With Oklahoma State’s huge 44-10 win over rival Oklahoma last night, the debate can officially begin. By tonight, we will know who is paired against LSU for the national championship game. Houston and Virginia Tech, two teams that power ranked lower than their rankings entering championship week, fell by the wayside, not that they really had a chance because their resumes were not strong.
The only legitimate options are Alabama of the SEC and Big XII Champion Oklahoma State. Alabama has been at #2, while Oklahoma State made a strong statement. It would be improper to not calibrate and take into account the Oklahoma victory–it qualifies as the best win by either of the teams and thus absolutely can change the equation.
So let’s size them up.
Quality of Loss: There are those that would rule out Oklahoma State because of the overtime road loss at Iowa State. Alabama, of course, only has the home loss to LSU in overtime. Advantage: Alabama, clearly and unequivocally
Quality of Wins: Alabama’s best win is Arkansas at home by 24. After that, it’s the road win at Penn State by 16, and then either at 7-5 Auburn or 6-6 Florida by comfortable margins.
Oklahoma State’s best win was last night, 44-10 over Oklahoma. Next is the 25 point win over Baylor. After that, there are several that fall in similar range: Kansas State by 7, at Missouri by 21, at Texas by 12, and over Texas A&M on the road by 1.
Advantage: both by the top victory, and the depth of quality wins, Oklahoma State. The SEC middle and lower classes were down this year.
Strength of Schedule: Similar analysis. By reputation, people would say the SEC schedule for Alabama. By results on field, Oklahoma State’s was tougher. Alabama’s non-conference opponents were worse, and they did not get to play Georgia or South Carolina from the East. Advantage: Oklahoma State.
Connected Schedule between the two teams: They obviously didn’t play each other. There were 5 cases where their opponents went head to head, and 8 other combinations where opponents of Alabama and Oklahoma State shared a common opponent. Most of these involved Sun Belt teams because of Lousiana-Lafayette playing the Cowboys, and many other Sun Belt teams playing SEC opponents. The only prominent BCS match ups that are within two degrees are Texas A&M-Arkansas (Advantage-Alabama) and Oklahoma-Florida State-Florida (Advantage-Oklahoma State). In the non-BCS ties, if we use point differentials, it breaks down 6 for Alabama, 5 for Oklahoma State. Advantage: Alabama, ever so slightly.
Computer Rankings: Oklahoma State was close in most and ahead in several even before the Oklahoma game. They will be a solid #2 in the computer rankings used by the BCS (without margin of victory) ahead of Alabama thanks to schedule strength. In those that use the margin of victory, such as the SRS, the two teams were virtually even before last night. I feel pretty comfortable saying that the Cowboys shot ahead with the dominant victory over Oklahoma. Advantage: Oklahoma State
Reputation: Let’s face it, this matters. If Oklahoma, or Ohio State, or Florida, had Oklahoma State’s profile, going against another team that did not win its conference, this would not be much of a debate. That team would be in the title game. Throw in the SEC reputational advantage in recent title games, and it is Advantage: Alabama, big time.
Who do I think is better? Alabama, slightly. I don’t think its as large as many claim. Of course, picking who we think is the best team has never really been what this is about. One of the best teams I have seen in the last decade was the 2002 USC team with Carson Palmer at QB that killed Iowa in the Orange Bowl–I would have put them in a title game if my goal was picking the best team as they lost a close game at another top 5 team (Kansas State) and by a field goal at a top 15 team in Washington State, and dominated the rest of their schedule that included 8 other ranked teams. Their SRS ranking is in line with LSU this year. They didn’t go to the title game even though, had there been a playoff, they would have been the favorite.
Based on the BCS precedent of which teams were typically picked, it would be Oklahoma State. If we did a blind taste test, I’m pretty confident they more fit the profile of which teams have been selected in the past. The current call against them is the loss at Iowa State. If this had been a loss in the SEC, say, at home to Ole Miss in the Swamp, people would have talked about how strong the conference was. Most of the teams selected in the past have been selected on the basis of strength of wins, not quality of losses alone. It was but one factor. In fact, this argument has been used many times by the SEC teams in the past, particularly when it was Michigan that had the “best loss” and wanted a rematch.
That said, Alabama dominated their schedule, even if they did have a down SEC that featured LSU and Bama, then Arkansas and Georgia (who Alabama missed), then South Carolina and everyone else. They didn’t really come close to losing, other than the showdown with the Tigers. Oklahoma State had some closer calls (Texas A&M, Kansas State).
The rematch factor? It cuts both ways. You can argue that in a close call, the team that proved they are the basic equal of #1 is likely #2. You could also argue that they had their chance to win, and if the regular season matters, they should not get a do over when there is a candidate that now fits the profile of past BCS teams.
On the ABC broadcast last night, they said that at least 25% of voters need to move Oklahoma State to #2 ahead of Alabama (and for everyone else to have them at #3). Oklahoma State has the computer lead, so they don’t even need to sway a majority of voters. After last night, coupled with Virginia Tech’s totally unpredictable (sarcasm font) loss, they should move to #3 ahead of Stanford. The question is whether they get 25% or more of voters.
[EDIT: The BCS computer results have Oklahoma State leading in 4 of 6. As a result, after the high and low rankings are thrown out for both teams, the break even point is 37.5% of voters having Oklahoma State at #2 and the rest at #3.]
If they were named Oklahoma instead of Oklahoma State, I think it would be the Big XII champ versus the SEC Champ for the title. Since they are the team from Stillwater, though, I think it’s too close to call.