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Down-home college football ranking system is surprisingly accurate

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Colin MacGuire's scoring system for ranking college football teams is simple, but effective. (Source: gradingcollegefootball.com) Colin MacGuire's scoring system for ranking college football teams is simple, but effective. (Source: gradingcollegefootball.com)
Colin MacGuire's website has been in operation for four years. (Source: gradingcollegefootball.com) Colin MacGuire's website has been in operation for four years. (Source: gradingcollegefootball.com)

The first BCS ranking of the final year of the BCS era comes out Sunday, Oct. 20.

Until then, we have gradingcollegefootball.com, which is cranked out by a guy in Greenville, AL, using a simple formula you could do with a pencil on a piece of paper.

Which is exactly what Colin MacGuire does – he doesn't use a computer or even a pocket calculator to come up with the college football rankings that have been astonishingly accurate.

"Sometimes I do it in my head, and sometimes I write it on paper," he said of the grade-school arithmetic that ranks all 125 teams in college football. "I need to get a calculator, I guess."

Working up this week's rankings was pretty typical.

"This Sunday I did some in the morning before I went to church," he said. "Then I went to see my sister and I was able to get away a little after lunch and finish up."

The last four years, MacGuire has correctly predicted seven of the eight teams that played in the BCS National Championship Game. In 2010, like most of the BCS computer rankings, he projected Oklahoma State into the title game against Southeastern Conference champion LSU instead of Alabama.

He's a big Alabama fan, and this proves his objectivity.

"I'm doing this based on numbers," he said. "I'm trying to be as unbiased as I can be."

MacGuire's quirky system gives heavy weight to wins over members of BCS conferences and ranked teams. Road wins are worth more than home wins.

Losses, even against top teams, cost dearly. Winning is everything in MacGuire's system - but beating weak teams is hardly worth the trouble.

That explains some of the weirdness in this week's poll.

MacGuire's top 10 closely mirrors the AP Poll, with the mystifying exceptions of Texas Tech, which is tied for fifth with LSU and Missouri, and Northern Illinois, which is ranked eighth. But both are undefeated against schedules that feature a lot of road games and weak BCS teams.

"They haven't played nobody," MacGuire admitted. "But if people are undefeated, they pile up points."

Florida State is ranked 11th, primarily because it has only played five games and has not yet faced a ranked opponent. The Seminoles' home win over Bethune Cookman was worth a scant 1 point in the MacGuire scheme.

Miami is not in the top 10, pulled down by home wins over Florida Atlantic and Savannah State.

MacGuire is laying plans for the next era in college football - when the BCS goes away and is replaced by the College Football Playoff Managing Committee. Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long will head the panel that includes former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and NFL Hall of Famer Archie Manning.

They won't use any computer rankings or polls to decide which four teams will qualify to play in the new, "Plus-One" system. But MacGuire believes his system will continue to offer unbiased, accurate projection, and the committee is welcome to it.

"I wish I could be on that dang committee," he said. "I'd use my poll to rank the teams. Or they could. Why not? I'd give it to them, free. Or if they wanted to pay me, that'd be OK, too."

For now, it's free:

Ranking College Football, Week of Oct. 14-21

1. Alabama 28

2. Oregon 27

3. Clemson and Ohio State 26

5. Missouri, Texas Tech and LSU 25

8. Northern Illinois 24

9. UCLA and Louisville 22

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