First Boise State surged ahead. Then Nevada fought back. Then it looked like it was all over with a miracle catch, only to have the victory snatched away with too-short goalposts. And then in overtime, a kick that split the goalposts ended the Broncos’ season.
There will be no national championship. There will be no BCS bowl game. In all likelihood, the Broncos will play in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl as the WAC champion with an 11-1 record (assuming they beat Utah State next weekend).
All of this is fair why, exactly?
There are now seven other FBS teams with just one loss: LSU, Stanford, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Michigan State, and Nevada. Out of those seven, six of them are possible at-large BCS teams. Nevada, despite obliterating teams all year (except for potent Hawaii), doesn’t have a realistic chance. Nor does Boise State, which has looked like the most complete team in the nation and will only have a loss to a Nevada team that will likely be ranked in the top 12 by the end of the year.
The reason why can be found in three little words that have been tearing apart college football for decades: strength of schedule.
It’s a battle teams outside the power six conferences have been fighting for years to no avail. Boise State has tried for years to schedule the toughest non-conference games they could in order to balance out a weak conference slate. This year, they scheduled Virginia Tech, Wyoming, Oregon State, and Toledo. The Hokies sound strong, certainly, but the rest of those teams are hardly a murderers’ row.
But if you’re Boise, what do you do? Teams like Texas and Florida aren’t exactly itching to play you when a loss could eliminate them from the title discussion early. So all you can do is schedule tough non-AQ teams like Toledo and hope it’s enough to get you noticed. Meanwhile, teams like Texas and Florida chastise you for not playing anyone serious. But you aren’t playing anyone serious because they won’t agree to play you!
But for all their blustering, are Texas and Florida playing schedules that are any tougher? Boise’s strength of schedule is actually the 8th toughest in the country. Meanwhile, Florida comes in at no. 37, while Texas is a dismal 75th. Granted, neither the Longhorns nor the Gators are exactly tearing it up this season, but it’s interesting to note that traditional power schools aren’t quite playing the vicious schedules we think they are.
So how do Boise and Nevada stack up against the likely BCS teams this year? Assuming those are teams with just one or no losses, let’s take a look.
|Team||BCS rank||SOS rank||Conference|
|Ohio State||8||11||Big Ten|
|Oklahoma State||9||16||Big 12|
|Michigan State||10||17||Big Ten|
Even with Nevada’s big win last night, they still play a weaker schedule than the BCS top 10. But Boise has actually played a tougher slate than all but two of these teams. Are we sure WAC football is as bad as we keep saying it is?
One of the biggest complaints thrown at teams like Boise (and TCU, of course) is that they couldn’t survive the grind of a conference slate like the SEC offers. There’s probably something to that, too. In terms of strength of schedule, the SEC has five teams in the top 10 and seven in the top 25. They play tough football in the South. No one can dispute that. What’s worth pointing out, however, is that the other five auto-qualifying conference also couldn’t survive the grind. Does anyone think that Oklahoma State or Nebraska (the two likely Big 12 championship game contenders) would skirt through the SEC undefeated? What about Ohio State, or Stanford?
For teams outside the BCS aristocracy, there’s just no way to win. When they lose even a single game – a luxury afforded six other teams in the top ten – they’re told they aren’t good enough. If they win all of their games, they’re told they didn’t play any good teams – even when the numbers show they played better teams than the aristocracy.
All the Broncos can do is keep fighting for relevancy outside the sport’s elite. Maybe someday, they’ll be welcomed in as a brother and an equal. Maybe someday we’ll have a sensible, rational way to determine the national champion. Maybe someday, every team will be allowed to play on a level playing field.
It just probably won’t be any time soon.