Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Early BCS Buster Analysis

Every year it seems that we have an "upstart" team from a non-BCS conference vying for an undefeated season making an argument for getting into a BCS bowl.  The teams doing this recently include Boise State, Utah, BYU, TCU, and Ball State.

The argument these teams make is that should they go undefeated and there be several 1 or 2 loss teams from BCS conferences, they have a case to be made that they are more qualified and proven.  This has been bolstered in recent years by bowl wins over BCS conference teams by Utah and Boise State, and these teams going out of their way to schedule and win strong non-conference games.

The knock against these teams is that even with the occasional win over a strong opponent, their conferences and associated schedules are just too weak for them to prove that those wins are anything more than a fluke.

This is where computer ratings come in as they can take an unbiased view looking at just the games played and the real, not perceived, schedule strength to come up with an estimate of how teams really compare.  And I think my system has done reasonably well with the following being examples:
  • In 2008/9, had Utah #13 and picked them +10.5 over #7 Alabama in one of the strongest picks of the bowls.  Didn't pick the upset but did have Alabama by only 3.5.
  • In 2007/8, did not fall into the Hawaii hype and had #10 Georgia picked -8 over #39 Hawaii and got it right.
  • In 2006/7, had #10 Boise State picked to win straight up (Vegas line was Oklahoma by 8.5) over #15 Oklahoma in again one of the strongest picks of the bowl season.
So my computer has gotten it right in both directions and doesn't simply rate the non-BCS team high.

With that, lets take a look at some of the contenders for the BCS buster label this year, what their schedule looks like, and what my computer projects for them.  The standard caveat applies that with just 1 game played by most teams, these projections are heavily weighted by last years performance, but do take this year's schedule into account.  We'll look at them in order of projected record and list the current week 1 ranking.

#6 Boise State
Projected Record: 13-0 (48%)
2008 Record: 12-1 (#10)
2009 Schedule: 63.860 (#114), #17 Oregon, #38 Tulsa, #46 Bowling Green

They already have the win over Oregon, but the rest of their schedule isn't that strong and they could be hurt if Oregon turns out to flounder.  The weak schedule does give them a 48% chance of going undefeated and a 39% chance of 1-loss and an 11% chance of 2 losses.

#9 TCU
Projected Record: 10-2 (33.3%)
2008 Record: 11-2 (#7)
2009 Schedule: 68.715 (#77), #22 Clemson, #86 Virginia

They have not played yet so this is entirely based on last years rating, but their schedule is stronger that Boise State's but that also results in only a 12% chance of finishing undefeated.  Their most likely record is almost 11-1 with a 32.9% chance of that.

#15 BYU
Projected Record: 10-2 (32%)
2008 Record: 10-3 (#35)
2009 Schedule: 69.546 (#71), #4 Oklahoma, #31 Florida State, #89 Utah State

The win over Oklahoma is huge and has already moved them to #15, but with a schedule a bit stronger than TCU's finishing undefeated will be difficult (9%) and even 1-loss is less likely than TCU (26%).  The October 24th game hosting TCU is going to be huge if they can get past Florida State.

#14 Utah
Projected Record: 10-2 (35%)
2008 Record: 13-0 (#8)
2009 Schedule: 70.310 (#65), #17 Oregon, #89 Utah State, #96 San Jose State

They go to Oregon where as Boise State hosted them, and they also have to go to BYU and TCU which is what makes their schedule slightly tougher than those conference foes.  This results in only a 3% chance of going undefeated and 18% of 1-loss.

#59 Buffalo
Projected Record: 10-2 (30%)
2008 Record: 8-6 (#70)
2009 Schedule: 64.395 (#113), #40 Pittsburgh, #101 UTEP, #113 Central Florida

Including Buffalo may be a surprise, but they do have a similar profile to the other teams.  They do have only a 4% chance of going undefeated and 18% chance of 1 loss, so not that great a shot, but a shot nonetheless.  They have an awfully weak schedule though.

In the end, because of their schedule, Boise State likely has the best chance to get into a BCS bowl simply because they could end up undefeated and that is what sways everyone's opinion.  But they may be the only undefeated non-BCS conference team due to the other 3 contenders beating up on each other.  If any one of BYU, TCU, or Utah get through their schedule umblemished, they will certainly deserve to be ranked higher and should get the nod over Boise State.

I'll post this analysis again in a few weeks.

What do you think?  Leave a comment!