Mon Sep 06 11:38pm EDT
Boise State 33, Virginia Tech 30. There was a point Monday night in the fourth quarter -- after Virginia Tech had rallied back from a 17-0 roundhouse in the first few minutes to go ahead 27-26 late in the third -- that the hero of the game was clearly going to be Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor. The senior had outplayed the game's token All-American/Heisman candidate, Boise counterpart Kellen Moore, completing 13 of 15 with a pair of touchdowns, 75 yards rushing on the side and no turnovers. He'd just converted a ridiculous, Houdini-like escape from a sack into a first down inside the Bronco red zone, on the way in for a potentially icing touchdown.
Two plays later, on third-and-8, Taylor uncorked one of his first bad passes of the second half, skying a ball over an open receiver that would have set up the Hokies with first-and-goal from inside the Bronco 5; they settled for a field goal and a four-point lead. When this game shows up in the highlights of Moore's fledgling Heisman campaign instead, that will be the difference: Given two minutes and 56 yards to engineer a season-defining win, Moore shook off a rough second half to hit four straight passes, ending with a perfectly placed play-action strike to Austin Pettis – potentially a $6 million throw, if it keeps the Broncos out of the Humanitarian Bowl.
Boise State's season and reputation hinged on this game, but it doesn't come down to much more than this: Moore finished the job. Both teams went on impressive streaks and went into a shell offensively; both teams committed costly turnovers, dumb penalties and special teams gaffes that led directly to points for the other; both teams hammered the opposing quarterback. But down the stretch, with a win and a season's worth of possibility in front them, it was Moore who seized it with execution and accuracy, while Taylor put the ball a little too high. No trick plays, no laterals, no gimmicks. Every team preaches execution and attention to detail, but during the lightning start and the exhausted, last-minute heroics, the Broncos looked like the better prepared, better coached team, and they're not going to run into too many situations where that isn't the case.
Now: Because the odds of Boise State of actually losing on the blue turf when Oregon State flies in in two weeks (the Broncos are 26-0 at home under Chris Petersen), or of stubbing their toe in the WAC over the last two months (they've never lost a WAC game they were favored to win) are so remote, the tooth-and-nail debates over the merits of the Broncos' overall strength of schedule and resumé can begin in earnest. This is right and good. Boise has run off perfect seasons with a single early, quality win three of the last four years, and didn't come anywhere near the BCS championship discussion in any of them because three-fourths of the schedule is an embarrassment by elite standards. BSU can't do anything about that. But a sudden abundance of attention and hype on this year's race to 12-0 doesn't put those skins on the wall.
There will also be a not-so-sudden abundance of haters spinning Monday night's win as a fluke, or questioning the value of beating the dominant program in the ACC over the last six years in its own backyard, or belittling Boise's hypothetical prospects against a schedule full of Pac-10 or SEC heavies in some nonexistent fantasy world where that might be possible. This is small and petty. The Broncos came into Monday night 4-1 since 2006 against teams that finished the season ranked in the top 10, with the only loss coming by one point. If Virginia Tech rebounds to finish the season where it started, that mark will be 5-1. Again Monday night, presented with a high-end test, they passed, under probably the most adverse conditions anyone in the current lineup has faced in his career. Handed a golden opportunity to "prove it" on a national stage, they've proven it again and again. On the field, there's nothing left to prove: This is an extraordinarily well-coached team with a chance to beat anyone it encounters at any point.
That doesn't mean they have some kind of golden ticket to 12-0 (they still have to play the games, some of them – Oregon State, Fresno State, at Nevada – more than a little prickly), much less the culminating game in a system that only allows two teams inside the gates of its self-appointed championship game. If Boise State doesn't deserve to be one of those two, that's first and foremost an indictment of a system that can't handle every worthy contender. Whether the Broncos ever get or deserve a shot under the current, two-team championship structure, they've proven worthy (again) of the discussion between the lines. Hate their schedule, hate their nouveau riche hype. But don't hate their game.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.