In his 1945 novel “Animal Farm” George Orwell wrote: “All animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others…”
Today this is the guiding principle behind the National Championship of College Football’s Division I FBS. Div I FBS consists of the schools in 11 conferences plus 3 independents making a total of 131 colleges and universities that have Division I FBS football programs. None of the 11 conferences is designated as being better or deserving of higher ranking than any other and no individual school is predetermined to be a lesser member of Div I FBS than any other member institution. Nevertheless, some college football teams are apparently created more equal than others.
No other organized sport has such a consideration when it comes to naming its championship team. In the last Baseball World Series the Yankees were not diminished by their regular season victories over the American League’s weaker teams like Baltimore, Kansas City or Cleveland and neither were the Phillies downgraded after beating up on the National League’s lowly Washington Nationals or the Pittsburgh Pirates. Any win over a Major League opponent is equal to any other win. Likewise in the National Football League, the NBA and even in the NHL, no team is ranked as better or worse based upon which other teams they scored victories over during their regular season schedules.
But somehow this sense of fair play – not to mention reason - just doesn’t apply to college football. This season, of the 131 Division I FBS teams only 6 have played their season undefeated. All 6 have won every game they played. None of the remaining 125 teams have only 1 loss. The best record outside the undefeated teams is 2 losses. Thus, it would appear reasonable to say that only these 6 all-winning teams should have a shot at being crowned National Champion. Yet, since there is no playoff system, only 2 of the 6 can be matched in the so-called and self-proclaimed National Championship Game. What then of the other 4? What is the best way to pick the 2 teams to vie for the title and eliminate from consideration 4 others?
The 6 undefeated teams are: Florida, Alabama, Texas, TCU, Cincinnati and Boise State. This is the order in which these teams are now ranked by the BCS, which is the official ranking body that picks the 2 teams to play in the National Championship Game. Since the BCS ranks the Top 25 teams each week, how do the schedules of the 6 undefeated teams look against other ranked opponents?
Of the top 6, only 2 have played more than 1 opponent that also ranked in the Top 25. Texas (ranked #3) played and of course defeated 4 ranked teams – Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Nebraska, Oklahoma – while TCU (ranked #4) played and beat 2 ranked opponents – Clemson and BYU.
The #1 and #2 teams, Florida and Alabama only played 1 ranked team each. Both of them played and beat the same team, LSU. Still, Florida is ranked #1 and Alabama is #2. The #5 ranked team, Cincinnati, has only a single ranked team on its schedule, West Virginia.
The most alarming schedule analysis has to be that of #6 Boise State. While Boise State only met 1 other team ranked in the Top 25, how important should it be that the 1 team was the #7 ranked team, Oregon? After the 6 undefeated teams, the official college football rankings list Oregon as the next best team in the whole country. And Boise State beat them. If Boise State beat Oregon, and none of the other 5 undefeated teams has beaten any team so highly ranked, why is Boise State #6 behind all 5 of the others? That doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, does it?
Some analysts say that many teams prop up their record by playing weak teams outside their conference – and that’s been true. This year, Boise State played Bowling Green and it is fair to hold that up when evaluating them. Cincinnati also played a game against a very weak non-conference team, Southeast Missouri State. TCU, however, did not pad its schedule with any of the weaker non-conference teams, not one of them. Texas (remember they also played 4 ranked teams) only had one game against a traditional weak team, Central Florida.
But, look at the schedules for the #1 and #2 Florida and Alabama teams. Not only did they each play their only ranked opponent against the same LSU team, but also each of them added multiple weak teams to their non-conference schedules. Alabama, the #2 team in the nation, played and beat teams from Florida International and Tennessee-Chattanooga. The #1 ranked team, Florida, did even worse than that. Like Alabama, they also scheduled Florida International, plus they added outrageous patsies like Charleston-Southern and some school no one's ever heard of called Troy.
So, Florida the #1 ranked team played 25% of its games against the worst teams in college football. That would be like the Yankees, who won 103 games and lost only 59, playing 40 of their regular season games against Washington, which won only 59 and lost 103. Of course, the Yankees did not play any games at all against Washington, but had that actually happened, it’s unlikely anyone would have seriously considered the Yankees as the #1 team in baseball.
In the real world, #1 Florida Gaitors and #2 Alabama Crimson Tide meet next week in their own conference championship game and the winner of that game will play against Texas in the BCS National Championship Game. Based on who and how these teams have played this season, it doesn’t matter who wins. Texas should easily beat either one, Florida or Alabama. But that will still leave probably the best team in the nation, the real #1 college football team, Boise State, out in the cold.
All Div I FBS teams are created equal, but some teams are more equal than others…