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Kyle Gets Conciliatory: An Encouraging Word About Boise State's Place at the Table

The recent Congressional hearings on the Bowl Championship Series are as unlikely to produce anything except talk as the Congressional hearings on steroid use in major league baseball, but give the grandstanding representatives their due: they did produce talk, at least.

One of the more poignant pieces to have emerged from the blogosphere regarding the B.C.S. was this one from Boise State blogger kevanlee:

Boise State, if things remain the way they are now, will never reach the highest goal that a college football team can achieve. No matter what they do - as evidenced by last year's Utah team, the 2007 Fightin' Brennans, and the 2006 BSU team - it's not going to happen for them. They will continue to be shut out of the national championship, left outside of the top of the polls, and generally considered to be lesser than the other big-conference teams in the country. A BCS win is as good as it's going to get. This is why I'm watching the Fiesta Bowl DVD this weekend in my Marty Tadman jersey.

Think about it; every time the Broncos win, they lose. Winning the WAC championship loses the Broncos respect. Winning the Fiesta Bowl means losing out on the national championship. Winning against the Vandals might as well be a loss for how it affects strength of schedule.

The Broncos play football in a glass menagerie built for adolescent children. They can hardly stand up straight without hitting their head on the ceiling. . . .

The true fans know that all this time spent rooting for our team is worth it. I distinctly remember my joy in hearing the news that the Broncos were going from I-AA to I-A. I remember the day that BSU left the Big West to join the WAC (in hindsight, I probably should not have partied as hard as I did, relative to how things are turning out now). And for all the frustration and hardship and marginalization that's occurred on a national level since then, there are rumblings that it will all change one day. And I want to be there when it does.

Rooting for Boise State is by no means an empty pursuit. I love seeing the coaches and the players approach the game the way they do. I love the gameday feel of a Bronco game (most people call this Friday). I love supporting a local team that is worth rooting for.

These are all great reasons to be a Bronco fan.

However, if you're rooting for the Broncos because you want to see them win a national championship right away, your motivation is in the wrong place. You're going to be disappointed because that championship just isn't happening.

Those are interesting sentiments coming from a Boise State fan. For my part, I had this to say about the Broncos prior to the Bulldogs’ 2005 season opener against B.S.U.:

You have to be kidding me.

Boise State?

Boise State, for crying out loud?

In 1933, the same year Georgia joined the Southeastern Conference, Boise State started playing junior college football.

In 1968, the same year Georgia won its sixth S.E.C. title, Boise State started playing N.C.A.A. Division II football.

In 1978, the same year Buck Belue began playing quarterback for the Bulldogs, Boise State began playing Division I-AA football.

In 1980, the same year the 'Dawgs won the major college national championship, the Broncos won the Division I-AA national championship.

In 1996, the same year Georgia played Auburn for the 100th time, Boise State began playing Division I-A football for the first time.

Georgia has won a dozen league championships: one in the old Southern Conference and eleven in the Southeastern Conference. Boise State has won a dozen league championships: seven in the Big Sky Conference, two in the Big West, and three in the W.A.C.

In 1977, seven Broncos were named all-conference players in the Big Sky. This is pretty impressive, until you pause to consider that one of them was Boise State linebacker Willie Beamon. I am almost positive that Willie Beamon is a fictional football player portrayed by Jamie Foxx in Oliver Stone's "Any Given Sunday," so it may be possible that B.S.U. has made up the rest of its athletic history, as well. (If that turns out to be the case, I guess we won't have to ask what the "B.S." in "B.S.U." denotes.)

For all practical purposes, these clowns still were playing Pop Warner football when Jimmy Carter signed the treaty to hand over the Panama Canal. Georgia, by contrast, was playing Pop Warner football while the French were trying to build the Panama Canal in the mid-1890s . . . when the Red and Black were coached by Pop Warner.

So what are the Bulldogs doing playing these late arrivals on the college football scene, these parvenus without tradition, these made-for-T.V. pretenders playing playground football on a publicity stunt of a field situated in the middle of nowhere?

Well, frankly, the 'Dawgs are playing the Broncos because they're good.

