The BCS rankings don’t tell us much

“Who’s No. 1?” by Nate Silver

From the article:

‘Without high-quality out-of-conference games, every major conference is in essence an island unto itself. We can identify the best team in the Pac 10, or the best team in the S.E.C. But we don’t have any good way of comparing the Pac 10 against the S.E.C., or against any other conference. It doesn’t matter how smart your computer rankings are, or how wizened the participants in your poll: there simply isn’t enough worthwhile data to work with.’

This is why the BCS rankings are essentially meaningless. We don’t have a reliable way to measure quality across conferences. Which team is better, 11-2 Oregon who lost on the road to L.S.U. and to a good U.S.C. team, or 11-1 Alabama, who also lost to L.S.U. at home without scoring a touchdown? Does Alabama get credit for playing in the tough SEC? Why? How do you know the SEC is a tough conference? I suspect it probably is at the top, but I have no evidence that after Arkansas there is anything special there. Would Oregon put up big points against Alabama and Arkansas? Probably, but I don’t know for sure.

Even schools that schedule tough non-conference opponents only play one or two tough teams a year outside their conference. It’s not nearly enough data. We know which teams won their conference championships and that’s about all we know for sure. The BCS bowl games are entertaining exhibitions, but nothing more than that.

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