Poll of polls will stir bowl mix Complicated system about to take field

October 26, 1998|By DON MARKUS | DON MARKUS,SUN STAFF

There will be another distraction for the nation's highly ranke college football teams this week, another reason for their already-crazed fans to be driven deeper into a frenzy over the last four weeks of the season.

Introducing the Bowl Championship Series poll, otherwise known The Most Convoluted Way To Crown A National Champion Ever Devised.

The BCS grew out of the 3-year-old Bowl Alliance and its equally short-lived predecessor, the Bowl Coalition. It is a confederation of the Rose, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls.

Using a formula that few seem totally to understand, the BCS was devised to help defuse the annual end-of-season debates over which team or teams should be considered No. 1 in the country.

With the first poll expected out today, it will begin to resolve another more pressing issue.

Who's No. 2?

Ohio State, which has maintained its No. 1 ranking in both the Associated Press poll of writers and broadcasters and the USA Today/CNN poll of coaches since the season began, will likely hold onto the top spot.

At stake is which team is second-best, given that the top two ranked teams will play for the national championship Jan. 4 at the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz.

Will it be UCLA, a high-profile team that features quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Cade McNown as the centerpiece of the nation's highest-scoring offense?

Will it be Tennessee, a perennial wannabe that seems to be playing better now than it did the previous four years with All-America quarterback Peyton Manning?

Or will it be Kansas State, a program looking to complete its remarkable rags-to-riches journey under coach Bill Snyder?

The system used by the BCS takes the average of the two mainstream polls along with those devised by the New York Times, Seattle Times and Jeff Sagarin, an MIT professor who ranks teams for USA Today. Number of losses is also a factor.

In the event of a tie, the BCS will factor in a team's strength of schedule based on its opponents' records and the records of the opponents' opponents.

Got that so far?

The new system is an outgrowth of those that were in effect the previous six years. The Bowl Coalition and later, the Bowl Alliance, resulted from a similar desire to get the two top teams on the same field.

Because the Big Ten and the Pac-10 were still aligned with the Rose Bowl, it was an imperfect system, with only two such meetings taking place. In 1993, Alabama beat Miami in the Sugar Bowl, and, in 1996, Nebraska beat Florida in the Fiesta Bowl.

"The traditional bowl system was the weakest because we had something like nine 1-2 games in 45 years," said Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, whose league was neither part of the Bowl Coalition nor the Bowl Alliance, but now is a significant player in the BCS.

"Here we have something that the fans and media have been asking for. It will create controversy. There's no way to know who the best team is. You can only get an approximation."

Delany said that the introduction of the BCS has served to heighten interest in regular-season games, even for national championship-caliber teams that have one loss, such as Nebraska, Florida, Florida State and, yes, even Notre Dame.

More importantly, it has raised the financial stakes for many major bowl games, even those outside the four that will rotate the national championship game and pay out $12 million to $12.5 million to its participants.

"Games like the Cotton Bowl that were mired at $4 million payouts are now up to $9.5 to $10 million," said Delany.

But tradition is the one ingredient that has seemingly been left out of this mix. Should Ohio State and UCLA win the rest of their games, as well as their respective conference titles, a 1-2 matchup of Big Ten and Pac-10 champions will not take place in the Rose Bowl.

"We didn't anticipate we'd lose both teams the first year," said Rose Bowl executive director Jack French. "We'd prefer not to have it that way. But how many times is that going to happen?

"It's even too soon to say Ohio State is going to play UCLA for the national championship. If it does, lots of people are going to say we made a mistake. But I don't think we did."

The other option would have been a playoff system with the top eight ranked teams.

Delany said such a system would generate more revenue for the four major bowl games, but less for the second-tier games that now offer substantial payouts. The interest in the regular season also would dwindle, he said.

For their part, the coaches and players at the schools most affected by the BCS poll are not getting caught up in this midseason hype.

A few days before his team was to play Alabama last Saturday, Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer was asked by a reporter in Knoxville about the BCS.

"What BCS?" said Fulmer. "I haven't even thought about it. I truly believe it will work itself out. Once we get into the ninth, 10th, 11th week, it becomes a bigger issue."

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