By now, unless you've been living under a rock (or still recovering from your first few weeks back to school) you've heard that #3 Boise State defeated #10 Virginia Tech 33-30 in a "neutral" site game at FedEx Field in Maryland. You may have also heard the loud debate (after two weeks of college football) that Boise State, should they run the table, deserves a spot in the national championship game.
Since the BCS was founded in 1998, it's been a flawed system (although they have made improvements over the past 12 years.) We've seen an undefeated BCS conference team not get a shot to play in the title game (Auburn, which now is also the season USC has forfeited due to the ineligible use of RB Reggie Bush) and another school who did not play in the BCS National Championship game claim a national championship (USC in 2003.) We've also seen quite a few mid-major teams win every game on their schedule and not making it to the game (Boise State 2, Utah 2, Hawaii, TCU).
The first year a mid-major crashed the BCS party was the now national champion-less 2004 season. Undefeated Utah won the Fiesta Bowl over Big East Champion Pitt. It was not a shock that Utah did not make it to the national championship game this year. Also undefeated were USC, Auburn, and Oklahoma. USC ended up destroying Oklahoma 55-19 in the national championship game while Auburn beat Virgina Tech 16-13 in the Sugar Bowl. Even though USC has since been stripped of the national championship, Auburn has not and will not be awarded the title. The 2004 season also marked the last time Joe Paterno voted in the coaches poll. JoePa wanted to vote for Auburn as national champion and wasn't allowed to...and no one puts JoePa in a corner:
"They said, 'Well, you've got to vote or else you can't participate.' So I will not participate in the voting," Paterno said. "Not that I'm against what other people want to do, it's just that philosophically I think you ought to win it on the field. If I have to vote for somebody only because people have said these are the two teams that ought to be in the BCS championship game and I think they left somebody out that probably ought to be in it, that's when I'll feel a playoff ought to be appropriate. I've always been for a playoff."
It took two more years for another mid-major to join the BCS party - Boise State. Again in the Fiesta Bowl, Boise State tricked their way past Oklahoma 43-42 in overtime (one of the most exciting college football games in the last 20 years.) Boise was one of two undefeated teams in college football that season, Ohio State being the other. Despite this fact, it was the one loss Florida Gators who got a chance to play for (and win) the national championship. It was the first glimpse that, despite going undefeated, a mid-major would never get a chance to play for the national championship, largely due to the weak conference schedule they play.
Both Hawaii (2007) and Utah (2008) were able to make it to a BCS game, but it was the 2009 season that hammered home the cold hard truth; a mid-major will never play for the national championship. Undefeated Boise State faced off against undefeated TCU in the Fiesta Bowl (they love mid-majors) while another pair of zero loss teams, Alabama and Texas, went head to head in the national championship game. An undefeated or 1 loss team from a major conference will always be picked over an undefeated mid-major, it's been fact for 12 years.
All of that history now brings us back to Boise State. There is no denying that Boise State was the better team against Virgina Tech, but winning one game against a national ranked opponent from a automatic BCS qualifying conference, doesn't make up for an overall weak schedule. Take a look at Boise State's schedule, besides formerly ranked Virgina Tech (and maybe Oregon State, who is already 1-1), Boise does not play another team that even has a chance to be ranked the rest of the season:
- Virginia Tech
- @ Wyoming
- Oregon State
- @ New Mexico State
- @ San Jose State
- Louisiana State
- @ Idaho
- Fresno State
- @ Nevada
- Utah State
The list above is all the proof you need to understand why Boise won't be in the national championship game if they go undefeated. Alabama coach Nick Saban has already voiced his opinion on the situation. He feels, like many other coaches, it should be about the body of work and not one game:
"It's the full body of work," Saban said on his show, according to the Birmingham News. "It's not just that you can beat one team, but if you have to beat six or seven other teams and have to play with consistency to do it, I think that goes a long way in saying a lot about what kind of football team that you have. And that's no disrespect that you have, because they may certainly be able to do the same thing if they were put in that circumstance."
