BCS Pairings and Seeding Issues

AndyVance's picture
June 25, 2013 at 7:03p

While the BCS system as we know it is about to fade into that long goodnight, the discussion over its faults and foibles continues. Today, many of us have been chatting about the Big Ten's abysmal performance against the vaunted So Evil South Eastern Conference. When the discussion turned to the issue of "over seeding" B1G teams to play higher-ranked opponents, I thought a trip down Data Drive was in order. Here's what we can glean (courtesy of the gnomes at Wikipedia and the BCS wayback machine):

1999 Bowl Team, Ranking, Score Team, Ranking, Score Difference
Rose #9 Wisconsin (B1G) 38 #5 UCLA (PAC-10) 31 4
Sugar #4 Ohio State (B1G) 24 #6 Texas A&M (Big 12) 14 2
Orange #8 Florida (SEC) 31 #15 Syracuse (Big East) 10 7
Fiesta #1 Tennessee (SEC) 23 #2 Florida State (ACC) 16 1
2000 Bowl Team, Ranking, Score Team, Ranking, Score Difference
Rose #7 Wisconsin (B1G) 17 #22 Stanford (PAC-10) 9 15
Orange #8 Michigan (B1G) 35 #4 Alabama (SEC) 34 4
Fiesta #3 Nebraska (Big 12) 31 #5 Tennessee (SEC) 21 2
Sugar #1 Florida State (ACC) 46 #2 Virginia Tech (Big East) 29 1
2001 Bowl Team, Ranking, Score Team, Ranking, Score Difference
Rose #4 Washington (PAC-10) 34 #17 Purdue (B1G) 24 13
Fiesta #6 Oregon State (PAC-10) 41 #11 Notre Dame (Ind.) 9 5
Sugar #3 Miami (Big East) 37 #7 Florida (SEC) 20 4
Orange #1 Oklahoma (Big 12) 13 #2 Florida State (ACC) 2 1
2002 Bowl Team, Ranking, Score Team, Ranking, Score Difference
fiesta #4 Oregon (PAC-10) 38 #3 Colorado (Big 12) 16 1
Sugar #13 LSU (SEC) 47 #8 Illinois (B1G) 34 5
Orange #5 Florida (SEC) 56 #10 Maryland (ACC) 23 5
Rose #1 Miami (Big East) 37 #2 Nebraska (Big 12) 14 1
2003 Bowl Team, Ranking, Score Team, Ranking, Score Difference
Rose #7 Oklahoma (Big 12) 34 #6 Washington State (PAC-10) 14 1
Sugar #3 Georgia (SEC) 26 #14 Florida State (ACC) 13 11
Orange #4 USC (PAC-10) 38 #5 Iowa (B1G) 17 1
Fiesta #2 Ohio State (B1G) 31 #1 Miami (Big East) 24 1
2004 Bowl Team, Ranking, Score Team, Ranking, Score Difference
Rose #3 USC (PAC-10) 28 #4 Michigan (B1G) 14 1
Orange #9 Miami (Big East) 16 #7 Florida State (ACC) 14 2
Fiesta #5 Ohio State (B1G) 35 #10 Kansas State (Big 12) 28 5
Sugar #2 LSU (SEC) 21 #1 Oklahoma (Big 12) 14 1
2005 Bowl Team, Ranking, Score Team, Ranking, Score Difference
Rose #4 Texas (Big 12) 38 #13 Michigan (B1G) 37 9
Fiesta #6 Utah (MWC) 35 #21 Pitt (Big East) 7 15
Sugar #3 Auburn (SEC) 16 #8 Virginia Tech (ACC) 13 5
Orange #1 USC (PAC-10) 55 #2 Oklahoma (Big 12) 19 1
2006 Bowl Team, Ranking, Score Team, Ranking, Score Difference
