As most of you are probably aware by now, the BCS will have a new look this year, but it's not so different from the way the national championship race was previously decided.
All eyes should once again be on the polls, which now account for two-thirds of the new formula. It might seem like a minor change, but it will become more significant as the season progresses.
Under the old system, computers carried as much weight as the humans but sometimes analyzed the same results very differently ... and still do. When comparing teams with the same record, computers evaluate each one over the entire season and give only minor consideration to when each individual result took place. Not only do human voters tend to place extra importance on the more recent games, but they also can be influenced by victory margins, which the BCS does not allow computers to consider.
Two of the last three years, when computers had as much power as the voters (and schedule strength mattered more than either), a team reached the BCS championship game after losing its regular-season finale. Don't expect that to happen anymore with the polls now in charge.
In the six-year BCS era, there have been fewer than two major undefeated teams on four occasions, meaning at least one spot in the national championship game was available to a team that had lost a game. In all four of those seasons, the once-beaten teams that ended the regular season in the top two of the polls were the ones that lost earlier in the season than the other once-beaten contenders.
Last season, No. 1 USC had lost in September, while No. 2 LSU lost in October, and No. 3 Oklahoma lost in December.
Here's the list of once-beaten teams at the end of the regular season, highlighting the team in the top 2 of the polls and when the team -- as well as the other one-loss teams -- lost:
1998: Florida State (Sept. 12).
Other contenders: Ohio State (Nov. 7), K-State (Dec. 5) and UCLA (Dec. 5).
2000: Miami (Sept. 9)
Other contenders: Florida State (Oct. 7), Washington (Sept. 30).
2001: Oregon (Oct. 20)
Other contender: Nebraska (Nov. 23)
2003: USC (Sept. 27), LSU (Oct. 11)
Other contender: Oklahoma (Dec. 6)
Under the new BCS setup, reaching the top two of both polls will almost always put a team in the championship game. Therefore, if you're going to lose once, it's now more important to lose early.
Before the season, many people looked at LSU's stretch of games at Auburn, at Georgia and at Florida over a span of 22 days and said the Tigers would go 2-1, at best. Well, if LSU was going to lose one of the three, the first one was best for keeping national title hopes alive. The same could be said for Florida State losing the first game in its difficult ACC schedule.
Count me among those who still want a playoff in major-college football, but I'll admit that the further we get into this season, the more it will start to resemble a single-elimination tournament.
BCS Busters Update
As Fresno State tries to stay undefeated and climb in the polls, some of their ability to move up will be tied to the future performance of Kansas State. Some voters who aren't currently giving the Bulldogs much credit for their domination of the Wildcats will reconsider that stance if KSU goes on to win the Big 12 North. By the same standard, it's a win many people will forget about if Kansas State goes on to have a mediocre season.
The other potentially influential item outside of Fresno State's control is a national stage for its WAC showdown with Boise State on Oct. 23. Both teams need this big-game exposure to give voters a chance to see them against quality competition in the middle of the season. Anything short of a matchup of undefeated teams would diminish the national interest in this game, and that looked to be in jeopardy when UTEP led Boise halfway through the third quarter on Saturday night before the Broncos pulled away.
Although the WAC title may be very important to both teams, Fresno State and Boise State don't need the other to trip up before late October.
Two more observations: Is it just me, or does Utah's manhandling of Texas A&M look even more impressive now that the Aggies have responded with lopsided wins over Wyoming and Clemson, allowing only six points in the two games?
And for those of you already marking down a 7-0 conference record for the Utes, be aware that they must travel to San Diego State -- the same team that just lost by a field goal in Ann Arbor -- on Oct. 30.
Mock BCS Standings
OK, don't get too excited folks. There's a reason the official BCS Standings aren't released until the end of October. The computers can spit out very unusual results when they have a sample of just a few games, and that can make fans very angry. It's common for computer ratings to be skewed in September. Things will sort themselves out as more teams lose games and the stronger teams start to strengthen their schedules in conference play.
Only four of the six BCS computers are currently publishing their results, and I had to drop the high and low score for each team in order to account for the wide variation in rankings. So, using the new formula and all available data, here's what the Top 20 of the BCS Standings would look like today. Don't forget, scores are now expressed as a percentage of a perfect score. Perfect is 1.000. The higher the score, the better.
Brad Edwards is a college football researcher at ESPN. His Road to the BCS appears weekly during the season.