ASU's Graham Talks Schedule Strength, BCS Vote
By Dan Harralson
Sixty-two FBS head coaches comprise the coaches poll, a poll that is responsible for one-third of the BCS formula.
With the Auburn upset over Alabama, Ohio State finally moved into the No. 2 spot in the BCS standings, something that the Buckeyes have been wanting for the last 24 games. The movement of the Buckeyes into the second spot has stirred up the debate about whether Urban Meyer's team belongs over a one-loss SEC champion.
If Ohio State and Auburn both win their conference championship games, the only way a one-loss Auburn can jump an undefeated Ohio State will be through the coaches poll. The human element will have to sway 25 coaches to change their vote, the number of votes Auburn trails Ohio State.
ESPN BCS guru Brad Edwards claims that Auburn secured 25 percent of second-place votes this week and will need to secure 75 percent of the votes in order to jump Ohio State.
Many coaches, including Tommy Tuberville of Cincinnati, have indicated they deferred the decision on whether to jump the Tigers to No. 2 until after this weekend's conference championship games.
Football.com talked to Arizona State head coach Todd Graham, who holds one of the 62 coaches votes.
If Auburn and Ohio State both win, will strength of schedule play a role in determining who deserves a spot in the BCS national championship game?
Graham knows first-hand what strength of schedule means.
"I tell you at the beginning of the year, the first time I saw our schedule, I wasn't too happy about it," Graham said. "We played the Big Ten champion (Wisconsin), Pac-12 champion (Stanford), USC and a team that played in the national championship game (Notre Dame)."
The Sun Devils' third-ranked strength of schedule has made their team better and helped overcome two early losses to Stanford and Notre Dame.
"I do really believe that," Graham said of his team becoming better with the schedule they have played. "I don't think we would be where we're at without that schedule. Winning those close games, the level of competition, it's allowed our program to really grow."
Sound familiar? Auburn has grown in the same capacities and the Tigers have done it winning close games while playing the nation's 38th-toughest schedule compared to Ohio State (68th).
Arizona State's early game at Stanford is much like Auburn's early road contest at LSU. Both Arizona State and Auburn had terrible first halves, but grew as a team in the second half and played better the rest of the season.
"I really think the Stanford game was a game where we play horribly in the first half," Graham said. "A lot of teams would check it in, but we bounced back and came back the next week and put 60 on USC, then we go play Notre Dame and we really thought we let that one get away from us. The players again responded against Washington and beat them decisively, so that stretch there our team matured. That schedule was a major factor in our mental toughness as a team."
Graham will cast his final coaches poll vote Saturday and could be part of the 75 percent.
"I think you have to (factor in strength of schedule). If people aren't playing anybody, strength of schedule should be one of the main factors," Graham said. "My opinion (is) you look at how the NFL does it, they have preseason games and then the regular season. If everyone played nine conference games and a championship game, the NFL wouldn't have it one way for the AFC and one way for the NFC. I think for college football, as a fan myself, I would like to see (non-conference) games against bigger schools."
Neither the Buckeyes or Tigers played a strong non-conference slate, as both teams played and beat one FCS school. Here were the non-conference opponents for each program in 2013:
Ohio State: Buffalo, San Diego State, Cal, Florida A&M (The three FBS teams are a combined 16-20).
Auburn: Washington State, Arkansas State, Western Carolina, Florida Atlantic (The three FBS teams are a combined 19-17).
Auburn's main advantage is its SEC schedule, having faced and beaten teams like Alabama, Texas A&M and potentially Missouri. Urban Meyer's team is playing only its third ranked opponent of the season Saturday, and both Wisconsin and Northwestern have fallen off to varying degrees. Missouri represents Auburn's sixth ranked opponent and the fourth in the Top 10.
"It's not like I have anything against the 1-AA (FCS). I don't really want to coach those games. I don't think the fans really want us to play those games. Strength of schedule should be a major factor," Graham said.
If other coaches feel like Graham does about a teams' strength of schedule, perhaps an undefeated Ohio State will be in realistic jeopardy of being jumped in the minds of at least a few coaches.
But before then, both Auburn and Ohio State must handle business against strong and capable opponents on Saturday.
FBS Senior Editor Christopher Smith contributed to this story.