August 26, 2014

If eligible, would Ohio State be on the verge of a BCS Championship appearance?

This year has been a strange one for Ohio State fans. Unlike the thrill of the recent undefeated 2002 or 2006 regular seasons, the 11-0 start to 2012 has had a peculiar aura because of the NCAA-sanctioned bowl ban.

As a result of the bowl ban, the Buckeyes are ineligible for the BCS standings, thus, they’re not included in the weekly updates, the USA Today Coaches Poll or the Harris Interactive Poll. But in a relatively weak college football field this year, because of only one other undefeated team, where would Ohio State rank in the current landscape?

So in a WFNY study and analysis, I looked at where the Buckeyes rank under the same BCS computer polls plus the Associated Press poll and another national ranking. I break down OSU’s perceived “weak” strength of schedule, the storylines that this formula might be missing, what would be up for grabs in today’s Michigan game and what other oddities I see in this new BCS. Hope you enjoy.

The strength of schedule

For starters, I wanted to begin with the typical strength of schedule argument. When most people engage in these hypothetical debates, it’s likely that most anti-Ohio State people — or at least fairly pessimistic or “realistic” folks — would begin by critiquing the Buckeyes’ strength of schedule this season.

Obviously, for as bad of a year it has been for college football heavyweights, it’s been an even worse one in the Big Ten. In the very first BCS standings this year, there was no mention of the conference — yet the Big East had two teams. Two of the best teams in the conference — Penn State and OSU — are ineligible for postseason play. It’s been a very bad year for the Big Ten, which actually just added two more mediocre football schools in Rutgers (historically) and Maryland (always).

So analytically, let’s take a look at the Buckeyes strength of schedule this year and where it ranks against other top 9 AP poll teams — assuming OSU would find its way in the top 10, somehow. Thus, I took a look at the four of the six BCS computer polls that post strength of schedule rankings right on their rating pages:

BCS Rank Team A&H CM KM JS AVG SOS Rk
1 Notre Dame 29 24 21 33 26.75 4
2 Alabama 32 40 22 30 31.00 7
3 Georgia 31 55 33 46 41.25 9
4 Florida 15 11 2 19 11.75 2
5 Oregon 48 49 30 36 40.75 8
6 Kansas State 28 39 26 27 30.00 6
7 LSU 21 13 3 22 14.75 3
8 Stanford 3 8 1 7 4.75 1
9 Texas A&M 41 29 18 25 28.25 5
? Ohio State 50 62 47 54 53.25 10



So yes, it’s correct: When compared to the top 9 BCS teams, the BCS computers have Ohio State marked as having the easiest schedule thus far. And it’s not particularly close: Georgia is at No. 9 with a 41.25 average, while OSU is behind everyone in every rating, finishing with a 53.25 average.

Looking specifically at one particular ranking, Anderson & Hester, where do OSU’s opponents rank on the year out of 124 FBS teams?

9/1 — vs Miami University (56-10) — Rank: 95
9/8 — vs Central Florida (31-16) — Rank: 55
9/15 — vs California (35-28) — Rank: 79
9/22 — vs Alabama-Birmingham (29-15) — Rank: 113
9/29 — @ Michigan State (17-16) — Rank: 46
10/6 — vs Nebraska (63-38) — Rank: 12
10/13 — @ Indiana (52-49) — Rank: 78
10/20 — vs Purdue (29-22 OT) — Rank: 65
10/27 — @ Penn State (35-23) — Rank: 33
11/3 — vs Illinois (52-22) — Rank: 103
11/17 — @ Wisconsin (21-14 OT) — Rank: 37

Wow, it looks even worse when you spread it out all like that. The non-conference games were expected to be easy opponents, but all have played worse than expected. Then, in conference, Michigan State has tanked epically to fall in danger of being ineligible for a bowl game too. The Buckeyes also do not have Legends Division teams Northwestern (23), Minnesota (58) and Iowa (75) on the schedule this year.

