Guest Blogger: Elizabeth Jeffery

Elizabeth is an ABD (all but dissertation) PhD student in astronomy at UT-Austin. She studies the ages of stars and is, therefore, very wise. Her passion for college football was cemented during her time in the BYU marching band and has reached another plane altogether during her 5 years at Texas. Hook ’em, Horns. Check her blog here.

I once saw an episode of Full House, in which the family was celebrating New Year’s Eve. When the clock struck midnight, Michelle complained the holiday to have been anticlimactic, so Uncle Jesse assured her, “But tomorrow we get to watch 37 football games.” Michelle responded, exasperated, “Don’t wake me up!”

What wasn’t a big deal to Michelle is a big deal to a fair percentage of the population: college football fans. The end of the holiday season marks the peak of college football bowl season. You may not love college football, but you likely know someone who does. So come January 1, you should probably know what we’re headed towards.

In post-season bowl games, it’s exciting to see teams play each other when they would not normally do so in the regular season. But with no playoff system in college football, it was at times difficult to determine a national champion. So ten years ago the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) was born.

Like Communism, the BCS is a good idea in theory: objectively rank teams using a complicated computer formula. It factors in not only win-loss records, but other things, including strength of schedule (i.e., how good your opponents were). The top two teams then play each other for the national title. In the 10 seasons the BCS has been with us, nine of them are listed in the Wikipedia article titled “BCS Controversies.”

There are five BCS games (four regular games and the title game). Teams and fans are passionate because there is a lot of money at stake – the BCS pays participating schools 15 to 20 million dollars each. That’s over 3 times as much as the best non-BCS bowl.

This season was again laced with controversy. Here’s what we’re looking at for this year’s BCS games.

January 1: #5 USC vs. #8 Penn State will play in the Rose Bowl. Joe Paterno, Penn State’s legendary head coach, just turned 82 last week and is still doing great things. I hope I’m still doing great things at 82.

January 1: This year’s Orange Bowl is an illustration of the biggest flaw of the BCS system: automatic conference bids. There are 12 athletic conferences in the country; six of these collaborated to form the BCS. Despite records and rankings, the winner of each of these six conferences has an automatic bid to a big game every year. Representing the two weakest BCS conferences, #12 Cincinnati will play #19 Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. This game may not even be worth watching.

January 2: The Sugar Bowl puts #4 Alabama against undefeated #6 Utah. When a non-BCS conference team manages to get into a BCS bowl, we call them a “BCS buster.” Four years ago Utah was the first BCS buster, and they’ve done it again. It’ll be a tough game, but on behalf of BCS busters everywhere, Utah will have something to prove. If they win, they will be the only undefeated team in the country, yet not considered for the title. It’s not really fair, but that’s the BCS. It favors big schools, and excludes most teams from the title race before the season even starts.

January 5: The Fiesta Bowl puts #3 Texas against #10 Ohio State. Watch out, because Texas will have something to prove.

January 8: #1 Oklahoma will play #2 Florida for the title. Both feature Heisman winners, and the game is sure to be exciting.

This year’s biggest BCS controversy is over whether Oklahoma or Texas should be playing Florida for the title. Texas beat Oklahoma, but complications arose when Texas lost to a team Oklahoma later beat. The BCS favored Oklahoma and fans are outraged as the BCS proved again that what actually happens on the field is less important than what the computers predict.

The BCS is flawed, but we’re stuck with it. Even President-elect Barack Obama favors a playoff. But that will not happen any time soon. In the meantime, it’s fun to think of other acronyms BCS could stand for. Let the games begin!