AS THE BCS ERA OF college football has evolved, it has become a near-certainty that the formula the sport uses to determine its top two teams will result in controversy. And with the release on Sunday night of this season's first set of standings, the guessing has begun over what fan base will fall apart over the complicated mix of polls and computers the BCS uses to decide its national title game pairing.
There are two ways this season can go for the BCS, the easy outcome and the meltdown outcome. If history is any indicator, the BCS and college football, rarely take the path of least resistance.
In a perfect world, the conference commissioners would get an outcome that matches Texas and the SEC champion. Florida and Alabama, the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the first BCS offering, seem destined to play each other in the SEC title game. If the SEC winner went into the national title game unbeaten and played an undefeated Texas team, there would be few complaints.
"If we win out, we'll be in the right place," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "That's what we've got to do. We found last year that we thought we shouldn't have dropped when we did. We're going to try really hard not to let the system put us where they want to this year."
But if a Texas-SEC champion pairing does not play out, which history has taught it likely will not, then the chaos that has become inherent to the BCS will ensue.
"It could get messy," said Jerry Palm, an independent BCS analyst and the publisher of collegebcs.com
He said that the two teams with the best shot outside of this year's Big Three - No. 1 Florida, No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Texas - are No. 6 Iowa, as long as they stay undefeated, and one-loss Southern California, which is No. 7. Palm said that because of No. 4
Boise State's weak schedule, it would take an "Armageddon" to get move it into the top two. (We have seen that before, as two-loss LSU won the national title at the end of the 2007 season against one-loss Ohio State.)
Palm also was pessimistic about No. 5 Cincinnati's chances if the Bearcats remain undefeated - because of the perception that the Big East is a weaker conference. The Bearcats probably would bump ahead of an undefeated Boise team because of their tougher schedule, which includes a victory at Oregon State. Palm said that an undefeated Bearcats team going up against a one-loss brand name team like Southern Cal would be unique.
"That would be an interesting test case," Palm said. "We have not had an undefeated major conference champion finish behind a team with a loss. It's never happened. There haven't been a lot of chances for it to happen."
Palm said that the teams he felt had the best chances to creep into the top two spots were Iowa and Southern Cal. He said that he felt Iowa (7-0), which won at Penn State and at Wisconsin, has been slighted by voters. But the Hawkeyes also played close games against Northern Iowa and Arkansas State and did not start the season in the top 20.
Palm also predicted that if Boise and No. 8 TCU finished the season undefeated, he would expect TCU to finish ahead of Boise, because TCU plays in a more difficult conference.
The trick for Iowa will be standing out in a Big Ten that this season has been up and down. With Ohio State losing at Purdue on Saturday, it was another blow to the hierarchy of that conference. Because No. 13 Penn State played a softer nonconference schedule, the Nittany Lions are no longer in the national title discussion after losing to Iowa at home.
Much of this will come down to voting, as humans make up two-thirds of the formula. And the problem with humans, Palm said, is that they do not have a strong track record. This year already, the coaches' poll has raised questions most weeks, with teams being ranked well ahead of teams that blew them out the previous week.
"There's a long and well documented history of not much thought being put into voting," Palm said.
With seven weeks remaining until the conference title games, most of the possibilities will disappear because of losses or they will be talked about to death. As always with the BCS, the only certainties are controversy and complication.