But really, how much does a relatively bad strength of schedule matter when a team is just the second undefeated team in the nation? And in a historically dominant conference? We’ve seen this argument against Ohio State before — notably in 2007 — so where would the Buckeyes rank anyway? Let’s move on to that now.

The formula and the ranking

For those of you who don’t know my sports writing history, it all began with the BCS fiasco in 2005. That year, a muddy field throughout the regular season brought BCS hatred to the forefront of my mind and the national landscape. So I developed my own BCS-esque formula that would rank teams in a similar way. I utilized strength of schedule and all, but most of all, following teams week-to-week, I gained a better understanding of the strengths and flaws of the system. I’m a stats and computer-proponent by trade and history, but in my conversations with sports writers, coaches and fans over the years, I certainly see the need and appeal of a playoff.

Unfortunately for this study, the BCS changed drastically again just a few years after I was doing my own rankings. Now, the formula is a simple average of three polling averages — the Coaches Poll, the Harris Poll and the computers. Based on the overall available votes for the Coaches and Harris, you find a pretty easily-understood decimal for each team (a unanimous No. 1 team would get a 1.000 ranking, for example). For the computers, it’s practically the same way, but just giving out votes a la 25 for No. 1, 24 for No. 2, and removing the best and worst rating of the six for each team. (Trust me: It’s simple.)

Thus, obviously, OSU can’t be easily compared or plugged into the current BCS. Not only are they not mentioned in the Coaches or Harris polls, but the official BCS standings exclude OSU’s place in the six computer polls — other teams just move up in the standings one extra spot. So I had to go computer poll-by-computer poll to actually track down the Buckeyes’ respective rankings, then find two more human voting polls so the BCS design remains the same.

The Associated Press was an obvious first choice. The AP doesn’t belong to the BCS anymore, so Ohio State has been climbing steadily as expected all season. Then, to make things relatively simple, I also used ESPN.com’s Writers Poll. It’s not necessarily the greatest of replacements, but I thought I could trust the WWL for this task while already on the site.

So utilizing the exact same formula — just replacing the human polls and actually including OSU in the computers — here is the final result:

RK BCS Team COMP RK AP RK ESPN RK AVERAGE
1 1 Notre Dame 1.000 1 1.000 1 1.000 1 1.000
2 2 Alabama 0.880 4 0.933 2 0.940 2 0.918
3 ? Ohio State 0.910 3 0.861 4 0.880 3 0.884
4 3 Georgia 0.790 6 0.877 3 0.862 4 0.843
5 5 Oregon 0.770 8 0.831 5 0.854 5 0.818
6 4 Florida 0.940 2 0.781 6 0.730 6 0.817
7 6 Kansas State 0.810 5 0.709 7 0.692 10 0.737
8 7 LSU 0.720 9 0.699 8 0.706 8 0.708
9 8 Stanford 0.790 6 0.661 11 0.646 11 0.699
10 9 Texas A&M 0.580 11 0.685 9 0.694 9 0.653
11 10 Florida State 0.280 18 0.684 10 0.728 7 0.564
12 12 South Carolina 0.570 12 0.530 13 0.510 13 0.537
13 11 Clemson 0.400 16 0.583 12 0.592 12 0.525
14 13 Oklahoma 0.600 10 0.489 14 0.472 14 0.520
15 15 Oregon State 0.520 13 0.399 16 0.412 16 0.444
16 14 Nebraska 0.510 14 0.373 17 0.392 17 0.425
17 17 UCLA 0.310 17 0.416 15 0.416 15 0.381
18 16 Texas 0.450 15 0.332 18 0.316 18 0.366
19 19 Michigan 0.240 20 0.188 20 0.238 19 0.222
20 21 Oklahoma State 0.250 19 0.160 22 0.142 22 0.184
21 18 Rutgers 0.150 22 0.177 21 0.194 21 0.174
22 20 Louisville 0.020 27 0.241 19 0.236 20 0.166
23 23 Kent State 0.130 23 0.103 23 0.086 23 0.106
24 24 Arizona 0.200 21 0.009 30 0.010 30 0.073
25 ? Northern Illinois 0.010 28 0.096 24 0.082 24 0.063



Your answer: Ohio State (0.884) slides into third place in this revised BCS, still far behind Notre Dame (1.000) but sandwiched in between SEC leaders Alabama (0.918) and Georgia (0.843). Notably as well at the top, previously No. 4 Florida (0.817) has narrowly fallen below BCS No. 5 Oregon (0.818), as the two teams are No. 5 and No. 6, respectively, in this new ranking.

