The chase for No. 1

Aug 16, 2005 5:33 AM

The race to the national championship begins on Sept. 1 for 117 Division 1A college football teams.

And once again, the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) will determine which teams will square off for the title at the Rose Bowl next January.

In an effort to make its selection process fairer, or at least less susceptible to criticism, the BCS this year has implemented several changes.

Because the Associate Press has removed its Top 25 poll from the process, the BCS replaced it with a Harris Interactive poll, which actually could be an improvement over the AP poll.

The Harris poll consists of 114 voters (80 percent former players, coaches and administrators; 20 percent media), and will release its first top 25 teams on Sept. 25.

The later start date is expected to help reduce the "pre-season bias" associated with polls that rank teams before a single game has been played.

In the past, teams with high early rankings were believed to have an unfair advantage because it took nothing short of a loss to knock them back, while teams with low early rankings had a tough time climbing the poll ladder.

Despite the new poll, the BCS formula will remain the same as it was last season. There will be two polls that each account for one-third of the equation, while the other third will be determined by the ratings of six computers.

In addition to the Harris Interactive poll, changes to the BCS system include publicizing the coaches’ poll final ballots, though critics had hoped the BCS would release the names of balloters throughout the season.

Although the polling system might be improved, the BCS formula will never satisfy die-hard football purists, who each year demand a playoff system to determine a national champion.

As recently as last year, an undefeated Auburn squad was shut out of the title game because of the BCS formula.

It could happen again this year for some team unlucky enough to come up short in the polling process.

Noteworthy of mention, the NCAA does not list any school as a national champion in football. Prior to the BCS system, there were only the AP and UPI polls and, because there still isn’t an actual playoff, the NCAA does not recognize a title based at least in part on voting.

Despite its controversial nature, the BCS system has produced some interesting trends. In each of its first seven years, at least one of the BCS’s title game participants has been a team ranked 1 or 2 in the preseason (USC and Texas this year).

And in five of the seven years, that team’s opponent had a double-digit preseason ranking.

Thus, if a team were ranked Nos. 3 through 9, the odds were slim of making it to the title game; that is, of course, if you believe in trends.

And who among sports bettors doesn’t believe in trends?