The Final BCS Primer

We covered the raw math extensively yesterday, but with less than 60 hours remaining until the final standings are released, we'll wrap up all the loose ends with one final BCS Primer:

As was written in this space on Sunday night, the BCS Championship Game will either feature a rematch between Alabama v. LSU, or a match-up between LSU and Oklahoma State. Stanford and Virginia Tech have maintained their lofty rankings in the human polls, but exceedingly weak scores in the computer polls will serve as an absolute bar to either school reaching New Orleans regardless of what happens on the field tomorrow night. For a viewing guide tomorrow night, barring a massive upset in the Georgia Dome, only two games are of any major importance to the final BCS standings: Oklahoma v. Oklahoma State in Stillwater and Virginia Tech v. Clemson in Charlotte. Those two games will not only play massive roles in determining the actual BCS outcome, but also just how nerve-racking the process will be waiting on the final polls to be released on Sunday.

Oklahoma State is a narrow three-point favorite over Oklahoma in Stillwater, but by all accounts this looks to be a toss-up. Oklahoma has won the last eight meetings between these two -- several of those games were blowouts -- and most observers agree Oklahoma has more overall talent; the Pokes are, generally speaking, the ultimate little brother in that rivalry. Having said that, though, this is likely the best Oklahoma State team to date under Mike Gundy, they have had a bye week to prepare for Bedlam, and Oklahoma has fallen twice in the past five weeks to overmatched teams. Besides, as those who have been watching college football the past decade know quite well, big games and Bob Stoops go together like water and oil.

Clearly for Alabama the ideal scenario is simply for Oklahoma to knock off Oklahoma State -- margins are absolutely irrelevant here, a come-from-behind one-point victory in quadruple overtime will be more than sufficient -- but in fairness this looks to be a close game that could go either way. If there was ever a day for an Alabama follower to convert to Sooner-ism, though, tomorrow would be that day. In no way do we want pollsters voting in the hours immediately following arguably the biggest victory in Oklahoma State history, especially with at least some anti-rematch bias present. Bottom line: An Oklahoma win presents our most straightforward path to the BCS Championship Game.

If Oklahoma State can knock off Oklahoma, the ACC Championship Game between Virginia Tech and Clemson will take on significant BCS implications, as 'Bama needs a Hokies win to keep a buffer between themselves and the Pokes in the human polls.

This game, too, makes for a difficult analysis. Virginia Tech is a seven-point favorite and based on the comparisons of the two teams in recent weeks this looks like a lopsided affair. Except, though, Clemson actually beat Virginia Tech 23-3 earlier in the season in Blacksburg, so while the Tigers have imploded in November under Dabo Swinney, it's hard to legitimately say this team cannot get the job done because they have already done it once this season against the Hokies. Again, hopefully Virginia Tech wins and wins big, but that too is far from guaranteed at this point. Either way, 'Bama wants the Hokies and the Stanford Cardinal to run as much interference as absolutely possible if that needs be the case and quite obviously that cannot be done with a Clemson upset tomorrow night.

Both of these games kick-off tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern on ABC and ESPN, respectively, so expect a lot of nervous channel-flipping all night either way, and most of the action tomorrow will be relatively obligatory affairs while we await these two important games in the nightcap.

If Oklahoma State pulls out the victory tomorrow night in Stillwater, for better or for worse the next twenty-four hours will be nothing but nail-biting and raw nerves in Tuscaloosa. With an Oklahoma State win all attention turns to the polls, and unfortunately it cannot be said with precise certainty exactly what will be the response.

The computer polls linger as highly important, and the unanswered question is whether or not Oklahoma State can become a unanimous number two in the computer polls. The week thirteen rankings had Alabama as the number two team in the Sagarin and Peter Wolfe, and if Alabama can cling to that then the Tide has a much larger margin for error in the human polls. The 'Bama lead in the Sagarin Ratings is strong and should hold up, but things are much closer in the Wolfe Ratings and that will be the key. Remember, the highest and lowest computer scores are automatically thrown out, so if Alabama is only the number two team in the Sagarin Ratings, that score will be thrown out and Oklahoma State will be the unanimous number two in the computers. Hence 'Bama must find a way to come out ahead of Oklahoma State in at least two computer polls, and in real terms that puts a massive value on the Wolfe Ratings. I would like to add far more insight into the Wolfe Ratings, but unfortunately the exact formula he uses to determine those ratings is a guarded secret, so no one can really get a firm grasp on exactly how solid the Alabama lead is in that regard. Hopefully the long is strong and relatively immune from attack, but we cannot say so with certainty.

Despite that, don't underestimate the importance of the Wolfe Ratings and the impact that it could have on the final BCS standings. If 'Bama holds on in that poll and Oklahoma State can no longer become a unanimous number two in the computer polls, suddenly the Pokes need to poach away roughly ten more votes from Alabama in both the Coaches and Harris Polls. On the other hand, though, if that one computer rating goes the other way, the ultimate impact will be that Oklahoma State needs far less human voter support to reach New Orleans.

The Harris Poll figures to be the most volatile of all, and we could potentially see a massive swing at the end in it more so than the other two polls. Keep in mind that the Harris Poll is made up of a melange of various journalists, former players, coaches and administrators, and admittedly it's an oddball group. For example, two of its voters include David Housel (yes, that David Housel) and Craig James, just to name a few of its odd array. That is not necessarily to say that some major last-minute shift is inevitable, but I do think the structure of that poll could more easily led it to producing that type of outcome.

For Alabama, in the final analysis the Coaches Poll could prove to be a major ally. Unlike the Harris Poll, the Coaches Poll tends to be far more rigid and structured, where teams generally only when move they are beaten, and that is especially true for those teams at or near the very top. Furthermore, unlike Harris Poll voters, Coaches Poll voters are likely more sensitive to criticisms that outlier ballots could bring. While both figure to move generally in the same direction, there could be a divergence between the two and clearly the Coaches Poll figures to more friendly towards Alabama interests.

For better or for worse, we'll know generally what to expect by late tomorrow night. With an Oklahoma win we have nothing but celebration, but if the Sooners fall in Stillwater then the hours ahead will be nerve-racking. The BCS Selection Show will be in its normal time of 7:15 Central on ESPN, but we should know generally much sooner than that. The Coaches Poll is generally released at approximately 12:30 Central and the Harris Poll is generally released at approximately 3:00 Central. Once those polls are released we should know relatively well going into the BCS Selection Show exactly where we stand, regardless of whether or not that brings jubilation or depression.

Only time will tell exactly how this will play out tomorrow night, and in fairness it could go either way. Any Oklahoma State supporter who would claim to not be willing to trade places with Alabama at this point is either stupid, lying, or both, but again it's not a given for the Tide, and while the odds are relatively long that the Cowboys can leapfrog 'Bama, they do have a legitimate path to New Orleans. Alabama, on the other hand, can only sit and hope the football gods keep smiling on Tuscaloosa. 'Bama has needed to everything to fall just perfectly to thrust the Tide back into national championship contention, and will need the fates not to take a last-second turn in order to stamp its ticket to the BCS Championship Game.

Hope for the best.

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