With my ear barely to the ground, it's obvious this week that a lot of the college football watercooler discussion is about who the two BCS "at large" teams should be. Everyone has their own theories, and a lot of people have rightly framed the argument in the context of the BCS' original #1 vs. #2 purpose.
Where I'm troubled is the idea that you can put two or three or ten teams in a chart, and side-by-side compare them. These comparisons usually include strength of schedule, quality wins, losses, and final record. You know where I saw these comparisons last? Early March last year, during NCAA tournament field selection discussions on the tube. It makes fine sense for an NCAA basketball tournament, but is very much square peg/round hole when we're talking football.
I can't say it enough, we've got to get away from some of these arbitrary measures of teams. Because of the way so many teams approach scheduling, because the regular season matters, because home and road matters quite a bit in college football, because a million others things the side-by-side NCAA tournament logic doesn't work. The data provided in that kind of analysis is too bland, too one dimensional, and paint a very blurry picture.
For whatever reason, we can't get past the notions of "deserving", as if teams are entitled to this or that reward. The only efforts we should be exerting in this kind of debate should be directed towards making the best effort to determine who the best eligible at-large team is at this point in the season.
Are those side-by-side comparisons helpful in achieving that task? Perhaps. But used alone and as the basis for the arguments about each team, no. I'd rather try and figure out, having watched all the teams, having seen as many of their common opponents as possible, and also looking at relevant statistics, get the most accurate picture possible about the teams involved, then make a decision.
As humans we're inherently flawed and have natural biases, but I still trust people to pick two teams having watched them rather than using side-by-side charts as reference. Save that for the basketball geeks. We're fortunate to follow college football with its 117 teams (of which only a handful merit significant discussion and attention) instead of college basketball where more simple analysis is needed because there are so many teams and nobody outside of Andy Katz and Yoni Cohen have seen all of them play and can come up with an informed analysis about their merits. This isn't March Madness, thankfully, it's bowl season.
If you are curious about my two at-large choices, check my final CFR Top Teams rankings released after this weekend's games.