So yes, Ohio State’s “weak” strength of schedule was not enough to drag them out of the national title hunt. Yes, it’s enough to push them behind a strong one-loss SEC team — which will be the focus of my remaining analysis — but the Buckeyes are right in it.

Expected or not, there also is lots of little movement at the bottom of this new BCS because of the change from Coaches/Harris to AP/ESPN.com. But I wanted to just focus on that top 10 again and now break down the storylines that come with it.

The storylines

Michigan game — As an undefeated No. 3 team, it’s pretty clear how the stakes for Ohio State would be much higher in today’s rivalry game against No. 19 Michigan. The rivalry was at full throttle in 2002 and 2006, both home games in Columbus with an undefeated regular season on the line, and this wouldn’t be much different. It wouldn’t have the exact same flare and prestige of that incredible ’06 game — but don’t tell me that the Buckeyes wouldn’t be more amped for a game with national title hopes on the line.

The one-loss quandary — Controversy and criticism would be near an all-time high if these standings were correct heading into today’s slate of college football games. Ohio State, an undefeated Big Ten team, would rank just below a one-loss SEC team in Alabama in the race for the National Championship. If this again doesn’t beg the need for a four-team college playoff at least — which is set to begin in 2014 — I don’t know what does. But I wouldn’t expect anyone to be happy about this murky situation, except maybe those crazy SEC fans.

Big Ten title — What’s pretty clear though, is that if Ohio State was eligible, Urban Meyer’s squad would be matching up next week in the Big Ten Championship Game in a rematch against No. 16 Nebraska, this time in Indianapolis. For whatever it was worth, the Buckeyes did indeed win the Leaders Division this year and were able to get rings. But their current two-game division lead doesn’t mean a thing, and Wisconsin, another Big Ten victim of the Buckeyes, is on its way to Indianapolis. It’s pretty sad to consider the Cornhuskers or Badgers will be heading to the Rose Bowl this year, but at the very worst in this situation, that’s where OSU would be headed in this adjusted reality.

History of undefeated teams — Since the BCS began in 1998, here is a list of all undefeated non-National Champions: 1998 Tulane, 1999 Marshall, 2004 Auburn, 2004 Utah, 2006 Boise State, 2008 Utah, 2009 Boise State, 2010 TCU. That’s the whole list and it’s not all that glamorous. Clearly, the only example of an undefeated BCS conference team also winning their non-Championship bowl game to remain undefeated is Auburn back in 2004, when they were No. 3 in the final regular season BCS behind similarly undefeated USC and Oklahoma. In almost every BCS year, there was also an undefeated mid-major team that got shut out of the title game, as led by Utah and Boise State. So this particular situation of a one-loss BCS conference team out-pacing an undefeated BCS conference team would clearly be unprecedented in the BCS era.

Southern Cal in 2011 — The closest comparison I can theorize overall to Ohio State’s current situation is the USC Trojans last year. Also ineligible for the BCS and postseason play, the Trojans lost twice — at ranked Arizona State and at top-five Stanford — but continued to climb in the polls. In the final AP poll of the entire season after the BCS games, the Trojans finished No. 6. Very impressive for a two-loss team, and although not exactly similar because of Ohio State’s clearly worse schedule and undefeated record, it provides at least an intriguing comparison.

