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Monday, October 28
Updated: October 31, 5:15 PM ET
 
Notre Dame threatening to climb over Miami

By Brad Edwards
Special to ESPN.com

Don't press the panic button quite yet.

But it might not be a bad idea to know where it is, just in case.

We entered last week with eight unbeaten teams in Division I-A, and all are now one week closer to completing a perfect regular season. Logic says things will still sort themselves out, but we are running out of historical perspective to support that line of thinking.

The last time there were as many as seven major undefeated teams at the end of October was 1971. That year, there were also seven at this stage, and the season finished with three major unbeatens -- Alabama, Michigan and Nebraska.

It's never a good thing when a team with a perfect record is denied a chance to play for the national title, but it's even worse when that program has a respected name. Ohio State, Georgia, Notre Dame and even Miami could have it happen to them this season. It's hard to even imagine.

Miami In Jeopardy?
The greatest conceivable disaster for the BCS, in my estimation, would be for a team ranked No. 1 in both polls to not be ranked in the Top 2 of the final BCS Standings. Mathematically, it is possible. Miami was ranked fourth and third, respectively, in the first two releases of the BCS last year, despite being the top team in both polls.

It could happen again next week, but the big question is whether it could happen at the end of the season. Could the defending national champion go undefeated and not have the opportunity to play in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl? Let's look at the math.

In this week's BCS Standings, Notre Dame was .30 points behind Miami for the No. 2 spot. Here is how the numbers are distributed.

BCS Standings

Polls Comp. Sched. (Rank) Bonus TOTAL 2. Miami 1 4.33 1.36 (34) --- 6.69 3. ND 5 1.83 .16 (4) --- 6.99

Note - Polls and computer numbers reflect their averages.

The number that immediately catches your eye is the Irish's poll average of 5. Obviously, they could get as high as No. 3 in the polls without either Miami or Oklahoma having to lose, so ND has significant potential to gain ground in that category. If Notre Dame gains those two points and all else stays the same, then it will be comfortably ahead of Miami. The problem is that all else will not stay the same.

Notre Dame currently has one of the top-rated schedules in the nation, which gives them a big advantage over the Hurricanes in the schedule strength column. It also helps them in the computers, which rely heavily on strength of schedule since they are no longer allowed to consider margin of victory. Because of this, the Irish have a combined computer and schedule strength total of 1.99 points (perfect is 1.04).

But those incredible numbers will not hold up. Notre Dame's remaining schedule -- thanks to the double whammy of Navy (1-7) and Rutgers (1-7) -- is the weakest of the eight remaining undefeated teams, and that will cause them to slide somewhat in both categories.

Remaining Opponents of Unbeaten Teams

W-L Pct. NC State 22-11 .667 Virginia Tech 26-14 .650 Georgia 20-12 .625 Ohio State 20-13 .606 Oklahoma 22-18 .550 Bowling Green 22-18 .550 Miami 21-18 .538 Notre Dame 12-19 .387

And if the Irish are able to move up in the polls because of losses to teams in front of them, those same losses would allow Miami to move up in the computers. When you take all of this into consideration, it seems like the gap between the teams would be fairly tight before applying the quality wins bonus.

Notre Dame had three-tenths of a point subtracted from its score last week because of Michigan's No.8 ranking in the BCS, but the Wolverines lost again on Saturday, leaving very little hope for the Irish go receive a significant bonus at the end of the season. Miami, on the other hand, should get a decent bonus if it can beat a previously undefeated Virginia Tech team in the regular-season finale.

There is still a chance for the Hurricanes to go unbeaten and not reach the BCS promised land, but it is much more difficult than it might look on paper.

Warning Signs
Since many college football fans are hoping for the most disastrous BCS scenario to unfold (and presumably open the door for playoff discussions), here's a quick look at three things that could potentially keep an undefeated Miami team out of Tempe.

  • Opponents' Winning Percentage
    At the start of the season, many people believed Miami was facing one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in college football history. With trips to Florida and Tennessee sandwiched around a home date with Florida State, it couldn't get any tougher. Right?

