Most college football fans (or, at least, most college football fans outside of the SEC’s geographical footprint) love a BCS buster.
I count myself among those who was giddy after watching Boise State run a litany of trick plays en route to an upset of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, Utah steamroll Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, and TCU beat Wisconsin to win the “Granddaddy” of all college bowl games.
So what are the chances of a BCS buster this year? Better than you might think.
BCS Buster Hopes Far From Dead
For years my biggest gripe against the BCS has been that mediocre teams from the Big East or ACC (or even the old Big 12 North, if they could upset Oklahoma in the conference championship game) had an easier route to a major bowl game than more deserving teams from the Mountain West, WAC, MAC, or Conference USA. (Sorry Sun Belt.)
This year’s hope for a BCS representative from one of the second-class conferences appeared to have died with Louisiana Tech’s 59-57 loss to Texas A&M last Saturday. Had the Bulldogs kept the Aggies out of the end zone on one of A&M’s seven touchdown drives, Tech likely would have strolled through the diluted WAC and into the Orange (or maybe the Sugar) Bowl.
But when you play in the WAC, a single loss—even a two-point loss to a ranked team—will knock you out of the Orange Bowl and into the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
There is still hope for an undefeated team from outside the six power conferences (or the three power conferences plus three other conferences that get an automatic BCS bid just because).
The Ohio Bobcats from the MAC are 7-0. As much as I would love to see the Bobcats play in Miami on New Year’s Day, they failed to crack the initial BCS Top 25.
Ohio boasts a nice win over Penn State, but the Nittany Lions are the only FBS team with a winning record that Ohio has played so far. The Bobcats have struggled against mediocre competition, beating Massachusetts (0-6), Buffalo (1-5), and Akron (1-6) by only one score each.
A bunch of teams would have to lose multiple games for Ohio to climb high enough in the standings to secure a BCS bowl bid.
BCS prognosticators such as Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated, Mark Schlabach and Brad Edwards of ESPN, and Scout’s college football staff are predicting no non-AQ team will play in one of the five major bowls.
But Louisiana Tech and Ohio weren’t our only hopes. There is another.
Don’t Forget About Boise!
The “another” is the patron saint of BCS haters, Boise State.
Unlike other Boise teams that have played in BCS games, this year’s Broncos team already has a loss, to a not-as-good-as-advertised Michigan State squad. But there’s no rule that says that a team from the Mountain West or WAC must be undefeated to play in one of the five major bowl games.
For college football’s second-class citizens, placement in the final BCS standings—and not overall record—is what matters.
Here are the rules regarding teams from non-AQ conferences:
3. The champion of Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference, the Sun Belt Conference, or the Western Athletic Conference will earn an automatic berth in a BCS bowl game if either:
A. Such team is ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS Standings, or,
B. Such team is ranked in the top 16 of the final BCS Standings and its ranking in the final BCS Standings is higher than that of a champion of a conference that has an annual automatic berth in one of the BCS bowls.
No more than one such team from Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference, the Sun Belt Conference, and the Western Athletic Conference shall earn an automatic berth in any year. (Note: a second team may be eligible for at-large eligibility . . . .) If two or more teams from those conferences satisfy the provisions for an automatic berth, then the team with the highest finish in the final BCS Standings will receive the automatic berth, and the remaining team or teams will be considered for at-large selection if it meets the criteria.
According to rule, a non-AQ team clinches a spot in a BCS bowl if it is the highest ranked non-AQ conference winner and either finishes in the top 12 or in the top 16 but ahead of an AQ conference winner.
With Louisiana Tech’s loss, Boise, who is currently 22 in the BCS Standings, will remain the highest ranked non-AQ team, provided they keep winning. The Broncos’ remaining schedule isn’t impressive, but if they beat San Diego State at home and Nevada on the road, they’ll have no trouble staying ahead of Ohio in the computers.
But Boise State, whose most impressive victory was either a 7-6 home win over BYU or a 20-10 home win over Fresno State and whose opening-week loss to Michigan State looks worse every week, has little chance of clinching a bid by rising into the BCS top 12. Instead, they’ll have to take advantage of rule 3b by finishing in the top 16 and ahead of the champion of one of the AQ conferences.
How Boise Can Bust The BCS
Currently there are no Big Ten teams in the BCS Standings. If Boise wins out, they’ll likely stay ahead of the Big Ten champ. Even if Michigan or Northwestern wins out and passes the Broncos in the rankings, Boise State could conceivably end the season ahead of the Big East winner or ACC champ (provided the ACC Coastal Division representative upsets Florida State in the championship game).
