Should voters leave teams like Fresno State and Northern Illinois off their ballots simply to freeze them out of BCS bowl games?
ESPN analyst David Pollack thinks so. During BCS Countdown on Sunday, Pollack took umbrage with those two teams being in contention – even looking good – for spots in a BCS bowl game.
Pollack went as far as saying the two teams had played “absolutely nobody,” which must have sat well with Rutgers and Boise State, each of whom lost to Fresno State.
Though Pollack’s comments came off as dismissive and disrespectful, it touched on a topic often left assumed instead of spoken: How are those who submit top-25 ballots supposed to vote?
Further, how much should strength of schedule come in to play when casting ballots?
The point Pollack made didn’t seem to really focus on the voting process so much as ensuring the non-BCS conference teams would be left out of the good ol’ boys’ club.
Considering what’s at stake, though, it’s worth taking Pollack’s stance and examining it.
Under current rules, teams from non-AQ conferences can automatically qualify for a BCS bowl game if they rank in the top 16 of the BCS standings and ahead of a conference champion from an AQ league.
This week’s rankings have both Fresno State (No. 16) and Northern Illinois (No. 18) ahead of American Athletic Conference-leading UCF (No. 21). If the season ended today, Fresno State would earn an automatic berth into a BCS bowl.
The computers that make up one-third of the BCS rankings currently have NIU with an average rank of 14 and Fresno State at 16 – well ahead of UCF at 23.
The BCS is not required to take more than one non-AQ program.
Many voters take the hybrid approach when ranking teams – looking at teams’ bodies of work while also using the old-fashioned “eye test.”
Those eye tests, combined with computer rankings, leave UCF behind Fresno State and NIU.
UCF has just one loss this season – a three-point defeat to No. 12 South Carolina.
Meanwhile, Fresno State’s best win is Boise State and Northern Illinois’ best win is a road victory over Iowa. Boise State and Iowa rank 47th and 48th in the BCS standings, respectively.
Considering Fresno State and Northern Illinois are both undefeated, it’s difficult to argue with them being ranked in the top 20. It’s worth asking, however, if either team would be favored in a neutral-site game against Texas. Or Ole Miss, Georgia or Washington.
Of that group, only Texas has fewer than three losses. None of them is ranked.
The Vegas Insider top 25 worries itself only with pinpointing the 25 best teams in the country – not with considering win-loss records. Neither Fresno State nor Northern Illinois cracked this week’s top 25.
Interestingly, UCF did – coming in at No. 18.
Teams like Fresno State and Northern Illinois can’t do anything more than go undefeated against the teams on their schedules.
However, should such teams playing schedules devoid of reasonable challenges be handed invitations to BCS bowls? Wouldn’t that do nothing but discourage athletic directors from scheduling tougher competition?
For a long time, teams like Boise State, TCU and Utah – legitimately top-10 teams – fought to give non-AQ programs a good name and to prove they belonged on the same stage. Those three teams combined for a 5-1 record in BCS appearances with the only loss coming from TCU, which lost to Boise State in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl.
Hawaii and Northern Illinois, however, lost by 31 and 21 points, respectively, in their BCS appearances.
With the fall of the former Big East, the pendulum seems to have swung too far in the direction of the non-AQ programs.
BCS bowls aren’t meant to be participation trophies. They are meant to be rewards for truly outstanding seasons by non-AQ teams.
Fresno State and Northern Illinois are not on the same level as Utah in 2004, TCU in 2010 or Boise State in 2007. They are good teams – possibly top-25 teams – who don’t play tough schedules.
It’s not Northern Illinois’ fault that Iowa is an average team in a bad Big Ten or that Purdue is straight-up dreadful.
Fresno State is powerless in hoping Rutgers plays better or Boise State returns to the team it was in its heyday.
Ultimately, voters of the Coaches Poll and Harris Poll will determine whether or not one of those teams deserves a spot in a BCS bowl.
At this point it would take a large group deciding they agree with Pollack’s point of view to keep Fresno State or Northern Illinois out of the BCS.