Boise State has been to five bowl games in the last six years, scoring at least 34 points in each of them. The Broncos have been among the nation's top two teams in scoring offense in four of the last five seasons. No team in Division I-A has won more games (36) or had a higher winning percentage (.923) over the last three years than the Broncos.

B.S.U. has finished each of the last three campaigns ranked in the top 15 in the final postseason coaches' poll. The Broncos have the nation's longest active home winning streak (25 games), have posted the most consecutive conference victories in W.A.C. history (26), and have claimed three consecutive league championships with records of 12-1 in 2002, 13-1 in 2003, and 11-1 in 2004.

Between 2000 and 2004, the Boise State Broncos went 54-9, giving them the W.A.C.'s best, and the nation's third-best, won-lost record over that span. During the same period, the Georgia Bulldogs posted a ledger of 50-14, ranking the Red and Black fifth in the country and first in the S.E.C.

That is why we should take Boise State seriously, however delayed their entry onto the college football scene may have been.

After the Broncos’ victory over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, I made this case on Boise State’s behalf (with ellipses in the original):

What bedevils the Broncos, of course, is their strength of schedule. B.S.U. faced Division I-AA Sacramento State and a slew of the weak sisters of the W.A.C.: Fresno State (4-8), Idaho (4-8), Louisiana Tech (3-10), New Mexico State (4-8), and Utah State (1-11). That slate suggests that Boise State's 13-0 record has been fattened up by a steady diet of cupcakes.

This, however, is not the case. The Broncos defeated seven bowl-eligible teams . . . more than the number of postseason-qualifying opponents bested by Michigan (6), Oklahoma (6), or Wisconsin (5) and equal to the number beaten by Auburn and California.

B.S.U. beat six teams that finished the season with fewer than six losses . . . as opposed to, say, Southern California (which beat five), Michigan (which beat four), Texas (which beat three), or Wisconsin (which beat two).

Four of Boise State's victims finished the season with nine or more victories and the five bowl-bound opponents beaten by the Broncos during the regular season went a combined 4-1 in postseason play . . . with Nevada falling just short of making it a clean sweep.

Ian Johnson, Jared Zabransky, and their coevals beat an 11-win Hawaii team, beat the Big 12 champion Oklahoma Sooners, badly beat Utah on the road, badly beat a 10-win Oregon State squad that defeated the U.S.C. team that convincingly beat Michigan, and badly beat an eight-win Nevada squad that nearly beat a Miami squad that nearly beat the Florida State team that nearly beat Florida. Aside from East Coast bias and mid-major prejudice, what reasons do we have for believing that Boise State isn't capable of playing with just about anyone?

Yes, there were causes for doubt before. For several years now, Boise State has been the program that cried, "Wolf!" Every time the Broncos appeared on the verge of turning the corner and moving up in weight class, they proved to be the Not Ready For Prime Time Players.

B.S.U. went 12-1 in 2002 . . . but fell to Arkansas on the road by a convincing 41-14 margin. B.S.U. went 13-1 in 2003 . . . but came up short against Oregon State in Corvallis. B.S.U. posted an undefeated record during the 2004 regular season, complete with the Broncos' first win ever over a Pac-10 team . . . but they fell to Big East-bound Louisville in the Liberty Bowl. B.S.U. began 2005 with sky-high expectations . . . but came crashing to earth following a 48-13 whipping administered by the ‘Dawgs.

That was then, this is now. Whether Boise State's elite status will possess longevity cannot now be known, but the Broncos' legitimacy in 2006 is beyond question. In 1984, Brigham Young went 13-0, beating 8-4 Independence Bowl champion Air Force, 5-6 Baylor, 3-8 Colorado State, 7-4 Hawaii, 6-6 Michigan, 4-8 New Mexico, 3-7-1 Pittsburgh, 4-7-1 San Diego State, 6-5 Tulsa, 6-5-1 Utah, 1-10 Utah State, 2-9 U.T.E.P., and 6-6 Wyoming . . . and the Cougars won the national championship.

