It's now or never for Boise State

BY Peter Schrager • November 24, 2010

Four thoughts for the college football weekend ahead…

1. Now or never

With a little help from some "friends" in Tuscaloosa and Tucson, a Boise State win Friday night at Nevada could set the wheels in motion for a little bit of college football history making. Yes, a win over 10-1 Nevada would most likely catapult Boise State over TCU and into the coveted No. 3 spot behind Oregon and Auburn in the BCS standings.

If either No. 21 Arizona or No. 11 Alabama can knock off the Ducks or Tigers on Friday afternoon, the streets of Boise could be partyin’ it up late Friday night and early into Saturday morning with BCS national championship dreams.

Boise State in the BCS National Championship Game? With a win and either an Oregon or Auburn loss, it’d be possible. Hell, it’d be likely. In a year where “Death to the BCS” has been a rallying cry, the little guys might actually have their moment.

If Auburn and Oregon both win their Friday afternoon clashes, a Broncos victory over the Wolf Pack would more than likely send Boise State to the Rose Bowl, a first for both the school and the Western Athletic Conference. Because of a bizarre, if not "flukey" one-year rule, the top-seeded undefeated non-automatic-qualifier team in the nation (in this case, Boise or TCU), takes the spot of Oregon (and the Pac-10) in the Rose Bowl if Oregon finishes in the top two and plays in the BCS title game.

Boise State, then, not the likely second-place Pac-10 finisher Stanford or a one-loss LSU or Oklahoma State, would have a date with the Big Ten champions on New Year’s Day. Though I’m sure Vizio (the game’s title sponsors), ABC/ESPN (the broadcast partners), and the city of Pasadena (this game’s host) aren’t exactly thrilled over this prospect, fans who’ve been outraged for years over the disrespect and inequality undefeated teams from non-BCS conferences receive each season should feel at least a minor tinge of satisfaction.

But what if Boise State loses on Friday? Well, picture a mountain several thousand feet in the air. Now, picture being a few arms’ lengths from the top of said mountain. Now, picture sliding all the way down that mountain to the bottom in an instant.

Or, just picture Lindsay Lohan’s career post-Mean Girls.

Yes, if Nevada beats Boise — which is quite possible — the Broncos would not only miss out on any shot at the BCS National Championship Game, but they’d miss out on the Rose Bowl, miss out on winning the WAC title outright, and miss out on going to even a somewhat relevant bowl game.

As I mentioned in my “Black Friday” column on Monday, based on the Western Athletic Conference's rulebook, there'd be no "tiebreaker" to determine the conference champion. Rather, the conference’s “Bowl Placement Committee” would choose which bowl game the Broncos would be playing in. Looking at the list of WAC-aligned bowl games, that'd most likely mean a Jan. 9 game — more than a week after the Rose Bowl and a day before the BCS National Championship Game — versus a bottom-barrel ACC team in something called the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. In an instant, the Broncos would go from playing Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl to playing a mediocre Boston College or Clemson squad out in San Francisco on a Sunday night on cable television.

From BCS championship dreams to some free packets of mac and cheese? The nightmare could be a reality if Boise State doesn’t win on Friday night in Reno.

It’d be a shame — with the Rose Bowl’s quirky one-year rule, with the way Virginia Tech has responded to the early season losses to both Boise and James Madison — for Boise State to not make the most of the opportunity that’s been presented this year. With conference re-alignment coming and 20 of 22 starters from last year’s Fiesta Bowl champion squad in the lineup, this may be the Broncos’ best — if not only —chance to make it to the top of the mountain.

It’s really now or never for Boise State.

2. And Nevada’s a pretty darn good squad

Of course, lost in all this talk of Boise State’s dream season and what’s on the line for the Broncos has been a pretty amazing 2010 campaign for Nevada. Ranked in the Top 25 this year for the first time since 1948, the 10-1 Wolf Pack are averaging 51.5 points since facing Hawaii in October, and are fresh off a 52-6 waxing of New Mexico State last weekend. In its last three games, Nevada has forced nine turnovers and committed just two. Oh, it comes riding into this one in the midst of an 11-game home winning streak.

For as talented as the Rogers brothers are at Oregon State and Tyrod Taylor is in Blacksburg, Va., Boise State has not faced an individual like Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick this season. Though Kaepernick is 0-3 all-time versus the Broncos, he’s had no trouble scoring in any of those contests. He’s thrown for 625 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions while rushing for 278 with two scores in his three games versus Boise State.

With a win, Nevada not only would be crushing Boise’s dream season, but it would be earning at least a share of the conference title.

“You come out every year trying to win a championship,” Kaepernick told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “It’s your main goal. Not being able to accomplish that would be a little bit of a failure to me.”

Kaepernick, a master of Chris Ault’s pistol offense, is one of 15 finalists for the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award. He needs just 16 rushing yards to reach 1,000 for the third consecutive season and is already the Nevada school leader in passing and rushing touchdowns. Boise quarterback Kellen Moore has handled the Heisman talk well and flourished all season. With a win Friday, he more than likely becomes the first Boise State player to be invited to New York City by the Heisman Trust. If Kaepernick finds a way to knock Moore’s Broncos off on Friday night, he’ll most likely be the conference’s quarterback winning the WAC’s Player of the Year Award.