Alabama-Georgia game — One odd caveat to this current BCS rankings is the impact of the upcoming SEC Championship. Alabama and Georgia will play each other next week with the winner advancing to BCS title, in reality, assuming both win their rivalry games this week. But in this adjusted BCS, would this game still be a practical semifinal? It’s likely that’s also possibly true, as Georgia’s computer strength would significantly increase — the Bulldogs are only No. 6 in the computers — or Alabama would take a stranglehold on No. 2. Yes, Ohio State would have had a slightly tougher schedule with Michigan and Big Ten title games, but it wouldn’t necessarily alleviate this pickle with a one-loss SEC team.

The voter bias — One last adjusted BCS storyline I wanted to point out is a possible voter bias against Ohio State this season. In a media landscape filled with hyperbole and a “what have you done for me now” mentality, how do you think the media would react to actually shutting out an undefeated Big Ten team from a BCS title game appearance? While I wouldn’t say every AP voter would then suddenly have OSU No. 2, I think the difference would at least be notable when it comes to this adjusted ranking. In the current AP poll, the voters have no necessary obligation to treat the Buckeyes with respect since they aren’t likely to be criticized in the media as their ranking hasn’t really mattered thus far.

Analysis from WFNY’s Scott (not seeing my rankings) — “I’d like to think first. Not that they deserve it based on the eye test, but Week 2 AP rankings had Ohio State eight spots ahead of Notre Dame and both teams have won out since. It’s why K State was ranked first just a week ago. That said, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they were third behind Alabama.”

Analysis from WFNY’s Kirk (not seeing my rankings) — “I think it’s pretty obvious that without the bowl ban (thanks again, Gene Smith), Ohio State would be sitting at #2 in the BCS right now. Does it mean that Ohio State is the second best team in the nation? No, but in this current system that we’ve all accepted for the last decade, 95% of the time, teams in the power conferences are stacked by number of losses and then debated within those spots (0-loss teams, 1-loss teams, etc.). Sure, the Big Ten is really down this season, but Ohio State does have a 25-point win over Nebraska who is #14 and likely to move up a couple of spots if it can beat Wisconsin next Saturday. Sure, Alabama and Georgia have played a little bit more of a challenging schedule, but am I supposed to be blown away with Alabama’s wins against BCS Top 25 teams (LSU, A&M, and Michigan) or Georgia’s (South Carolina and Florida)?”

Final Thoughts — Thanks to Scott and Kirk for providing their blind input as well. And of course, Kirk brings up one of the most poignant storylines. OSU AD Gene Smith has gone out on record saying he didn’t think the NCAA would lay down a bowl ban in the Buckeyes’ tattoo scandal. He didn’t think a self-sanctioned bowl ban would have been necessary for any end goal in 2011, just because he was either ignorant, out-of-touch or plain just satisfied with how the NCAA investigation was going. It’s strange, especially as fans when you compare a 6-6 season in 2011 to whatever 2012 could have been. Many fans argued this point last season, and it’s clearly gaining steam as the leading storyline that has forced the Buckeyes into this ineligible situation.

But my point today was to do the best ranking possible in including Ohio State right now to share where they’d be. That answer is No. 3 in the BCS, sandwiched in between SEC foes No. 2 Alabama and No. 4 Georgia. Obviously, this isn’t exactly what it would be necessarily if OSU truly was eligible — possible factors include voter bias, more pressure, etc. — but it’s a very intriguing comparison and hypothetical as Buckeye fans hope and pray for the conclusion of an undefeated 2012 season today against Michigan.

Photos: Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire and Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

  • architrance

    I’ll still be happy with an undefeated season and crushing M.

    OH

  • Garrett

    One comment, Georgia got blasted by South Carolina Kirk. Good article though

  • zonk

    Best article I have read in quite some time. Outstanding analysis. Would love to see an OSU win, ND loss and another Bama loss, and see the AP try and figure out a way not to have OSU #1. Not because I am a huge Meyer or OSU fan, but because the BCS is a joke and college football is not far behind.

  • saggy

    frankly, you could have skipped all the analysis. If Ohio State were eligible, they would be the easy #1 team in the nation right now. Their BCS in-eligibility is a convenient way for people NOT to vote for them. If they were eligible, they would be voted #1. They are not Rutgers or Toledo or Wyoming – they are OSU; and an undefeated, 12-0, OSU will always be voted #1 in this situation.

