For TCU and Boise State, BCS title dreams suddenly within reach
Frogs and Broncos no longer need a miracle; they need an Oregon or Auburn loss
If TCU gets in to BCS bowl or title game, Boise State could be left out in the cold
Les Miles, Rich Rodriguez and Joe Paterno all had reasons to celebrate this week
In the summer of 2009, I traveled to Utah to report a story on the 25th anniversary of BYU's 1984 national title team. I asked numerous coaches and players from both the '84 and '09 teams whether a team from outside of the major conferences could ever achieve such a feat under the current BCS system. The general consensus: Yes, but it would take a minor miracle.
This weekend, I returned to Utah to cover BCS No. 3 TCU's 47-7 demolition of the then-fifth-ranked Utes. Suddenly, what seemed like a miracle 16 months ago now appears very feasible. The Horned Frogs' statement win, coupled with LSU's upset of Alabama, has created a reshuffled landscape -- one that allows us to say with about 80 percent certainty that either TCU or Boise State is one Oregon or Auburn loss away from playing for the BCS championship.
That wasn't the case 24 hours before Saturday's games, even though the Horned Frogs and Broncos occupied the same positions in the BCS standings (third and fourth, respectively) as they do today. That's because most pundits, myself included, had presumptively ticketed the Crimson Tide to Glendale assuming they won the rest of their games, most notably the Nov. 26 Iron Bowl against Auburn. LSU's win arguably helped the non-AQ contenders as much as they helped themselves because it essentially creates a buffer for them.
Les Miles' 8-1 Tigers are now the nation's highest-ranked one-loss team, but will need their own miracle to even be able to play for the SEC championship. To get to Atlanta, LSU would need to win out against a schedule that includes a Nov. 27 meeting with 7-2 Arkansas in Little Rock, and for Cam Newton and Auburn to lose twice because of Auburn's head-to-head win on Oct. 23. Based on recent history, voters are unlikely to elevate a team without a conference championship into the BCS National Championship Game.
Next up after LSU is 8-1 Stanford, which faces the same predicament; it can't win the Pac-10 unless Oregon loses twice. Then comes 8-1 Wisconsin, which currently has a lower schedule-strength rating (70th in Sagarin) than TCU (62nd). Then we have Nebraska, which would have the best argument for jumping the non-AQs if it won out, including a victory in the Big 12 title game. But that conference doesn't boast the same elevated respect level as the SEC, and the Huskers' loss to now 4-5 Texas becomes more damaging by the week.
As you can see, TCU's or Boise's "miracle" is suddenly within arm's reach of becoming reality.
The $21 million dollar question, should it come to it, is "which one?" I don't have the foggiest idea, and anyone who says he does is probably a Horned Frogs or Broncos fan.
Boise State started the season No. 3 in the AP poll, and all the Broncos have done since is live up to, if not exceed, the voters' high regard for them. They traveled across the country and beat a team (Virginia Tech) that's currently the overwhelming favorite to win its BCS conference, clobbered the Pac-10's current fourth-place team (Oregon State) and beat six overmatched opponents by an average margin of 51-8. Boise State has now won 22 straight games, 34 of its last 35, and, lest we forget, beat TCU earlier this calendar year in the Fiesta Bowl.
Yet for the second straight season, the Horned Frogs have passed the Broncos in the polls. After watching TCU in person on Saturday, I wouldn't fault anyone for voting as such. TCU put on a clinic against a Utah team that had won 21 straight home games, doing whatever it wanted to offensively and shutting out the nation's third-ranked scoring offense for 55 minutes. This is a complete team, led by a core of veterans like quarterback Andy Dalton (who threw for a career-high 355 yards) but infused with several talented young skill players like redshirt freshman receiver Josh Boyce (who broke two long touchdowns).
"On a big scale ... they've put themselves on a different plateau," TCU coach Gary Patterson raved after Saturday's win. "They made a statement today."
But it's not like Boise State sat around twiddling its thumbs Saturday. It nearly pitched a shutout itself, routing previously 7-2 Hawaii 42-7 and holding the normally prolific Warriors offense to its lowest yardage (196) in 12 years. Not to be outdone by Dalton, quarterback Kellen Moore threw for a career-high 507 yards; Boise gained a staggering 737 on the day.
"Today was a big game with a big opponent with the TV exposure," said Moore. "It was our opportunity to show our best brand of football, and I think we played pretty well."
Mind you, the TCU-Boise conundrum could determine the difference between playing for a national title or playing in ... the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Seriously. Assuming Oregon and Auburn win out, the highest-ranked non-AQ will by rule go to Pasadena to replace the Ducks. The loser is not assured of anything, however, and there's a very real possibility that Boise in particular will get passed over entirely. The Sugar Bowl, having hosted Hawaii, Utah and Cincinnati the past three seasons, is hungry to land a big-name program. And the Orange Bowl could be hosting ACC champ Virginia Tech -- which Boise already faced. The Fiesta Bowl has last pick and will have the Big East champ forced on it.
That pretty much says it all, doesn't it? Virginia Tech, the same opponent that was supposed to serve as Boise's signature win, could cause the Broncos to miss a BCS bowl just by its mere existence. The non-AQs may be sitting prettier than at any other time in BCS history, but they remain forever vulnerable to being shoved back into the basement.