David Rules: How Boise State Changed College Football

Kevan LeeSenior Analyst IFebruary 18, 2008

The current state of college football (i.e. chaos, anarchy, fear) is all Boise State’s fault. 

Sorry, BCS conference teams.  Apologies to you, Myles Brand.  Deepest condolences, LSU, USC, and especially, Oklahoma.  But the world you all live in now has no caste system, pecking order, or hierarchy thanks to the heroics of the Broncos.
The 2007 college football season was one of the wildest in recent memory.  Starting with Appalachian State’s win over Michigan and not stopping until Pittsburgh was through with West Virginia, no team was safe from an unexpected loss.  National champion LSU had two such encounters: overtime L’s to Kentucky and Arkansas.  Runner-up Ohio State stumbled at home against Illinois. 

Across the country big-name schools felt the bite of underdogs, and the results were telling: College football has changed…for the better.
All of this upheaval created palpable excitement every week of the season as fans couldn’t wait to see which Goliath was next to fall.  The Davids were not necessarily small-conference schools, but they might as well have been considering how much respect and opportunity they were given beforehand. 

Sure, Stanford plays in the Pac-10, but not even some Mountain West schools would have been 41-point underdogs.

The results screamed for equality, and the mounting losses of BCS schools only seemed to have increased the inevitable march toward a fairer championship system.  If a team like Hawaii—having defeated everyone who had the guts to play them in the regular season—was not given a chance to play for a national title, in a year when a national champion participant came in with two losses, then it will never happen. 

But with enough wins like App State over Michigan and Louisiana-Monroe over Alabama, things are bound to change.

This seismic shift would not have been possible without the Boise State Broncos.  A little more than a year ago, they changed college football’s landscape for good with an improbable victory over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.  No one took small conference schools seriously before the game, but afterwards, everyone saw the Boise States of the world differently. 

They were dangerous.  They were plucky.  But most importantly, they were equals.

Several months later, as the 2007 college football season was just underway, the changing atmosphere was evident when the Broncos traveled to play the Washington Huskies.  In years past, Husky fans would have considered the game a warm-up to the Pac-10 schedule, believing BSU to be nothing more than a speed bump on the way to an easy win. 

But last year, winning was far from a sure thing in the minds of many.

The Broncos carried respect and admiration for what they had done and what they were capable of doing, and Washington was wise not to take them lightly.

 The same scene played out across college campuses all year.  There were no more “easy” games for big schools.  Each week was a battle.  The pride of the bigger programs raised the stakes because they did not want to become the next Oklahoma or let their opponent walk out of town as the next BSU.

Now, this is the reality that we live in.  When Appalachian State opens the season against LSU, the fact that the two schools don’t even play in the same division will hardly matter. 

In previous years, BCS conferences considered the non-conference schedule to be largely a preseason affair, assuming victory over opponents was in the bag.  Not anymore.

Boise State opened the door for the little guy, but it also kicked in the door for progress.  College football needed shaking up.  The excitement and unpredictability of amateur athletics is part of the beauty of the sport, but too much of those attributes were lost amidst boosters and money and success.

The rules have changed thanks to the Broncos, and they left behind a blueprint that any school can follow to success:

1. Great Coaching

Having the right staff can make up for a lot of insufficiencies elsewhere, and the right gameplans and preparations can turn the tide in a game.  Any school can find a young, eager coach to lead a program, and there are many great minds out there who just need a chance.

2. Hungry Athletes

Small schools cannot recruit the biggest, fastest, strongest athletes, but they will always have a chance to grab kids who have something to prove.  Many Boise State athletes were passed over by bigger programs, and their success on the field is due in large part to their motivation to prove their worth.

3. Belief in a System

Teams like Boise State often have to turn to within for inspiration when outsiders are not giving them a chance.  Therefore, belief in what the team is setting out to do is important, and if everyone buys in, a unified group can go places they never thought possible.

4. Fan Culture

Boise State’s success has created quite the fan following, both from locals and from outsiders.  The support of the team helps immensely at home games, and a large traveling group can make quite a difference on the road.

There is no doubt that the upset trend in college football will continue for years to come.  Hopefully it will bring much-needed changes to a system that could use them, but in the meantime, enjoying the unpredictability of it all is reward enough. 

Week in and week out, analysts and fans will look forward to discovering who will pull the big upset, who will wreak havoc on the polls, who will come from nowhere to surprise the country…

Who will be the next Boise State.

Kevan Lee is a contributor to One Bronco Nation Under God, a blog devoted to college football and the Boise State Broncos.