Strength among computers elevates K-State to No. 3 in the BCS

By Bryan Richardson

The college football season still has six weeks left to go, but many Kansas State fans are wondering what to expect when you’re expecting a national title.

K-State is 7-0, at the top of the Big 12 and a serious national title contender. Of course, there’s only one way to make the national title game and that’s being in the top two slots in the Bowl Championship Series standings. As of Sunday, K-State is third in the BCS behind Alabama and Florida.

The path of least resistance to K-State playing for the national title involves winning the remaining five games and hoping no more than one other team is undefeated. The BCS is at its messiest when more than two teams are undefeated or a collection of one-loss teams are vying for a title game spot.

How are the top two teams determined in the BCS? For many college football fans, it involves controversy and expletives not suitable for the Mercury, but there’s a formula behind the madness.

The BCS has changed a lot since it came into existence in 1998, but the three factors that the BCS currently takes into account are the USA Today coaches‚ poll, Harris Interactive college football poll and an average taken from six computer ranking systems.

Each component represents one-third of the overall score.

Each first place vote in a computer ranking system and in the USA Today and Harris polls is worth 25 points, decreasing until one point is awarded for 25th place. For K-State, the average of the coaches’ poll (.8943), Harris Poll (.8990) and computer rankings (.940) gives the team a BCS average of .9111, or a 91.11 out of 100. K-State ranks fourth in the coaches’ poll and the Harris Poll, but second among the computers.

Fifty-nine coaches participate in the USA Today poll, including five from Big 12 schools and two others — Miami and North Texas — who played K-State in non-league games. The Harris Poll comprises 115 panelists and includes former coaches, players, administrators and current and former media. Panelists are randomly drawn by Harris Interactive from among more than 300 nominations supplied by the 11 Football Bowl Subdivision conferences and independent institutions.

From the six computer rankings, the highest and the lowest are discarded each week, and the remaining four are averaged. Each of those six systems uses its own set of data, and the precise methodologies of some are private. But there appear to be similarities. The systems include strength of schedule based on teams already played but not a margin of victory component, meaning the computers would have considered a 15-14 victory at West Virginia the same as the actual 55-14 victory. (Big victories against top 25 teams can impress the human voters, however).

The six computer rankings used are Anderson and Hester (where K-State is No. 1), Peter Wolfe (K-State No. 1), Jeff Sagarin (K-State No. 2), Kenneth Massey (K-State No. 3), Richard Billingsley (K-State No. 4) and Colley Matrix (K-State No. 5).

As an example of strength of schedule, the top seven teams in the Anderson and Hester rankings are all undefeated and in order of the strength of schedule: K-State No. 11, Florida No. 16, Oregon State No. 27, Notre Dame No. 29, Alabama No. 42, Oregon No. 54 and Ohio State No. 60.

The use of data rather than human feelings can create a different picture of the national title landscape.

For instance, Alabama, which received 168 of the 174 first place votes in both human polls, are only fourth in the computer rankings. At the same time, Florida, which is No. 1 with the computers, only has one human first place vote. K-State has zero human first place votes.

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