If you didn’t know, there are seven men who run six computer rankings that help decide the fate of college football. The BCS — known as either the Bowl Championship Series or the Bitterly Controversial Shafting, depending on your mood — is comprised of the AP poll, the Harris poll and these rankings. The men and the computer programs they’ve created rely solely on evidence that most die-hard college football fans don’t believe should have this much relevance in deciding the rankings. Things such as ‘numbers,’ ‘statistics’ and ‘facts.’
Well, there is a lot more to ranking college football teams than what’s on paper and reality. There’s determination, going with the gut, and a hell of a lot of alcohol. But in the end, it doesn’t matter what the anyone thinks. These men have the balls of the fans of college football held firmly in their vice of mathematical equations.
Jeff Sagarin (Sagarin Ratings)
This MIT grad’s computer system has not only been used in helping create the BCS rankings since 1998, but has been involved in making sure your small, underdog school bubbles out of the NCAA March Madness Tourney since 1984 (that’ll teach you and your awful Patriot League schedule, Bucknell). But it’s not college sports that takes Sagarin seriously. He’s also part of a team that steals $100,000 a year out of Mark Cuban’s silk boxers by advising the Mavericks which lineups to use during games and who to sign in free agency using a statistical plus/minus system. Would have loved to see how the method favored picking up Elton Brand and his shoulder now made primarily of Jell-O.
Jeff Anderson & Chris Hester (Anderson & Hester)
The Anderson & Hester systems prides itself on 4 distinct ways:
1. Unlike the polls, these rankings do not reward teams for running up scores. Teams are rewarded for beating quality opponents, which is the object of the game. Posting large margins of victory, which is not the object of the game, is not considered.
2. Unlike the polls, these rankings do not prejudge teams. They first appear after the season’s fifth week, and each team’s ranking reflects its actual accomplishments — on the field, to date — not its perceived potential.
3. These rankings compute the most accurate strength of schedule ratings. Each team’s opponents and opponents’ opponents are judged not only by their won-lost records but also, uniquely, by their conferences’ strength (see #4).
4. These rankings provide the most accurate conference ratings. Each conference is rated according to its non-conference won-lost record and the difficulty of its non-conference schedule.
What they should not pride themselves on is having an official website — www.andersonsports.com — that looks like it was designed by the same guy who used AOL dial-up to design Bob Dole’s rockin’ 1996 campaign website for President. I’m half surprised there aren’t links to buy Starter jackets and an ad for SNICK on the site.
Richard Billingsley (Billingsley Report)
Richard Billingsley has repeatedly described himself as “not a mathematician.” In fact, in a 2012 New York Times interview, he went so far as be quoted saying, “I’m not even a highly educated man, to tell you the truth. I don’t even have a degree. I have a high school education. I never had calculus. I don’t even remember much about algebra.” Elsewhere on his own website, he proclaims, “I guess in a sense, my rankings are not only about who the ‘best team’ is, but also about who is the ‘most deserving” team.” This is probably part of the reason the system created by this stress-management expert from Oklahoma earns repeated criticisms. That and the fact that each year’s ranking starts with the previous year’s results, no matter what’s happened — if players have graduated or coaches have left. So though he’s regarded as possibly the worst BCS computer ranker, he’s gotta be a damn good stress-management expert because hearing from all his haters must be stressful as shit. But he doesn’t seem to mind.
Wes Colley (Colley Matrix)
If you have any doubts about what kind of man Wes Colley is, just take a look at his bio on his official website — featuring a headshot of himself wearing a bow-tie and all. Anybody who earns a PhD in Astrophysical Sciences from Princeton and uses his talents not to become the next Einstein and decipher the questions of the universe, but instead to decide who would be the best fit to go to the Gaylord Hotel’s Music City Bowl should be ashamed of himself. Plus for some reason he lists of the number stadiums he has attended on his website: all 29. Um, hey, Wes, you realize you help determine the fate of collage football programs across the country? Maybe, you know, you should go watch more college football??
Kenneth Massey (Massey Ratings)
It’s astounding how repeatedly terrible every one of these “computer experts” websites are. Massey Ratings (dot com) is one of the worst, but it features something none of the other sites have: a shocking diversity of ratings for sports ranging from the NFL to National Pro Fastpitch Women’s Softball. (FYI, the Akron Racers had the worst rating but the hardest strength of schedule.) With his name on the line for helping to choose an NCAA football college champion, you’d think he wouldn’t spread himself to thin, but apparently he has other plans …because without a good WNBA rating system, where would we be as a nation??
Dr. Peter Wolfe
And here we have the most mysterious computer ranking system of them all, Peter Wolfe’s rankings. So secret that Wolfe added the extra “e” to his last name to throw you off and a Dr. to his title to make sure you know he’s better than you. Wolfe keeps his rankings so close to the chest that he doesn’t even release them until after the first BCS standings are released. Which essentially means he’s either piggybacking off of everyone else’s data or his lucky llama from Ecuador isn’t in the mood to make magical picks during the weekends. Can’t blame the good Dr. though, snake it till you make it should essentially be the motto of not only the BCS but of college football as a whole.