Considering its questionable strength of schedule, Boise State's case for playing in January's Bowl Championship Series title game has issues.
Even at 13-0, the Broncos will have just one impressive victory, 19-8 over Oregon. The weakness of the Western Athletic Conference means that teams from top conferences could lose one or even two games and potentially make a stronger argument. So could fellow non-traditional teams such as TCU, Cincinnati and Houston, should any of them finish unbeaten.
Of course, the BCS formula was designed to ignore things such as "stronger arguments." Through the years it has proven true to its mission: a lockstep ascent of teams based more on record, reputation and preseason ranking than silly things such as quality victories.
The BCS was created, in part, to marginalize upstarts such as Boise State. Now, in a bizarre switch, it could deliver the Broncos to the title game, whether they really deserve it or not.
Having any undeserving team in the title game would be unfortunate for the short-term competitiveness of the sport.
It sure would provide some high comedy, though, as we all get to watch the best-laid exclusionary plans of the self-important Lords of the Game (major conference commissioners) blow up in their faces. It also might spur meaningful, forward-thinking change (or so you can dream).
Boise (4-0) is ranked No. 5 in both the Harris Interactive and USA Today Coaches' polls, which make up two-thirds of the BCS formula. Never before has a team outside of college football's six controlling conferences (ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-10 and SEC) been anywhere near such a lofty spot this early in the season.
And that's the key.
In other years, unbeaten gate-crashers began the season so far back in the pack that they couldn't leapfrog enough teams to reach the top two in the standings.
In this week's coaches' poll, unbeatens TCU (No. 10), Cincinnati (No. 11) and Houston (No. 15) are where teams of their ilk usually are.
They can win and win but will find it almost impossible to climb ahead of so many name powers above them. Even two-loss teams could prove impossible to pass.
Last year Utah put together a 12-0 regular season that included four victories over teams that were ranked nationally. It won the championship of a Mountain West Conference that had three teams ranked in the top 16 nationally and went 6-1 against the Pac-10. Its resume was far stronger than Boise's would be this year.
Yet Utah was ranked No. 7 in the final week of both polls.
That's how the BCS was designed to work. If Cincinnati and Boise State were to ever play on the sacred Rose Bowl field for the BCS title, you'd find someone like Jim Delany alone in a darkened room, mumbling to himself.
Using opinion polls to determine a champion is patently absurd, of course. The system, at its core, is meritless. Yet this is what they wanted.
Employing 173 human voters (114 in the Harris Poll, 59 in the coaches') provides institutional protection against the non-politically connected clubs. Many have proven they are either incapable or unmotivated to cast intelligent ballots, A number admitted to never even bothering to watch Utah play last year before dismissing them.
This all but assures the money stays with the ruling class. Only the threat of an anti-trust lawsuit allowed limited access to BCS bowls earlier this decade. A title game appearance seemed impossible.
Boise, however, has apparently built its own name up to an unexpected level. Combine that with winning a high-profile opener to a season with an historic number of top-five upsets and the Broncos are in front of the logjam of one-loss contenders, not behind it.
Three of the four teams ahead of Boise – No. 1 Florida, No. 3 Alabama and No. 4 LSU – play each other, potentially more than once. At best only one can emerge unbeaten. The other two, based on traditional voting patterns, would drop behind Boise after a loss.
The No. 2 team, Texas, still has games against as many as five ranked teams, including No. 8 Oklahoma (at a neutral site with quarterback Sam Bradford back). Then there's the Big 12 title game.
The likelihood of two of the current top four finishing 13-0 is fairly small. In the past three seasons, only one big six conference team (Ohio State, 2006) has entered the bowl season unbeaten. The SEC has produced the last three BCS champions yet no one has made it through league play unscathed since 2004.
If history holds, Boise just needs to maintain its place and watch the top two come to them. To keep the Broncos out someone would have to jump them. Traditionally this doesn't occur, no matter how unimpressive the schedule.
In 2007, Kansas climbed all the way to No. 2 in the BCS standings despite playing a schedule that, at that point, was weaker than Boise will play this year.
At the time of its Thanksgiving weekend matchup against then-No. 1 Missouri, KU had defeated 11 teams that would post a combined record of 52-83 (.385). Only three (8-6 Central Michigan, 7-6 Oklahoma State and 7-6 Texas A&M) would finish with winning records. The voters didn't care (or realize it). They just kept pushing KU higher.
Kansas eventually had to play a strong team to prove itself. If it hadn't lost to Missouri, Oklahoma was waiting in the Big 12 title game.
Boise won't have such a hurdle.
So to stop Boise the voters will have to reverse course. Either that or the BCS will need the mathematically unsound computer formulas to save it from blue turf invaders (next year's computer formula "tweak" – drop 10 spots in the rankings if you're from the WAC).
It may turn out that an unbeaten Boise is worthy. First, just because the schedule doesn't offer the opportunity doesn't mean the Broncos aren't capable of beating anyone, including in the title game. That Oregon victory looks better by the week.
What if this season is like 2007, when so many teams stumbled, two-loss LSU climbed five spots in the final week to earn a title-game slot?
Would 173 people agree to take a two-loss team over perfect Boise?
You can count on one thing if it comes to it – an overwhelming backlash by the establishment. The media it controls (mostly television) will denounce a Boise candidacy with a talking-point campaign straight out of Washington politics. You won't go three plays during broadcasts in November without commentators lecturing that sending Boise to the title game would be the worst idea since the Geico cavemen got their own sitcom.
In this particular case, the BCS defenders might have a point.
It would be fun to watch them sweat it out, though.
- Boise State