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Original Issue

Compute This The BCS crunched the numbers, and the result was controversy

Move over, New Coke. The Bowl Championship Series, which is in
its third year, is a case study in how to provide the public with
an innovation it doesn't want. Few people like the BCS rankings,
in part because few people understand them. Last week, as tension
heightened and squabbling continued over which teams would
receive the two at-large invitations to the BCS bowls (of which
there are four), Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen threatened that
if league co-champion Oregon State (10-1 and No. 5 in the AP
poll) did not get an invitation, he saw no reason that his
conference should participate in the BCS when the Pac-10's
contract with the bowl series expires after the 2005 season.

Hansen's threat dissipated on Sunday when one of the BCS games,
the Fiesta Bowl, selected Oregon State and Notre Dame as its
at-large pairing, but not everyone was happy with that. The
Beavers (sixth in the BCS rankings) and the Irish (11th)
leapfrogged Virginia Tech (fifth) to land the Fiesta berths,
causing the Hokies to join Big East champion Miami as the latest
critics of the system. The Hurricanes, who finished No. 2 in both
the AP and the USA Today/ESPN polls, were shut out of the Orange
Bowl national championship game against undefeated Oklahoma
because Miami wound up third in the BCS rankings, .32 of a point
behind Florida State, which had lost 27-24 to the Hurricanes in
October. Protests from Miami conveniently ignore the fact that
the BCS and both polls rank the Hurricanes ahead of another 10-1
team, Washington, which handed the Hurricanes their only loss,
34-29 in September. "The score of the Washington-Miami game has
yet to be reported on the East Coast," Hansen says puckishly.

How did college football get into this mess? The BCS began as an
attempt by six major conferences and Notre Dame to provide a
national championship game without abandoning the lucrative bowl
structure. The BCS rankings are derived from a formula that for
each team factors in the two aforementioned polls, a
strength-of-schedule rating, won-loss record and the average of
eight computer ratings, the last of which are the principal
source of controversy this season. Five of the computers rank
Florida State No. 1, though Oklahoma is the only undefeated
team. The eight computer rankings vary widely in their
methodologies, very little of which is made public, and none of
which is monitored during the season by the conference
commissioners and athletic directors who oversee the BCS. For
instance only one of the computer ratings, that of The Seattle
Times, ignores margin of victory. Another, the Dunkel Index,
relies on it heavily. The officials who run the BCS, meanwhile,
have made no decisions about how important margin of victory
should be.

The computer ratings are supposed to counterbalance the
subjectivity of the polls, but they have their own quirks. For
example three of them began the season by ranking the teams
according to how they had finished in the 1999 computer ratings.
They then slowly phased out the previous season's rating as the
weeks rolled by.

ACC commissioner John Swofford, the coordinator of the BCS, said
on Sunday that the overall BCS rating formula will be reevaluated
in the spring and adjusted as necessary. (After the 1998 season
the BCS increased its computer contributors from three to make
the sampling more geographically diverse.) "Our goal is to have
the best situation and the fairest situation that we can possibly
have," said Swofford, "and consequently I think we'll look at the
formula each and every year to see if it needs tweaking so that
we have that."

Change couldn't come quickly enough for Miami coach Butch Davis,
whose Hurricanes could still be crowned national champions by the
AP poll if they defeat Florida in the Sugar Bowl and if Florida
State knocks off Oklahoma. "You could say that if the BCS didn't
exist, there would be a good chance we'd be playing in the
national championship game," says Davis. "I'd like to know
exactly what's being fed into the computers. I don't think that
anyone understands how each of the eight ratings works. The
information that you get out of the computers is only as good as
the information you put in."

Oklahoma's Cinderella Season
Sooners Survive Another Ordeal

Oklahoma's 27-24 victory over Kansas State last Saturday
propelled the Sooners into the Orange Bowl to play Florida State
for the national championship, but it also reconfirmed that the
Sooners are riddled with holes big enough for Chief Osceola to
ride his horse through. For the fourth straight game quarterback
Josh Heupel couldn't throw deep effectively. He completed 24 of
44 passes for 220 yards with three interceptions and two
touchdowns. Five yards per attempt won't scare anyone,
particularly the Seminoles, who finished sixth in the nation in
total defense. Moreover, the Sooners failed to score a point on
two possessions they started inside the Wildcats' 30, and they
allowed Kansas State to return a punt 58 yards for a touchdown.

Win one game despite such mistakes, and a team is celebrated as
capable of winning even when it doesn't play its best. Win one
game after another despite such shortcomings, as Oklahoma has
done, and it's time to trot out comparisons with teams that
earned national titles while depending on chemistry and
intangibles, like Tennessee in 1998. The Sooners play terrific
defense, and Heupel, dogged by a ruptured bursa sac in his left
elbow, finds a way to win. In the fourth quarter against Kansas
State he made a textbook option pitch on fourth-and-one that
running back Quentin Griffin took 22 yards. On the next play
Heupel threw 17 yards to wideout Andre Woolfolk for the touchdown
that put Oklahoma ahead to stay, 24-17. Heupel also carried five
times for 20 yards to set up the field goal that gave the Sooners
a 27-17 lead with 1:25 to play. "Everybody underestimates his
athletic ability," Oklahoma offensive coordinator Mark Mangino
says of Heupel. "He's a leader. He's unflappable."

Florida State will underestimate Heupel and Oklahoma at its own

Memphis's Surprising D
Tigers No. 1 Against the Run

For the first season since the NCAA began keeping records in
1937, a team with a losing record led the nation in rushing
defense. Memphis, which finished 4-7, allowed only 72.7 rushing
yards per game, edging runner-up Florida State, which surrendered

The Tigers wound up sixth in total defense (275.2 yards per game)
and 15th in scoring defense (18.1 points) but couldn't score
enough points to save the job of coach Rip Scherer, who was fired
on Nov. 20 after failing to produce a winning record in six
seasons. His offense was 111th in the nation in total yards
(255.7 a game) and 102nd in scoring average (16.1 points).

Memphis replaced Scherer not with an offensive coach but with his
defensive coordinator, Tommy West. He seems an odd choice to
spark the Tigers' attack: West's teams at Clemson, where he
coached for five seasons before being fired in 1998, were known
for being tough on defense and unimaginative on offense.

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Eric Green (1) and the Hokies and Reggie Wayne and the Hurricanes didn't get the bowl bids they wanted.