Nevada will need to come out guns blazin’ if it hopes to stand a chance. If you recall last year’s Thanksgiving weekend Friday night duel on the smurf turf, the Wolf Pack trailed 20-0 before waking up and rallying. In 2008, they were down 14-0, too. Boise State has outscored Nevada 34-0 in the first quarter of the past two meetings. Meanwhile, the Broncos have outscored opponents 300-38 in the first half this season.

A Rose Bowl berth, a conference title, various player and coach of the year awards — what’s not to like about this Friday night shootout?

3. Gee golly

On Wednesday, Ohio State University president E. Gordon Gee, whose school maintains the largest athletic program in the country, said that TCU and Boise State do not face a difficult enough schedule to play in the national championship game.

“Well, I don’t know enough about the X's and O's of college football,” said Gee, formerly the president at at West Virginia, Colorado, Brown, and Vanderbilt. “I do know, having been both a Southeastern Conference president and a Big Ten president, that it’s like murderer’s row every week for these schools. We do not play the Little Sisters of the Poor. We play very fine schools on any given day. So I think until a university runs through that gantlet that there’s some reason to believe that they not be the best teams to (be) in the big ballgame.”

Boise State’s out-of-conference games this year? Then-No. 10 Virginia Tech in Washington D.C., then-No. 24 Oregon State, Wyoming and Toledo.

Ohio State’s out-of-conference slate this year? Marshall at home, then-No.12 Miami at home, Ohio at home, and Eastern Michigan at home. Those teams have a combined record of 21-23.

Ohio State played just one road game before Oct. 16.

I know the WAC can’t be compared to the Big Ten (not with New Mexico State as a member, at least), but you can make the argument that Hawaii, Fresno State and Nevada — also members of the WAC — would all be in the thick of things, if not in the upper half of the Big Ten standings this season.

Boise’s beaten Virginia Tech and Oregon State, Fresno State’s beaten Cincinnati, and Nevada’s blown out Cal. Those are quality wins.

In short, I don’t quite agree with President Gee.

And if we get a Boise State-Wisconsin/Ohio State/Michigan State Rose Bowl, I think a lot of people will be surprised at the outcome.


4. Thirty-one years in the making

North Carolina State, a team no one even considered a legitimate contender in the ACC before the start of the season, is just a win over Maryland away from earning a spot in the ACC championship game.

“If you asked me this time last year what we were going to be doing right now, I’d like to have said we were going to play for an ACC championship,” linebacker Audie Cole said Monday, “but I don’t know if I’d have actually believed it.”

The Wolfpack hasn’t won an ACC title in 31 years, but have rattled off two straight wins and are now 5-2 and in control of the ACC Atlantic.

“We’ve tried to keep it as a one-game championship each and every week,” coach Tom O’Brien said this week. “I think that’s the only way you can do it. Now they’ll believe me because it is the last game. It is the championship game of the Atlantic Division. We have an opportunity to do something special.”

It’s been anything but an easy journey. The Wolfpack are on the road this weekend in College Park, marking their third away date in four weeks. They lost by a point at Clemson three weeks ago and had to claw back from a 19-10 third-quarter deficit against rival North Carolina in Chapel Hill last Saturday. History isn’t on their side, either. Maryland’s beaten N.C. State all three times the two teams have played since Tom O’Brien took over for Chuck Amato in 2007.

A win on Saturday would put them up against Virginia Tech in an ACC Championship Game with an Orange Bowl berth on the line. None of this seemed possible back in August.

They’re not there yet.

“We’ve been taking it one game at a time,” offensive guard R.J. Mattes told reporters this week. “And now it’s really one more game left.”

Schrager BCS bowl projections through Week 12

BCS National Championship Game: No.1 Oregon vs. No.2 Boise State
Rose Bowl: Stanford (At Large) vs. Wisconsin (Big Ten Champions)
Fiesta Bowl: Nebraska (Big 12 Champions) vs. Connecticut (Big East Champions)
Sugar Bowl: Auburn (SEC Champions) vs. Ohio State (At Large)
Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech (ACC Champions) vs. LSU (At Large)

Huh? OK, here’s how I see it playing out:

Auburn loses to Alabama, but wins the SEC championship Game in Atlanta next week, earning a spot in the Sugar Bowl. Boise beats Nevada something like 45-35 Friday night, then wallops Utah State, somewhat surprisingly getting bumped up to the No. 2 spot in the BCS Standings.

TCU? Sorry, Horned Frogs. The Utah win in Salt Lake City that looked so amazing a few weeks back lost a lot of its luster when the Utes were blown out, 28-3, by Notre Dame and an 18-year-old quarterback in South Bend two weeks ago. The win over Oregon State on opening weekend? The Beavers’ loss to Washington State ruined any reason to brag about that one. Despite going undefeated, I don’t see TCU getting an at-large bid over one-loss Ohio State or one-loss LSU. And if given the choice, the Rose Bowl would rather keep the Big Ten/Pac-10 natural rivalry alive than go with the Horned Frogs.

Nebraska beats Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Championship, LSU handles Arkansas this weekend, and Va. Tech and Connecticut earn BCS bids for winning their two conference titles.

Schrager Heisman Ballot Through Week 12

1. Cameron Newton, QB, Auburn
2. Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State
3. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

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