Dan Wetzel mentions how preseason polls created an uphill battle for Notre Dame. The Irish began the season ranked lower than Kansas State and Oregon. Voters resist change. Notre Dame had the burden to justify why it should move ahead of those two schools as the season progressed. Results from last season, such as Notre Dame losing to FSU in the Champs Sports Bowl, might have undue influence on results this season.
This is true and significant, but it’s hardly the only factor at play and perhaps not the most significant. There are also ways Notre Dame benefits from the present system.
The W-L Record: College football skews common sense. In the NFL, one could argue a 12-4 team that faced a harder schedule was better than a 13-3 team. Try floating that logic in college football. A 10-0 team is almost always slotted ahead of a similar stature 9-1 team, especially in the more conservative Coaches Poll (and the Harris poll that apes it). Of the top 17 teams, only one, 8-2 LSU, is slotted ahead a of a team with fewer losses.
Notre Dame is 10-0. They might face a greater burden of proof than Kansas State or Oregon because of their preseason ranking. However, they are also insulated from multiple SEC teams (Alabama, Georgia, Florida) one might predict to beat them.
No Margin of Victory: The BCS performed a Halsted operation. Facing a minor problem, the formula technically promoting running up the score, the organization enacted a radical solution. The BCS removed margin of victory from the formula. This eliminated the tangible incentive to run up the score. It also rendered the polls mathematically invalid and useless.
Notre Dame has won a number of close games (6-0 in one score games), some of them against not very good teams. They labored to wins against Purdue (20-17), BYU (17-14) and Pitt (29-26 in OT). They needed a controversial call in overtime to beat Stanford. They only beat and okay Michigan by a touchdown despite a (+4) turnover margin.
Alternative formulas that account for victory margin reflect this. Notre Dame is ranked 6th in Sports Reference SRS, behind Alabama (9-1), Florida (9-1) and Texas A&M (8-2). They are ranked 7th in Chase Stuart’s SRS, behind those three teams and Oklahoma (7-2). In Jeff Sagarin’s more accurate rankings that include margin of victory, Notre Dame drops from first to fifth.
Conclusion: Picking two teams is dumb. Picking two teams with the present BCS formula is really dumb. On balance, though, Notre Dame is playing on a level field. Had the Irish beat Purdue, BYU and Pitt comfortably they likely would be much closer to Kansas State in the human polls.
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