Boise's title-game chances, the Thursday night trap, more mail
The pollsters have set a precedent by ranking No. 5 Boise St. this high this soon
Recent history shows top teams would be nuts to play Thursday night road games
Plus: Jimmy Clausen's Heisman chances, top 25 puzzlers and the state of the ACC
Loyal Mailbag readers know well I'm not one for speculating about end-of-season BCS scenarios until late October. This season, however, there's one particular possibility that's simply too fascinating to ignore. It practically jumps off the page when looking at the current polls.
With Boise State now up to No. 5 in the AP and coaches polls and Oregon playing better (re-establishing Boise State's big win), do you think the Broncos have a shot at the national championship game if everyone ahead of them loses?
A week ago, I would have said absolutely, positively, no way. The pollsters won't let it happen.
But we witnessed an extremely interesting development this past weekend. After the No. 4 (Ole Miss), No. 5 (Penn State) and No. 6 (Cal) teams all lost last weekend, the voters could have reorganized their ballots any number of ways. They could have drawn a line in the sand regarding the Broncos and said: "I don't care if they're undefeated -- they're not better than Virginia Tech, USC, Oklahoma or Ohio State."
Instead, the voters treated Boise State the same way they would most major-conference teams and simply moved them up three spots to fill the void. (It didn't hurt that Oregon's credibility-boosting rout of Cal happened the same weekend.) Suddenly, the Broncos are sitting just three spots away from No. 2 in the AP, coaches and Harris polls, and at least two of the three SEC teams above them (Florida, Alabama and LSU) are guaranteed a loss at some point.
Over the rest of the season, Boise faces an indisputably weak schedule including one FCS foe (UC-Davis) and eight other teams ranked between 60th and 105th in CollegeBCS.com's simulated BCS standings. Should they keep winning late into the season and start knocking on the title-game doorstep, we'll witness something else: significant outcry from those who feel the Broncos are undeserving.
However, there's very little precedent for voters suddenly downgrading a team without cause. And contrary to what you might believe, the BCS computers aren't likely to cause the Broncos' undoing. For one thing, they only account for one-third of the overall standings, not to mention an unblemished record goes a long way in the computers' eyes. Last season, both Utah and Boise State actually finished the regular season ranked higher by the computers than the voters. The Broncos may get docked a couple of "style points" should they endure an undue scare against a San Jose State or Idaho, but realistically, the only way they could fail to make up three spots in 10 weeks is if the voters start vaulting other, more "deserving" teams above them following a big win or two.
Ultimately, Boise has to hope all hell breaks loose in the major conferences and nearly every notable BCS-conference team sustains two losses. A one-loss champion emerging from the SEC, Big 12 or ACC championship games would almost certainly surpass the Broncos. So, too, would one-loss USC or Ohio State. What's harder to predict right now is how the voters would treat an undefeated Big East team (Cincinnati or USF) or a one-loss Big Ten team (besides the Buckeyes, whose loss would have come to USC). Would a team like Iowa necessarily surpass the Broncos if they suffered a setback in the lightly regarded Big Ten? It's tough to say.
Meanwhile, there could be a controversy within a controversy should TCU and/or Houston win out as well. The Horned Frogs (which won at Clemson) will wind up playing a tougher schedule, and Houston has a chance to finish with three wins over BCS-conference foes (Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Mississippi State) as opposed to Boise's one. In that case, the Broncos might not even be deemed most worthy of a BCS at-large bid among those three.
My take: Boise is a legitimate top 10 team. This particular squad is more complete than the 2006 team that beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, thanks to a big-time quarterback (Kellen Moore), a powerful running game (though the loss of No. 2 tailback D.J. Harper hurts) and, most importantly, a defense that's already shown it can slow down an explosive Pac-10 offense.
That said, realistically the Broncos would not take down a Florida or Texas in a championship setting, and there will probably be any number of other teams with better résumés. But the pollsters have set a precedent by ranking Boise this high this soon. If they suddenly turn around at the end of the season and blatantly manipulate the rankings to exclude the Broncos, the BCS is going to have yet another credibility issue on its hands.
Did the Iowa victory over Penn State show that the Hawkeyes were underrated, or did it expose that Penn State -- like Ole Miss and California -- was overrated? Once these teams played a respectable opponent they collapsed.
It seems everyone wants to jump to grand conclusions about teams based on these early-season losses. It would be one thing if we'd seen just a few relatively isolated upsets so far, but the reality is, almost no one made it out of September without questions. The off-the-cuff reaction: Yes, it appears Iowa was underrated and Penn State overrated (as a certain someone pointed out back before the season. The Hawkeyes' defense was extremely impressive, and the Nittany Lions' rebuilt offensive line got exposed. But does that mean Iowa is now headed toward a Big Ten title and Penn State to the Alamo Bowl? It's way too early to say.
Hey Stewart, looking over the list of teams that are still undefeated but currently unranked, which do you feel is most deserving of some more recognition? Conversely, which ranked team do you feel has no business being a top 25 team?
I'm definitely surprised Auburn hasn't cracked the AP poll considering the huge offensive numbers the Tigers are putting up (526.25 yards per game) and the fact that they do have one legit win against West Virginia. I imagine there's still lingering skepticism over whether virtually the same cast of players who went 5-7 last year could really be so improved, but Michigan went 3-9 last year with a similarly anemic offense, and the Wolverines cracked the poll as soon as they won their first legitimate game. (The lesson: As always, the best way to earn national recognition is to beat Notre Dame.)
On the flip side, if the polls were truly a 100 percent reflection of actual on-field results, Ole Miss would be nowhere near the top 25 right now. The Rebels have not accomplished a darn thing. But people like me propped them up all offseason as a BCS contender, so clearly it's going to take more than one ugly loss to bump them out. Though give AP voters credit: It's almost unheard of to drop a team 17 spots for anything, much less a conference road loss to a likely bowl team. Even the coaches, generally slow to acknowledge just about anything (like the fact their No. 25 team, Oregon, beat their No. 19 team, Cal, 42-3 last weekend), dropped the Rebels 13 spots. You can tell folks weren't all that confident in them to begin with.
More College Football
College Football Truth & Rumors