Ohio State cornerback Doran Grant, center, celebrates with Joel Hale, right, and Tyvis Powell after returning an interception for a score Nov. 2 at Purdue. The Buckeyes have won 21 straight.
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COLUMBUS — Ohio State’s Urban Meyer could not recall if he voted Baylor fourth or fifth in the latest coaches poll.
Illinois’ Tim Beckman said he only just found out the poll accounts for one third of the Bowl Championship Series formula.
And Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz gladly keeps his head in the turf.
“I’m not on that poll, and that’s for a reason,” Ferentz said this week. “The only teams that I really feel I could even comment on are the teams that we see week to week on film or the ones we’ve already played. I see a lot less than the average fan as far as how Oregon or Stanford looked, that type of thing. ... Unless they mandate voting, you can count on me staying out of it.”
A four-team playoff complete with a selection committee is coming next season. But for one more year, as Ohio State enters the stretch run in the thick of the national fray, a spotlight remains on the oft-scorned and secretive BCS formula that will determine whether the Buckeyes — ranked third behind Alabama and Florida State — get a title shot.
As a primer, humans make up two-thirds of the standings, while a network of six computer rankings — five of which have formulas not even known by the BCS — determine the remaining third.
The two human components are the coaches poll — often an afterthought for time-starved CEOs — and the Harris Poll, which includes 105 former players, administrators, coaches, and media members. Unlike the computers, the voting is transparent, with coaches and Harris voters required to reveal their final ballot.
Is there a better way to calculate the BCS formula? Many shout yes, including former Ohio State coach John Cooper, a proponent of factoring in the Legends Poll.
Cooper, 76, is one of 16 former coaches along with fellow College Football Hall of Famers like Nebraska’s Tom Osborne, Florida State’s Bobby Bowden, Alabama’s Gene Stallings, and Georgia’s Vince Dooley who vote weekly on the 25 best teams in the country. The Legends voters are mailed a copy of every televised game from the past week and participate in a lively hour-long conference call each Monday.
“It makes too much sense for the BCS to use our vote,” said Cooper, a scouting consultant for the Cincinnati Bengals and a frequent presence in the OSU football offices. “Goodness gracious, what better vote can you get than from guys who have dedicated their lives to college football, that see them play, that see the film, that talk on the phone? It blows my mind.”
One last time, though, Ohio State’s fate is in the hands of 166 men, one woman, and the machines.
Perhaps most scrutinized is the coaches poll, which includes all four area FBS coaches: Meyer, Michigan’s Brady Hoke, Toledo’s Matt Campbell, and Bowling Green’s Dave Clawson. While coaches are theoretically the most qualified voters, they must cast aside distinct biases and allow their attention to stray beyond their own football fortress.
At Utah State, first-year Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen recalled often filling out his ballot in airports late Saturday night with the help of online box scores. Though not ideal, he said, “I take pride in it and do my best to make sure I’m at least educated on the teams I’m voting for. ... It’s not something you can just sit down in five minutes and put a bunch of names on the paper.”
Beckman, too, said it is “important [coaches] are heard.”
“I take it very seriously,” he said. “I do it myself personally.”
How about the delicate situation of ranking your own team? Former Southern California coach Lane Kiffin relinquished his vote after telling reporters before last season he would not vote the Trojans No. 1, only for USA Today to reveal that he did.
Meyer said that he ranked Ohio State second this week and is fine knowing his vote will help determine the Buckeyes’ fate.
“Is it uncomfortable? No,” he said. “Just at times I don’t get to watch everybody, so it sometimes puts you in a hard position. This last [bye] week I did get to watch everybody. There’s some very good teams in the country, and I believe we’re a very good team.”
Harris poll voters, meanwhile, are generally more informed on the national landscape. A review of the electorate shows 33 former players, 31 former school or conference officials, 30 media members, and 11 former coaches — including former Toledo star quarterback Chuck Ealey, former Buckeyes running back Jeff Logan, and former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr.
Kenny Roda, a longtime Cleveland sports radio host and poll voter, said he watches as many games as he can live and more on tape.
He voted Ohio State second, behind Alabama but in front of Florida State.
“I don’t care how others vote,” Roda said in an email message. “I was picked to do this for my opinion.”
Ealey, a financial consultant in Toronto, calls in his ballot before church every Sunday morning after a full Saturday of college football.
“When they first asked me to be part of the poll several years ago, I said, ‘Well, I'm in Canada,’ ” he said, laughing. “But when they give you a responsibility, I take it seriously.”
Like most voters, he has the Buckeyes third, which makes him friendlier to OSU than the artificial brains that strongly weigh a team’s strength of schedule.
The Buckeyes’ average computer ranking is fourth, behind one-loss Stanford. How will it play out? Stay tuned. For one final season — and never with more interest — the Buckeyes will become all too familiar with the most convoluted formula in sports.