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Dick Harmon: More at stake this week than deciding MWC title

Published: Sunday, Aug. 2 2015 1:18 a.m. MDT

When TCU leaped over Boise State in the latest BCS rankings released Sunday, it set the stage for a dramatic showdown Saturday between the No. 3 Horned Frogs and No. 5 Utah in Rice-Eccles Stadium.

No kidding.

There is much more on the line here than the Mountain West Conference title.

Ramifications are enormous. Will the winner be placed at No. 2 in the BCS rankings since second-ranked Auburn plays Chattanooga the same day? And what about these rankings? Are they legitimate? Where are we heading? Is this the year a non-automatic qualifier brings down the BCS house of cards? Will the winner of TCU/Utah be elevated to No. 2 in next Sunday's BCS rankings, a formula allegedly set up to take care of the six elite conferences and leave out the little guys?

Yes, the winner should be No. 2 because of Auburn's opponent that day, Chattanooga. But will the clarion call of the mighty SEC band save Auburn? What about Boise State? And if the TCU/Utah winner does make No. 2, what happens if Auburn goes on to lose or win against No. 6 Alabama in the season-finale? Will a win over Alabama vault Auburn back to No. 2? If No. 6 Alabama beats Auburn, will the SEC schedule that the Tide plays vault this blue blood program to No. 2? Will the BCS formula do what it is supposed to do and pit automatic qualifiers No. 1 Oregon against a one-loss Alabama team in the national championship — even if the Utah/TCU winner runs the table — because that team will finish against MWC teams?

If we can't have a playoff, this week's rankings show why the BCS formula is flawed. It is a system that uses computers as one-third of the standings. Three times in the past when those computers haven't matched human voters, the BCS folks have tweaked those computers and one of those times killed the best thing Utah and TCU has going for themselves: margin of victory.

TCU is beating opponents by an average margin of 40.78 to 8.67 and Utah is whipping up on teams by a 45.25 to 14.13 average. That should mean something. But knowing teams like Boise State could kill WAC teams, and similarly a TCU or Utah could do the same without SEC or Big Ten type schedules, the BCS guys told their computer partners they could no longer use margin of victory in their ranking programs before the 2002 season.

There goes Utah's impressive butt-kicking of Iowa State on the road. In other words, a 63-0 blowout is the same as a 7-6 dogfight.

Most expert stat geeks will tell you if you can't use margin of victory, your formula is flawed. It is an attempt at measuring emotion, injuries, skill level, momentum, play-calling and other intangibles that other statistics can't reflect. It is meaningful.

The BCS said they asked that margin of victory be taken out to prevent teams from pouring it on weaker foes.

Maybe.

In a 2006 article, mathematician Hal Stern advocated all quantitative analysts boycott the BCS.

Bill James, a wizard with stats and author of the baseball numbers bible "Baseball Abstract," agreed.

"This isn't a sincere effort to use math to find the answer at all," he said. "It's clearly an effort to use math as a cover for whatever you want to do. I don't even know if the people who set up the system are aware of that. It's just non-sense math."

In the BCS Standings released Sunday night, the Utes' average ranking by the computers came in at No. 9. The range of that ranking spit out by algorithms, formulas and secret spreadsheet data is a little stunning to say the least.

Albeit, a quick study of the machines showed no difference than human opinions registered by the Associated Press and likely the other two favored human polls.

Anderson and Hester had the Utes 9th while Billingsley gave Utah the highest ranking at No. 4. The Colley Matrix had Utah at No. 14, Massey 16th, Sagarin 17th and Wolfe 15th. It should be noted that Anderson and Hester bragged about their accuracy in 2008 that they had Utah ranked No. 2 before beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Compare those computer tallies with votes from the AP's four voters who are described as "national voters," which is to mean they are not associated with any region of the country. (The AP poll is not used in the BCS standings after the organization withdrew its permission in 2005.)

Here are AP's national pollster votes:

ESPN's Chris Fowler: 1. Oregon, 2. Boise State, 3. Alabama, 4. TCU, and the Utes at No. 8.

Greg Autman of the St. Petersburg Times: 1. Oregon, 2. Boise State, 3. TCU, and Utah at No. 6.

Craig James, ABC: 1. Oregon, 2. Auburn, 3. TCU, 4. Boise State, and Utah at No. 14.

Andy Staples, SI.com: 1. Oregon, 2. Boise State, 3. TCU, 4. Auburn, 5. Utah.

The average Utah ranking, mainly due to James' ballot, is 8.5, similar to the computers at 9th.

I was curious to see if voters in the Pac-10 region treated Utah any differently since the Utes would be joining the league next year. The thought was that perhaps those voters may have made an effort to watch Utah games, even with the challenge of finding the games on The mtn., CBS C and Versus and not finding the San Jose State game on any TV.

Here are those Pac-10 region ballots:

Scott Wolf, Los Angeles Daily News: 1. TCU, 2. Oregon, 3. Auburn, 4. Boise State, and Utah 12th.

Ray Ratto, Comcast Sportsnet: 1. TCU, 2. Oregon, 3. Boise State, 4. Auburn, and No. 5 Utah.

John Wilner, San Jose Mercury: 1. Auburn, 2. Oregon, 3. TCU, 4. Boise State, and Utah 14th.

Doug Haller, Arizona Republic: 1. Oregon, 2. Boise State, 3. Auburn, 4. TCU, and Utah at No. 8.

John Hunt, Oregonian: 1. Oregon, 2. Auburn, 3. Boise State, 4. TCU, and Utah No. 9.

Bob Condotta, Seattle Times: 1. Oregon, 2. Boise State, 3. Auburn, 4. TCU, 5. Utah.

The average ranking of the Pac-10 region AP voters for Utah is 8.8, similar to the computers and the national AP voters.

What all this means is the BCS system is an interesting exercise in guessing. It is not really a competition on the football field. What Wilner believes is a No. 14-ranked Utah team is Ray Ratto's No. 5 team.

And these computers? Ahhh, there's the catch.

Did you know there is no accounting system in place that checks to see if what the six computers say they figure is actually what is used by the BCS? The six geeks turn in their ratings on Sunday and that's it. No PricewaterhouseCoopers, No Deloitte & Touche or Ernst & Young checking their math.

According to Dan Wetzel of Yahoo.com, only Wes Colley makes his computer formula fully public.

Welcome to college football.

At least on Saturday, we'll finally have something decided on the field at Rice-Eccles.

e-mail: dharmon@desnews.com

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