The Football College Bowl Championship Series

In 1998, six major college football conferences — ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, and SEC — instituted the Bowl Championship Series, or BCS. The BCS is a playoff system that attempts to determine the nation’s number one football team.

Under the BCS playoff system, ten teams play in five bowl games, with the top two teams playing in the BCS National Championship Game. Here are the five bowl games:

  • The Fiesta Bowl: Played in Glendale, Arizona, at University of Phoenix Stadium

  • The Sugar Bowl: Played in New Orleans, Louisiana, at the Superdome

  • The Orange Bowl: Played in Miami, Florida, at Sun Life Stadium

  • The Rose Bowl: Played in Pasadena, California, at the Rose Bowl

  • The BCS National Championship Game: Rotating among the previous four bowl sites each year

Because football teams don’t have the luxury of being able to play several times a week, the administrators of the BCS had to come up with a formula for selecting teams for the BCS bowl games and the BCS Championship Game without relying on a tournament to decide who the teams should be:

  1. The administrators determine which teams are eligible by using certain guidelines.

    These guidelines including the following:

    • The champions of the six major conferences — ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC — automatically qualify for six of the ten berths (spots) in the five major bowls.

    • Any Division I FBS independent team (such as Notre Dame) is eligible.

    • Any champion of the Mountain West Conference, Mid-American Conference, Sun Belt Conference, or Western Athletic Conference is eligible if it’s either ranked among the top 12 teams in the final BCS standings or ranked higher than the champion of one of the conferences that receives an annual automatic berth to a BCS bowl.

  2. Among the teams that qualify, administrators use a statistical rating system to select the two teams that play in the BCS Championship Game.

    Under the rating system, the two teams with the lowest number of points qualify for the title game. Points are determined with the following components:

    • Polls (25 percent): The ranking of each team in the Harris Interactive College Football Poll and the USA Today Coaches’ Poll are added and divided by 2. For example, a team ranked number 1 in one poll and number 4 in another poll receives 2.5 points.

    • Computer rankings (25 percent): The average of the team’s rankings in these six computer polls: Jeff Sagarin, Anderson & Hester, Richard Billingsley, Dr. Peter Wolfe, Kenneth Massey, and Colley Matrix.

    • Strength of schedule (25 percent): This component takes into account the win-loss record of a team’s opponents and the records of the opposition’s opponents. The opponent’s record is two-thirds of the mark, and the opposition’s opponents comprise the other third. The national strength of schedule placing, once determined, is then divided by 25.

    • Team record (25 percent): Each loss counts as one point.

    • Quality win component (bonus points): This component rewards teams that defeat opponents ranked in the top 10 of the current week’s standings. Teams get –1.0 point for defeating the top ranked team down to a low of –0.1 for defeating the 10th-ranked BCS team.

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