6:45am

Sun December 30, 2012
Sports

Calculating The College Bowl Matchups

Originally published on Sun December 30, 2012 12:45 pm

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

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WERTHEIMER: And now that your in-laws are gone, it's time to relax and head for the couch. College bowl games are gearing up for a conclusion soon - eventually. To prepare, NPR's Mike Pesca is going to shed a little light on a perennial debate that crops up at this time of year. This is one of the great issues, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: This - yes - this is, I think, slowing up the fiscal cliff deal. It's complex. And there is a ranking system that incorporates coaches, members of the media and computers. And there are six different computer systems that do the rankings, and they all sort of get averaged and then they get thrown into the overall ranking. So, that's the background. Specifically, the BCS, which is the Bowl Championship Series, is set up so that big teams from big conferences get a shot to play each other. They want to have the two best teams play each other for the championship, and that'll occur with Alabama versus Notre Dame. And then they want some other teams that won their conferences to play each other.

WERTHEIMER: Now, I understand that you want to look at one particular team - Northern Illinois.

PESCA: Right. Because this is the team where people say, wait, they're not from a big conference. They're from the MAC conference, Mid-American Conference - what are they doing here? And the answer is the Big East usually has a spot at the table in these games, but they didn't field any good teams this year. So, there is a rule in their bylaws, in the BCS bylaws, that says if a team from a small conference can manage to get into the top 16 of the rankings and no team from a big conference gets in the top 25 of the rankings, then the team from the smaller conference could get it. That's exactly what happened with Northern Illinois. But I was wondering: so, they were in the top 15. They were ranked 15th back in December 2nd when the regular season ended. But we've had bowl games since then. Maybe the results of those bowl games would have affected Northern Illinois's ranking. Obviously, Northern Illinois didn't play, so they wouldn't have tumbled based on something they did. But most of the computers take into account the strength of schedule, the teams that Northern Illinois played. And if you look at it, their conference, the MAC conference, hasn't been doing very well in the bowls. They are two wins and three losses. So, I called around to some of the computer experts, guys who calculate their numbers. And I asked them: would what we know about the bowls at this point have made Northern Illinois tumble out of the Orange Bowl. Now, I would have liked to been able to break some news and say yes. But the answer is probably not. But it's kind of close.

WERTHEIMER: Well, that's definitive.

PESCA: Yeah, yeah. It's kind of close. Some of the rankers say they wouldn't have tumbled at all. Jeff Sagarin of USA Today - I talked to him - he said Northern Illinois would have gone down a spot. There's another ranking system called the Massey system that says Northern Illinois's rankings would have gone down. Because even though strength of schedule matters and their opponents have not been winning, they've been actually losing to good teams, which matters a little bit, and it's not been so earth-shattering that you can make the case that had we known then what we know now, that Northern Illinois should be playing the Orange Bowl.

WERTHEIMER: Mike, I really hate it that all of this information is just going to totally go out the window when the Bowl games are calculated by a different system. Just think of all the synapses in your brain that are completely going to waste.

PESCA: They're going to a playoff system, which will be incorporated in a couple of years. And, you know, it will be fair but less fun to argue over, sort of like bowling versus bocce.

WERTHEIMER: Well, now, to get back to Northern Illinois for just a moment, do they have any great players? Is there anybody we should be looking for in the...

PESCA: Rather than spend the whole time trying to prove they shouldn't even be in the Orange Bowl, their quarterback, Jordan Lynch, he's a good player - not recruited by anyone else. But, you know, he's a great quarterback on their level. They're actually pretty large underdogs against Florida State. Florida State's one of these underrated teams. I think it'll be a good game. I am, of course, rooting for the underdog. I hope that Northern Illinois, if they need any more fuel to their collective sense of no one believes in us, please, the fact that the NPR reporter was calling the computer guys to see that you shouldn't have even been in the game. Use that, use that, use that, Huskies.

WERTHEIMER: Motivate, motivate. You got a curve ball?

PESCA: I do. There are a few records that can be set at the end of the year in the NFL. Calvin Johnson has already set the record for the most yards received. But a kicking record can be set, and it's by the Redskins kicker, Kai Forbath. Forbath was brought onto the team after their kicker Billy Cundiff didn't really work out. And Forbath hasn't missed a field goal yet.

WERTHEIMER: I know, I know that.

PESCA: There are seven players, including Forbath, who went a whole year without missing a field goal. Of those seven, I would count four as legit insofar as those guys average more than a field goal attempt a game. Right now, Forbath is 17 for 17. If he doesn't miss in the game today, he will be perfect. I do have to say though, he did miss an extra point, which is weird. No one ever misses extra points. But his toe got stuck in the grass once.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Mike Pesca. Thank you very much.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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WERTHEIMER: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.