Of course, this scenario requires Boise State to jump six teams in the BCS Standings. Right now the Broncos are 23 in the Coaches Poll, 22 in the Harris Poll, and 20 in the computers. But their computer numbers will take a hit after upcoming games against UNLV (1-6), Wyoming (1-5), and Hawaii (1-5).
So while Boise is trying to catch Cincinnati, Stanford, and Clemson in the standings, they’ll have to worry about being passed by TCU, Iowa State, and other teams who play a stronger schedule down the stretch.
But Boise’s weak strength of schedule also gives the Broncos an advantage over its peers in the rankings. Boise State has a good chance to win the rest of the games on its slate; several of the teams ranked ahead of or immediately behind them cannot win out because they play one another.
- Rutgers (15), Louisville (16), and Cincinnati (21) are all undefeated, but they all still have to play one another. At least two of these teams are guaranteed to lose at least once.
- Texas Tech (17) still has to play TCU (23) and Texas (25); West Virginia (13) still has TCU (23) and Iowa State (24); Texas Tech, West Virginia, and TCU all also have Kansas State on their schedule; Iowa State and TCU still have to play Oklahoma.
- Mississippi State (12) has to play Texas A&M (18). Both teams also have Alabama at LSU on their schedule.
Stanford (20) can win out, but the Cardinal has games remaining against both Oregon schools and is unlikely to do so. Clemson (19) still has a game against South Carolina.
These inevitable losses will hurt Boise’s BCS peers in the human polls and will negate some of their strength-of-schedule advantage in the computer polls.
Here are the teams Boise State could realistically pass in the rankings by the end of the season:
- Oklahoma (10—has four games remaining against ranked teams, three on the road)
- Mississippi State (12)
- West Virginia (13)
- Rutgers (15)
- Louisville (16)
- Texas Tech (17)
- Texas A&M (18)
- Clemson (19)
- Stanford (20)
- Cincinnati (21)
That’s ten teams. Boise won’t pass all of them. But they don’t need to. They only need to pass six.
Conference cannibalism alone makes it likely that Boise will move ahead of two of the Big East schools, one or two of the SEC schools, and one or two of the Big 12 schools. The Broncos are also in excellent position to pass Stanford and Clemson. And I haven’t even taken into consideration upsets or late-season collapses.
Of course, Boise also has to avoid getting jumped by the teams below them. Sitting immediately below the Broncos is a trio of Big 12 teams that will be subject to the aforementioned conference cannibalism. If Iowa State or TCU manages to make a leap into the top 16, they will likely do so by knocking one of their conference mates out of the top 16.
Boise State also has to worry about the half of the postseason-eligible Big Ten teams hanging out just below the top 25.
The Legends Division quartet of Michigan, Iowa, Northwestern, and Nebraska will likely take care of itself, as each of those teams still has to play all of the others. All but Northwestern still have a remaining game against either Ohio State or Penn State (who has looked good of late), and whichever team emerges will have to play Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Badgers the Biggest Threat
Speaking of, Wisconsin may be the biggest threat to the Broncos’ BCS aspirations.
If the Badgers run the table, even in a weak Big Ten Leaders Division, they will almost surely surpass Boise State. The computers aren’t crazy about Wisconsin, but voters can’t help but be impressed by an 11-2 team from one of the traditional power conferences.
Winning out for Wisconsin will mean beating Ohio State (at home) and Penn State (on the road) and winning the Big Ten Championship Game. If I had to guess, I’d say that Wisconsin loses two more games and takes itself themselves out of the conversation. But Broncos fans should keep an eye on the Badgers.
If none of the Big Ten teams wins out, Boise State is in great position to celebrate the New Year in Miami or New Orleans.
If I am correct and the Broncos do finish this season in the Orange or Bowl, they will be the least deserving non-AQ team ever to play in a BCS Bowl (with the possible exception of Hawaii in the 2007-08 Sugar Bowl).
This Boise State team isn’t nearly as good as the 2010 and 2011 teams, both of which went 12-1 and played in the Las Vegas Bowl. But Boise shouldn’t apologize, because there have been plenty of less deserving teams from AQ conferences, such as 8-4 Florida State in 2005-06 and 8-4 Connecticut two years ago.
Mediocre Big East and ACC teams play in the Orange Bowl all the time, so no one should complain if a mediocre Mountain West team gets through.
Granted, everything I just wrote will be moot if Boise loses to Nevada on December 1, which is very possible.