Fiesta #4 Ohio State (B1G) 34 #6 Notre Dame (Ind.) 20 2
Sugar #11 West Virginia (Big East) 38 #7 Georgia (SEC) 35 4
Orange #3 Penn State (B1G) 26 #22 Florida State (ACC) 23 19
Rose #2 Texas (Big 12) 41 #1 USC (PAC-10) 38 1
2007 Bowl Team, Ranking, Score Team, Ranking, Score Difference
Rose #5 USC (PAC-10) 32 #3 Michigan (B1G) 18 2
Fiesta #8 Boise State (WAC) 43 #10 Oklahoma (Big 12) 42 2
Orange #6 Louisville (Big East) 24 #14 Wake Forest (ACC) 13 8
Sugar #4 LSU (SEC) 41 #11 Notre Dame (Ind.) 14 7
BCS NCG #2 Florida (SEC) 41 #1 Ohio State (B1G) 14 1
2008 Bowl Team, Ranking, Score Team, Ranking, Score Difference
Rose #7 USC (PAC-10) 49 #13 Illinois (B1G) 17 6
Sugar #5 Georgia (SEC) 41 #10 Hawaii (WAC) 10 5
Fiesta #9 West Virginia (Big East) 48 #4 Oklahoma (Big 12) 28 5
Orange #8 Kansas (Big 12) 24 #3 Virginia Tech (ACC) 21 5
BCS NCG #2 LSU (SEC) 38 #1 Ohio State (B1G) 24 1
2009 Bowl Team, Ranking, Score Team, Ranking, Score Difference
Rose #5 USC (PAC-10) 38 #8 Penn State (B1G) 24 3
Orange #19 Virginia Tech (ACC) 20 #12 Cincinnati (Big East) 7 7
Sugar #6 Utah (MWC) 31 #4 Alabama (SEC) 17 2
Fiesta #3 Texas (Big 12) 24 #10 Ohio State (B1G) 21 7
BCS NCG #2 Florida (SEC) 24 #1 Oklahoma (Big 12) 14 1
2010 Bowl Team, Ranking, Score Team, Ranking, Score Difference
Rose #8 Ohio State (B1G) 26 #7 Oregon (PAC-10) 17 1
Sugar #5 Florida (SEC) 51 #3 Cincinnati (Big East) 24 2
Fiesta #6 Boise State (WAC) 17 #4 TCU (MWC) 10 2
Orange #10 Iowa (B1G) 24 #9 Georgia Tech (ACC) 14 1
BCS NCG #1 Alabama (SEC) 37 #2 Texas (Big 12) 21 1
2011 Bowl Team, Ranking, Score Team, Ranking, Score Difference
Rose #3 TCU (MWC) 21 #5 Wisconsin (B1G) 19 2
Fiesta #7 Oklahoma (Big 12) 48 N/R UCONN (Big East) 20 18+
Orange #4 Stanford (PAC-10) 40 #13 Virginia Tech (ACC) 12 9
Sugar #6 Ohio State (B1G) 31 #8 Arkansas (SEC) 26 2
BCS NCG #1 Auburn (SEC) 22 #2 Oregon (PAC-10) 19 1
2012 Bowl Team, Ranking, Score Team, Ranking, Score Difference
Rose #5 Oregon (PAC-12) 45 #10 Wisconsin (B1G) 38 5
Fiesta #3 Oklahoma St. (Big 12) 41 #4 Stanford (PAC-12) 38 1
Sugar #13 Michigan (B1G) 23 #11 Virginia Tech (ACC) 20 2
Orange #23 West Virginia (Big East) 70 #15 Clemson (ACC) 33 8
BCS NCG #2 Alabama (SEC) 21 #1 LSU (SEC) 0 1
2013 Bowl Team, Ranking, Score Team, Ranking, Score Difference
Rose #6 Stanford (PAC-12) 20 N/R Wisconsin (B1G) 14 19+
Orange #12 Florida State (ACC) 31 #15 N. Illinois (MAC) 10 3
Sugar #21 Louisville (Big East) 33 #3 Florida (SEC) 23 18
Fiesta #4 Oregon (PAC-12) 35 #5 Kansas State (Big 12) 17 1
BCS NCG #2 Alabama (SEC) 42 #1 Notre Dame (Ind.) 14 1

