Who's better, who's the best? Ranking college football teams has traditionally been a matter of conjecture. Only opinions counted.
Starting this season both science and sensibility are being put into the blender to crunch out the numbers. By marrying mind and math the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) committee hopes to dilute the high subjectivity of the earlier system - the suggestions of individual motivations and personal or regional prejudices that accompany polls.
"The computer [rankings] may be confusing for a while, but it is the best we have right now," says Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden. "Evidently, we will simply have to keep trying to improve the computer format if we stay with this system."
The new system has four components: (1) The media and coaches polls; (2) the computer rankings of the Seattle Times, The New York Times, and rankings wizard Jeff Sagarin; (3) a team's strength-of-schedule; and (4) its win-loss record.
That's a digestible formula. But factor in math concepts such as quartiles and adjusted deviations and what you have is goulash; a system, football enthusiasts say, is more complex than the IRS tax code.
The good thing about the new system is that the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams will face off in a national championship game, Bowden says. The championship game will rotate annually among the Fiesta, Rose, Sugar, and Orange Bowls. This year the Fiesta Bowl, held Jan. 4 in Tempe, Ariz., will be the national championship.
But with Tennessee, UCLA, and Kansas State only one game away from an unbeaten season, Bowden points out that the team that doesn't make it to the Fiesta Bowl will be disappointed in the system.
Each of the three computer rankings has picked a different No. 1 - Kansas State on Sagarin's, UCLA by the Seattle Times, and Florida State by The New York Times. But the No. 1 team in the country is Tennessee when the polls and the strength-of-schedule are included in the mix.
Here's how the four-tier formula works:
* Polls: The rankings of each team in the AP media poll and the USA Today-ESPN coaches poll are added and divided by two. For example, Kansas State - ranked No. 1 in one poll and No. 2 in the other - received 1.5 points from this segment.
* Computer rankings: This component averages the three computer rankings. For example, a team ranked first in one and second in two others will average 1.67. In case of a major difference in the rankings because of individual formulas, a maximum adjusted deviation of no greater than 50 percent is used. For example, if a team is ranked No. 3 and No. 5 in two of the computer systems and No. 12 in the third computer system, the ranking of No. 12 would be adjusted to No. 6 before calculating the average points.
* Strength-of-schedule: This component is calculated from the won-lost records of the team's opponents and the won-lost records of the opponent's opponents. The formula is weighed two-thirds for the opponent's record and one-third for the opponents' opponents record.
* Team record: Each loss represents one point.
All four components are added together for a total rating. The team with the lowest points is ranked first.
The final BCS rankings will be announced after this weekend's games.