LITTLE ROCK — One of the great mysteries in the Bowl Championship Series rankings is the six computers that combine to make up one-third of the formula.
The Harris Poll and the USA Today poll are the other two-thirds.
As a first-time voter in the Harris Poll, your trusty scribe has studied the system much closer than in past years. Part of that is because when you get up early Sunday morning to finish the three hours of research before casting the ballot, you are just interested.
Another part is that for the first time, it appears the Arkansas Razorbacks could actually win out and be a player in the BCS bowl picture.
In the latest rankings, released Sunday night, the Razorbacks moved from 18thto No. 15, one slot away from eligibility. The BCS considers only the top 14 teams for at large selections to one of its prestigious bowls, with Nos. 1 and 2 playing in the championship game.
What could be standing in the way of the Hogs, besides a now haunting loss to Alabama, is the six computers.
Currently they don’t like the Razorbacks very much. In fact, if not for the human polls, the Hogs would have been ranked 17th. Both human polls had the Hogs at No. 14.
The six computers had the Razorbacks at 15 (twice), 16 (twice), 17 and 18.
Perhaps the guys feeding data and running the programs haven’t heard that the Razorbacks’ only losses were to Alabama, which was No. 1 in the nation at the time and now No. 12, and Auburn, which is No. 2.
Or perhaps the BCS, which is a separate entity from the NCAA, needs to ask what kind of data is actually fed into those computers.
Utah, which was just beat down by TCU at home (47-7), is ahead of the Hogs (2-2 against ranked teams), and yet the Utes have zero victories over teams currently in the BCS rankings.
Iowa is No. 13, and it is 1-1 against BCS top 25 teams with the loss to No. 18 Arizona, which has that victory as a quality victory.
Jump all the way up to No. 6 and you find Stanford at 8-1, but its only victory over a top 25 team came against Arizona.
Or what about Oklahoma State? It leaped over the Razorbacks in the standings this week, going from 17 to 10 on the strength of a victory over now unranked Baylor.
Here is why it is important for the Hogs to gain some ground and move ahead of those teams and Alabama: If the Razorbacks win out, which would include victories at Mississippi State and LSU in the Rock, they will move up, but they need to really separate themselves from the Tigers and the Bulldogs.
If they don’t, they could find that the Sugar Bowl selection committee’s vision is 80-80. LSU is approximately 80 miles from the SuperDome and would bring about 80,000 adult beverage-consuming fans to the Big Easy, which needs tourist dollars.
No doubt the hotel folks would rather have 50,000 Hog callers who need a place to sleep during their first visit to a BCS game.
The bottom line, though, is if Arkansas and LSU are in the top 14 of the BCS rankings, the bowl has the freedom to choose.
However, if the Razorbacks were, say, No. 5 or No. 6 and LSU was No. 8 or No. 9, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive could request that the Sugar Bowl, which has a great relationship with the SEC, take the highest-ranked team. But there probably needs to be a three- or four-spot disparity for that to happen, even if Arkansas beats LSU on the field at War Memorial Stadium.
As of now, the computers really like LSU. They have made the Tigers No. 4 in rankings, while the human polls agreed at No. 6.
The Razorbacks have to win out to have a shot at the BCS Sugar Bowl, and they need the computers to recognize how difficult their road has been.
Sports, Pages 19 on 11/10/2010