Fixing the BCS, part 1: The Curious Case of Notre Dame

It’s that time of year again! Everyone anticipates their alma mater’s chance at post-season greatness, snack companies rake in tons of profit, and everyone in the sports community starts complaining about the flawed Bowl Championship Series in NCAA Football, myself included. You’ve probably heard about it north of a thousand times. Hell, even the President has weighed in on the matter.


I’ve been very vocal about my displeasure with the BCS system–from it’s flaws to it’s bias–and like many others, I feel there needs to be a playoff format instituted, since, you know, that’s fair and everything. The problem with a playoff format (aside of the hush-hush monetary arguments) is that there are an inconsistent number of games played between the conferences (i.e. the Big 12 plays 13 season games with 9 conference games while the WAC plays 12 season games with 6 conference games), the talent barrier between so-called Power Conferences and others (i.e. the SEC as compared to the Sun Belt Conference), and the overall disinterest with the possibility of having a team like Alabama or Notre Dame end up in a contest against the likes of UL Monroe or Houston.

You know, in 2007 this happened.

The Luck of the Irish

Speaking of the Irish, another potential issue with the playoff system is that conferences determine their participants via the conference records, with the overall record acting as a tie-breaker. Notre Dame is a 1-A Independent, along with Brigham Young, Army, and Navy. While these teams do, in fact, get ranked, they represent a glaring inconsistency with the process.

For example, this season Notre Dame is #1 in the country, sporting a record of 12-0. In Div-I FBS, the Irish are ranked 76th in passing yards, 27th in rushing yards, 76th in points for, but 1st in points against. They’re the only unbeaten team in the country, which also happens to be their first unbeaten season since 1988 and fourth of the last 50 years. All that training and working out and studying has really paid off.

Pictured: Notre Dame two-a-days.


I fail to understand the Top-5 BCS rankings, especially with Notre Dame being at the top. I mean, they’re having a great year, don’t get me wrong, but honestly I can’t justify their position for a multitude of reasons. I even like this team!

  1. The Irish are tangled in a Top-5 with four one-loss teams.
  2. Notre Dame is a 1-A Independent, which means they have no actual conference games.
  3. Notre Dame played a soft schedule.
  4. The Irish are inferior to the other four teams in the Top-5 based not only on statistics, but also in certain situations.

Before anything else, I want to take a look at Notre Dame’s BCS Ranking trends through the entire season.

AP      Coaches BCS

  1. The Preseason Polls find the Irish almost non-existent.                             NR        #24          —-
  2. Boise State and Auburn fall. The Irish rout Navy.                                    #22        #22          —-
  3. Notre Dame creep a bit more with a close on against Purdue.                  #20       #19          —-
  4. The Irish stymie #10 Michigan State’s offense, then surge.                        #11       #15          —-
  5. The Irish emerge from The Big House victorious over #18 Michigan.       #10        #11          —-
  6. The Irish sit back and watch the nation wiggle through the polls.                #9        #10          —-
  7. The Catholics crush the Convicts at home.                                                #7          #7          —-
  8. The Irish win a nail-biter in OT over #17 Stanford.                                    #5          #5          #5
  9. A defensive contest against BYU steadies the Irish.                                   #5          #5          #5
  10. A big win in hostile Oklahoma legitimizes the Irish as a threat.                   #4          #4           #3
  11. The Irish barely survive Pitt in a triple-OT thriller and slide in BCS.           #4          #4           #4
  12. The Irish emerge victorious in The Holy War.                                           #3          #3           #3
  13. Oregon, K-State fall, the Irish take #1 with shutout.                                  #1          #1           #1
  14. The Irish finish their schedule with a win in the Grand Ol’ Lady.                 #1          #1           #1

How about that? It took five weeks for Notre Dame to go from non-existent to the Top-10 on the Associated Press Poll. That’s a hell of a jump.

