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What is the BCS?

By Leo J
Updated May 16, 2024
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The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) is a system that was created in 1998 to ensure that the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in college football would always play each other for the national championship. The BCS itself has brought controversy, but it has removed some by eliminating the scenario in which the clear-cut top two teams play in different bowl games, leaving voters to decide the champion if they both win.

The reason something like the BCS was needed in college football is that the system for choosing teams for bowl games was based more on conferences and not rankings. The champion of the Big Ten would always play the champion of the Pac-10 in the Rose Bowl. The champion of the Southeastern Conference would always play in the Sugar Bowl, and so on.

But if the top two teams in the country were from the Big Ten and the Southeastern Conference, they would be forced to play in separate bowl games, and determining a single national champion became difficult. Or impossible -- the year before the BCS came into existence, 1997, saw Big Ten champion Michigan and Big 12 champion Nebraska split the national championship because both were undefeated and both won their respective bowl games, the Rose Bowl and the Orange Bowl.

The BCS uses a complex formula - which includes media and coaches polls and computerized rankings that take into account strength of schedule, among other things - to rank the top teams in college football. The top two teams in the BCS rankings play each other in the national championship game, which rotates between the Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl. The slots in the other three BCS bowl games are filled by teams from the rankings as well as at-large selections.

While the BCS has, at least for the most part, achieved its goal of pairing No. 1 vs. No. 2, it has done little to appease those calling for a playoff system in college football similar to the exceedingly popular NCAA basketball tournament. The BCS has run into some sort of controversy several times in its brief history.

The most notable was in 2003, Southern California (USC), Louisiana State University (LSU) and Oklahoma each had one loss after the regular season. USC was ranked No. 1 in each of the two human polls in the BCS system, but because of its weaker strength of schedule, it was left out of the national championship game, which featured LSU and Oklahoma. The BCS received a lot of criticism for 2003, and it just got worse in 2004, when five teams finished undefeated for the first time since 1979. There have also been questions regarding the credibility and integrity of the coaches poll that is used in the BCS formula.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon59265 — On Jan 07, 2010

Playoffs involving the top 8 teams would be sufficient to accurately determine bragging rights.

By anon23340 — On Dec 22, 2008

There needs to be a BCS Playoff system. I've already blogged about how since there's no playoff, the Big Ten needs to add teams and crown it's own conference champ. Keep the bowl games, I don't care how you figure them out. Let the BCS figure that part out on their own. The playoffs would be a 16 team, 15 game, three week, action packed love fest of college football.

In early December you have figured out your 16 teams, this year they should be as follows:

1 Florida

2 Oklahoma

3 Texas

4 Alabama

5 Texas Tech


7 Penn State

8 Ohio State

9 Utah

10 TCU

11 Boise State

12 Oklahoma State

13 Cincinnati

14 Georgia

15 Ball State

16 Virginia Tech

From here on out the playoffs look eerily similar to the NCAA Basketball Tourney. That's because it makes the most sense and is the most fair, all while being exciting and dare I say, makes a crap load of money. How many office pools a year are there for March Madness? Okay, now how many for BCS, NFL, MLB, NHL, Little League World Series, and the Triple Crown? I'll bet if you add ALL of them up, they won't even come close to the number of office pools for the NCAA Men's Basketball. I'll bet most american teams from the LLWS have pools, every floor of every office building in New York, LA, Toronto, Boston, Atlanta, Baltimore, and Philadelphia has pools and there's 5 foot 2 inch Inuit in Kotzebue, Alaska who's won his pool three years in a row.

So it goes like this:

1 vs 16

2 vs 15

3 vs 14

4 vs 13

5 vs 12

6 vs 11

7 vs 10

8 vs 9

If you don't understand that, unplug your computer, put it in a box, and drop it off at your nearest Goodwill. Now, in my version of the playoffs Florida, Ohio State, Texas, USC, Oklahoma, TCU, Alabama, and Texas Tech make it to the second round. Now we have some pretty sweet match ups here. Number 1 Florida plays number 8 Ohio State in an epic battle. Tebow gets sacked 5 times and the Buckeye defense plays outstanding. Tyrell Pryor throws for two touchdowns and runs for one and they beat Florida by 10. Number 6 USC plays Number 3 Texas in a battle-royale. USC upsets Texas with 1:23 left on the clock to play in a highly anticipated and money making rematch versus a healthy and fired up Ohio State football team. Number 4 Alabama goes up against Texas Tech and the Crimson Tide rolls by 17 and Texas Tech shows that maybe SEC defenses really ARE better than Big 12 defenses. Number 10 TCU goes up against number 2 Oklahoma Sooners. Again, Big 12 is over-rated and it shows. Oklahoma just can't last against the incredible defensive display by TCU. So our final four looks like this:

No. 8 Ohio State vs No. 6 USC and No. 4 Alabama vs No. 10 TCU.

Ohio State, healthy and a completely different team, beats USC by 13 to win a spot in the BCS title game. Alabama fights a tough TCU team, but since they played and lost to Florida earlier in the SEC Title game, they learned from their mistakes playing a good defense and run for 160 yards. And now the game everyone has been waiting for, the National Title game. Ohio State vs Alabama, Buckeyes vs the Crimson Tide, The Program vs The Capstone. After a great game and the cheers from the Alabama cheerleaders about how the Tide is a fourth quarter team, the Buckeyes come out of nowhere and score 14 unanswered points to win by 11 and are crowned National Champs.

Yes, I am a fan of the Garnet and Grey, but this outcome is completely possible and make a LOT of sense. If the Big Ten got it's head out of it's proverbial ass and the SEC, Big 12, and Pac-10 realized how much MORE money they could make, it would happen. Obama, get it done!

By anon5638 — On Dec 02, 2007

About this committee they are crazy! How can they keep straight who plays who in which bowl game? It ROTATES-what is that? Why can't the Rose Bowl or whatever bowl is chosen, be the top team each and every year? Us laymen are so confused each year as to who the best team in the nation really is! You all need to make a decision on one bowl and keep it at that! Used to be that it was understood that the winner of the ROSE BOWL was the best and now you keep switching it!

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