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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

It's the Voters Fault


As Scott pointed out, NIU going to a BCS bowl is silly.  It’s the voters fault.  It doesn't make any sense to anyone…except of course the voters who made it happen.  The rule is a rather arbitrary threshold that a team in a non-BCS automatic qualifying conference gets to go to a BCS bowl if ranked 16 or higher and ranked ahead of a conference champion from an automatic qualifying conference (thanks Big 10 and Big East).  While the whole aq/non-aq distinction is frustrating, I suppose you have to draw a line somewhere.  But more importantly, how did Northern Illinois jump from 21 to 15 just by winning the MAC Championship?  It's a dangerous combination of voter maliciousness and ignoring the relative quality of the teams NIU has played.  Here’s where things get weird.

NIU beat Kent State, who was ranked 17.  Okay, so Kent State was overrated.  Texas gets crushed by K State, but K State was ranked 6, so that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone nor have a strong impact.  UCLA was 16 and lost to Stanford, but they had just lost to Stanford in the weak previous, so their ranking shouldn’t change either.  Michigan didn’t play.  Boise State beat Nevada.  So there are two teams that could reasonably be moved as lower ranked than NIU: Nebraska, crushed miserably by unranked Wisconsin, and Kent State.

That doesn’t get NIU in the top 16.

The voters committed “BCSicide” where, when an outlandish outcome is possible because of the BCS’s rules, they take the opportunity to humiliate the system.  NIU is not undefeated Boise, Utah, or TCU of years past.  They lost to Iowa.   They have no place in a BCS bowl over Oklahoma…and the voters know it.  Here’s how it went down.  Below are the week 14 rankings for the Harris Poll, USA Today, BCS Computer Average for Nebraska, UCLA, Kent State, Texas, Michigan, Boise State, and NIU.  As a comparison to more analytically rigorous approaches, I’ve also included my own Network Ranking and Scott Albrecht’s Hybrid ranking.

Team
Harris Poll
USA Today
Computer Avg.
Network
Albrecht
Nebraska
13
13
12
13
14
UCLA
16
16
15
18
21
Kent State
18
19
18
29
24
Texas
20
21
17
14
18
Michigan
23
24
15
16
22
Boise State
17
15
30
42
27
Northern Illinois
19
18
23
40
20

First, by none of the rankings, portions of the BCS or otherwise, is Kent State a top 16 team.  NIU didn’t provide evidence by defeating Kent State that they deserve BCS status.  The voters have the two teams essentially tied at the 18/19 spot.  Here’s how they miraculously changed their minds in week 15:

Team
Harris Poll
USA Today
Computer Avg
Network
Nebraska
18
21
13
21
UCLA
17
19
17
17
Kent State
23
NR
25
38
Texas
24
25
17
13
Michigan
22
22
14
23
Boise State
15
15
31
41
Northern Illinois
16
16
19
34

It’s perfectly fine for NIU to move up because of bad loss by Nebraska.  But, that’s not what happened.   To pull it off, NIU had to jump both Texas and UCLA.  Texas lost to K State – which the voter’s previous ranking expected would happen and should have no bearing on the relative rank of Texas v. NIU.  Even more egregious is that UCLA, after losing to Stanford, is ranked above NIU in Week 14, but somehow, after losing to Stanford in Week 15, they’re ranked below NIU.  The voters are applying some difficult logic.

And the voters weren't alone in this debacle.  The computer rankings could have stopped their attempts at BCSicide like they did with Boise State.  Some of them tried (thank you Kenneth Massey).  Others were more of a problem than the voters (thanks, Richard Billingsley, stress expert from Oklahoma with a high school degree who never took calculus).  The difference, however, between the voters and guys like Billingsley is the voters are fully aware of what they're doing.

Setting aside whether or not they’re in the top 16, they’re not even the best non-aq team!  The Network Ranking has San Jose State and Louisiana Tech while the BPR has San Jose State and Utah State.  It’s a travesty for not only Oklahoma, but also Clemson and Michigan – both far more deserving of a BCS bowl than NIU (as well as half the SEC, but the BCS allows only 2 teams per conference in the BCS bowls).

And don’t think this will all be corrected by the four team playoff.  The bowls aren't going anywhere, and the four playoff participants will be selected by committee.  Given the moaning on ESPN that if only we had a playoff so Oregon could go – that’s right, Oregon who didn’t even participate in their conference championship game or win games against terribly impressive opponents – I don’t think we can expect logic to play a strong roll.  Given that rankings will influence selection committee decisions, expect a fair amount of manipulation by voters in the next era for that fourth seed at the end of the season.

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