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Auburn’s Place Among BCS Champions

Posted by Neil Paine on January 13, 2011

Whenever a team wins a championship, the temptation is always to compare them to other champions from the past, and the 2010 Auburn Tigers are no exception. Using the Simple Rating System (SRS), let’s take a look at where the newest title-holders stand among BCS champs…

On Monday, ESPN asked its users to rank the BCS Champions from #1-13, coming up with this list:

Team Total Pts #1 Votes
2005 Texas 147,259 3,238
2004 USC 141,467 2,710
2009 Alabama 138,222 2,104
2001 Miami-FL 130,473 2,474
2008 Florida 119,697 1,071
2006 Florida 102,270 478
2010 Auburn 92,789 1,042
1999 Florida State 87,367 446
2002 Ohio State 82,755 629
2003 LSU 79,905 404
2000 Oklahoma 78,115 388
1998 Tennessee 74,067 525
2007 LSU 73,156 200

The SRS, though, comes up with a different ranking:

Year School Conf W L T SRS SOS
2001 Miami-FL Big East 12 0 0 26.169 5.741
2004 Southern California Pac 10 13 0 0 26.062 8.788
2008 Florida SEC 13 1 0 25.370 6.701
2005 Texas Big 12 13 0 0 24.977 5.686
2009 Alabama SEC 14 0 0 23.693 7.747
1999 Florida State ACC 12 0 0 23.495 6.208
2000 Oklahoma Big 12 13 0 0 21.555 5.812
2003 Louisiana State SEC 13 1 0 20.847 4.033
2010 Auburn SEC 14 0 0 20.648 7.031
1998 Tennessee SEC 13 0 0 19.955 4.955
2006 Florida SEC 13 1 0 19.661 7.886
2007 Louisiana State SEC 12 2 0 18.414 6.659
2002 Ohio State Big Ten 14 0 0 18.134 4.739

Another way you can tweak the rankings is to account for the distribution of SRS talent in a given season using standard deviations above average (aka z-scores):

Year School Conf W L T SRS SOS Z-Score
2008 Florida SEC 13 1 0 25.370 6.701 2.566
2001 Miami-FL Big East 12 0 0 26.169 5.741 2.424
2004 Southern California Pac 10 13 0 0 26.062 8.788 2.407
2009 Alabama SEC 14 0 0 23.693 7.747 2.336
2005 Texas Big 12 13 0 0 24.977 5.686 2.335
1999 Florida State ACC 12 0 0 23.495 6.208 2.288
2003 Louisiana State SEC 13 1 0 20.847 4.033 1.999
2000 Oklahoma Big 12 13 0 0 21.555 5.812 1.993
2006 Florida SEC 13 1 0 19.661 7.886 1.966
2010 Auburn SEC 14 0 0 20.648 7.031 1.945
1998 Tennessee SEC 13 0 0 19.955 4.955 1.849
2007 Louisiana State SEC 12 2 0 18.414 6.659 1.844
2002 Ohio State Big Ten 14 0 0 18.134 4.739 1.694

Looking at the expanded 2010 standings, we see that even after defeating Oregon, Auburn was still just the 3rd-best team in the country according to SRS (behind Stanford and the Ducks). Here were the national SRS ranks of each BCS champ:

Year School Conf W L T SRS SRS Rk
2001 Miami-FL Big East 12 0 0 26.169 1
2004 Southern California Pac 10 13 0 0 26.062 1
2008 Florida SEC 13 1 0 25.370 1
2005 Texas Big 12 13 0 0 24.977 1
2009 Alabama SEC 14 0 0 23.693 1
1999 Florida State ACC 12 0 0 23.495 1
2003 Louisiana State SEC 13 1 0 20.847 2
2007 Louisiana State SEC 12 2 0 18.414 2
2000 Oklahoma Big 12 13 0 0 21.555 3
2010 Auburn SEC 14 0 0 20.648 3
1998 Tennessee SEC 13 0 0 19.955 3
2006 Florida SEC 13 1 0 19.661 3
2002 Ohio State Big Ten 14 0 0 18.134 5

Taking all of this into consideration, I think this year’s Auburn team was much more like 2000 Oklahoma & 1998 Tennessee than ESPN’s voters believed. All three of those teams went undefeated, but also finished just 3rd in national SRS because several of their wins were by razor-thin margins. If 2002 Ohio State & 2007 LSU are battling it out for the title of “worst BCS champion”, then 2010 Auburn is in the next tier up, alongside the ’98 Vols, ’00 Sooners, ’06 Gators, and ’03 Tigers. (And had Oregon won on Monday, they’d be in the same group.) Ranking 2010 Auburn above the 1999 Seminoles really sells FSU short, as that team belongs in the next tier with 2005 Texas, 2009 Alabama, & 2008 Florida.

