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The Numbers Game: A BCS Status Update

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If you missed last week's BCS Numbers Game, take a quick read here of the section "An Explanatory Prelude That Seems Simple But is Oh So Important."  It will give you a background for the numbers we're looking at here.  So let's step right up and take a look at the two human polls (note: some idiot didn't submit his ballot in the Harris Poll this week so the expected points this week are based on 113 voters instead of 114):

Harris Poll
Last Wk Pts Expected Pts Actual Pts Diff. from Expected Team
2825 2789 -36 Alabama
2712 2737 +25 Tx Tech
2599 2532 -67 Florida
2486 2476 -10 Texas
2373 2375 +2 Oklahoma
2260 2304 +44 USC
2073 2147 2063 -84 PSU
2034 2014 -20 Utah
USA Today Coaches Poll
Last Wk Pts
Expected Pts Actual Pts Diff. from Expected
1525 1508 -17 Alabama
1464 1465 +1 Tx Tech
1403 1373 -30 Florida
1342 1322 -20 Texas
1281 1305 +24 Oklahoma
1220 1245 +25 USC
1159 1113 -46 Utah
1098 1093 -5 PSU

Analysis?  You want analysis?  Follow me after the jump.

Once again, all analysis relating to Texas getting to the Big 12 championship game assumes that Texas Tech loses to OU this weekend.  Nothing against Texas Tech, but we need it to happen to get to Kansas City.  To the facts!

Heartening Fact 1: Florida and Texas gained a lot of points in the Coaches' Poll while Oklahoma lost a few and USC lost a lot, and the same was true in the Harris Poll, except that USC stayed pretty constant there.  There is a lot of good news here.  Once again, rankings of each poll as a whole don't matter other than symbolically.  The story from this weekend wasn't how Texas jumped OU in the coaches' poll, it was how many coaches (and Harris poll voters, for that matter) moved Texas up and/or OU down.  And there were a LOT.

Opinion Bordering on Fact 2, but Closer to Fact than Last Week: Once again, USC is out the discussion barring chaos of 2007 proportions.  They lost a ton of points this week, probably due to voters who had them too high to begin with and dropped them to where they should ahve been all along (around #6) after their first half dogfight with Stanford.  The only way they can make it to Miami is if either the Big 12 or the SEC doesn't send a representative.  That's going to take a lot of occurrences, the vast majority of which are of very low probability.

Totally Meta Fact 3Last week's "Actual Fact 4 Followed by Reasoned Speculation" has occurred, just as I predicted.  We shall see if the somewhat less likely "Actual Fact #5 Followed by Somewhat Specious Speculation" will follow.  We don't have to worry too much anymore about voters who will keep OU ahead of Texas on their ballots if OU wins out (since most currently have Texas ahead of OU), but will Texas' head-to-head win over OU on a neutral field prevent those voters from moving OU ahead of Texas on their ballots even if OU wins out?  I sure hope so.

In Which I Equivocate as to My Statement of Fact 4 but Eventually Confirm My Initial Belief: Florida is not a buffer between Texas and OU in the human polls.  Yes, Florida is #4 in the BCS as a whole, in between #3 Texas and #5 OU.  But it is not in between Texas and OU in any of the human polls and from the looks of the points, Florida appears to be consolidating its position as #3 in both polls, ahead of both UT and OU.  However, there is some indication that Florida might be ranked in between Texas and OU on some potentially significant portion of the ballots, particularly in the Harris Poll.  Florida is 67 points below what you would expect from a team that was voted #3 in every single poll.  This means that there is a significant group of voters that ranked them below #3 with not that many who ranked them above #3.  Texas is pretty well settled into the #4 spot as OU is in the #5 spot, while USC is far above its expected points for the #6 spot.  This could mean that some small amount of voters have USC #3 and Florida #6 or that some voters have USC or Florida in between Texas and OU.  But I think that's less likely than the possibility that most voters have Texas and OU right next to each other in that order, but some have both ahead of Florida and about the same amount have both behind USC.  This could easily lead to the scores we see, and would mean that neither Florida nor USC is a buffer between Texas and OU in the human polls.

Fact 5 Controverts Your Expectations: OU being ranked highly (but not higher than Texas) on most voters' ballots going into this week is good for Texas.  Given how many points each of Texas and OU have, the ideal way that they would have gotten there is that every voter had Texas exactly one spot higher than OU.  That way, OU has to jump Texas on voters' ballots in order to gain any points in the human polls.  As outlined earlier and last week, doing so may take some levels of cognitive dissonance that voters aren't willing to tolerate.  The worst possible situation we could be in right now is that the numbers got this way by some voters putting OU ahead of Texas and some of them putting OU several spots lower than Texas.  This means that if OU wins out, those voters with OU ahead will leave them this way while those with OU several spots behind can move them up several places without moving them ahead of Texas.  This allows OU to gain more points.  Neither human poll releases its component ballots prior to the last one (which is TERRIBLE--even if you don't attach a name to the ballot to preserve anonymity, at least let us know what the ballots say) so I have no idea which is the truth.  But hope that it's Texas one spot above OU on every ballot.

To the Computers!

