In simplest terms, the BCS formula comprises five components: the average of a team's standing in the AP and coaches' polls, plus the average of the rankings of seven computer pollsters, plus a score based on strength of schedule, plus a penalty for each loss, minus a credit for quality wins. The two teams with the lowest scores play in the national championship game. While figuring out the permutations of that formula over the rest of the season will leave heads spinning, some general points can be made about the race for the Fiesta Bowl.
?Notre Dame will be hurt by its weak remaining schedule. Through eight games the Irish have played the toughest schedule in the country in the eyes of the BCS, but their final four opponents—Boston College (4-3), Rutgers (1-7), Navy (1-7) and Southern Cal (6-2)—are a combined 12-19. Meanwhile, Oklahoma, Miami, Virginia Tech, Georgia and Ohio State all face opponents with a combined record above .500. Even after beating Florida State, Notre Dame dropped to fourth in the BCS's strength of schedule ranking.
?"Quality wins" may be decisive. The formula gives extra credit for a win over a team that finishes in the BCS top 10—.1 of a point for a victory over the No. 10 team, .2 for knocking off No. 9 and so on. If Miami and Virginia Tech go into their Dec. 7 game unbeaten, the winner of that game will get a significant boost from this factor. Say the Hokies are No. 4 and the Hurricanes No. 2 in the BCS going into the game. If Tech wins, it will climb in the polls and get an additional .8 credit for having beaten the BCS's second-ranked team. In a tight race, that might be enough to put the Hokies into the Fiesta Bowl.
?The voters could still hold the key. The least predictable factor in the national championship race remains the human element. Consider this scenario: No. I Oklahoma barely beats Colorado in the Big 12 title game on Dec. 7, while No. 2 Miami routs Virginia Tech on the same day. Would poll voters penalize the Sooners by dropping them to second? It could happen. This week Notre Dame jumped Ohio State and Georgia in the AP poll based on the Irish's convincing victory over Florida State. Despite the best efforts of the digerati, the national title berths might rest in the hands of human beings after all.