Pictured: Notre Dame vs. the BCS


Now, let’s take a look at their schedule:

OPPONENT                                      POINT


  • Sep. 1 – vs. Navy                            1-A Independents      50-10 W                  +40
  • Sep. 8 – vs. Purdue                          Big Ten                     20-17 W                  +3
  • Sep. 15 – @ #10 Michigan State      Big Ten                     20-3 W                    +17
  • Sep. 22 – vs. #18 Michigan              Big Ten                     13-6 W                    +7
  • Oct. 6 – vs. Miami (FL)                   ACC                         41-3 W                    +38
  • Oct. 13 – vs. #17 Stanford              Pac-12                      20-13 W (OT)          +7
  • Oct. 20 – vs. BYU                          1-A Independents      17-14 W                   +3
  • Oct. 27 – @ #8 Oklahoma              Big 12                       30-13 W                   +17
  • Nov. 3 – vs. Pittsburgh                    Big East                     29-26 W (3OT)         +3
  • Nov. 10 – @ Boston College          ACC                          21-6 W                     +15
  • Nov. 17 vs. Wake Forest               ACC                          38-0 W                     +38
  • Nov. 24 – @ USC                         Pac-12                       22-13 W                    +9

Totals:                                                                          321-124 (12-0)             +197

Notre Dame has played against only four teams that were ranked at the time of their contest: #10 Michigan State, #18 Michigan, #17 Stanford, and #8 Oklahom, beating them by a combined score of 83-35, which isn’t bad at all. Granted, by this week, Oklahoma is ranked #11, Stanford is ranked #8, Michigan is ranked #19, and Michigan State is completely out of the BCS Rankings. Let’s look at bit deeper at each of these teams as of right now.


vs. ND Week 14 —  vs. ND Week 14 — Passing Rushing   For Against

  • Michigan State        2-0           6-6               #10          #—           77th        74th       109th    10th
  • Michigan                 2-1           8-4               #18          #19           98th        39th         58th     15th
  • Stanford                  4-1         11-2               #17          #8             94th        51st         71st     14th
  • Oklahoma               5-1         10-2                #8           #11             5th        61st         12th     43rd


As of week 14: Michigan State is ranked 8th in the Big Ten, 4th in the Legends Division; Michigan is ranked 3rd in the Big Ten, 2nd in the Legends Division; Stanford is ranked 1st in the Pac-12, and 1st in the North Division via head-to-head tiebreaker with Oregon; Oklahoma is in a tie for 1st in the Big 12 with Kansas State.

So, these four ranked opponents did pose a challenge for Notre Dame, especially taking on Oklahoma and Michigan on the road. Even though this makes a good case for Notre Dame to be first in the nation, I’m still not convinced. I would like to look at the other eight non-ranked teams the Irish played this year.


vs. ND Week 14 — Passing Rushing For Against

  • Navy                      0-0           7-4             121st        6th         84th     36th
  • Purdue                   1-0            6-6              54th       60th        59th     72nd
  • Miami (FL)            4-1            7-5              27th       84th        43rd     84th
  • BYU                      4-3            7-5              51st       63rd        66th      5th
  • Pittsburgh               4-4            6-6             42nd       91st        74th      21st
  • Boston College       2-7           2-10            45th      119th      111th     76th
  • Wake Forest          5-5            5-7             95th      116th      116th     93rd
  • USC                      7-4            7-5             25th        69th        37th     45th


As of week 14: Navy is ranked 2nd among 1-A Independents; Purdue is ranked 7th in the Big Ten, 4th in the Leaders Division; Miami (FL) is tied for 3rd place in the ACC, and 1st place in the Coastal Division;  Brigham Young is ranked 3rd among 1-A Independents; Pittsburgh is ranked 5th in the Big East; Boston College is ranked last in the ACC; Wake Forest is ranked 7th in the ACC with Duke, who has an edge in overall record, and 4th in the Atlantic Division; USC is in a 5th place tie with Washington and Arizona State in Pac-12 rankings, while sitting in a tie for 2nd in the South Division with Arizona State.

