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|
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:
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.
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