Monday, September 13, 2010

Who's to Blame for Boise State's Fall?

As everyone suspected, the biggest loser of James Madison's upset of Virginia Tech is really Boise State. In the latest Simulated BCS Standings, the Broncos fell from No. 2 all the way to No. 6.

To the uninitiated, it's easy to blame the computers for Boise's sudden fall. But take a closer look, then you'll know it's the usual suspects - the unaccountable coaches - who are the most responsible for the change in the BCS standings.

In three of the BCS computers, the Broncos stayed just about exactly where they were: Remaining No. 1 in Jeff Sagarin; dropping from No. 1 to No. 2 in Richard Billingsley; and staying unranked (going from No. 48 to No. 54) in Kenneth Massey. In the median ranking we used for the simulation, they were No. 6, the same as a week ago.

The only change came from Colley Matrix, but there's an entirely reasonable explanation for Boise going from No. 1 to No. 47. Colley's methodology is bias free, meaning there was no preseason rankings, and after last week - the opening weekend - every team that won was ranked No. 1 and every team that lost ranked No. 82. Boise's drop here has as much to do as its being idle as Virginia Tech's loss to James Madison.

Colley's rankings will continue to have some radical shifts in the coming weeks, so significant fluctuation there for any team is expected until at least mid-season. But even with the seemingly dramatic drop from No. 1 to out of the rankings, the Broncos' net loss in the computer component is 360 points.

They lost nearly 500 points in the AP Poll, despite remaining No. 3.

Obviously, with the AP not part of the official BCS standings, this won't matter that much. The Broncos lost 26 points in the Coaches Poll, which was not terribly significant. The Harris Poll, which makes up the other one-thirds of the standings, typically apes the other two polls when it's released later in the season.

The Broncos actually don't have a whole lot to fear from the computers, despite the common conjecture that their weak conference schedule will harm their ratings there. The reality is that if they remain undefeated, they will be ranked very high in the computers, enough to stay in the hunt for a spot in the BCS title game.

But the humans are another matter. With Harris and Coaches' polls accounting for two-thirds of the BCS standings, those two will decide who gets to play in the BCS title game, regardless of what transpires with the computers. In the six seasons since the BCS last tweaked its formula, every team that finished either first or second in these two polls played in the BCS title game.

If the Broncos are ranked in the top 2 in these two polls, they're in. If they're not, they're out. It's simple as that. They can control what they do on the field, and therefore, can influence the computer ratings. But they will be completely helpless when it comes to the recesses of the human mind, those of the 173 Harris and Coaches voters.

This is why Boise State needs to win every game impressively. While the computers, by BCS rule, cannot take margin of victory into consideration, every human voter can't help but be swayed by how a team wins as much as if a team wins. And while the computers can examine a team's strength of schedule in depth, most of the voters will be focusing on just one or two of what they perceive to be important opponents.

So if you're Boise State, the machines are the least of your worries.


Ryan Hansen said...

Hey Guru - love the site, and just want it to be as perfect as possible. You have Nevada listed as a CUSA team on your BCS matrix, FYI. Obviously they are in the WAC. Keep up the good work thanks.

The Guru said...

@Ryan- Thanks for catching that. I have made the correction.