2 Responses to “Auburn’s Place Among BCS Champions”

  1. Patrick Says:

    While I do feel that your SRS ranking is a very important measure of how good a team is, I would argue that the SOS statistic may carry more weight in evaluating how elite teams stack up to other elite teams. For the sake of definition, I would call elite teams those teams that make it to a BCS Bowl as well as teams that make it to some of the bigger non-BCS bowls (e.g. 2010 LSU). I don’t believe this takes anything away from the SRS statistic, but I do feel that, especially with more elite teams like national champions and BCS bowl teams, the SOS should carry more weight in evaluating how an elite team stacks up to other elite team in years past or even the same year. Think about the following arguments.
    2001 Miami, for instance, beat its opponents by approximately a touchdown more than Auburn beat its opponents. But, I strongly doubt that if they had as tough a conference and divisional schedule as Auburn did in 2010 that their SRS would be as high. I have a suspicion that with elite teams, the SOS should carry more weight.
    The SEC West in 2010 was the BEST division in the best conference in college football. I welcome arguments to the contrary, but I think the facts are obvious. By the way, I would love to discuss with anybody that is willing why the SEC West is so good right now. Every team in the SEC West won their bowl game with the exception of Arkansas, who, in all reality, outplayed Ohio St. in the 2010 Sugar Bowl.
    Also, SRS shows that you’re beating teams by significant margins, but it doesn’t accurately reflect how well a team plays CLOSE games, at least insofar as you are talking about a team with an exceptionally high SRS. Obviously, an undefeated team at any point in the season with a low SRS would probably reveal that the team doesn’t win by a large margin or overwhelmingly outplay its opponents, BUT the team wins. The 2010 National Championship between Auburn & Oregon is a good example of why SRS may not be as important as SOS in evaluating ELITE teams. Oregon was drilling people all year long with one (maybe two exceptions but my memory is failing me right now) exception in the Cal game. Oregon even had a higher SRS than Auburn, albeit by slightly less than a point. I personally KNEW that Auburn would win that game because they were used to playing in tight games against stiff competition EVERY Saturday. Oregon benefited from a conference that was weak from top to bottom. The only real competition Oregon faced in 2010 was Stanford. Auburn had to play one other BCS Bowl team in its division (Arkansas) and, arguably, two other teams that were deserving of a BCS Bowl (Alabama & LSU).
    The MOST underrated team in the country was probably Alabama who showed that the Big Ten had no business playing the cream of the crop in the SEC (except for Ohio St., but even they squeaked by with a win against Arkansas. If Oregon had to play in the SEC West, they likely would not have been considered to play in the national championship.
    Boise St. is another example of why I feel SRS should carry less value than SOS in evaluating elite teams. I would, at best, put Boise St. at about the lowest tier of elite teams. If they played in the SEC West, they would probably lose at least 4 divisional games. Yet, their SRS is higher than any other team in the SEC except for Auburn.
    Also, while I think that the SRS statistic is a very valuable statistic, I think it does have a flaw in that it doesn’t account for circumstances and intangibles. By this I mean such factors as the conference that a team plays in, coaching, rhythm of play, team swagger and determination, as well as key victories. I know that this is a pretty obvious statement, and I do know that the SRS statistic is clear that it makes no attempt to measure these intangibles of this sort, but these intangibles SHOULD play a large role in determining who is the best of the best.

    Conclusion: I don’t think that comparing BCS national champions and other elite teams almost exclusively in terms of SRS is an accurate measure of just how good a team is.

    I look forward to reading your thoughts about the relationship between the SRS and SOS statistics. Also, I am curious to know how you would qualify quantitative differences in SRS and SOS among teams. For example, a team with an SOS of 3.0 is playing a team with an SOS of 2.3. Obviously, the team with an SOS of 3.0 has a tougher schedule. But, how much tougher of a schedule is .7 SOS points? And for that matter, how would you qualify quantitative differences in SRS?

    –Patrick

  2. Patrick Says:

    I would like to add one more thing that I forgot to mention. I think it is somewhat of a misconception that a team is likely a better team because they win by large margins. I would argue that these teams are not as good because they lack the experience and ability to play a team that is not afraid of them or demoralized by them. I play competitive billiards, and one of the most important things I ever learned was how to shoot my best when someone else could “fire back” at me. Many competitors lack the poise, discipline, courage, and experience to face a competitor that is not afraid of them. College football is no different. Oregon knew how to play with a cushion but was not battle-tested like Auburn was. Oregon never faced a team like Auburn, yet Auburn had faced plenty of excellent football teams that gave them a run for their money. Winning games in the conference that Auburn did builds an incredible amount of confidence and swagger that is difficult to measure. And in all honesty, Auburn probably didn’t respect Oregon and didn’t care that Oregon was a media favorite (but not a gambling favorite).

    –Patrick