in the standings. Check.

Team finishes second despite losing to the third-place team. Check.

In just the past five years, it seems like whatever could have gone wrong has gone wrong for the Bowl Championship Series.

And don't forget the threats of lawsuits, congressional hearings, accusations of impropriety among the voters, and most recently, the Associated Press, which conducts college football's historical poll of record, and ESPN both removed themselves from affiliation with the standings.

If the BCS were a stock, you wouldn't find many buyers right now -- except, evidently, Fox Sports, which is paying a reported $320 million to televise BCS games (excluding the Rose Bowl) in the 2006 through 2009 seasons.

Yes, that's correct. As bad as everything might seem, the BCS won't be going anywhere for at least the next five years. Many, including Tommy Tuberville, might believe that's bad for college football, but I choose to view it as being good for the economy. Not only has the BCS created jobs (most important, mine), but it continues to generate millions of dollars for athletic departments across the country. And as long as revenues continue to increase, it's hard to imagine the system being scrapped.

Apart from the financial highlights, however, the BCS recently has been playing the role of the cartoon character with the rain cloud hanging overhead. The latest storm began in early December, when an undefeated SEC team (Auburn) was left out of the national title game, and a sudden change of heart by voters caused a Pac-10 team (California) to be bumped from the Rose Bowl. Either scenario had previously been almost inconceivable.

And it didn't take long for the fallout to begin. As an early Christmas present, the Associated Press informed BCS administrators that it no longer wanted its poll, which has ranked teams since 1936, to be part of the process. With controversy already swirling over the anonymous nature of the coaches' poll, the BCS had its back against the wall for 2005 before the 2004 season had even ended.

In May, it appeared the BCS had won a major credibility battle by convincing the coaches to make their final ballots public starting this season, but that victory was somewhat diminished when ESPN announced two weeks later that it would no longer serve as a sponsor of the poll. The network had asked that ballots be released every week of the season rather than just the final week, but the coaches voted against it.

Without ESPN and the Associated Press, the BCS was left with a slightly improved coaches' poll and an enormous hole in the formula where the AP poll had been. With the help of Harris Interactive, a leading market research organization, the BCS revealed in July a new poll to replace the AP version. The Harris Interactive College Football Poll, which will consist of 114 voters (80 percent former players, coaches and administrators; 20 percent media), will make its debut Sept. 25.

Therefore, the BCS formula will remain exactly the same as it was last season. There still will be two polls that each account for one-third of the equation, while the other third will be determined by the ratings of six computers. The changes to the system include coaches revealing their final ballots, and some noteworthy differences between the new poll and its predecessor.

From where I sit, the poll by Harris Interactive appears to be an upgrade from the AP. The bias of preseason opinion has been reduced by the later start date, the impact of a single voter (for example, the voter who ranked Cal ninth last year) has been diminished by the larger pool and the more statistical approach to distributing the voters (each conference nominated 11 of them) should lessen regional biases. It's a solid poll.

However, better polls are not the solution to the BCS problems. Other than determining four teams to play off for the title instead of two, the best BCS solution would be to scrap the current formula and create a committee of knowledgeable football people to select which teams should play for the championship.

Many others have advocated this approach. I have beaten this dead horse so much that my clothes are covered with glue.

But in case you've missed those previous rants on this topic, my problem with the polls is not that the voters don't know football. The problem is that 90-something percent of them have jobs that require them to focus primarily on one game each Saturday, rather than watching all the games, as is now possible when combining satellite technology with the seemingly hundreds of local and regional broadcasts.

ESPN's college football staff watched every game played by USC, Oklahoma and Auburn last season. And for what it's worth, the consensus of our group after the regular season -- not a unanimous opinion, by the way -- was that Auburn was the second-best team in the country. One person thought the Tigers were the best. Might a committee that watched every game have reached the same conclusion? Might the BCS championship game have had a different result? Maybe. Maybe not. We'll never know.

