BCS Computers place far too much on SOS
BCS computers are not meant to evaluate teams based on how they play. The computers eliminate human bias by using cold calculation and the human polls add the element of actual evaluation by being able to watch teams play and determine whether Florida beating Charleston Southern by 59 is of equal or greater weight to Alabama beating LSU by 9. It’s a balance that many, including myself, have defended for years.
I can say definitively that I’m done defending the computers.
Of course computers who don’t watch games aren’t able to evaluate the talent on the field. But what we’re seeing this year is a ridiculous bias towards strength of schedule that seems to put more weight on playing a tough schedule regardless of the outcome than on actually winning.
Don’t get me wrong – strength of schedule definitely has its place. A team that plays a very hard schedule and wins some close ones deserves, in my opinion, more consideration than a team that plays a bad schedule and crushes everyone. Unfortunately, what we’re seeing this season is a system that rewards teams that play a tough schedule even if they lose.
What brought this so strongly to my attention was this week’s BCS Rankings. You may have noticed that after losing to No. 2 Alabama, LSU actually moved up one spot from No. 9 to No. 8. While they got some help from two top-10 teams losing to unranked opponents, the biggest thing that helped them was the computers, which moved them from No. 9 to No. 8. They moved up in two computers, stayed the same in three computers and only dropped in one.
Can anyone honestly say that a team deserves to move up after a loss, regardless of who they play?
And LSU is only the latest example of a team that’s benefited from playing a tough schedule regardless of the actual outcome. The computers place two teams (LSU and Oregon) who have two losses in the top ten. USC is just outside at No. 11. Just behind USC is Miami and then Ohio State, also two-loss teams. This is where these two-loss teams stand in terms of strength of schedule (according to Jeff Sagarain):
While it’s commendable that they’re out playing tough schedules, in some instances, their rankings seem to ignore whether or not they’re actually beating the tough teams they play. Their records against top-30 opponents:
LSU, the highest-ranked team among them, has played the 17-toughest schedule in the country but has yet to defeat a top-30 team. Houston, on the other hand, is 8-1 against the 94th-toughest schedule in the country. That includes a 1-0 record against top-30 teams. Yet, computers have them at No. 16, a full eight spots behind LSU. They have a better record than LSU and more wins against top-30 teams, yet they are eight spots lower.
Jeff Sagarin’s rankings, which place particular emphasis on schedule, has the biggest disparity between the two teams’ rankings – a 13-spot gap between No. 6 LSU and No. 19 Houston.
Does it seem like there might be a problem with that calculation?
In Sagarin’s power rankings, Houston sits behind two teams that have worse records and no wins against top-30 opponents, and one of which (South Florida) has played an even weaker schedule.
Sagarin’s computer even has LSU ahead of Texas, which is undefeated and 2-0 against top-30 opponents with the 52nd-toughest schedule in the country. I’ll grant that Texas should have played a harder schedule, but what on earth is Sagarin calculating that he has an undefeated team with two wins over top-30 teams behind a team that’s 7-2 with no wins over top-30 teams?
Now, I’m not enough of a mathematician to figure out what is wrong with the computers. But clearly, there is something horribly wrong when the computers think the team that all the humans say is No. 2 is actually No. 5. The same computers that had Iowa as the No. 1 two weeks ago and the No. 2 last week.
Of course it can’t happen mid-season, but at the end of this year, the BCS Committee needs to take a serious look reforming the calculations being used by the computers and see if there can be a more accurate accounting of the talent of the teams. They should be rewarded for the games they’re winning, not the games they’re playing and losing.