Notre Dame has been relatively inconsistent with these opponents, yet the wins have always translated in the Irish climbing the polls. The win over Boston College, for example, was only a 21-6 victory, and it took three overtime periods to beat a Pitt team coasting at .500 for the season. Notre Dame hasn’t had many quality opponents this year, unlike certain other teams that make up the top 5 in the BCS rankings (Alabama, Florida, Oregon, and Kansas State). However, more on them momentarily.

By the third overtime, Notre Dame (left) had enough of Pitt’s bullcrap.


Notre Dame opponents have a combined record of 82-62 (35-14 via ranked opponents), while the Irish average (roughly) a 27-10 win. They are +48 in points against ranked teams (+12.0 average) and +149 in points against non-ranked opponents (+18.6 average). Of their 12 games, only two were played against 10+ win teams (Oklahoma and Stanford), five were played against teams at .500 or lower (Michigan State, Purdue, Pittsburgh, Boston College, and Wake Forest), while their other five opponents have a combined record of 36-23, averaging (roughly) a record of 7-5. At home against Stanford (won in overtime) and on the road against Oklahoma, the Irish won by a combined score of 50-26 (+24), averaging a 25-13 outcome.  Against the five teams at or below .500 (including the triple-overtime home game against Pittsburgh), Notre Dame won by a combined score of 128-52 (+76), averaging roughly a 26-10 outcome. Against the other five opponents, the Irish won by a combined score of 143-46 (+97), roughly averaging a 29-9 victory.

Those are pretty good numbers, though, until you take into consideration that only Oklahoma and Stanford are conference leaders (Big 12 and Pac-12 respectively). Notre Dame also only played three games against “power conference” teams (Oklahoma, Stanford, and USC), but even then, the Big 12 is falling apart and the Pac-12 isn’t the SEC. Disregarding Oklahoma and Stanford, and Navy and BYU since they’re Independents, Notre Dame’s other eight opponents average roughly a 6th place ranking in their respective conferences.

Notre Dame’s eight sub-par opponents all went into battle like this.


Notre Dame has played three games against Big Ten opponents, three against ACC opponents, two against the Pac-12, one against the Big 12, and one against the Big East. Against Big Ten opponents (Purdue, Michigan, and Michigan State), Notre Dame is +27 in points, averaging (roughly) an 18-9 victory. Keep in mind that at the time of their contests, Michigan State and Michigan were ranked #10 and #18 respectively. Against the ACC, Notre Dame is +91 in points, roughly averaging a 33-3 victory. Against the Pac-12, the Irish are +16 in points and average a 21-13 outcome. Keep in mind, one of those games was the overtime home game against current #8 Stanford. The Big 12 game and Big East game are the road win against Oklahoma and the triple-overtime home game against Pittsburgh.

Let me give you another chart:

ND OPPONENTS     CONFERENCE                       TEAMS                          BCS

Combined Average Win%Overall Average Win %Total  .500+   10+ win     25   10

Big Ten      20-16          7-5      55.5%     83-63        7-5       56.8%        12        8            2            3    —

ACC         14-22           5-7     38.8%     76-70        6-6        52.1%        12        7            2           2     —

Pac-12      18-7             9-4     72.0%     80-66        7-6        54.8%        12        8            2           4      2

Big 12       10-2            10-2    83.3%      71-49       7-5        59.2%        10        9            2           3      1

Big East      6-6              6-6     50.0%     53-42        7-5        55.8%        8         5             1           1     —

So, Notre Dame has 12 wins, 3 of which come against ACC teams, who have the worst winning percentage themselves–as well as the worst conference winning percentage–among all the conferences Notre Dame has played. If we remove the routs Notre Dame did at home against Miami (FL), Boston College, and Wake Forest (7-5, 2-10 and 5-7 respectively), then their point spread over those nine games is +136, roughly averaging to +15 each contest. Since the 1-A Independents are only concerned with overall record and don’t have a conference schedule, the further removal of the Navy and BYU games leaves Notre Dame with a +93 spread against non-ACC conference opponents, averaging +13 in each contest.

