Brains behind BCS react to rankings

If you're among the college football fans buying into the #SECBias conspiracy, you probably wouldn't have liked the old BCS formula any better than the new College Football Playoff's selection committee.

Wes Colley, whose computer standings were part of the BCS formula for the past 16 years, said there's a good chance the BCS formula also would have ranked three SEC teams in the top four if the system were still being used.

According to Colley's BCS proxy standings, Mississippi State and Florida State, the only two undefeated teams left from Power 5 conferences, would have been ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, followed by No. 3 Alabama and No. 4 Auburn.

The 12-person selection committee that will choose the four teams for the inaugural College Football Playoff had Mississippi State and FSU at the top teams in the first rankings released Tuesday night, followed by No. 3 Auburn and No. 4 Ole Miss.

"When I saw the top 25 from the committee, I thought it was reasonable," said Colley, an astrophysical scientist at the University of Alabama-Huntsville. "I had a couple of question marks. I'm not really quite sure why they're so down on LSU. But it certainly seemed like a reasonable go at it."

During the BCS era, the six computer ratings (Richard Billingsley, Jeff Anderson and Chris Hester, Jeff Sagarin, Kenneth Massey and Peter Wolfe produced the others that were used since 2001) comprised one-third of the BCS formula. The highest and lowest computer ratings for each team were dropped, and the other four were averaged. The coaches' poll and Associated Press Top 25 poll accounted for the other two-thirds, until the Harris Interactive Poll replaced the AP poll in 2005.

Now, the 12-person selection committee (it was 13 until former Ole Miss quarterback Archie Manning took a leave of absence last week) is in charge of choosing four teams for two semifinal games and then a championship game, with no official input from the human polls or computer ratings.

"During the last 16 years, it's the time of year when I was taking arrows and there was confusion taking place," Colley said. "There's still a lot of football to be played, and there's still a lot of meat left on the conference schedules. They've done a pretty good job with the starting point, and things will sort themselves out."

According to Colley's BCS proxy rankings, the BCS rankings would have included 24 of the 25 teams that were ranked by the selection committee Tuesday. The BCS rankings would have included undefeated Marshall; the committee didn't have the Thundering Herd ranked in the top 25. Louisville, which was ranked No. 25 by the committee, wasn't included in the BCS proxy rankings.

In fact, of the 24 teams that were ranked by both the committee and the former BCS computers, 18 were slotted within two spots of each other. The biggest discrepancy was LSU, which was ranked No. 19 by the committee and No. 12 in the BCS proxy standings.

"The way my program looks at LSU right now is they have two losses, but they lost to Mississippi State and Auburn," said Billingsley, a stress-management expert from Hugo, Oklahoma, who still publishes his ratings online. "Conceivably, LSU could be the fourth-best team in the country. They have LSU at No. 19. I'm surprised the committee didn't look more closely at LSU's games. To me, they're a better team than a lot of the teams ranked ahead of them."

The selection committee and BCS proxy rankings also disagreed mightily on TCU (committee had Horned Frogs at No. 7; BCS proxy standings had them at No. 11) and Arizona (No. 12 by committee, No. 17 by BCS proxy standings).

Colley said the BCS proxy standings aren't identical to the BCS formula used in the past. He included the AP poll to replace the now-defunct Harris Interactive Poll, and Sagarin and Massey now include margin of victory in their ratings. They adjusted their computer formula to omit strength of schedule for the BCS model.

"I thought the committee's rankings were decent," said Anderson, a Washington graduate who works for Microsoft. "Frankly, they're kind of easy right now in that there's no consequence to them. Even when the BCS came out, they were a benchmark. The biggest question I have going forward is will the committee move teams up and down if they don't lose? Will they give quality wins more weight?"

Non-SEC fans might be happy Sagarin's ratings aren't a part of the BCS formula anymore. Sagarin, whose ratings are published by USA Today, has five SEC teams at the top of his ratings: Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Georgia. Sagarin has two-loss Oklahoma ranked No. 6 (the committee had the Sooners at No. 18) and Florida State at No. 13.

While Sagarin's ratings might raise some eyebrows, Colley and Anderson said it's no surprise that so many SEC teams are rated so highly by the committee. Four of the top six teams in the first rankings were from the SEC.

"We've been doing this for 25 years or so, and I don't think there has ever been a conference that's as dominant as the SEC this year," Anderson said. "We've talked about how good the SEC has been over the last 10 years, but I think this might be the best incarnation of the SEC. They're not all going to stay where they are because they're going to lose, but the SEC is unbelievable this year."

Added Colley: "This year, I don't really see how you can argue with it. The SEC West has lost only one game outside of itself, and that's to Georgia, which happens to be the best team in the SEC East right now. It's hard to come up with a much better record than that. The computers recognize it, and the committee is recognizing it too."