Sunday, November 10, 2013

Will the Badgers get into the BCS top-14?

After their nice win against BYU, the big question about the Badgers football team is whether they can fight their way back into position for a BCS bowl game. It is silly that this matters, and normally I don't concern myself with which consolation game my favorite teams qualify for. But I sense a lot of angst among Badger fans about whether Wisconsin will be screwed out of a BCS bowl even if they win out. This angst is misplaced. If the Badgers win out, they will almost certainly be invited to a BCS game.

The Badgers need to finish in the top 14 of the BCS standings to be eligible for an at-large berth. They will surely receive an at-large berth if they finish in the top-14. Currently, they are 24th, so they have to pass a bunch of teams. History tells us they will (if they keep winning).

In the BCS era, 99 teams from the major (or "automatic qualifier") conferences have finished the regular season with two losses, as the Badgers will if they win out. Of those 99 teams, 89 finished in the top 14 of the final BCS standings. If you narrow it to just the Big Ten, 13 out of 14 two-loss teams have finished in the top-14.

Almost all the 10 two-loss team that didn't finish in the top-14 had a lot of late-season losses. It is no secret that the most important thing in college football is to lose early. Late losses kill:

1998 Notre Dame, lost last game and finished outside BCS top 15.
1999 Miss. State, lost 2 of last 3, and finished outside BCS top 15.
2000 Clemson, lost 2 of last 3 and finished 15th.
2004 Wisconsin, lost last 2 and finished 17th.
2005 Texas Tech, lost 2 of last 5 and finished 15th.
2005 UCLA, lost 2 of last 3 and finished 16th.
2006 Rutgers, lost 2 of last 3 and finished 16th
2012 Louisville, lost 2 of last 3 and finished 21st but won conference and got AQ berth.

That leaves just two two-loss AQ-conference teams that finished the season strong and didn't make the top-14 of the final BCS standings. In other words, 97 of 99 two-loss teams that didn't tank finished in the BCS top 14.

Now let's look at the two outliers.

1) 2005 Louisville, won last five games, finished 19th. This is easily explained. In 2005, no one respected Louisville, which had just made the jump from Conference USA to the Big East. And the Big East was and is the little step-sister of AQ conferences. Actually, it isn't even an AQ conference anymore, at least not under that name. Louisville didn't win the Big East that year, and no one wanted the second-place Big East crashing the BCS.

2) 2006 Virginia Tech, won last six games, finished 15th. Here's your exception that proves the rule. Virginia Tech lost a couple games early to ranked opponents, then took care of business down the stretch. Incredibly, it actually did work its way up to 14th in the BCS standings in the second-to-last week, but was passed by two teams (West Virginia and Wake Forest) in the final week. So even this true outlier actually did get into the top 14, only to fall back one spot in the final tabulations.

So here's the stone-cold fact: no major conference two-loss team has ever won its last seven games and failed to finish in the top-14 of the final BCS standings. If the Badgers win out, they'll be a two-loss AQ-conference team on a seven-game winning streak. It would be shocking if they didn't make it up to the top 14 in that scenario.

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