Taking the BS out of BCS


















The Guru’s Note: Beginning in June, the Guru will publish a review of each of the 10 seasons since the Bowl Championship Series came into existence in 1998. In this series — Ten Years of BCS — the Guru will examine the results from these seasons — who got lucky and who got robbed, what could’ve been, what should’ve been and other controversies of the day. The series will appear weekly leading up to the 2008 season.


If the BCS was shaken by the 2000 controversy, then it was rocked by an earthquake in 2001.

Heading into the final weeks of the regular season, it appeared that a Miami-Nebraska showdown in the Rose Bowl would be inevitable. After Nebraska’s 20-10 win over previously unbeaten Oklahoma, Miami and Nebraska were ranked 1-2 for the next four consecutive weeks, with non-BCS Brigham Young the only other unbeaten team.

Then a series of upsets changed everything.

Heading into their final regular-season game, the Huskers still needed a victory in Boulder to clinch the Big 12 North against two-loss Colorado. But the Buffaloes didn’t comply, and thrashed Nebraska, 62-36, in a game that wasn’t even that close. Nebraska tumbled to No. 6 in the polls and its national title aspirations seemingly squashed.

After Nebraska’s loss, Florida claimed the all-important No. 2 spot. The Gators just needed to beat Tennessee to secure a berth in the SEC championship game. Annually played in the third week of September, the Florida-Tennessee game in 2001 was postponed because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Vols surprised Florida with a 34-32 victory, in what turned out to be Steve Spurrier’s final regular-season game as Gators coach.

The victory catapulted Tennessee from No. 6 to No. 2 in the BCS standings after No. 4 Colorado upset No. 3 Texas in the Big XII title game. Now all the Vols had to do was beat LSU in the SEC title game to secure their second BCS title game appearance in four years.

In the meantime, left on the sideline seething was Oregon. The Ducks, with its only defeat to two-loss Stanford, were No. 3 in both polls. Yet, they were ranked only No. 5 in the BCS standings, behind two-loss Colorado, who had been beaten by Fresno State and also Texas in the regular season. The Buffs, after winning the rematch against the Longhorns, had their issue, too: Somehow, they were ranked No. 4 in the BCS, behind the Nebraska team that had been idle since being annihilated in Boulder.

The BCS would’ve dodged a bullet if Tennessee could just take care of business against three-loss LSU, which had been beaten in Knoxville earlier in the season. But the Tigers didn’t oblige, pulling out a 31-20 victory in the SEC title game, completing the frenzied final three weeks of the season with one more upset.

So who was going to play undefeated Miami? Oregon, now No. 2 in both polls, seemed to have the strongest argument. Colorado, with an impressive late-season run but two losses, wanted to have a say, too. The team that really shouldn’t be in the discussion was Nebraska, which had snuck back up to No. 4 after the spate of late-season upsets.

But it was Nebraska that claimed the No. 2 spot in the final BCS standings, edging out Colorado by five-hundredth (.05) of a percentage point. Oregon, with a low computer average and hampered by its strength-of-schedule rating, was a distant fourth and never had a shot.

The Buffaloes howled for weeks after narrowly losing out. But the truth is that they were even that close to Nebraska only because of the new "quality win" component, added after the 2000 season as make-good to Miami’s snub. Had the 2000 formula been applied, Colorado would’ve been fourth, behind Nebraska by nearly two full points and also Oregon as well.

At the end, the Ducks were really the aggrieved party, and they proved it by destroying Colorado, 38-16, in the Fiesta Bowl. Miami finished its undefeated season with a ho-hum 34-14 victory over Nebraska, universally disparaged as being undeserving. While the Hurricanes celebrated their national championship, the BCS was sent back to the drawing board once again.

Final BCS Standings: 1. Miami, 2. Nebraska, 3. Colorado, 4. Oregon.

Alternative Methods:

  • Using present day formula: 1. Miami, 2. Oregon, 3. Colorado, 4. Nebraska. (Oregon would’ve been a comfortable No. 2, and there would’ve been little controversy)

  • Using 1998-2000 formula: 1. Miami, 2. Nebraska, 3. Oregon, 4. Colorado. (Nebraska would’ve been well ahead of Oregon)

  • Using human polls only: 1. Miami, 2. Oregon, 3. Colorado, 4. Nebraska.

  • Plus-One: Miami vs. Nebraska; Oregon vs. Colorado.


Other than Nebraska getting into the national championship game in the Rose Bowl, not really. (But that’s like saying a car hit my wife and then ran over my dog, but other than that, it’s been a great day.) The only other one-loss teams from major conferences, Illinois (Big Ten) and Maryland (ACC), were both throttled in BCS bowl games. No. 5 Florida was the only at-large selection, and as it turned out, sent out coach Spurrier to the NFL with a 56-23 rout of Maryland at the Orange Bowl.

BCS Formula Review: Wes Colley (of the Colley Matrix) and Peter Wolfe were added to the computer ratings, replacing the New York Times and Richard Dunkel. The move ostensibly was to lessen the impact of margin of victory in computer rankings. Of the eight ratings for each team, the highest and lowest were thrown out and the remainder averaged.

Also, a "quality win" component was added to the team’s final total, in response to Miami’s being snubbed in 2000. This scheme called for teams to receive bonus points by beating other teams in the final BCS top 15. As a result, Colorado’s late-season wins over Nebraska and Texas gave it a boost of 2.3 points, nearly knocking Nebraska out of the No. 2 spot.

Analysis: The 2001 mess probably should’ve been a wake-up call for the BCS to completely revamp its formula. Yet, the powers-that-be continued to scrutinize the computers and margin of victory as the problem areas, overlooking the real issues that made the cumbersome system dysfunctional. The next season brought a big relief — through no credit to the BCS system — but the calm would prove short-lived.





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