Okay, I'll state the obvious: this list only includes the BCS bowls, so the disparity in pairings present (or not) in the other bowls outside of the BCS games is not included - it took me long enough to do this recap as it is, and I have a day job.

Secondly, only 7 times in the 15-year history of the BCS has a difference in rankings exceeded 10 spots, and two of those occurred last year, when Ohio State would have presumably played in either the National Championship Game or the Rose Bowl, and thus reshuffled the decks completely with the Bowl pairings. Instead, unranked Wisconsin limped its way through Bert's final bowl loss as a Big Ten coach (though we assume he'll have several more now that he's a member of the SEC vanguard second tier).

Looking at the SEC matchups (in bold), we see that the conference lost 8 times in 15 years, though one of those losses includes the NCG in which Alabama defeated LSU, so that really doesn't count. In each of the remaining seven losses, the SEC team was favored to win four times (according to the rankings, at least), with the largest upset being last year's beatdown of #3 Florida by #21 Louisville. Two of those four losses, by the way, were by Alabama squads ranked four spots higher than the usurping squad.

Of the SEC's non-Championship victories, the conference's representative was actually the underdog twice, but appeared to be the beneficiary of over-seeding in the six remaining matchups: it won those contests against opponents ranked an average of 6.7 spots lower in the rankings.

So what about the Big Ten? Digging into their matchups (also in bold), we see that the conference lost 13 times. In those losses, the B1G squad was favored to win only three times. Think about that: the conference, while getting beaten pretty badly in the court of public opinion, generally lost the games it was supposed to lose during the BCS era. It's largest deficit to overcome was probably last year with the aforementioned Rose Bowl Badger debacle, but of the other nine, the B1G was outgunned by an average of 5.2 spots, those that average is skewed slightly by the four contests in which the B1G was outranked by only 1 or 2 spots.

In the SEC's losses in which it was outgunned, it's team was never more than four spots behind its opponent in the rankings. For the B1G squad, the opponent was five or more spots better in five different years, including differences of 7, 9 and 13!

What about in contests in which the Big Ten was victorious? B1G squads won a dozen times, but were only favored to win six of those matches. In those six victories, its margin of rank advantage averaged 7.5 spots, but two of those contests were outliers of 15 and 19 spots, leaving an average of 2.75 for the remaining four games.

Of the Big Ten's upset victories, meanwhile, the matches were quite close - those teams beat opponents only 2.2 spots better, none of whom were more than four ranking positions better than the B1G squad that beat them.

Some final numbers:

  • SEC teams have appeared in 25 BCS matches, winning 17 (.680).
  • SEC teams won 9 of 12 BCS contests in which they were favored (.750) and won 8 in which they were the underdog (though these wins include several in which the SEC team was ranked #2 and won the National Championship game).
  • Big Ten teams have appeared in 26 BCS matches, winning 12 (.462).
  • B1G teams won won 6 of 10 BCS contests in which they were favored (.600) and won 6 of 16 in which they were the underdog.

That's what the numbers say. Drawing my own conclusions, I'd say it's obvious that the Big Ten generally lost when it was supposed to lose, but didn't win quite as many contests when it was favored as did the SEC, though the SEC has a decided advantage in that it was favored to win almost 50% of the time, while the Big Ten was only favored to win 38.5% of its matches.


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BucksfanXC's picture

Still a relatively small sample size, but I agree we probably had more games we should have won. Some of it is the long layoff that we've since corrected. Some of it is the home field proximity for the SEC vs B1G. But excuses don't feed the bulldog. We are getting there, we just gotta win more often.
To the front page with this entry!

“Any time you give a man something he doesn't earn, you cheapen him. Our kids earn what they get, and that includes respect.”  - Woody

Hovenaut's picture

Nice analysis AV.

From the computer rankings, to regional talent, to public opinion, to social media, etc..the SEC has clearly left their mark on college football and the BCS era.

What has differed from the past, and the individual dynasties throughout the decades, has been the collective success from the higher profile conference teams. Not to say they haven't earned any of it, they've done it on the field, but we've seen the saturation of perception in the court of public opinion regarding where the clout lies in big time college football. As in, its become too easy to favor the SEC.

Hoping to see a culture shift in the college football landscape, with our very own at the forefront. The game is cyclical, teams/conferences have their ups and downs. I think (hope) to see a rise outside the south as the intitial playoff format kicks off. No better conference to do it than the B1G.

Heady stuff, appreciate you taking the time to post this up. Well done.

AndyVance's picture

GREAT point about the "emergence" of the marquee programs in the BCS era, as opposed to the great dynasties of the past. It's also fascinating to see how much has changed in terms of the dominant teams just in a decade and a half... Virginia Tech was pretty competitive not so long ago. "The U" was a perennial contender, as was Florida State. And now the three of them are on the outside looking in - as are other teams like Oklahoma, USC, etc. Fascinating to look back at the matches over that timeframe.

Catch 5's picture

Yea, and stinking Tennessee won the first BCS. Now look at them.

Really, look at them - over there in the gutter with a cheap bottle of wine and a tin cup. Let them be an example for all the young programs out there: don't wear orange. Don't trust a guy that stabs his former boss in the back to get his job, and don't make deals with the Devil (the NCAA) to set up your rival.

Make their asses quit! - Nick Saban

Chief B1G Dump's picture

Interesting. Thanks for the research.
At the end of the day, I'll take 7 straight titles and let the sheep talk. They're king till we start knocking them off the throne. But don't tell em I said that. 
Not to be that guy but didn't Alvarez coach the Rose Bowl and not Bert?