In 2004, Utah went 12-0, beating 5-6 Air Force, 3-8 Arizona, 5-6 Brigham Young, 4-7 Colorado State, 7-5 New Mexico, 6-6 North Carolina, 8-4 Pittsburgh, 4-7 San Diego State, 7-5 Texas A&M, 2-9 U.N.L.V., 3-8 Utah State, and 7-5 Las Vegas Bowl champion Wyoming . . . and the Utes garnered gobs of respect for non-B.C.S. conference contenders everywhere.

Without taking anything away from the 1984 B.Y.U. and 2004 Utah squads, it appears clear that the 2006 Boise State team accomplished more on the field than either of them. Obviously, I haven't begun considering Ohio State's and Florida's resumes in depth, as their respective seasons are not yet complete, so I am not going so far as to state definitively that a Gator victory in Glendale would cause me to vault the Broncos into the top spot.

I don't rule it out, though . . . and neither should any other conscientious college football fan, whether coach, sportswriter, or BlogPoll voter.

When it was argued that Georgia’s throttling of Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl would set back the cause of mid-majors vying for high-profile spots in major postseason games, I defended the Broncos from comparisons to the Warriors:

Hawaii was less dominant against a demonstrably weaker schedule. The Warriors won by a touchdown against a Pac-10 team with nine regular-season losses; the Broncos won by four touchdowns against a Pac-10 team with nine regular-season wins. B.S.U. won three road games against bowl-bound teams, winning decisively twice, while the Aloha State Adventurers did not play a single away game against a team with a winning record, yet the islanders only narrowly escaped with a victory in three of their five road trips.

Clearly, last year's Boise State squad did far more over the course of its regularly-scheduled slate to earn the Broncos' bid to the Fiesta Bowl . . . and that fact was borne out by the postseason performances of the respective W.A.C. champions' opponents. This year's Hawaii squad tangled with three bowl-bound opponents, who collectively posted a 1-2 ledger in the Hawaii, Humanitarian, and New Mexico Bowls, whereas last year's B.S.U. unit crossed paths with five bowl teams, who between them went 4-1 in the Armed Forces, Hawaii, MPC Computers, New Mexico, and Sun Bowls. . . .

Hawaii had a fine season, but the Sugar Bowl shellacking merely confirmed suspicions many had harbored previously about the Warriors. Boise State's detractors, on the other hand, were looking at the blue turf and ignoring the scoreboard. The knock on the islanders is entirely legitimate, but it is specific only to the Aloha State Adventurers. Reasonable distinctions between the two existed, and were discernible, before the last two rounds of B.C.S. bowls were played and the lesson to be gleaned from the results is not that non-B.C.S. conference teams may be dismissed out of hand, but that some undefeated mid-majors are nearer to dropping the "mid-" than others.

Finally, when it was argued that teams from outside the six automatically qualifying conferences had no way to break through the glass ceiling, I disputed that claim using B.S.U. as my example:

I dispute the contention that the Broncos "can do very little about [their schedule], because they don't play the juggernauts that abound in the Big-12, ACC, SEC or Big-10." First of all, Boise State has a great deal to do with its own schedule, particularly now that its "feel good" Fiesta Bowl victory has made the Broncos a household (read: marketable) name with telegenic appeal to the Worldwide Leader in Sports.

Secondly, and more to the point, since when does B.S.U. not "play the juggernauts" from the B.C.S. conferences? Since moving up to Division I-A status in 1996, the Broncos have played regular-season games against Arizona State (in 1996), Arkansas (in 2000 and 2002), Georgia (in 2005), Oregon State (in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006), South Carolina (in 2001), U.C.L.A. (in 1999), Washington (in 2007), Washington State (in 1997, 1998, 2000, and 2001), and Wisconsin (in 1997). Four of those games were played in Boise and those nine major conference opponents between them have attended five Capital One/Citrus Bowls, four Cotton Bowls, a Fiesta Bowl, seven Rose Bowls, and three Sugar Bowls (in addition to a slew of Holiday, Outback, and Sun Bowls) since the aforementioned 1996 season. Despite not scheduling the likes of L.S.U., Ohio State, or Southern California, Boise State has loaded its slate with juggernauts.

