Seven games into their 2011 campaign, Boise State fans have to be asking themselves if it’s déjà vu all over again. The fate that the Broncos were likely going to suffer before their loss to Nevada last season (with regards to the rankings) is shaping up to happen yet again.
Even after moving to the Mountain West conference before the season started and beginning the season with a convincing win over then No. 19 Georgia, the Broncos are steadily losing ground in the rankings to bigger conference teams. Ranked No. 4 in the AP Top 25 after the fifth week of the season, Boise State has fallen to No. 5 in the latest AP poll. While that doesn’t sound all that bad, the number of different teams that have overtaken the Broncos is alarming, considering that they have won convincingly in all their games but one.
It is interesting to note the teams that have leapfrogged Boise State in the rankings since the Broncos were ranked No. 4 in Week 5. In Week 6, Wisconsin took over the fourth spot after a convincing win at home against Nebraska. Wisconsin looked like one of the better teams in the nation and seemed to have earned their spot until last Saturday, when Michigan State upset the Badgers on a last second touchdown. In addition to Wisconsin losing, Oklahoma lost at home to Texas Tech, seemingly freeing up the third spot for the Broncos.
How was Boise State rewarded for their patience? Not so well, actually. The rankings released the day after the Oklahoma and Wisconsin losses had Oklahoma State in the three spot and Stanford in the four spot. Both teams had convincing wins over mediocre teams, but what is most surprising is that the Cowboys and Cardinal were ranked No. 6 and No. 7 in the AP poll the week before.
It is clear that the AP Poll voters have made a decision that is not as hidden as they may think. Undefeated teams ranked behind the Broncos in the poll are breathing down Boise State’s neck until they enjoy a convincing win. When a team like Oklahoma State or Stanford does rough up an opponent, it is the perfect time to move them ahead of the Broncos.
There are two problems with this “plan,” if it can be called such. One is that there aren’t that many undefeated teams behind Boise State left. Of teams that have a realistic shot of overtaking the Broncos in the rankings, only Clemson has a perfect record. Considering the argument about strength of conference the ACC faces, it is unlikely that Clemson will overtake the Broncos if both teams continue to win games. That is, unless the voters need Clemson.
The second problem with keeping Boise State behind other undefeated teams in the polls is that there will be less padding as the season wears on. It is very risky to rely on the teams ahead of the Broncos, as everything could backfire within a few weeks. The monster game featuring LSU and Alabama on November 5th will by default knock out one of the eight undefeated teams left. Stanford has a potential trap game against Oregon on November 12th. Oklahoma State has an extremely tough month of November, facing three ranked teams in four weeks.
This is where Clemson, or possibly more interestingly, a one-loss team comes into the picture. If Oklahoma State, Stanford and either LSU or Alabama all lose, Boise State would be next in line to assume the No. 2 spot in the AP poll and likely the BCS rankings as well. Since Oklahoma State plays Oklahoma in the first week of December, there would be little time left in the season for movement in the rankings. In fact, Boise State ends their season on the same day as the Cowboys.
The burning question is, would the voters have Clemson jump Boise State in the last week of the season (assuming Clemson is also undefeated) or have a one-loss team such as Oregon or the loser of the Alabama/LSU game overtake the Broncos?
It is a very interesting debate. If Clemson were undefeated at the end of the season, it seems possible that the voters would put a Big Six conference member ahead of Boise State, even though the ACC is regarded as one of the weaker of the power conferences. Maybe more likely is a team such as Oregon, if they manage to beat Stanford, or the loser of the Alabama/LSU game, who will have the collective strength of the SEC behind them.
A one-loss team getting into the National Championship over an undefeated Boise State may be able to serve as a catalyst for the playoff system that is inevitably coming when conference realignment is completed. On the other hand, it could simply be the tipping point that sends Boise State running to a conference like the Big 12 as fast as they can.
Regardless, it looks as if voters are doing everything possible to keep Boise State out of the big game.
I’m not saying I want to see something like this happen. Then again, considering what could happen as a result, maybe I do. Whatever the outcome, one thing is for sure: Boise State’s destiny seems to be in the hands of others, and that just isn’t how it is supposed to work.
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