  • saggy

    to clarify: i am talking about the AP poll, specifically.

    btw – very nice post.

  • K S

    An ND loss, Alabama win and OSU would get the honor of getting clobbered
    by another SEC team in the BCS Championship Game (a la Florida and LSU
    in succesive years). OSU could not today, beat ND, ‘Bama, Georgia, Florida, LSU,
    South Carolina. Oregon, Stanford, Fl State Clemson, USC or Stanford. Once they
    got past an inconsistent Nebraska team and undefeated season was easy. The
    cupcake Big 10 schedule was a giant help. If OSU were in the SEC they’d be
    4-8 (1-6 in the SEC).

  • NoVA Buckeye

    I think we shouldn’t worry about the AP title (because there isn’t a chance in hell that we’re winning it. A LOT needed to happen today and none of it has) and worry about silencing the haters next year. 1-0 starts tomorrow! O-H!!

  • Kcirtap

    So true. It’s the OSU tried and true formula. Play absolutely nobody, go 11-1 or 12-0. Get blown out in a bowl game.

  • Rich G

    this may be the worst analysis I have ever seen based on pure hypothetical polls used to make a point. OS is a farce. their schedule could not be any easier and beating a mediocre over ranked 8-4 Mich team that was terrible all year does not help either. Bama creamed Mich and they could only score 6 vs ND. Enjoy your futile off season and gear up for another cream puff schedule next year…

  • Kirk

    Play absolutely nobody? They’ve had a two-year hiatus from playing USC, Texas, or Miami (FL) every year for the past six years and have Oregon, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, and Texas again on the horizon for home-and-homes. Is it their fault that Miami (FL) went in the tank because of NCAA violations? Is it their fault Cal is down right now when they scheduled that game years ago? Is it their fault the conference is weak? Are they supposed to support the other 11 (soon 13) schools in the B1G?

    I guess commenting means not having to think before using one’s fingers to type.

  • Kirk

    Oops. They sure did. Thanks for pointing that out.

  • (slightly)disappointed buckeye

    it hurts to know we could be playing Notre Dame for a BCS Championship this year. No offense to Notre Dame but I’d take that matchup for the ring all day long

  • WFNY_DP

    Also, Alabama lost to A&M.

  • Rick

    This is a brilliant article. I was wondering were the Buckeyes would fit into the BCS standings if they weren’t banned. Not only did you answer that but you explained why they would fit in at number 3. Thanks!

  • ChadF

    Nice in depth article, but the fact is that if OSU wasn’t ineligible they would need to beat Nebraska to get into the National Championship against ND. There is no way these AP jokesters like Josh Kendall and Pete DiPrimio, would rank OSU out of the top 10. There would be no doubt they would be #1 or #2 in the AP right now. The way the system is now, if you stay undefeated in a major conference you go to the Championship, unless there are more than 2 undefeated teams. With a playoff system it will really give you a TRUE champion, but this is the system in place. No way a one loss Alabama or Georgia goes over an undefeated Big10 team no matter how the Conference is this year.

    Anyone who thinks the an undefeated OSU and ND wouldn’t meet in the National Championship is drinking too much ESPN/MarkMay/SEC Kool-Aid.

  • mgbode

    I think there would be alot of serious debate and the computers would come into play a bit as well. I think, at the end of the day though, that the Buckeyes and Irish would end up meeting.

  • mgbode

    IO.

    definitely happy with it :)

  • mgbode

    we won’t get the AP title, but a #2 ranking to head into the full bore recruiting cycle and offseason is nice.

    oh, and Meyer has December to work the recruiting trail again while his main opponents have to worry about a bowl game, while coming off an undefeated season. #1 ranked class, here we come :)

  • ChadF

    Agree, it would be a debate, but having lived in ATL for a year and a half now there is so much SEC bias it gets kind of ridiculous. At the same time though I think any respectable talking head down here would agree that you can’t stop an undefeated team from an automatic BCS conference from playing in the National Championship.