Boise goes from darlings to damned
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On New Year’s Day, 2007, upstart Boise State used a series of trick plays (capped by a Statue of Liberty 2-point conversion and ensuing marriage proposal) to upset Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.
That night the Broncos were college football darlings – if not loved then at least appreciated by nearly everyone outside of Norman.
Fast forward five seasons and Boise State is bigger, better and suddenly no longer so popular. In some circles, they’ve become the most hated – or at least rooted against – team in America. Move over Notre Dame.
Boise still has plenty of fans, many of whom would love to see the third-ranked Broncos put together another unbeaten season and crash not just any BCS bowl, but the title game. It would serve as the ultimate comeuppance to the despised way college football crowns its champion.
As the 2010 season kicks off this week however, fans of teams from major conferences, especially ones with realistic championship chances, increasingly see Boise as something other than a plucky underdog. The Broncos are a team that, based on a favorable schedule, may have found an inside, and potentially unworthy, route to win a national title.
The Boise backlash is more pragmatic than deep-seated, yet it is real.
It’s made Boise’s Labor Day matchup against No. 10 Virginia Tech in Landover, Md., one of the most divisive games of the season because the Hokies may be the only team capable of stopping the Boise Express.
If the Broncos beat Va. Tech only one significant hurdle remains on the season – a Sept. 25 home game against No. 24 Oregon State. Boise should be heavily favored in its other 10 games. While a perfect season is never easy, the Broncos have won 64 of their last 66 games in the Western Athletic Conference.
Because Boise is so highly ranked in the preseason poll – an advantage that should carry over to the opinion-heavy BCS formula – its championship hopes essentially boil down to a two-game season.
Critics are howling – and for good reason. The road Boise has isn’t nearly as competitive, grueling or dangerous as a team from say the SEC or Big Ten, even ones with cupcake laden non-conference slates. It may not even be as tough as Mountain West favorite Texas Christian – which at No. 6 is primed to follow the same path as Boise. If the season is particularly chaotic, those two teams could even play each other for the BCS title.
Yet if you want to complain about the fortuitous spot the Broncos have put themselves in, don’t direct the venom at coach Chris Petersen’s program.
Try shouting at the major conference commissioners who run the BCS and continue to cling to a system that may blow up in their face.
In particular the Big Ten, Big 12, Big East and Pac-10, who in 2008 refused to even discuss the so-called “Plus One” plan that would’ve served as a four-team playoff and lessened the angst about Boise. (The SEC and ACC backed the proposal.) Those big leagues created the path for this small program.
Boise State has always been a great story. Now it’s a tale rich in Shakespearean-level irony.
The problem isn’t Boise State per se; it’s the system it has to work under.
Rather than settle the issue on the field, the BCS uses a combination of shaky opinion polls and unsound computer formulas (legitimate mathematicians and quantitative analysts have called for a boycott of the system) to determine the title game matchup.
If you finish in the top two of the standings you play for the championship. Unless at least two major conference teams finish the season unbeaten (which has happened just once in the last four years) a 12-0 Boise club is probably in the game.
The mistake is for fans to view the BCS as a small school vs. big school issue. That’s simplistic and inaccurate. The BCS has proven adept at screwing over teams of all sizes.
Boise is just playing by the rules that were designed to keep teams like them down. This is a system that deemed Boise’s three perfect years since 2006 unworthy of a title game appearance. If it now claims 2010, which would be the team’s third consecutive 12-0 regular season, is good enough, why should they apologize? There’s no doubting this is an excellent football program. From 2000-09 they went 112-17.
Besides, not only did Boise not create the system, they’ve fought relentlessly to change it to something more equitable for everyone. They’ve complained publicly and worked privately. They’ve gone so far as to hire a powerful Washington D.C. law firm, Arent Fox, to push the United States Justice Department to investigate the BCS.
They will move next year to the Mountain West, a more competitive (albeit not BCS-level) league. They’d gladly accept a bid to any of the six power conferences.
They’ve backed NCAA legislation to make the regular season more competitive – including a plan to demand home-and-home series for all non-conference games. They’ve begged powerhouse teams to schedule them – throwing down the gauntlet of any time, anywhere.
And while few major teams are willing to come to Boise’s famous blue turf, the Broncos say they are willing to play without a return game in Idaho. While they demand a high appearance fee (Ole Miss will pay Boise a reported $900,000 to play in Oxford in 2011) that’s far less than the $1.4 million less prestigious and less successful (at least recently) Colorado will get from Ohio State for a single game next season.
Boise has never asked for anything more than the chance to test itself against the nation’s best.
Petersen, the Broncos coach, even takes the high-road approach. He does very little BCS bashing. He steadfastly refuses to politic for poll position – “it’s never enough.” He usually just shrugs his shoulders at the situation and coaches his team.
No one wants the BCS gone and a playoff installed that requires a team to prove its worth on the field more than Boise State.
And no one wants the BCS to stay so perception, scheduling quirks and opinion polls determine the champion more than major conference commissioners – although their motivation is mostly on protecting their cronies who operate bowl games.
So yes, Boise State has found itself facing a dream scenario. With 21 of 22 starters returning from a 13-0 team, it has a schedule the other national contenders would kill to face.
They won’t have to deal with the mental and physical grind of a big conference schedule. They won’t have to play week after week in hostile, 80,000-seat stadiums. They won’t have to dodge as many bullets.
That’s the BCS though. It isn’t smart, sensible or fair.
Just like Boise State has been saying all along.