Zemek: Boise State's one-and-done

Posted Nov 14, 2011

Zemek Week 11 Thought: Boise State's zero margin for error

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Week 11  Thoughts, Nov. 14 

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- Cirminiello: Please ... a plus one!
- Fiutak: What does each one-loss team need?
- Harrison: The desperate state of the Big East  
- Zemek: Boise State's one-and-dones
- Sallee: Alabama needs to do it with style
- Johnson: Houston, you're next
By Matt Zemek

You might have seen these stats paraded in the college football section of your local newspaper or favorite sports website on Sunday, but they're worth repeating:

No home-field conference losses since 1998. No home-field losses since 2005. A 35-game home-field winning streak. No halftime deficits faced since 2007. Three perfect regular seasons in the past five years.

In most competitive environments, these kinds of achievements inspire admiration more than anything else, and perhaps some undercurrents of skepticism among a minority of the population. Debates can take place on the margins when discussing teams that produce the statistics mentioned above, but at the core of the discussion, praise should be the first order of the day.

Yet, there's something about college football – something you don't need to look very long to find – which makes the majority of the pigskin-loving population revel in the downfall of a team which loses as rarely as Boise State has in recent years. The internet was a place of revelry when TCU bumped off the Broncos on Saturday in Boise, putting an end to so many streaks that stamped the BSU program as one of the great overachievers and maximizers in recent college football history.

Kellen Moore's career record stands at 46-3, with those three losses coming by a total of five points, two of them by one point to TCU and the third loss being in overtime. Only in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl did Moore himself bear an appreciable share of blame for the final outcome; his performance this past Saturday, much like his performance in last year's 34-31 loss at Nevada, was brilliant. Rarely has a quarterback made so few missteps in the crucible of collegiate competition. Moore deserves to have a plane ticket for New York City on the second weekend of December. His coach, Chris Petersen, has lost all of six games in six seasons, proving himself as one of the most masterful (and in-demand) coaches in the country. The only reason Petersen stays in Boise is that he wholeheartedly wants to. The success, the continuity, the excellence of the quarterback, the rootedness of the head coach, all from a modest-sized city in the American West – these are things to celebrate. Why does most of America rejoice in Boise State's latest stomach-punch moment?

The Bowl Championship Series.

It must be said that the BCS – since its bowl roster was expanded by one game (to five) in the 2006 season – has indeed given schools such as Boise State the chance to play in a premium January bowl. The BCS has allowed less prominent programs to attain a place in the spotlight. BCS proponents and defenders must be accorded that much.

However, in the next breath, it also has to be said that these same outsiders in the college football world are held to a different standard. When Oklahoma loses once or Nebraska loses twice, those teams can remain in the running for a BCS bowl. When Connecticut goes 8-4 as it did in 2010, it can still punch a ticket to the Fiesta Bowl. The Big East champion this year will likely carry at least three losses into the Orange Bowl. The 2000 Purdue Boilermakers brought three losses into the 2001 Rose Bowl against Washington. The 2002 Florida State Seminoles lugged four losses into the 2003 Sugar Bowl against Georgia.

When Boise State loses once, though, it's all over. Only if several dominoes fall into place – Houston, Southern Mississippi, TCU and Stanford all losing in the coming weeks – could Boise entertain notions of a return trip to a BCS bowl. America will likely be deprived of a Boise State-Alabama Sugar Bowl which would have enriched the sport and enlivened our conversations during bowl season. The BCS might offer access to the likes of Boise State, but that access isn't as readily available as it is to power-conference schools. In 2008, 12-0 Boise was passed over by 10-2 Ohio State for the Fiesta Bowl. An 11-1 season in 2010 sent Boise to the Las Vegas Bowl, the same destination the Broncos are likely headed for a month from now. The small and very rare benefits the BCS offers to college football are quickly swallowed up by its towering, substantial deficiencies.

Again, though, why the animus against Boise State? It's because of that other element of the BCS: its lack of a plus-one or any other system which allows for at least one extra game beyond the bowls. Because the BCS (beginning with founder Roy Kramer and continuing with Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany) has steadfastly stood against structurally reforming the bowl system, the regular season is followed by one and only one game bearing the "national championship" level. Eight-team playoffs are unwieldy entities, and in most seasons, they're not needed to determine a national champion. In most seasons, however, a plus-one – that simplest of reforms – would have resolved the sport's ultimate dispute. The absence of this one extra layer of competition is, in the end, responsible for the national reaction to Boise State.

If Boise State had gone 12-0, and if the Broncos had to beat Alabama in a Sugar Bowl national semifinal before beating LSU in the Superdome in a plus-one national title game, the population would be a lot less resistant to Boise State's presence. If any "outsider," given a light regular-season schedule because… well… it's an outsider, had to beat at least two elite teams instead of just one to win the national championship, public resentment would decrease to a significant extent. It wouldn't evaporate, but it certainly wouldn't exist to the degree that it does today. People hate Boise State because they rightly felt the Broncos didn't deserve to play for the national championship in light of their soft schedule. The only problem is that Boise State's loss will probably deprive a really good team from getting a chance to prove itself against a worthy opponent in a bowl.

A Boise State Las Vegas Bowl or Poinsettia Bowl won't give the Broncos a team that will challenge them. Everyone in the sport should relish the prospect of a five-star meeting with Alabama's defense or even a team like Clemson. College football should want a BSU in a spotlight game, but the BCS system is currently in the process of pushing the Broncos outside the candy store, as was the case last season. Yes, it's right to have feared the possibility of Boise State playing for the national title without having met a top-10 team in the regular season. However, when BSU's loss likely means that a credentialed program will miss out on an eye-pleasing and publicity-generating non-championship BCS bowl – hurting the sport in the long run – the depth of anti-Boise animus emerges as a sadly misplaced and poorly calibrated outpouring of emotion.

As was the case last year, this program – this school, this coach, this quarterback – deserves so much more than what it has received… not only from the population in the immediate aftermath of a wrenching loss, but from the BCS system itself. The BCS, whose all-or-nothing setup gives the population reason to hate (and not welcome) Boise State's success, is the foremost reason why fans are forced to revel in BSU's rare and razor-close yet ultimately wrenching failures.