AndyVance's picture

Yeah, that was dumb on my part. I even watched that stinker of a game, too.

Catch 5's picture

Some of the disparity I think can be explained by the automatic bid of the Rose and Sugar Bowls. While the Rose is allowed two automatic bids from the B10 and P10, the Sugar is only tied to the SEC (during that time - the B12 is joining soon). As a result, you often get quality opponents to play in the Rose while the Sugar is often forced to take teams like Hawaii or Cincinnati who got there on the back of an easy schedule. Yes, this also includes Utah and Louisville, who also happened to be good teams - the point is that the Sugar often has to take a team that has a lower ranking and higher risk of being overrated.

The bowl selections are practically automatic, and while the SEC may receive more favorable matchups, most people I know don't like it. They are happy to see the coming B12 partnership similar to the Rose arraingement.

Make their asses quit! - Nick Saban

AndyVance's picture

Really good point, and even the B1G Rose Bowl tie has led to some mismatches, most notably last year's showing from unranked Wisconsin. It'll be very interesting to see if the playoff system creates better matchups throughout the Bowl system, or if it will make things worse for the games outside of the playoff matches...

GoBucksToledo's picture

Numbers don't lie, but 9 of the 25 SEC victories (36% and not including NCGs - 2 of which LSU won in New Orleans and 1 of which Florida won in Miami) occurred in either the Sugar or Orange Bowls, both within the SEC footprint.  So, of the 12 or almost half of the victories, these games could be considered home games.  Four of the seven NCGs the SEC won were in either Louisiana or Florida.  Just saying...

AndyVance's picture

Right on - that's the challenge of synthesizing this data, and why I didn't have the time to do the full scope of bowl games: there is so much data, and so many variables that play into what many of us perceive as an obvious SEC advantage underpinning its obviously stellar record in bowl games. Your point is a really important one: playing in de facto home games is a huge leg up on the competition for a whole host of reasons.

Catch 5's picture

I get it that LSU playing in New Orleans, and maybe Florida playing in Miami (over 300 miles from campus) can be considered home games, but do you really consider it home games when Bama plays LSU in the Superdome?  Or even when Bama plays Notre Dame (a much more national fan base than the Tide) in Miami?  That's an 800 mile home game (and most announcers gave a slight edge to the Irish in attendance)! 

Four of the seven NCGs the SEC won were in either Louisiana or Florida.

You do realize that half of all NCGs have been played at these two locations, right?  Regardless of the participants.  The other 3 championships were played farther from home than the opponent:  Bama beat Texas in the Rose bowl; Auburn beat Oregon, and Florida beat OSU in Glendale.  So, take out the SEC-SEC game (where the "away" team won) and the SEC has played 3 home and 3 away games.  Go back to the start of the BCS, and it still holds true:  LSU won in the Sugar and Tennessee won in the Fiesta. 
I get it.  There aren't any major bowls in the Midwest - people don't generally want to vacation there in early Jan. when another option is Arizona, California, New Orleans, and South Florida.  The B10 champ plays in the Rose Bowl every year - against the Pac12 champ.  Do you also discount P12 victories there - it is a much larger difference in distance than the Sugar was.

Make their asses quit! - Nick Saban

GoBucksToledo's picture

I see where you are coming from but don't discount the location advantage.
Yes, I do feel that a B1G school playing in Pasadena is at a disadvantage and I'm not talking about fan support, I'm talking about the affect of the travel on players and coaches.  I, and maybe I'm in the minority here, feel that the affect of traveling that distance and being out of one's region is a clear disadvantage, having been through it myself.  Can that be overcome, of course it can and has been many times, but the effort is greater for these "away" teams and the onus is on them to accommodate those shortcomings.
We can agree to disagree and that's cool.

AndyVance's picture

I think the location of the games is one advantage among many... It's not the key factor in the SEC's bowl record, but it's a factor that surely hasn't hurt them any.

RBuck's picture

Andy: Thank you for leaving the asterisk off the 2011 Sugar Bowl.

Long live the southend.

AndyVance's picture

It friggin' happened: I WAS THERE. Screw anyone who says otherwise :)

Oyster's picture

* The whole season happened.

"Scrolling hurts my finger"

(and FitzBuck was clearly the winner)

Michibuck's picture

Thanks, Andy. I know firsthand the time and effort required to put this together and type it up. Much appreciated.