An early BCS primer

Bumped. GO BRUINS. -N

This past Sunday's CFB post led to an very interesting series of comments, some of which involved the current state of the BCS picture. While this does not have any direct effect on the Bruins, it was suggested that my comments on the subject may be of interest.

With the advent of the National Championship Game in addition to the existing bowl structure, 10 teams participate in the BCS. The champion of each BCS member conference (ACC, Big 10, Big XII, Big East, Pac-10, and SEC) gain automatic berths, leaving 4 "at-large" spots. The at-large teams are chosen by each BCS bowl that has an open berth, by an annually rotating order.

While at-large berths are, by definition not predetermined, there are certain BCS rules which apportion at-large spots.

The #1 and #2 ranked teams in the final BCS standings play in the national championship game, without regard to conference champion status. If either of those teams did not win its conference (such as Nebraska, 2001) or is the champion of a non-BCS conference, that team takes one of the at-large spots.

The #3 ranked team in the final BCS ranking, if not the champion of a BCS conference, is guaranteed an at-large berth (unless another at-large team from the same conference has qualified for the national championship game). If the #3 team does not require an at-large berth, the #4 ranked team may qualify in the same manner.

Another at-large rule comes from the compromise made a few years ago, with the intent of allowing greater access to highly ranked teams from non-BCS conferences. An exception allowing up to one team per year from a non-BCS conference to gain an automatic bid was created, as follows:

3. The champion of Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference, the Sun Belt Conference or the Western Athletic Conference will earn an automatic berth in a BCS bowl game if either:
  A. Such team is ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS Standings, or,
  B. Such team is ranked in the top 16 of the final BCS Standings and its ranking in the final BCS Standings is higher than that of a champion of a conference that has an annual automatic berth in one of the BCS bowls.
No more than one such team from Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference, the Sun Belt Conference, and the Western Athletic Conference shall earn an automatic berth in any year. (Note: a second team may be eligible for at-large eligibility as noted below.) If two or more teams from those conferences satisfy the provisions for an automatic berth, then the team with the highest finish in the final BCS Standings will receive the automatic berth, and the remaining team or teams will be considered for at-large selection if it meets the criteria.

This provision is typically not an issue, as even a single non-BCS team finishing in the top 12/16 has been more of an exception than a rule (2004 Utah, 2006 Boise St). This season is an anomaly in that 3 non-BCS conference champions may finish in the top-16, and would be eligible for automatic bids without the above limitation.

- Utah has locked up a spot in the BCS (12-0, MWC champion, #6 in this week’s BCS)
- Boise State (11-0, #9), having clinched the WAC championship would qualify under 3(a) or (b) with a win next week, but for the one team rule. As it stands, they would need to leapfrog Utah (as well as Penn St, and Texas Tech in the process) to gain a BCS spot.
- Ball State (12-0, #15) has completed its regular season, and will next play in the MAC championship game. A win would result in a 13-0 season, and would likely preserve the team's current position in the BCS top-16, and allowing it to qualify under 3(b) if not for the one team rule (as the ACC champion, at least, will not finish in the top-16).

With the automatic (conference champion) BCS berths are automatic, I'll take a look at how the at-large bids may shake out. To start with, Utah will gain an automatic bid under the non-BCS conference champion exception. As a result, the at-large pool shrinks to 3 berths.

As I see the BCS picture, whichever of Oklahoma/Texas that does not make the Big XII title game gets an at-large bid, as does the loser of the SEC title game (unless Florida loses twice). Together with Utah’s automatic bid, only one at-large spot remains.

The BCS selection rules state that at-large teams are taken from teams finishing in the top-14 of the final BCS ranking, provided that:

1. The team has won at least 9 regular season games, and

2. No more than two teams from a conference may participate in the BCS, unless the #1 and #2 teams are non-champions of a BCS conference.

This rule, seemingly unknown to many, including (as demonstrated last Saturday) some CFB analysts, will eliminate from at-large consideration otherwise eligible teams from the Big XII and SEC. Assuming that the SEC will place Alabama and Florida in the BCS, and two of Oklahoma/Texas/Texas Tech will represent the Big XII, and using this week's BCS ranking and conference standings, 5 teams are eligible for consideration for the final at-large berth: USC (#5), Boise State (#9), Ohio State (#10), TCU (#14), and Ball State at #15 (If USC passes Oregon State to win the Pac-10, this at-large pool shrinks to 4 teams for 1 berth.).

As noted earlier, the team gaining this final at-large berth is picked by the applicable BCS bowl committee, and is limited only by the above rules. There is a chance that if USC wins out, it will gain an automatic BCS berth by finishing either #3 or #4 in the final BCS ranking (if one of Florida/Oklahoma/Texas loses, this is probable). If this occurs, then all at-large berths will be taken. Even if that eventuality does not occur, I find it hard to believe that an 11-1 USC squad would be left out of the BCS.

If USC goes 1-1 to end the regular season, we are left with 10-2 Ohio State and 10-2 USC as the most likely choices for the final BCS bowl bid, with (a possibly 12-0) Boise State holding an outside shot; very slim, but buoyed by its 2006/07 BCS history. Any of these teams could reasonably be chosen by a game shopping for an at-large berth, based upon the unique circumstances of competitiveness and fan travel facing each bowl game. All else equal, I believe that at 10-2, USC would be taken ahead of 10-2 Ohio State. Regardless of how the teams are currently perceived, I believe that the 35-3 beating of tOSU in September makes it impossible for Ohio State to be picked without the narrative of that game being dominated by the issue   (in the Sunday comments, bucknellbruin made the case for Ohio State).

As a non-champion of a non-BCS conference, I do not see TCU having any shot at an at-large bid. Likewise, I do not see Ball State with a realistic chance, particularly with fellow non-BCS conference champion Boise State ranked ahead of it in the at-large pool.

<em>This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.</em>

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