BCS Rankings, in Debut Week, Rarely Forecast the Championship

This week brought us the first Bowl Championship Series rankings of the 2013 college football season, putting Alabama and Florida State in the top two spots. If they continue to win games, those two schools should be on track to play each other for the national championship in January. But that’s probably not going to happen.

Only twice in the 15-year history of the BCS have we seen the initial top two end up in the championship: USC vs. Texas in 2005 and LSU vs. Alabama in 2011.

Most of the time, the original leaders falter. The majority of the years—eight of 15—saw the original No. 1-ranked team fall from the top by season’s end. The same ratio held true for second-place teams: In eight of 15 seasons, the original No. 2 team fell out of the title picture.

So where do the final championship contenders come from? Here’s where they ranked in October before eventually finding their way to the title game.

In every single year, the eventual No. 1 team was ranked in the initial top five. No late bloomers sneak their way in. Getting to the No. 2 spot was easier: 13 of the 15 teams started off in the top six, and two teams with double-digit rankings made their way into the title game (LSU in 2003 and Tim Tebow’s Florida Gators in 2008).

Finally, a look at how late into the season it took before the final two teams were locked in.

Almost half the time (seven of 15 years), it took until the final week before we knew who would be in the title game.

This is probably a great thing for the business of college football on TV, along with the professional and amateur prognosticators in the audience. Almost nothing is preordained between now and December, today’s top twosome almost certainly won’t make the title game, and don’t be surprised if the season’s almost over before the outcome is clear.

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