The National Championship Case for Boise State

Although I did not want to see a rematch in Glendale and I believe the Gators have the better claim to the No. 2 ranking, I also believe that Michigan is not out of the national title hunt and I explained how a Maize and Blue championship could come about, which prompted LD to ask, sensibly enough, whether Boise State had a shot:

What if...

Boise State beats Oklahoma by two touchdowns in the Fiesta Bowl.

Florida beats OSU close in a boring and uninspired game.

USC beats Michigan in a pedestrian game.

When the dust settles, the most impressive win in the bowl games belongs to Boise State, and they are the only unbeaten team in the country.

Unlikely, absolutely.

Is there any way that the Broncos could convince voters to give them First Place votes?


Doug probably is right that I'm making this overly complicated, but, hey, remember what I do for a living. (Besides, if LD's scenario comes to pass, won't every denizen of Bulldog Nation be glad that we laid the groundwork for denying the Gators' claim to the top spot in the rankings?)

Clearly, the problem for the Broncos is that B.S.U. played the nation's 99th-toughest slate, while Florida faced the ninth most difficult schedule. Then again, the results of the bowl games will change those numbers somewhat, and Boise State would have the benefit of being the lone unbeaten team in Division I-A at that point, so the Broncos would have much the same claim to the No. 1 ranking that B.Y.U. had at the end of the 1984 season, when poll voters awarded the Cougars the national championship.

If Brigham Young can win a national championship in a defensive struggle in the Holiday Bowl, then surely Boise State has a valid argument to make today! (Photograph from Holiday Bowl.)

Therefore, while employing the resume ranking method and assuming Boise State and Florida victories in their respective B.C.S. bowl games, I will try to provide an intelligible (if almost certainly purely hypothetical) answer to LD's legitimate question.

B.S.U. opened the season with a Division I-AA opponent, but the Gators played a lower-tier team, as well, so that's a wash. However, Florida played only two teams with four or fewer wins---Central Florida (4-8) and Vanderbilt (4-8)---whereas Boise State played five: Fresno State (4-8), Idaho (4-8), Louisiana Tech (3-10), New Mexico State (4-8), and Utah State (1-11).

The Broncos simply have played more bad teams than the Gators, but they have thrashed those sub-par opponents more soundly. The five Division I-A teams with losing records to have appeared on B.S.U.'s schedule lost to the W.A.C. champions by margins of 55-14, 40-28, 42-26, 45-21, and 49-10, respectively.

U.F., on the other hand, beat U.C.F. by a convincing 42-0 final score but, for the second straight year, got by Vanderbilt by the narrowest of margins, winning 25-19 in Nashville. (Of course, those Commodores are some bad dudes. . . .)

What about the good teams B.S.U. has played, though? Counting Oklahoma, the Broncos will have faced six teams that made it into postseason play and another that was bowl-eligible. Boise State's bowl-bound victims include W.A.C. foes Hawaii, Nevada, and San Jose State, as well as the Mountain West's Utah and the Pac-10's Oregon State. The Broncos won these five games by an average margin of 36-16 and their wins over the Beavers (42-14) and the Utes (36-3) were by convincing margins.

(Insert obligatory "What is a Ute?" reference here.)

Including Ohio State, Florida will have faced 11 participants in postseason play in a 14-game campaign. A victory in Glendale will give the Gators 10 wins over teams that went to bowl games, although four (and, in LD's scenario, five) of those positive outcomes will have come by narrow margins and Florida's tally of bowl-bound victims will have been inflated by conference tie-ins, as Emerald Bowl invitee Florida State and Independence Bowl representative Alabama both finished with the same 6-6 record as a Wyoming squad that lost to Boise State but will spend the holidays at home.

To this point, the Gators have beaten five teams with between eight and 10 wins (Arkansas, Georgia, L.S.U., Southern Mississippi, and Tennessee), whereas the Broncos have defeated four teams in that same range (Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon State, and San Jose State). B.C.S. bowl victories by both orange-and-blue-clad contenders would give each a single win over a team with 11 or more victories (pending the outcomes of the Citrus, Hawaii, and Sugar Bowls, of course).

In sum, Boise State has played more bad teams but beaten them more soundly, while Florida has played more good teams but beaten them more narrowly. In fact, the two-touchdown Fiesta Bowl win posited in LD's scenario would mean that B.S.U. ended the season on a nine-game run in which only one game was close. Likewise, a narrow escape for the Gators in the B.C.S. title game would make Ohio State the seventh straight Division I-A opponent U.F. had failed to beat convincingly . . . or, in the case of Auburn, at all, as the Gators have a 10-point loss to blemish their resume, while the Broncos are undefeated.

The Broncos are harmed by the weakness of their slate, particularly the presence of Sacramento State on their schedule and the collapse of Fresno State. Still, an undefeated W.A.C. team with convincing wins over Big 12, Mountain West, and Pac-10 opponents would have to receive some attention and I believe the answer to LD's question lies in the postseason performances of B.S.U.'s regular-season opposition.

If the Beavers win the Sun Bowl and the Broncos win the Fiesta Bowl, Boise State will have beaten three teams with double-digit win totals, each of which plays in a different conference from the other two such quality victims. A Hawaii victory over Arizona State in Honolulu would further validate B.S.U.'s season.

Of particular interest would be Nevada's showdown with Miami in the MPC Computers Bowl, of all places. Consider these scores from the 2006 regular season:


Chris Ault's Wolf Pack beat Northwestern about as convincingly as Michigan did, but the Broncos went to Reno and handed the home team a real thrashing. If Nevada wins by a double-digit margin over a Hurricane squad that narrowly lost to a Florida State squad that narrowly lost to Florida, does that lend additional legitimacy to the impressiveness of B.S.U.'s road victory over what would then be a nine-win Nevada team?

I am told that Nobel Prize-winning economists have demonstrated the inability of voting systems based on ranked preferences to meet certain reasonable criteria when multiple options are available, which I take to mean that college football polls either are fool's errands or great fun, and probably both, so there likely is no definitive answer to LD's question.

 

Even if there is no definitive answer to LD's question, though, I believe it is abundantly clear that Fotodog's suggestion that someone get Kristin Davis a bulldog is a first-rate idea! (Photograph of Kristin Davis with dog from Baywood Pets.)

Nevertheless, I would say that an argument for Boise State, while it would be a bit of a stretch upon the basis of the Broncos' resume, might not be entirely untenable, provided that LD's proposed postseason scenario played out in the manner he described and certain other bowl outcomes broke in B.S.U.'s favor.

If nothing else, though, it would make for interesting offseason discussion . . . and, really, isn't it a point in a sport's favor that it remains an interesting topic of conversation even during the long lull within which games are not being played?

Go 'Dawgs!

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