At least one group appears to have seen the light, though. Another college football "poll" is debuting this season, but it isn't linked to the BCS. It's a committee of accomplished former coaches calling itself the Master Coaches Survey -- a group of 15 to 18 members who will evaluate the teams after watching tapes of the games. MCS Executive Director Andy Curtin says he's not yet ready to release the names of any coaches who will be involved, but several have won national titles, and all have coached in major January bowl games.

"These guys are doing this because they think it will help college football," he said. "They've been frustrated by the systems of the last few years, and they think they can do better.

"Not only can they analyze games from a coach's perspective, but these guys also have the connections to pick up the phone and call active coaches for their insight. They're already doing it now."

There still are kinks to work out of the plan, including the compensation for each participant, but many college football observers will be keeping a close eye on this experiment. The premise is on target, and I hope it works well. Something must give me hope for the future.

Controversy just hasn't gotten it done.

BCS trends
The preseason coaches' poll is already out, and if you believe in trends, it does hold some significance. In the first seven years of the BCS, at least one of the title-game participants has been a team ranked 1 or 2 in the preseason (USC and Texas this year). And in five of the seven years, that team's championship game opponent had a double-digit preseason ranking. Even both of the other years had a team come from off the pace to finish third in the BCS with a very strong claim for a top-two spot (Colorado in 2001 and Auburn in 2004). So, this means if your team is ranked Nos. 3 through 9 in the preseason, don't even concern yourself with the championship race -- unless, of course, you don't believe in trends.

• Although that preseason No. 2 ranking looks good to Texas fans, that Sept. 10 game at Ohio State sure doesn't look so hot for national title aspirations. Buckeyes fans probably feel the same way about having to play the Longhorns. The game, interestingly, was scheduled back in 1998, the first year of the BCS when schedule strength was a major factor in reaching the top of the standings. Having strong nonconference opposition isn't nearly as important these days, but don't think that makes playing this game a mistake for either team. If the winner of this game ends up as one of three undefeated teams (like last year) or one of three once-beaten teams (like two years ago), a victory of such magnitude should be enough to earn that team a top-two spot from voters in the polls. The loser, of course, will just wish the game had never been scheduled. When all else fails, blame the AD.

• In past seasons, the media has usually categorized the football conferences as "BCS" and "non-BCS." It used to simplify things, but now it's no longer accurate. Since Utah reached a BCS game and won it by four touchdowns, it's difficult to refer to the Utes as "a non-BCS team," while considering Vanderbilt, which hasn't had a winning season since 1982, "a BCS team." It just doesn't hold water. From now on, the six conferences that currently have an automatic BCS bid for their champion will be known as "AQ conferences" (Automatic Qualifying), while the others will be called "non-AQ." And if that's not confusing enough for you, just wait until the next BCS format, which will give "non-AQ conferences" the chance to become "AQs." I can't wait!

• And for those who might have forgotten (or never knew) about the next BCS format, this will be the final season to end with four BCS games. Starting with the 2006 season, there will be five BCS games -- a move that should increase access to the grand stage for non-AQ conferences. Without getting into contingencies, the basic plan is for the highest-ranked non-AQ team to receive a BCS at-large bid if it is in the top 12 in the final standings. That would have included not only Utah last season, but also Miami (Ohio) in 2003, Marshall in 1999 and Tulane in 1998.

In order to accommodate five BCS games, there will be a switch to what is being called "the double-hosting format," in which the site of the national title game also is the site of an earlier BCS game. The Fiesta, Sugar, Orange and Rose bowls all will be played in the first few days of January, but none will involve the top two teams in the standings. Then, approximately a week later, whichever bowl is due in the rotation will host the 1 vs. 2 game, and it will simply be called "The BCS Championship." Get ready. It's barely more than a year away.

Brad Edwards is a college football researcher at ESPN. His Road to the BCS appears weekly during the season.