I have never been to Boise. I have never been to the state of Idaho. I'm not sure I would even know how to get to Idaho. It would be roughly a 33-hour drive from where I live in Athens, Ga., and I'm pretty sure I'd get an excellent feel for what it's like to drive through Wyoming. I don't know what the weather's like in Boise; I don't know what the people are like in Boise; I don't even know what time zone Boise's in.
But there isn't a college football team in the country I've cheered for more in the last decade-plus than the Boise State Broncos. Boise State has had some terrific players -- Kellen Moore, Ryan Clady, Doug Martin -- but it was about far more than just players. Boise State was the insurgent. In a corrupt BCS system that seemed designed to thwart fan satisfaction at every turn, one that appeared to get everything wrong on purpose, Boise State was the antidote. Everything it did was fun. The Broncos played on that crazy-ass blue turf. They won the Fiesta bowl on a Statue of Liberty play. (And of course ended the game with a marriage proposal, because why not? They're still together too.) They even somehow bum-rushed the cover of the NCAA Football video game, with Jared Zabransky showing up in his Boise blue in 2008, the year after Reggie freaking Bush was on there. For most of the aughts, Boise State football was the best show in the country.
The one thing they could never do, though, was truly break down the castle gates. Boise State went undefeated in 2006 and 2009 and won the Fiesta Bowl each of those years, over Oklahoma and TCU respectively. It won every game on its schedule, each time. What did this get the Broncos? In 2006, it got them the No. 5 spot in the final AP poll. In 2009, it got them No. 4.
This has always been the fundamental flaw of college football. There is literally no other sport on earth -- with the possible exception of Calvinball -- in which a team can win every single game it plays and still never even be afforded the opportunity to be called the champion. (Probation and postseason bans excluded.) This includes other levels of college football: Just the top one has this problem. In 2006 and 2009 it was Boise State. In 2004 and 2008 it was Utah. In 2010 it was TCU. These were teams that defeated every team they played -- literally, the absolute most they could do -- and were never even given the chance to win a national title. This remains insane. This is in opposition to everything we claim to care about in sports. But we allowed this to happen, because it was intrinsic to the game itself, because of all sort of self-justifying excuses from the BCS powers. These are college students. They only play so many games. We're just trying to determine the best team, as if sports were some sort of form of measurement rather than the thrill of competition.
Boise State was the team we thought could end this cycle: The thought was that if it had enough undefeated seasons in a row, one of those seasons, enough of the richer high-profile teams would lose enough games that the BCS would have no choice put to put it in the title game. But it never happened. Boise State just never had any margin for error.
Losing to TCU in the 2008 Poinsetta Bowl -- and let's think about the fact that an undefeated team had to play its bowl game on Dec. 23 against TCU -- probably set Boise State back several years, but the real killer loss was Nov. 26, 2010, when the Broncos fell on the road to No. 19 Nevada 34-31 in overtime (to a young quarterback named Colin Kaepernick). The Broncos were No. 3 heading into the Nevada game and had won 24 consecutive games. They'd defeated two top-25 teams (Virginia Tech and Oregon State), had a legitimate Heisman candidate in Kellen Moore and, at last, the sympathy of the voting electorate. If they were ever going to do it -- if anyone was going to do it -- it would be them. That loss ended that dream. As it turned out, they wouldn't have made it even had they won that game: That was the rare season when there were two obvious undefeated BCS programs -- Oregon and Auburn -- locked into the top game. The next year, when Alabama and LSU played a rematch in the championship, Boise State's only loss was by one to TCU on Nov. 12. That was the last time Boise State was considered a legitimate national title contender. It's just so hard to get into that top two.
Which is why we should be excited about the College Football Playoff. After all, it's not top two anymore -- it's the top four. "I will say that my feeling is that those teams have a better opportunity through the playoff," College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock told ESPN. "For one thing, there's two more slots available." But that's hardly the general consensus. The general consensus is that now that the major conferences have consolidated into their Big Five, it's going to be just as difficult, if not more so, for schools outside those five to break in. After all, whatever conference of those five that doesn't get a team in -- or whatever two conferences -- is going to spend the offseason stomping its feet. The Boise States and the BYUs are arguably more on the outside looking in.
A great example of this, at the present, is Marshall. Marshall should run away with Conference USA, and because there's no upside for Power Five conference teams to play someone as talented as Marshall, their non-conference schedule is weak as well. (Predictive formulas argue Marshall is the second-most likely team to go undefeated this year, behind Florida State.) If Marshall goes undefeated, does it deserve a chance to play in the College Football Playoff over, say, a two-loss SEC team? A one-loss Big Ten team? Maybe so, maybe not, but the one thing the College Football Playoff hasn't resolved is that essential issue: A team can win every game and still never get that chance. The Boise State conundrum remains.
(Speaking of which: Boise State isn't supposed to be a title contender this year, particularly now that Chris Petersen has finally moved up to the big time, but if the Broncos beat Ole Miss on Thursday, Colorado State the week after that, BYU later on and go undefeated in the Mountain West … they have to be considered, right?)
The real solution to this -- and this will solve a lot more than the problem at hand -- will be when the College Football Playoff inevitably grows to eight teams. (Or even six.) It's the direction we're all headed. Many of us spent the last decade cheering for chaos wrought by Boise State and the gang, in large part so we could have a new system. Now that we have a new system, we cheer for more chaos, so that we can have more change. Eight teams, that would have to allow room for undefeated non-Power Five teams. It has to. Right? Right? Long live the blue turf. Long live the little guy.
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