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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 4, 2007

Multifarious mix runs BCS computers

 •  Warriors taken to task for schedule

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Writer


Oct. 28 computer rankings

Peter Wolfe 14

Wes Colley 26

Richard Billingsley 31

Andersen & Hester 33

Jeff Sagarin 41

Kenneth Massey 55

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What do you get when you put an astrophysicist, a doctor specializing in infectious diseases, a constitutional law scholar, a businessman and some mathematicians together?

Hopefully, a clear picture of the best college football teams in the land.

At least that is the intended goal of the decade-old Bowl Championship Series, which uses computer rankings compiled by an eclectic group of providers to not only help determine the national championship pairing but sort out which teams, including the University of Hawai'i this season, might play in the five-game BCS.

The weekly BCS standings come out today and UH, currently ranked 14th, hopes to remain unbeaten and move into the top 12 by the final Dec. 2 report to clinch a berth to one of the lucrative BCS bowls.

The BCS determines its standings based upon an average of two human polls the USA Today Coaches poll and the Harris Interactive poll of media, former coaches administrators and athletes as well as six computer rankings. The six computer providers are Anderson & Hester, Richard Billingsley, Wes Colley, Kenneth Massey, Jeff Sagarin and Peter Wolfe.

That UH's standing varies from 14th to 55th among the computers reflects the differences in the providers and the latitude they have in their programs. "The parameters are up to them," said Charles Bloom, associate commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, which administers the BCS in conjunction with the National Football Foundation. "Each of the (computers) have its own measures of what they use: i.e. schedule strength, recent results, conference strength, etc." The only prohibition being a margin of victory component, which the BCS did away with in 2002.

Jeff Sagarin, 59, an MIT graduate in theoretical mathematics, is the only one of the six who makes his living on rankings. The providers receive what is described as a small "honorarium." But, as Wolfe says, "let's put it this way, I'm not giving up my day job."

His day jobs include being an associate professor at UCLA, specializing in infectious diseases, and a physician with a private practice. Wolfe, 53, says: "College football is my favorite sport and I've been interested in math and ratings systems since college. I think the people who run the BCS knew there is a kind of sports ratings subculture out there on the internet and, one day, Ray Kramer (then commissioner of the SEC) called me to invite me to participate."

Colley's call came while he was in a MIT lab working on missiles. Colley, 36, produces the Colley Matrix and is an astrophysics professor at the University of Alabama-Huntsville who began mixing algorithms and football as a hobby while at Princeton.

Colley's Matrix, which this year began tracking games against I-AA opponents for the first time, does not give UH (26th) any points for strength of schedule. UH was especially hurt by not only playing two I-AA opponents, but by playing New Mexico State, which also had two I-AA foes.

Wolfe, who has consistently rated UH high (currently 14th) said, "I chose to design my system to have a small preference for undefeateds, perhaps more than the other systems used by the BCS, which might account for Hawai'i's position."

Anderson and Hester were buddies at the University of Washington in the 1980s and, feeling that the major polls had a bias against the Huskies, came up with their own. Anderson became a constitutional law scholar and professor at the Air Force Academy and Hester a sportswriter in Seattle. In their system UH is currently 33rd. "Each team's opponents and opponents' opponents are judged not only by their won-lost records but also, uniquely, by their conferences' strength," Anderson said. "Each conference is rated according to its non-conference won-lost record and the difficulty of its non-conference schedule."

Massey is a math professor at Carson-Newman College (Tennessee) and, at 31 the youngest of the providers. The Warriors are 55th on his computer a function, he said, of their schedule to date, which compares with a "Division I-AA schedule." As UH plays better teams, Massey said its numbers should rise.

The interest people have in the BCS standings, Colley said, hit home when he was introduced to the commanding general at the Army's Redstone Arsenal who, to heck with missiles, demanded to know where Colley had his team (Texas) ranked.

Fortunately, Colley said he was able to tell him the Longhorns were No. 1 on his computer at the time.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com.