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    Can BCS History Predict The Future?

    By: Eric SanInocencio
    Twitter: @EricSan
    SEC Digital Network

    Birmingham, Ala. -- “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

    Poet and novelist George Santayana uttered that sentence over 100 years ago, yet the meaning behind the 12-word phrase lasts to this day. When applied to college football, the narrative changes, with "history" meaning National Championships, "doomed" the opportunity for greatness lost.

    The Bowl Championship Series is essentially the governing body for college football, a collection of human and computer rankings used to determine the country's top two teams. In place since 1998, the controversial formula has decided the season's championship participants, setting the stage for college football's final act. One versus two has become a lasting argument during that period, with debates raging from coast to coast as to who belongs in that rarefied air.

    Even with the current BCS format poised to disappear in 2014, the standings themselves will continue to loom large in the season's final months. The unveiling of the top 25, and more importantly the top four (you'll see why below), has become must see TV for the college football fan.

    But can the BCS predict the future?

    Using Santayana's line as my inspiration, I set out to see how much the BCS's past can tell us about what's to come in 2012. I've made the argument that any defiant declarations at this point are worthless, with the crazy nature of college football sure to derail the certain plans of many teams. But the more I thought about my own statement, I began to wonder if history backed up my claim.

    So, here we are. Below you'll find 10 years worth of BCS data, a sizable look into the trends the poll can tell us as we head into the final full month of competition. I broke down the top four teams entering the month of November (or close to it), and then compared that list to the final quartet heading into BCS bowl games.

    My reasoning behind choosing four teams centers on today's current dilemma, which is a top four full of undefeated programs. Sure, there are other unblemished squads right now (Louisville), but most analysts agree that of the remaining undefeated, the current top four are the only with true National Championship hopes. Or so they think.

    Thanks to the good folks who created the BCS Media Guide, I was able to compile the needed information.

    Here's how the list looks today.

    October 28th Final Rankings
    1. Alabama 1. ???
    2. Kansas State 2. ???
    3. Notre Dame 3. ???
    4. Oregon 4. ??


    The debate centers on which team should be number two, with the prevailing thought that Alabama will remain in the top spot should they continue to win. While Kansas State and Notre Dame have impressive resumes, many feel the "eyeball" test puts Oregon as the nation's second best team. In a unique set of circumstances, teams two through four will have some common opponents (Oklahoma, USC) that will allow voters to compare the squads. If all teams remain undefeated, can Oregon overtake the two teams ahead of them? Is it even likely this top four stays the same?

    What does history show us? Let's look at 2002-11.

    2011

    October 30 Final Rankings
    1. LSU 1. LSU
    2. Alabama 2. Alabama
    3. Oklahoma State 3. Oklahoma State
    4. Stanford 4. Stanford


    Percentage: 100%
    Analysis:
    Not one thing changed in 2011. The top four on October 30th was the exact same heading into the BCS Bowls, with LSU and Alabama squaring off for the National Championship. What is interesting is that teams two through four all lost a game between the two polls, yet it didn't change the final order nor allow for any other teams to crack the list.

    2010

    October 31 Final Rankings
    1. Oregon 1. Auburn
    2. Auburn 2. Oregon
    3. TCU 3. TCU
    4. Boise State 4. Stanford


    Percentage: 75%
    Analysis:
    There was change, but it was minimal. 75 percent of the top four on Halloween appeared in the final rankings, with only Boise State falling out. It should be noted that Auburn jumped Oregon, and that none of the top three lost a game in the final month. As we all know, Auburn defeated Oregon to claim the National Title.

    2009

    November 1 Final Rankings
    1. Florida 1. Alabama
    2. Texas 2. Texas
    3. Alabama 3. Cincinnati
    4. Iowa 4. TCU


    Percentage: 50%
    Analysis:
    Finally, a little movement. 50 percent (half) of the top four survived to the bowl games, with Alabama and Texas getting the chance to play for all the marbles in the Rose Bowl. Remember that Florida's drop came from a loss to Alabama (#1 vs. #2 at the SEC Championship Game), so it isn't as if the Gators stumbled to an unknown opponent. Credit TCU for back-to-back top four appearances, a pretty impressive feat for the Horned Frogs.

    2008

    November 2 Final Rankings
    1. Alabama 1. Oklahoma
    2. Texas Tech 2. Florida
    3. Penn State 3. Texas
    4. Texas 4. Alabama


    Percentage: 25%
    Analysis:
    Our first true example of BCS chaos. Only one team (Alabama) that was in the top four in November appeared a month later. The two National Champion participants, Oklahoma and Florida, made leaps from outside the top four to reach the top. This marks the first year of that occurrence in our timeline. This gives hope to LSU, Georgia and Florida fans that their 2012 teams still have a chance to reach Miami. This was also the first of a two-year stretch (2008,2009) were the SEC Championship Game featured the #1 and #2 teams from the BCS at the time (Florida vs. Alabama). The SEC title game came to be known as a "National Semifinal" because of that fact.

