How To Predict Who Will Be in the NCAA Football BCS Championship Game: It’s All About the Colors

Sorry Notre Dame, Michigan, and Oregon fans. The colors of your teams aren’t in your favor for making it to the BCS championship game.

How much would you be willing to bet if I told you that I could predict the dominant color of the logo for this upcoming year’s BCS championship team? Would you believe it if I said that there is nearly an 85% chance that the two teams that end up in the BCS championship game this year will be either red or orange? And not just this year, but for future years as well? Crazy as it sounds, the prediction may not be that far off.

In light of the recently released 2013 NCAA USA Today Coaches’ Poll, I thought it would be worth investigating who landed on the list of the ostensibly best teams in college football this year. As you can see from the collection of logos I put together (below), there is an interesting trend in colors: 17 of the top 25 (nearly 70%) are either red or orange. Twelve of the top 15 (80%) follow this same color pattern.

2013 Coaches' Poll team logos
17 of the top 25 teams in this year’s NCAA Preseason Coaches’ Poll are either red or orange.

Far more interesting than this small discovery, though, I found that since the BCS was formed in 1998, 30 teams have played in 15 different BCS championship games. Of those 30 teams,  25 of them (a whopping 83%!) have sported team colors of either red or orange as a dominant or major portion of their team logo.

You might ask, then, what the percentage of all teams in college football have logos that are either red or orange. Indeed, the two colors seem to dominate the college athletics landscape, but not nearly as much as the numbers I just mentioned seem to indicate. Of the 144 teams (only 125 of which are FBS division) that come from the 11 conferences that make up the college football landscape, 38% of the teams use red and 11% use orange. This means that less than half (roughly 49%) of the college football teams that might compete to be in the BCS game are red or orange. Yet, 83% of the teams that seem to dominate the league tend to be those two colors.

But there are more interesting numbers to dwell upon. Red and orange seem to be the dominant colors of the most prestigious conferences as well. In the SEC, the conference widely regarded as the toughest in college football, 10 of their 14 teams are red or orange. In the ACC, 9 of 14 are red or orange and in the PAC-12, 7 of 12 don the colors. In each of the “Big 5” conferences, at least 50% of their teams use those two colors as their dominating scheme.

So what about the “lowly” conferences in college football? In the Big East (which is good in basketball, but suffers in football), only 2 of 10 teams are red; blue seems to dominate that conference. The  Mountain West only has 5 of 12 and Conference USA only has 5 of 16. And in the college football independents, only 1 team is red (New Mexico State).

Of course, much of this may be coincidence. But for those of us who like to think there are conspiracies in college football, we might look to a design principle called the “red effect.” According to research on the color red, red is perceived as more dominant, aggressive, and intimidating than other colors and red signals power and authority in most cultures. Research was done on Olympic boxers in 2004 and on English soccer teams over a 56-year period; the results showed that red boxers and red soccer teams won a statistically significant more matches than other colors. Is it possible that the red effect is playing into college football? Do red and orange teams actually have an advantage over other teams, simply because of their color? And, more importantly, do the officials that oversee team colors and logos know of this phenomenon? If you’re a gambler, it might be worth taking this phenomenon to the betting tables.