If we were to put the ACC back in the fold, then Notre Dame’s spread becomes +154 against all conference affiliated teams on their schedule, resulting in an average spread of roughly +15 in each contest.

The ACC – The Tanner Family of NCAA Division-I FBS.


Here’s a list of the conferences Notre Dame did not play this year.

CONFERENCE                          TEAMS                BCS

Overall Average Win % — Total .500+ 10+ win Top-25 Top-10

Conference USA        61-85          5-7         41.8%        12        5          1               0           —

Mid-American            79-70          6-6         53.0%        13        7          2               2           —

Mountain West           58-64          6-6         47.5%        10        5          1               1           —

SEC                          105-65         8-4         61.8%        14        9          6               6            6

Sun Belt                      57-64         6-6         47.1%         10       5          0               0           —

WAC                         43-41          6-6         51.2%         7         4          2               2          —

While there are conferences on this list that hang around below ACC territory, the SEC is on this list. With it’s bully of a conference winning percentage and an astounding SIX teams ranked in the BCS Top-10, it’s hard for me to justify Notre Dame being the #1 ranked team in the country, especially since they have no conference schedule and they never played a team from the SEC.

What Conference USA lacks on the gridiron is apparently made up in fan support.


Behold the conference’s compared and contrasted:


Winning %  .500+ —  10+ win BCS Top-25 BCS Top-10         Overall Rank

*Big Ten          3rd              T-3rd         T-2nd              3rd               T-4th                       4th

*ACC              7th              T-5th          T-2nd            T-5th             T-4th                       6th

*Pac-12           5th              T-3rd         T-2nd              2nd                 2nd                       3rd

*Big 12            2nd              T-1st         T-2nd              3rd                  3rd                       2nd

*Big East          4th              T-7th          T-8th             T-8th             T-4th                       8th

C-USA           11th             T-7th          T-8th            T-10th            T-4th                      10th

MAC               6th              T-5th          T-2nd            T-5th              T-4th                       5th

MWC              9th              T-7th          T-8th             T-8th              T-4th                       9th

SEC                 1st              T-1st           1st                  1st                   1st                        1st

Sun Belt          10th             T-7th          11th              T-10th             T-4th                     11th

WAC               8th               11th          T-2nd             T-5th              T-4th                       7th

*denotes conference’s Notre Dame played.

So, there you have it. Notre Dame played the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th, and 8th ranked conferences as per the data above. However, the SEC is first by a long shot. There’s a “1” in each category, and four out of the five they own by themselves.

Pictured: The SEC


Let’s take a look at the other teams in the BCS Top-5:

Point        Top-25       vs.          vs.             vs.           Shutouts

Record Conference Spread  Games  SEC  Big-12  Pac-12   Win-Loss

1. Notre Dame   12-0 (—)       N/A         +197         4  (4-0)      —        1 (1-0)       2 (2-0)        1  (1-0)

2. Alabama        12-1 (7-1)      SEC         +361         5  (4-1)   8 (7-1)       —             —             4  (4-0)

3. Florida           11-1 (7-1)      SEC         +166         5  (4-1)   8 (7-1)        —            —             2 (2-0)

4. Oregon          11-1 (8-1)      Pac-12      +346        5  (4-1)       —          —           9 (8-1)        1 (1-0)

5. Kansas State  11-1 (8-1)     Big 12        +235        5 (5-0)        —        9 (8-1)        —                —

Wins-Losses         Points                                      Team Offense

Home  Away Scored Against Passing Yds.  TD’s Rushing YdsTD’s Total

1. Notre Dame    8-0          4-0          321       124           2626           13             2430           22      5056

2. Alabama       8-1 (3-1) 4-0 (4-0)    500       139           2788           27             2920          35      5708

3. Florida          7-1 (5-1) 4-0 (3-0)    321       155           1722           12             2334          21      4061

