When BCS Biases Help…

The AP, Coach’s and BCS polls just came out Sunday, and as expected, the Ducks moved up to number 4 in each, ahead of all other one-loss teams except Alabama. We often complain about the East Coast biases hurting teams out west, but the voting system is also unfairly biased toward teams that haven’t lost recently, and this is working out to be an advantage for Oregon. So…..do the Ducks deserve to be as high as they are right now? Or should they even be ahead of Alabama? To the stats!

The top-ranked, one-loss teams—Stanford, Oregon, Alabama, Boise State, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech and Clemson—hail from the Pac 12, SEC, Mountain West, Big 12 and ACC conferences, so here are some superficial non-conference statistics to get us started.

Conference

W

L

%

PF

PA

Exp %

Big 12

27

3

90.0%

40.0

21.5

77.6%

SEC

35

5

87.5%

37.5

16.5

83.8%

ACC

27

15

64.3%

32.4

21.0

70.4%

Pac 12

22

13

62.9%

35.0

24.3

67.5%

MWC

21

18

53.8%

30.1

31.8

47.3%

 

Non-conference stats give us a basic litmus test for how tough each conference is relative to the others, and looking at these stats, the Pac 12 does not look very tough. Exp% is a way of calibrating the point differentials into a projected win percentage, but no matter how you slice it, the Big 12 and SEC come out on top. Now the question is: are these top schools challenging themselves with difficult non-conference schedules? For the most part, no.

None of these one-loss teams have played more than one school from the traditional 5 power conferences, and Virginia Tech hasn’t played any. The toughest non-conference schedules go to Oregon, Alabama, Boise State and Oklahoma–each of which played a top 3 school from another power conference in addition to at least one top 2 school from a weaker conference.

Moving inside each conference, the following chart displays the in-conference schedule strength and overall margin of victory for each one-loss team. Higher SOS scores mean that a team has played the better rivals within the conference thus far. The first four teams are those that I eye-balled to have the most difficult non-conference schedules.

Team

SOS

Margin

Oregon

1.05

25

Alabama

0.98

27.4

Oklahoma

0.83

25.7

Boise St

0.90

23.8

Clemson

1.14

11.4

Arkansas

1.00

17.3

Stanford

1.05

26.2

Virginia Tech

1.12

13.4

 

My ranking method is basically going to combine all the stats presented so far: overall conference strength, non-conference and conference schedule strength, and margin of victory. So here it is:

1. Alabama

With the best margin of victory, toughest conference to play in, and relatively difficult non-conference schedule, we can overlook the fact that the Crimson Tide hasn’t played South Carolina, Georgia or Auburn. However, of those three teams, Alabama will only play Auburn, and likely won’t get an SEC championship game. This is where Oregon can make some ground in SOS.

2. Oklahoma

Oklahoma, like Alabama, hasn’t played some of the tougher teams in the conference yet (like Oklahoma State and Baylor.) However, with the Big 12 rivaling the SEC in depth, and an average margin of victory at 26.2, the Sooners have a legit claim to be ahead of Oregon.

3. Oregon

While Stanford is from the same conference and has a better margin of victory, that 53-30 win on the Farm is arguably the most dominating performance of a top-5 team by any school this season. Additionally, Oregon’s tougher non-conference schedule leaves little doubt that it is the Pac-12’s best team right now. Oregon edges Arkansas primarily on its more difficult non-conference schedule, and higher margin of victory.

4. Arkansas

The Razorbacks play in the SEC, but their best non-conference opponent, then #14 Texas A&M, has sputtered in conference play this season, devaluing Arkansas’ win over the Aggies.  Arkansas is the last team with a chance to knock LSU out of the SEC championship game with a big matchup on the Bayou November 25th, and event that could really shake up the BCS.

5. Stanford

The polls have dropped Stanford all the way down to 8th or 9th depending on which one you look at. But this is just recent-memory-bias. Had Stanford’s loss come to Oregon in the first game of the season, and had Arkansas’ loss to Alabama come last week, then the polls would likely reflect a very different ranking order. In the end, Stanford’s margin of victory in a conference comparable to the ACC puts them ahead of Clemson and Virginia Tech.

6. Clemson

Clemson’s non-conference schedule edged out Virginia Tech’s with a win against Auburn back in September, but after that, both teams are pretty even. They have each played all the toughest teams in the ACC already, and their margins of victory are basically a wash (Hokies’ edge by +2). The separation came on October 1st when Clemson went on the road and beat Virginia Tech by 20. Case closed.

7. Virginia Tech

VaTech is behind Clemson for all the reasons mentioned above, and behind all but BSU because of an incredibly weak non-conference schedule “highlighted by” a 7-point win over Conference USA’s East Carolina.

8. Boise State

The Broncos just can’t be taken seriously, playing in a conference that pales in comparison to even the Pac-12 and ACC. Had they beaten TCU last week, I still would have ranked them behind all of the teams on this list. Boise State did have an impressive win at Georgia earlier this season, but every other team on this list has beaten an opponent ranked higher than the Bulldogs. The MWC’s other top 2 teams—TCU and Wyoming—have lost respectively (but not respectfully) to Utah State and Southern Methodist by a combined 51 points. Upsets happen, but it’s not hard to see that the Mountain West is a cut below the power conferences. BSU is good, and definitely a top 25 team, but its resume just can’t compete with other one-loss teams.

 

Ranking these teams was more for fun than anything. Distinguishing between the power conferences’ one-loss schools is an exercise in splitting hairs, and each of these teams could beat any other on any given Saturday. The point here is that the ranking systems are biased toward teams that have not lost in recent weeks, and teams like Stanford get screwed because they played Oregon in their 10th game instead of their 3rd. Oklahoma lost more recently than Oregon, so Oregon is rewarded with a higher ranking despite there being little in the data to support that.

In the end, I think it’s fair to say the Ducks are deserving of a top-5 spot. Perhaps a trade with Oklahoma’s ranking would be more “fair,” but who really knows.

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