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In Defense of the Scarlet Knights

The smartest observation I've ever heard on polls is also the simplest:

"The polls aren't about ranking the best teams.  They are about not admitting how poorly selected the original pre-season rankings were."

You see this even in the way polls are discussed, with teams moving up or down over time, as if polls were a continuous state, and not discrete opinions on the merits of different teams. It's why a team can't lose the top ranking as long as they keep winning, or why Charlie Weis questions his team's drop. Of course, in most sports this bias is annoying, but not catastrophic. Championships are still decided in competition. But in football, this season-long institutional memory can and does screw everything up from time to time.

Which brings me to Rutgers. While we may all be Wake Forest fans now, the same can't be said for the Scarlet Knights. A vocal contingent of college football fans are convinced an undefeated Rutgers has no place in the National Championship, which should go to one of the ever-shrinking pool of one-loss teams. The Big East is weak, and Rutgers non-conference schedule wasn't difficult, so they would be crushed by the denizens of the SEC, Pac-10, or Bigs 10 and 12. This performance:

    at North Carolina WIN 21-16
    Illinois WIN 33-0
    Ohio U. WIN 21-7
    Howard WIN 56-7
    at South Florida WIN 22-20
    at Navy WIN 34-0
    at Pittsburgh WIN 20-10
    Connecticut WIN 24-13
    Louisville WIN 28-25
    at Cincinnati
    Syracuse
    at West Virginia

is not worthy of a trip to Tempe.

This is utter horseshit. A Rutgers team that wins out will have done everything asked of it. It will have run the table in a conference with two Top 15 teams and at least two other bowl-bound squads. They scheduled two OOC foes from BCS conferences and a third that had gone 8-4 and bowling the year before, which is more that can be said for most of the Top 10 schedulers this season. The three undefeated BCS teams of two years ago was a debacle, but one built in to the nature of a system afraid of playoff. To have two undefeated BCS teams, and skip over one of them would be a travesty.

I think the easiest way to look at it would be to compare Rutgers to a couple of other teams, who while not undefeated, would be locks for the championship had they done so:

Team A is from the ACC, which as we are all so painfully aware, is worse than the ACC this year. An undefeated Team A would have wins over two Top 25 teams, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech (although the Yellow Jackets might have dropped out with the extra loss I'm giving them) and some bowl-eligible teams on down years, Boston College, Miami and Clemson. Their nonconference schedule is atrocious - Northeastern, Southern Miss, Kent State, and one Big East team in Cincinnati. So with two opponents in common with Rutgers, its best competition much below WVU and Louisville, a conference less talented than the Big East, and not showing any of the scheduling fortitude the Knights did, Team A shouldn't be within sniffing distance of a championship game. But would we really be having this discussion if it was Virginia Tech having run the table? Of course not. ESPN Gameday would be beside themselves with Beamerball talk and, although there would be grumbling about 1999, no one would be trying to exclude them from the title shot.

Or we can consider Team B. Two Top 10 victories, just like a 12-0 Rutgers. One opponent in common, a bowl-bound Navy both teams beat. One team that, like UNC, has already fired its coach. Another school from BCS conference, but that's a bigger laughing stock in than Rutgers opponent Illinois. Three BCS conference opponents, recieving no poll votes, with records of 7-4, 7-4, and 5-5, hardly any different from the bowl-bound members of the Big East. And two small schools, with 4-7 and 3-8 records, on-par with Ohio and Howard.

Not only would Team B be assured a title game slot, most sportswriters predicted it, as it's Notre Dame.

I'm confident that the computer rankings will correctly reflect Rutgers' performance. They had them at ninth before this week's Louisville matchup. But the human element of the BCS currently has bumped four teams (WVU, Arkansas, LSU and Texas) with lower computer scores above the Knights, which is a trend I'm sure we'll continue to see through the end of the year. For Rutgers to lose a chance at the championship because people didn't know they'd play this well in August would again highlight the biggest flaw in NCAA football, and make for a lesser championship game.