4. Oregon         6-1 (3-1) 5-0 (5-0)    610       264           2722           33             3879          47      6601

5. Kansas State 7-0 (4-0) 4-1 (4-1)    488       253           2545           15            2390           41       4935

  Team Defense                                              Efficiency

Total Passing Rushing TD’s 3rd Down 4th Down Take-Give 3rd Down 4th Down

1. Notre Dame       3442   2333     1109      10         35%         31%      23-14 (+9)    47%        60%

2. Alabama            3198    2161     1037      18        32%          41%     28-15 (+13)   47%        60%

3. Florida               3401    2237     1164      17        28%          54%     29-12 (+17)   37%        60%

4. Oregon              4581    2829     1752      33        31%          43%     38-19 (+19)   47%        70%

5. Kansas State     4494     3064     1430     30         41%          53%      31-10 (+21)   50%        71%

And, how the Top-5 rank against each other is as follows:

Point     Top-25      vs.      Shutouts    Home    Away     Points    Points     Pass     Pass

Spread   Games    Power   Win-Loss  Record  Record   Scored  Against   Yards   TD’s

1. Notre Dame        4th         5th        5th           T-3rd      2nd         4th        T-4th       1st        3rd       4th

2. Alabama              1st       T-1st     T-3rd            1st       3rd        2nd          2nd        2nd       1st       2nd

3. Florida                 5th       T-1st     T-3rd           2nd       4th        3rd         T-4th       3rd       5th       5th

4. Oregon               2nd       T-1st      T-1st        T-3rd       5th         1st          1st         5th        2nd      1st

5. Kansas State       3rd       T-1st      T-1st           5th        1st         5th          3rd        4th        4th       3rd

Rush    Rush     Total      Pass      Rush       Total        3rd     4th    Turn   3rd     4th

Yards  TD’s   Offense  Defense  Defense  Defense   Stops  Stops  Diff.  Conv. Conv.

1. Notre Dame    3rd        4th       3rd       3rd         2nd        3rd          4th      1st     5th   T-2nd   T-3rd

2. Alabama         2nd       3rd       2nd       1st          1st         1st           3rd     2nd    4th   T-2nd   T-3rd

3. Florida            5th        5th        5th       2nd         3rd        2nd           1st     5th     3rd     5th     T-3rd

4. Oregon            1st        1st       1st        4th          5th         5th           2nd    3rd    2nd   T-2nd     2nd

5. Kansas State   4th       2nd       4th        5th          4th         4th          5th      4th     1st      1st        1st

Run the formulas to get the definitive rankings, and:

Offensive Rank*  Defensive Rank** Situation Rank*** BCS Rank

1. Notre Dame                    4th                            3rd                            5th                       4th

2. Alabama                        2nd                            1st                             3rd                       1st

3. Florida                            5th                            2nd                            4th                       5th

4. Oregon                           1st                             4th                          T-1st                      2nd

5. Kansas State                 3rd                             5th                           T-1st                      3rd

*Composed of averaged ranks in point spread, points scored, passing yards, passing touchdowns, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, total offense, 3rd down conversions, and 4th down conversions.

** Composed of averaged ranks in shutouts, points against, passing defense, rushing defense, total defense, 3rd down stops, 4th down stops, and turnover differential.

*** Composed of averaged ranks in win-loss totals against Top-25 opponents, win-loss totals against power conferences, home record, and away record.

There you have it. The 2012 BCS Top-5 should be:

  1. Alabama Crimson Tide
  2. Oregon Ducks
  3. Kansas State Wildcats
  4. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
  5. Florida Gators

Keep in mind, I only did the Top-5. If I were to have done the Top-25, things would probably be a lot different.

Alas, despite my criticism, it would be interesting to see the Irish roll The Tide right out of South Florida.

About Robert L. Franklin

Ah, the About Me section - social networking's excuse for you sounding like an elitist prick. Hmm... what to say? What to say?
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