    Don't look now, 'Canes fans, but those big boys all enter November with three losses and at least one more good chance to lose again. Throw in the other non-conference games against Connecticut and I-AA Florida A&M, and Miami surprisingly has a very average non-conference slate. FAMU was the only one of UM's opponents to date that won a game on Saturday, and a win over a I-AA team doesn't even count in the BCS structure.

  • Virginia Tech
    Because there are only eight teams in the Big East, the conference schedule is a true round robin, which means all games will add both a win and a loss to your opponents' record. In theory, those games are all neutral -- but not in the eyes of Miami. As mentioned earlier, the 'Canes need a win over a previously unbeaten Virginia Tech for a chance to earn a solid bonus in the BCS for a quality win. If the Hokies were to lose another conference game or their rivalry matchup with ACC foe Virginia, it would affect Miami's potential to earn points in the BCS.

  • Poll Position
    I demonstrated above why it would be difficult for Miami to be overtaken in the BCS while ranked first in both polls, but a team ranked No. 2 would be much more vulnerable. If the 'Canes struggled with a few opponents while Oklahoma rolled to easy wins, it is possible that people might elevate the Sooners in the polls. If Miami fell to No. 2 in one poll, the cost would be half a point in the BCS. If they fell a spot in both, it would be a full point. And as we saw at the end of last season, even a tenth of a point can be huge in the final BCS Standings.

    Slim Pickings
    With all the national title talk, it's easy to forget there are actually four games in the Bowl Championship Series. Those spots, of course, go to the six champions of the major conferences and two at-large teams. With Notre Dame all but assured of nine wins and a Top-12 ranking in the final BCS Standings, it is a virtual certainty that the Irish will be taking one of those at-large spots.

    This means all other teams hoping to play on the big stage this January had better win their conference championship, because there's only one spot left for the teams that don't. Based on name value and proximity to New Orleans, Texas probably has the inside track for that bid if it can win out.

    There are also a couple of interesting scenarios that could play out if Ohio State happens to reach the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. The BCS rules state that the first at-large selection belongs to whatever bowl loses the top-ranked team to the championship game. If Oklahoma finishes No. 1, the first choice would go to the bowl that lost the No. 2 team, since the Fiesta is the natural placement for the Big 12 champion.

    So, if Oklahoma finishes No. 1 and Ohio State No. 2, the Rose Bowl would get first choice because it lost the Big Ten champion. There would be some sentiment to replace the Buckeyes with another Big Ten team, especially if Iowa also goes undefeated in conference play and is a co-champion with OSU (the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes don't play each other). But another possibility would be for the Rose to pass on the Big Ten and take Notre Dame. The Irish have played in the Rose Bowl only once before, when Knute Rockne's 1924 squad beat Pop Warner's Stanford team to win the national title.

    Ohio State's Silent Victory
    With all unbeaten teams advancing through this past weekend, not much changed on the surface of the national title race. But very quietly, Ohio State scored a small victory.

    Notre Dame and Virginia Tech both stood to earn bonus points for respective wins over Michigan and LSU if those teams could run the table and finish with only that one loss. But the Wolverines and Tigers went down on Saturday, while Washington State survived and kept Ohio State's hopes alive for a quality win bonus. If the Cougars can win out, the Buckeyes could earn a half point or more from that Sept. 14 victory and potentially distance themselves from their fellow unbeaten teams.

    BCS Standings
    By climbing to No. 4 in the AP poll, Notre Dame closed the gap on Miami, but lost some of that ground by falling to No. 2 in a few computer ratings. The Irish are still close enough that they could jump the Hurricanes in next week's standings. Georgia and Ohio State were barely behind Virginia Tech last week, so it was no surprise that the poor showings of Hokie opponents last Saturday dropped them all the way to sixth.

    1. Oklahoma
    2. Miami
    3. Notre Dame
    4. Georgia
    5. Ohio State
    6. Virginia Tech
    7. Texas
    8. Washington State
    9. NC State
    10. Iowa

    Last week, I said we'd look at some of the once-beaten teams in this column. But as long as there are so many undefeated teams, it's pointless to look beyond that group for now. Interestingly, there are seven major undefeated teams and only four major one-loss teams -- and Minnesota plays Ohio State this Saturday.

    Brad Edwards is a college football researcher for ESPN. Inside the BCS appears weekly.







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