Note: Discussion of the poll is temporarily suspended this week because I'd rather talk about this.
They attend a state school in the 39th most populous state in the union, with a total enrollment under 20,000. Fifteen years ago, they were in Divsion I-AA. They play one Tuesday game and three consecutive Friday games, just to get the national stage to themselves. So, with the weight of the world against them, can Boise State really compete for a national championship?
The new millennium has been bad for first-time national champions. The 1990's crowned four champions who had not won in the modern era: Colorado (1990), Georgia Tech (1990)*, Florida State (1993), and Florida (1996). The 1980's were even more random, with Georgia (1980), Clemson (1981), Penn State (1982), Miami (1983), and BYU (1984) all picking up their first consensus titles since Hitler. And yet, aside from LSU's 2003 crown (which is or is not their first championship, depending on which poll you read in 1958), there were nothing but repeat champs in the 2000's. This makes Boise's (and, for that matter, TCU's, and Houston's, and Nevada's) potential national championship runs all the more improbable.
Florida and FSU were established new-wave powerhouses in major conferences when they won their first titles, which make their wins irrelevant to the Boise Scenario. In 1990, Colorado entered the season in the preseason top 5 and overcame two early stumbles (a tie against #8 Tennessee in week one and a loss to #22 Illinois in week three) to get a share of the title. Georgia Tech ended that year as the sole undefeated team standing, at the top of a conference with two 10-game winners (only two conferences had that in 1990, the ACC and Southwest). Penn State, an established independent superpower for a quarter-century at the time, beat then-#1 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl to win their title in 1982. And 1980 Georgia was the only team to emerge unscathed, with a resume that couldn't be denied and a bowl win over the only other contender to their throne. These championships aren't comparable to the non-qualifiers storming the castle, but the others shed some light on what must happen if Boise or one of their friends is to win it all.
1981 Clemson: The Tigers opened the season unranked by both polls, and didn't enter the then-top-20 until week 4. Once they entered, they skyrocketed, with blowout wins over ACC opponents, highlighted by an 82-24 stomping of Wake Forest. Even with that, though, Clemson wasn't able to overcome independent Pittsburgh until JoePa annihilated the Panthers in the last week of the season. From there, Clemson accepted an invitation to the Orange Bowl, where they beat #4 Nebraska on the same day every other contender lost. With their bona fides established, and with no other options, Clemson mopped up in the postseason polls.
1983 Miami: If Boise was looking for a model program to follow to the top, it should look no further than 1980's Miami, the closest thing to a juggernaut built overnight from scratch in the modern era. Miami, an otherwise middling independent through the 1970s, jumped to 9-3 with a Peach Bowl win in 1980, followed by a top 10 finish in 1981, a season to consolidate in 1982, and a 1983 surge to the top. The 'Canes opened with an inauspicious loss to Florida, then ran the table. And yet, even with a 10-1 record and wins over then-#12 Notre Dame and #13 West Virginia (both of whom faded down the stretch, another trend worth noticing), Miami needed some serious help in bowl season. First, the Hurricanes -- ranked fifth and unaffiliated -- received a berth in the Orange Bowl -- played in their home stadium -- against Nebraska, who had led the polls wire-to-wire. Miami promptly beat the Huskers by a point, but that's not all. No. 2 Texas lost the Cotton Bowl to Georgia, who wasn't a contender. No. 3 Auburn squeaked by Michigan in the Sugar Bowl in the least attractive manner possible, a 9-7 defensive slugfest. No. 4 Illinois (yes, you read that right) lost the Rose Bowl, mostly because they're Illinois. With Goliath slayed in David's backyard and all other hurdles eliminated or at least reduced to speed bumps, Miami leapfrogged everyone to the top.
1984 Brigham Young: If the circumstances that got Miami to the top of the 1983 charts were improbable, the confluence of events that ended in BYU winning the 1984 national championship was never seen before and likely will never be seen again. Let me know when this sounds familiar: The Cougars quickly jumped into the top 10 when they took out preseason #3 Pitt in week one; Pitt collapsed on itself, finishing 3-7-1, but the pollsters (as they always do) forgot about that when examining why they were so high on BYU later in the season. The remainder of BYU's schedule was a joke; not once during their eleven regular season wins did the Cougars play a team that finished in the postseason top 25. With the WAC title in their pocket, BYU went to the Holiday Bowl -- yes, the fucking Holiday Bowl -- to play 6-5 Michigan. On December 21, BYU beat a .500 Wolverine squad by a touchdown. On New Years' Day, #2 Oklahoma lost to Washington in the Orange Bowl, and #3 Florida was banned from the postseason. No. 4 Washington, which beat Oklahoma and finished 10-1, hadn't even won its conference; its only loss was to Rose Bowl champion USC. There was essentially no other option left to choose, and BYU won by default.