Computers Poll
A&H Billingsley Colley Massey Sagarin Wolfe Average Diff. from Expected Team
24 24 23 25 25 25 .980 -.020 Texas Tech
25 25 22 23 24 24 .960 -- Alabama
23 23 25 24 23 23 .930 +.010 Texas
22 19 21 21 22 21 .850 -.030 Utah
21 21 24 20 21 20 .830 -.010 Florida
20 20 19 22 20 22 .820 +.020 Oklahoma
18 18 18 19 19 19 .740 -.020 Georgia
17 22 19 18 16 18 .730 +.010 USC

Encouraging Fact 6: Texas improved its computer poll numbers, going from .920 to .930 (moving up 1 spot on two ballots while staying the same on four ballots) while OU stayed the same at .820 (moving up 1 spot on three ballots, down 1 spot on two ballots, and staying the same on one ballot).  Texas has an enormous lead on OU in the computers right now.

Sobering Fact 7: Texas' enormous lead means that there's plenty of room for OU to move up and virtually no room for Texas to move up.  If OU wins out (as Texas needs them to do for the Horns to have a shot at the conference championship game), they will move up in the computers, but Texas will not move up in the computers unless someone ahead of them loses.

Fact 8 Encourages Some Uncomfortable Rooting Interests: Buffers in between Texas and OU are extremely important.  If Texas Tech loses to OU, we want Tech to stay above OU in the computers, meaning that Texas will move up in some computer ballots while OU will not.  Additionally, we need to root for the following teams: Florida (between UTand OU in 4 computers), Utah (between UT and OU in 3 computers), USC (between UT and OU in 2 computers), Alabama (between UT and OU in 2 computers).

Disheartening Discussion of Texas' BCS Chances if Texas Tech Beats OU: I want to win the conference championship.  And if Texas wins the conference championship, they are Miami-bound, 100%.  That said, I think we're all to a point where we're okay with the idea of Texas making the national championship game without winning its division considering the ridiculous tiebreakers involved and the murderer's row that no one but the Horns had to face this year.  So here is a little bit of analysis on how that might happen.

Opinion Bordering on Fact 9: If Tech beats OU and Baylor but loses to Missouri, then Texas will go to the National Championship game.  OU will be out of the picture so it will come down to USC, Texas, Texas Tech, and the loser of the SEC championship game.  The loser of the SEC championship game will NOT face the team that just beat them in Miami.  Back-to-back rematches aren't going to happen unless there's no other viable candidate.  If they lost, Florida would have 2 losses and be out of the picture and Alabama's computer rankings (already tenuous as an undefeated team) will plummet if they lost.  USC cannot gain enough ground in the computers to compete and at the absolute most will be ranked 1 spot above Texas in the human polls (though I doubt even that).  Texas Tech is closer than those 2, but Texas' computer ranking will trump Tech's and Tech will at best be in a virtual tie with Texas in the human polls.  Texas goes to Miami.

Pretty Much Fact 10: If Tech wins the Big 12 and Florida loses a regular season game and then wins the SEC championship, Texas will go to Miami to play Tech.  OU will have 2 losses, as will Florida.  USC can't pass Texas and Alabama also will not have the luxury of calling itself a conference champion.  Rematch!

Opinion Presented As Fact 11 Even Though It's Much Less Certain Than I'm Making It Out to be: If Alabama loses in the regular season (say to Auburn) and then beats Florida in the SEC championship game, it will go to Miami over Texas.  This means that if Tech wins the Big 12, it will be Tech-Alabama.  Even though Texas' resume will CLEARLY be better than Alabama's, Bama will have (a) won its conference championship, (b) beaten Florida on a neutral field in the last game of the year, and (c) not already played (and lost to) Texas Tech.  Even though the humans will move Bama below Texas after the loss, they will move them above Texas after the Florida win because of the previous 3 reasons.  Computers will favor Texas, but not by enough, I don't think.  It will be very close though.  However, if Tech loses the Big 12 championship game (as outlined in Fact 9 above), Texas will go and will face Alabama.

There are other possibilities for Texas to potentially reach Miami, such as (i) OU beating Tech but losing to OSU, sending 1-loss Tech (potentially ranked below UT in the BCS) to Kansas City, or (ii) OU winning the BCS-ranking tiebreaker over UT and TTU and going to Kansas City and losing (or winning and chaos reigning in the SEC sending UT to face OU in Miami), but these are just ridiculous to even think about right now and are far less likely to send Texas to Miami than the scenarios outlined above.

Take-Home Points from this Column: Texas did exactly what it needed to do this weekend: win a convincing game against Kansas while OU was on a bye and force human pollsters to move Texas ahead of OU on their ballots.  In doing so, Texas has increased its BCS lead over OU from last week (UT's .8798 to OU's .8444 -- a difference of .0354) to this week (UT's .8911 to OU's .8388 -- a difference of .0523).

Now what needs to happen in the coming weeks is, after OU hopefully beats Tech by a small margin, Tech needs to stay between UT and OU in the computers, and human voters need to think long and hard about a certain October afternoon in Dallas before they move OU ahead of Texas on their ballots.  The punditocracy is behind Texas for the time being and I truly think that all this talk about the travesty of OU ahead of Texas before they've played Tech or OSU has convinced voters to move Texas up.  And so if Dallas can prevent a solid amount of voters from moving OU ahead of Texas, then Texas can maintain a lead in the human polls or essentially tie OU and hope the massive computer lead doesn't evaporate.

If Tech beats OU, well, root like hell for Mizzou against Tech and/or for Florida State against Florida and then Florida against Alabama.  Those are the two best bets.  See you here next week, I'm sure.