    2007

    October 28 Final Rankings
    1. Ohio State 1. Ohio State
    2. Boston College 2. LSU
    3. LSU 3. Virginia Tech
    4. Arizona State 4. Oklahoma


    Percentage: 50%
    Analysis:
    We are back to flipping a coin (50 percent). LSU squared off against Ohio State for the National Championship, with the Bayou Bengals getting the victory. Ohio State ran the table (from this point in the year) as the nation's top ranked BCS team. However, late upsets (Missouri, West Virginia) allowed LSU to make what appears to be a small climb (from November 1st) to the title game.

    2006

    October 29 Final Rankings
    1. Ohio State 1. Ohio State
    2. Michigan 2. Florida
    3. West Virginia 3. Michigan
    4. Florida 4. LSU


    Percentage: 75%
    Analysis:
    While it doesn't look like much difference, fans should remember this year for the hectic nature of the final weeks. Ohio State and Michigan, the consensus top two teams in the country, played in the final week in their annual rivalry. Michigan's "late" loss allowed Florida to vault over them, as pollsters and the BCS didn't allow for a rematch (as they would five years later). Looking back, college football experts said on the day of the SEC Championship Game that the conference had no chance of making it to the top two. Then upsets happened across the country. The SEC's title streak began this year.

    2005

    October 31 Final Rankings
    1. USC 1. USC
    2. Texas 2. Texas
    3. Virginia Tech 3. Penn State
    4. Alabama 4. Ohio State


    Percentage: 50%
    Analysis:
    2005 will be remembered for the fantastic championship game between the Vince Young lead Texas Longhorns and USC's talented group of future NFL stars. Those two teams dodged all pitfalls in the final month, setting up that epic contest that has become bowl legend. This is also the first year in our timeline an SEC squad didn't make the top four.

    2004

    November 1 Final Rankings
    1. USC 1. USC
    2. Oklahoma 2. Oklahoma
    3. Auburn 3. Auburn
    4. California 4. Texas


    Percentage: 75%
    Analysis:
    This will be a sore reminder for Auburn fans. Despite the Tigers going undefeated and winning the SEC Championship, they could not over take the two teams (USC, Oklahoma) ahead of them in the BCS. Amazingly, just seven years later, people would be shocked to see an unblemished SEC team not make the Championship Game. As for movement in the polls, there wasn't much. 3 out of 4 remained the exact same.

    2003

    November 3 Final Rankings
    1. Oklahoma 1. Oklahoma
    2. USC 2. LSU
    3. Florida State 3. USC
    4. Miami 4. Michigan


    Percentage: 50%
    Analysis:
    While there was only a 50 percent change, chaos was the order of the day in 2003. LSU came from "off the board" (they were 7th on November 3rd) to advance to the National Championship Game against Oklahoma. The Tigers can thank the SEC Championship for that, as their 34-13 win over then number five Georgia served as a defacto semifinal matchup. USC , whose only loss came in overtime to Cal, was left out as the BCS chose the Tigers and Sooners. This decision caused a major uproar, as USC was ranked number one by both human polls at the time. Oklahoma lost in the Big 12 Championship Game, a late defeat that usually spells doom in the BCS standings, but still finished number one in the final rankings. In the end, a "split" National Championship was awarded, with LSU taking home the BCS/Coaches Poll and the AP awarding USC.

    2002

    November 4 Final Rankings
    1. Oklahoma 1. Miami
    2. Ohio State 2. Ohio State
    3. Miami 3. Georgia
    4. Texas 4. USC


    Percentage: 50%
    Analysis:
    This year was about addition by subtraction, as Miami and Ohio State moved up due to Oklahoma's losses. The Sooners dropped two games in the final month (against Texas A&M and Oklahoma State), giving the then number two and three teams the right to play for the hardware. Georgia made a late surge, but a loss (the week before November 4th) to Florida kept them from playing in the Fiesta Bowl.

    *****

    The past 10 years of BCS history provide glimpses of what could lay ahead, the numbers forecasting the likeliest scenario.

    Here are the results.

    50 percent - 5 times (2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009)
    75 percent - 3 times (2004, 2006, 2010)
    100 percent - 1 time (2011)
    25 percent - 1 time (2008)

    That means 90 percent of the time (9 out of 10) at least two of the top four teams entering November ended up in the final standings.

    This year's notion that all four teams will remain the same isn't likely historically, with just one season (2011) falling into that category. What is also interesting is that at no time in the past 10 years did the top four completely change, so some form of what you are seeing today likely to be a part of next month's finale.

    40 percent of the time (4 out of 10) the 1 vs. 2 scenario in November proved to be the National Championship matchup in January. History also bodes well for November's number one ranked BCS team, with 70 percent going on to play for the National Title. 2 vs. 3 has happened twice (2002, 2009), and only in 2008 did a pair of teams not in the top four make it to the BCS Title Game.

    These numbers are far from definitive, but can give context to the arguments likely to occur over the next couple of weeks. While college football's motto is "expect the unexpected", the past 10 years show that isn't really the case. There are patterns to the data, and even the most rudimentary glance can unveil a series of likely outcomes.

    What does this mean?

    If you are an Alabama fan, feel comfortable...because history is on your side. If your favorite teams are not in the top four, you shouldn't like your chances.

    For everyone else?

    We will have to wait and see.