B.S.U. travels to Eugene next September 20. The Broncos have upcoming dates scheduled with Oregon in 2009 and with Oregon State in 2009 and 2010. Boise State will host two of those three meetings with Pac-10 opponents. Playing twenty games against B.C.S. conference opponents from the West Coast, the Midwest, and the South---six of which are home games in the Gem State---doesn't sound like a bad deal for the Broncos in their first fifteen seasons as a Division I-A program.

Accordingly, while I believe kevanlee is right to emphasize the importance of such regular-season achievements as rivalry victories and conference championships, I believe he sells short his team’s chances of playing for the ultimate prize. Boise State is one of the sport’s great success stories, making the jump to Division II in 1968, to Division I-AA in 1978, to Division I-A in 1996, to the W.A.C. in 2001, and to a B.C.S. bowl in 2006. What’s amazing isn’t how slowly the Broncos have made progress, but how quickly they have done so.

I sympathize because it often is forgotten for how long, and until how recently, Southern gridiron teams were deemed the redheaded stepchildren of college football, regarded as inherently inferior to their Eastern and Midwestern brethren. Georgia broke out of obscurity the way Boise State has broken out of obscurity: by going on the road, facing the top teams in the land, and beating them.

(Interestingly enough, the Oklahoma Sooners brought this process to culmination for both teams, albeit in dramatically different ways. The Bulldogs played 36 regular-season games outside the South in the 50 years between 1916 and 1965, earning a top five ranking with a shocking upset of defending Big Ten and Rose Bowl champion Michigan in the Big House in Vince Dooley’s second season. In December 1965, Oklahoma came calling and offered Coach Dooley the opportunity to replace Gomer Jones as the head coach in Norman. One of the ways Georgia athletic director Joel Eaves persuaded Coach Dooley to stay in Athens was by offering him an assistant athletic directorship that gave him control over football-related decisions. From then until the moment Damon Evans succeeded Coach Dooley as the head man in Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall nearly four decades later, the ‘Dawgs did not travel outside the region for a regular-season game. Had the Sooners’ lucrative offer not given Coach Dooley such complete control over the Red and Black gridiron program, Georgia might well have continued playing a national schedule as the Bulldogs did during the Harry Mehre and Wally Butts eras.)

Time and again, we have seen deserving mid-majors vaulted into national prominence by beating the big boys until they have earned their ascension into the ranks of the elite. Wins over Alabama in the 1991 Fiesta Bowl, Michigan State in the 1993 Liberty Bowl, Florida State in a nationally-televised weeknight game in 2002, and over in-state rival Kentucky five times in six seasons between 1999 and 2004 garnered Louisville a seat at the Big East table in 2005.

The same held true for Arizona State, which essentially was the Boise State of the 1960s and ‘70s. Under Dan Devine and Frank Kush, the Sun Devils had one losing season in 24 years between 1954 and 1977. A particularly strong run saw A.S.U. going 11-0 in 1970, 11-1 in 1971, 10-2 in 1972, 11-1 in 1973, and 12-0 in 1975.

Although the Sun Devils then competed in the Western Athletic Conference, to which Boise State now belongs, that string of successful seasons saw Arizona State beating Washington State in 1970 and 1973, Oregon State in 1972 and 1973, Oregon in 1973, and Washington in 1975. While none of those teams was a world-beater, they were all Pac-10 squads . . . as was A.S.U., starting in 1978.

It can happen. For Boise State, it is happening, right before our eyes, and faster than many Broncos fans appear to imagine. The day is coming, and B.S.U. partisans need to do what kevanlee says: stick it out, root, and hope. Also, work to improve your school’s U.S. News & World Report ranking, because, right now, that’s doing a whole heck of a lot more to keep the Broncos out of the Pac-10 than anything they’ve been doing on the (blue) football field.

Step by step, surely and not all that slowly, Boise State is earning its seat at the table. The B.S.U. faithful don’t need to debase themselves by pandering to the do-gooders in the District of Columbia as though their program were some sort of charity case. Keep yearning, and keep earning. We all were there once, and your turn is coming. To deny that self-evident truth is to deny not just the history of college football, but also the history of America.

Go ‘Dawgs!