Many writers, as well as early—I mean really early—polls have Boise State ranked in the top five for the 2010 college football season.
Some are even predicting that if the Broncos run the table, they could be the first non-BCS conference team to play for a national championship.
Well, why not? The Broncos are set to return 21 of 22 starters, including third-year starting quarterback Kellen Moore, who finished last season with 39 TD passes and only three interceptions.
The Broncos are also returning an offensive line that allowed only five sacks all season, the fewest in the FBS.
The Broncos are loaded with other stars on both sides of the ball. Austin Pettis led the country in TD receptions before an injury sidelined him late in the year. Titus Young had over 1,000 yards receiving and also has the second best kickoff return average in the nation.
The entire Bronco defense was solid throughout the 2009 campaign, and head coach Chris Petersen just agreed to a new five-year contract that should keep him and most of his assistant coaches in Boise for a while longer.
All of this should add up to another undefeated season and a return trip to a BCS bowl game and could even lead to an unprecedented appearance by a non-AQ team in the National Championship Game, right?
Well, not without the help of a couple of Boise State’s arch rivals, Fresno State and Nevada.
You see, I still believe that if one or two teams from BCS conferences are undefeated at the end of next year’s season, they will play in the National Championship Game ahead of Boise State.
At this point, it is reasonable to think that Alabama, Ohio State, Texas, Oregon, Iowa, and a few others have legitimate chances at finishing the season next year with no losses. If even one of these teams finishes undefeated and another finishes with one close loss to a ranked opponent, it looks as if an undefeated Boise State would be left out in the cold yet again.
Fresno State and Nevada step up and win some out of conference games against BCS opponents.
Fresno State has a home game against Cincinnati and a road game against Ole Miss, which could both be winnable contests for the Bulldogs. If Fresno State overachieves a little and wins both of these games, they should be ranked in the top 20, if not the top 15.
Remember last season Fresno State lost to Cincinnati by one touchdown in Cincinnati and took Wisconsin into overtime before losing that one. If they can be just a little better this year and win those two OOC games, that would greatly bolster the strength of schedule for Boise State and possibly allow them another win over a ranked opponent if they can beat the Bulldogs in conference play.
Nevada will face BYU in Provo, and they get Cal at home. I don’t expect Nevada to win both of these games and probably not either one, but if they can squeak out a win or at least keep the games close and not get blown out like their 35-0 loss at Notre Dame last year, it will help the overall appearance of the WAC and give a hand up to the Broncos.
Nevada showed flashes of brilliance last year, but lost a lot of credibility when they were handled easily by SMU in the Hawaii Bowl.
Most people don’t know that Nevada had two heads of its three-headed monster rushing attack not playing in that game, but it doesn’t matter. Nevada got blown out by a Conference USA team in a bowl game. That makes the WAC look bad and in turn makes Boise State look not so tough despite going undefeated.
Other WAC OOC games that could help Boise State include:
Hawaii vs. USC (don’t hold your breath on that one), @ Colorado, and @ Army
Idaho @ Nebraska and @ Colorado State
La Tech @ Texas A&M and home vs. Navy
The big knock on Boise State has been that they play in a weak conference, and it’s true. From top to bottom the WAC just isn’t very good, and until at least another team or two rise up in the same season, and give some credibility to the WAC by winning some OOC games against BCS teams, the perception of the WAC isn’t going to change.
If Boise State runs the table in 2010, that’s probably still not enough to get them to a National Championship Game. The hopes and dreams of the Broncos will ride on either BCS teams losing at least one game or some of their in-conference rivals winning games for the greater good of the conference.
If Boise State wants to get to a National Championship Game, they’ll need to root for whatever team plays Alabama, Ohio State, Texas, and Oregon each week, and they’ll also have to pledge their allegiance to arch rivals Fresno State and Nevada for all but one game each.
And go undefeated.