Who should the Sugar Bowl have picked? The correct answer is Michigan and Virginia Tech, because the BCS is not a postseason system designed to reward merit. The goal, after the AQ bids are covered, is to rack up ticket sales, hotel room sales and television ratings. The choices were cynical, but those were the two biggest schools that made sense.
Who deserved the invite is a more complicated question, which we will examine here. The BCS rankings are nonsense. We’ll throw them out for objective analysis, beyond eliminating teams they would have eliminated (Georgia, MSU, TCU). We’ll use win-loss record. We’ll use Football Outsiders’ Fremeau Efficiency Index to look at teams possession by possession. We’ll use the Simple Rating System to account for schedule strength and margin of victory. We’ll account for their quality wins (top 40 SRS) and losses. Here are the teams.
Michigan: 10-2, FEI (7), SRS (9)
* Top 40 Wins: Notre Dame (17), Nebraska (23), Ohio State (34)
* Losses: Michigan State (15), Iowa (36)
Both ranking systems have Michigan in the Top Ten. By FEI, they had the fifth best offense and the 17th best defense. They had three SRS Top 40 wins. They played ten bowl-bound teams, eleven that had at least six wins. Losing to Michigan State in East Lansing is no slight to them. The Iowa loss should be a factor.
Virginia Tech: 11-2, FEI (20), SRS (26)
* Top 40 Wins: None
* Losses: Clemson (27), Clemson (27)
This shows why we look beyond win-loss records. The Hokies played one top 40 team, Clemson. They lost to the Tigers twice by three scores at home and at a neutral site. Their season gave us no evidence they could beat a good team. Using SRS is a predictor they would be dogs on a netural site against Oklahoma (+13.5), Boise or Michigan (+10), Baylor (+5.5) and Kansas State (+2.5).
Kansas State: 10-2, FEI (13), SRS (22)
* Top 40 Wins: Texas A&M (11), Baylor (14), Missouri (19), Texas (21)
* Losses: Oklahoma State (2), Oklahoma (6)
The Wildcats have the two least damning losses. Their best wins were solid or mediocre, depending on how highly you rate the Big 12. The BCS rankings placed them highly, because it did not account for margin of victory. Kansas State failed to beat a team in the SRS Top 98 by more than a touchdown.
Baylor: 9-3, FEI (36), SRS (14)
* Top 40 Wins: Oklahoma (6), TCU (18), Missouri (19), Texas (21),
* Losses: Oklahoma State (2), Texas A&M (11), Kansas State (22)
Baylor has four very good statistical wins. Two very good wins by any measure. Two of their losses, however, were blowouts. FEI also downgrades them heavily for their defense. The Bears were No. 1 in offensive FEI and No. 86 in defensive FEI.
Oklahoma: 9-3, FEI (11), SRS (6)
* Top 40 Wins: Texas A&M (11), Missouri (19), Texas (21), Kansas St. (22), FSU (24), Tulsa (39)
* Losses: Oklahoma State (2), Baylor (14), Texas Tech (62),
The Sooners had a number of solid wins. The rankings reflect the fact they were generally a very good team. The trouble is their losses. They were blown out in the Bedlam game and the Texas Tech loss is the worst on the board. They might be the most capable of the six teams, but that loss can’t be ignored.
Boise State: 11-1, FEI (10), SRS (8)
* Top 40 Wins: Georgia (16), Toledo (31), Tulsa (39)
* Losses: TCU (18)
The Broncos are in the top ten in both statistical rankings. They had a big win over Georgia and decent wins against Toledo and Tulsa. That said, the one tough conference game they had, they lost at home. They did not cover a spread once at home. We’re not going to go Craig James on them, but is beating a young Georgia team that got better as the season progressed enough evidence to make them elite?
Clearly, Virginia Tech was a terrible competitive choice. Oklahoma would also have been a poor choice because of their loss. Beyond that, it’s open to interpretation. Kansas State beat Baylor by a point at home and has one more win. Baylor has wins against Oklahoma and TCU. Only one can make it. Boise State has one more win than Michigan. Michigan played a tougher schedule. The teams are nearly identical statistically.
For the best game, we probably would have picked Michigan and Boise State. We’re not entirely convinced by the brutal SOS rankings coming out of the Big 12. We watched Texas, Texas A&M and Missouri play. We’re not sure they were Top 20 teams. We’re not sure Baylor and Kansas State were among the best ten.
Practically, the Wolverines were a legitimate choice. The Hokies were a purely financial one. It’s lamentable. It’s unfair, but that’s the outcome the BCS is designed to create. We’re not going to get too worked up about it.
[Photo via Getty]