This week we gained both a deeper understanding of the computer rankings as well as affirmation of how complicated the ratings are that are part of the Bowl Championship Series formula. Wes Colley, whose computer rankings are one of six used in the BCS formula, e-mailed us this week in response to a 2,800-word e-mail he received from a mathematician who wrote him about our "BCS 101" Saturday page theme several weeks ago.
Colley helped clarify a facet of his computer rankings that we had misrepresented. We illustrated how the computer does not account for an opponent's national ranking by explaining that if a school beat Michigan, which then was ranked and had a 6-3 record, it would not mean as much to the computers as it would to beat a then-6-2 unranked Boise State team. As a test case to prove us wrong, Colley gave Baylor a victory over Michigan and then a victory over Boise State. He found that Baylor improved its ranking more by beating Michigan than Boise State.
Why? It is not simple enough that the team that faces opponents with the best records has the toughest strength of schedule. "Your statement would be correct if my system only looked at one level of opponents' records, but it looks at opponents' opponents' records, etc., down to infinitely many levels until rating convergence is achieved," Colley wrote in an e-mail.
With that cleared up, let's look at our rankings. Because Penn State was one second from being undefeated, the Nittany Lions get the nod for third place by a hair over Louisiana State. Hokies fans will be hollering about being left out of the top five, but Notre Dame is a lot closer to being unbeaten than Virginia Tech, which was blown out at home against Miami.