Boise should have (and could have) added some major beef to that schedule. The Big Ten's newest member, Nebraska, tried to work out a deal with Boise to start a series, but Boise's asking price of $1 million was a little too steep. Penn State is no stranger to undefeated seasons with no national championship in the Paterno years - we have four (1968, 1969, 1973, 1994.)
If Boise State wants to be taken seriously, they will need to rethink their future schedules. Initially, the jump to the Mountain West Conference looked promising. Boise State would have been matched up Top 25 schools Utah, TCU and occasional visitor BYU. Flash forward a couple of months and everything has changed.
Utah, which was a BCS victim twice, will soon become a member of the Pac 12, an automatic bid BCS conference. If the Utes can navigate the waters of their new conference and come out undefeated (much like USC did early this century) there would be no argument against Utah playing for the championship. BYU made the jump to independent football status (and WCC for all other sports), hoping to become the Mormon Notre Dame (the ESPN TV deal didn't hurt either.) Before Utah and BYU announced they were leaving, the MWC was comparable to the Big East or ACC; a couple of decent teams and some space fillers.
When fans of rival teams begin to argue, the first thing that is brought up is the strength of the OCC (unless you are a Pitt fan talking to Penn Staters- you would just say 12-0, ignoring all of the loses, so if that is the case, 48-14.) If Penn State would have ran the table this year (bare with me here) no one would point to the fact that they opened with Youngstown State (the YSU win would come back to haunt them if other teams were undefeated due to the BCS formula). Pundits would talk about how they went on the road and beat Alabama (yea, I know, ouch), Ohio State, and Iowa (all pre-season top 10 teams.) When you play in a power conference, the BCS committee allows room for one cupcake on the schedule, just not seven or eight of them like Boise State currently plays.
Another problem with Boise's schedule strength (and this goes for all teams in the country) is that you won't know the true strength of the schedule until after the season. Boise's big win against Virginia Tech doesn't even matter anymore now that Virgina Tech went out and lost (at home) to 1-AA James Madison University. That loss is equal to the loss Michigan suffered against Appalachian State in 2007. Fortunately for Virgina Tech, they aren't nearly the national commodity Michigan is, so not much will be made of the loss, at least nationally. Tech might be able to rebound from an 0-2 start and win the ACC, but everyone can look at the schedule and see that they couldn't beat, 1-AA James Madison University Dukes at home.
For teams like Boise State and TCU, the administration would point to a playoff system as the answer to the BCS "problem". It's safe to say a playoff would be outstanding for fans of college football. It would provide an even playing field for the mid-majors to prove they belong on the field with the Alabama's and Ohio State's of the world. Our very own Joe Paterno is in favor of a playoff system and has been for years. Like JoePa, I think many of us can agree that the commonly used excuse of athletes missing class is just that, an excuse. It comes down to one thing and that is money.
"To be frank with you, I don't know what the reasons are not to have a playoff," Paterno said during a speaking appearance in Pittsburgh. "You can talk about missing class and all that kind of stuff, [yet] you see basketball go on forever. You have a lot of bogus excuses, but obviously the majority of people who have the say don't want it."
A playoff system with ancillary bowl games could work, as long as the money to each university doesn't change. Universities, conferences, and athletic departments enjoy the guaranteed money that comes with going to a bowl game. Currently there are 34 bowl games, with varying degrees of title sponsors, presenting partners, and local media partners. Those games allow 68 teams (way too many) to play post season football. For now, let's leave the playoff talk for another day.
While the BCS is a flawed system, it does make for some outstanding drama. All 12 regular season games (and conference championship games) make the system a 120 team playoff. Every game matters, even the ones against Youngstown State. At the beginning of September, every team has a chance to have a special season (to some degree.) What you do on the field is almost as important as who you are playing on it. Blowing out Idaho, Hawaii and San Jose State is not the same as winning close games against Virginia Tech. If Boise State is serious about making a real run at the national championship, they should adjust their schedule accordingly or figure out a way to make it into an automatic bid conference.