So what we've learned is that Boise shouldn't be pushing for a playoff; they should be pushing for a return to the old bowl system. In a single-game situation, Boise has proven they can beat virtually anyone. However, a playoff isn't a single game; it's likely three or four games against top-notch opposition, where the talent gap could likely catch them. Further, barring multiple losses at the top of the polls, it's unlikely BSU or its ilk can ascend to No. 1. No, what Boise needs is the old bowl system, where they can be a free agent to any premiere bowl with an opening (or play the Holiday Bowl, I suppose) and hope for all hell to break loose above them. It worked for Miami, the program which Boise most closely mirrors. It definitely worked for BYU, which is the only team to overcome the scheduling issues plaguing Boise now. To date, it's the only way across the moat, and that is because the BCS is the destroyer of mid-major worlds.
The Bowl Championship Series' #1-vs.-#2 scenario crushes the chances of teams like Boise and TCU (and, for that matter, non-traditional powers from the ACC, Big East, and Pac-10). With their schedule limitations -- in this case, made worse by the fact that their one "marquee game" has been greatly diminished by Virginia Tech's subsequent implosion against James Madison -- Boise will always, and I repeat ALWAYS, be passed over by an undefeated or one-loss champion of the Big Ten, Big XII, or SEC, based on both public perception (as shown by the voters) and computer modeling (which discounted the mid-majors heavily last year). In the last 30 years, there have been two "powerhouse" programs with undefeated records or one loss at the end of regular season play 28 times**; in other words, in 14 out of every 15 years, Boise will get shut out of the game by someone with zero or one loss from a power conference. The only two years where it didn't happen? 2007, where two-loss LSU emerged from the chaos after a Sugar Bowl win over an overmatched Ohio State, and 1984, which we previously discussed and which might well be the weirdest season in modern college football history.
The other half of this is that Boise needs chaos. If 2007 were to happen again, only with Boise State undefeated, they'd play for a championship under any potential scenario. Same goes for TCU or any other program. However, it can't simply be somewhat chaotic; we watch the game for a certain level of insanity. It must be the sort of earth-shattering, disaster-movie chaos we saw in that year, where every legitimate big-conference contender to the throne fell by the wayside (and, if you remember, almost sent a fucking one-loss Big East school to the national championship game, which is basically the functional equivalent of sending a non-AQ). Even under the old school bowl scenario, Boise needs an earthquake to win it all. Only the Clemson scenario involves the unknown rising up and striking down the leviathan, and even that occurred with a now-AQ conference champion whose schedule, while not exactly glimmering, is far stronger than that faced by BSU in a typical year.
The potentially good news for Boise is that, on the whole, voters clearly tend to forget why they've moved a team up the pop charts. The most glaring example is BYU's "marquee win" over a Pitt team later exposed as a disaster. Miami's big wins over ND and WVU were likewise tarnished by later losses by those two teams. Programs like Boise State and TCU sit where Miami and BYU sat 25 years ago, as established mid-major stars with little quality opposition upon which to base an opinion, but as long as the voters continue to ignore the reasons why they've moved teams up as they move other teams down, wins over the likes of Virginia Tech are going to be important regardless of final outcome. And that's where we get to the poll, where Boise lost a few first place votes but remained #3, even as Virginia Tech imploded in a loss to James Madison (and where conference mate Nevada is getting virtually no love despite being truly dominant against Colorado State, a team that stinks but hasn't lost to a I-AA yet)...
OK, so it has a little to do with the BlogpLOL.
* -- Georgia Tech claims a championship in 1952, despite the fact that every notable poll of the time (AP and UPI) gave the title to Michigan State. I'm not counting it, because screw the ACC.
** -- Despite the fact that Miami won the title, the 1983 regular season ended with three big-conference zero-or-one-loss behemoths at the top (Nebraska, Texas, and Auburn). It just took the earth swallowing them all up on New Years Day to move Miami, which only proves the second point: Had the BCS been in place in 1983, Nebraska would have played Texas or Auburn (actually, given the retrospective computer polls, probably Auburn) for the title, leaving Miami to fend off Texas in the Orange Bowl for a respectable second-place finish.