Given eight months to think about it, I still had no earthly idea how Monday's Boise State-Virginia Tech game would play out. The only thing I could see coming well before the first Kellen Moore pass or Tyrod Taylor scramble was the inevitable public reaction if the Broncos won.
And ... here it is.
Now that Boise State has finished its season, who do you see in the other spot for the title game in January?-- Jacob Moogberg, Huntsville, Ala.
Hardy har har.
Let me put all you alarmist BCS power-conference fans at ease: The Broncos have far more obstacles blocking their path to Glendale than just the 11 opponents left on their schedule. Carrying a No. 3 ranking today obviously gains them entry to the national-title discussion, but it doesn't assure them of anything going forward. Boise is the big story right now, and it may be again when it hosts Oregon State on Sept. 25, but once WAC play begins, it's going to fall back off the radar, just like it does every year.
In the meantime, teams like Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Oregon, et. al., will be playing lots of big games and garnering lots of attention. If Florida, currently ranked sixth in the coaches' poll, were to go into Tuscaloosa on Oct. 2 and knock off Alabama, the Gators would pass the Broncos. If any of the Big 12's big three remain undefeated following the Oct. 2 Red River Shootout and Oct. 16 Texas-Nebraska game, that team will pass the Broncos. If Ohio State and Wisconsin are both undefeated going into their game the same day, and the Badgers win, they, too, will pass the Broncos. Meanwhile, the minute Boise has the audacity to only beat Toledo or Louisiana Tech by less than two touchdowns, it will probably drop a spot. The polls are all about "what have you done for me lately."
There are two scenarios where the Broncos can rise higher. One, of course, is that everyone else loses. That's where the high ranking really comes into play. In the past, the No. 2 team might lose but stay ahead of undefeated Boise. That won't be the case this time. And then there's the one that could conceivably take place as soon as this weekend. What if, on the same weekend, Miami beats No. 2 Ohio State and Penn State beats No. 1 Alabama? Would the 'Canes jump 13 spots to No. 1 and Penn State 17 spots to No. 2? I highly doubt it. Boise would be the new No. 1 team in the country, and No. 1 teams don't generally fall to No. 3 without losing. And then things could get really nasty, because ...
After watching Boise State being given the game by three terrible calls (the obvious hold on the 71-yard touchdown run, the "late hit" on BSU's game-winning drive and the no-call on the pass interference on the last play of the game) the prospect of them playing for the BCS title game absolutely sickens me. Their schedule is weak, bordering on ridiculous. You can't tell me that Boise State makes it through the SEC, Big Ten, and Big 12 conference schedules without two loses (I think they would go .500 through SEC and Big Ten conference play).-- Nick, New York
Ah, yes. When in doubt, blame the refs. I will agree on one point: The "late hit" on Boise's game-winning drive was a joke. But that crew blew so many calls on both sides over the course of the night that I'm going to go ahead and give Moore his deserved credit. (It was a Big Ten crew, so at least we know the BCS fix wasn't in. Bill Hancock wasn't using his David Stern bat phone on the game-winning drive.)
As for the second part -- give it a rest already, would you? Did you actually watch the game? Or any other Boise game the past two years? This is a damn ... good ... football team. Neither Oregon, TCU or Virginia Tech could run the ball on the Broncos. Why would South Carolina and Arkansas? Why wouldn't Moore be able to lead that same exact drive against Michigan State? Harper, he of the aforementioned 71-yard touchdown run, could start for about 75 percent of BCS conference teams, and he's third on the Broncos' depth chart. Even the no-depth argument is starting to lose credence. On the game-winning drive, two of Moore's throws went to Mitch Burroughs, a sophomore who barely played last year, and Gabe Linehan, a redshirt freshman tight end listed fourth on the depth chart.
Seriously, people. These baseless hypothetical arguments about how Boise would or would not fare in another league are getting tired. You say the Broncos would lose four games in a major conference? Fair enough. I say, all but a small handful of major-conference teams would have lost at least one of Boise's three nonconference games against top 15 foes since the start of last season.
I'm actually a Gator grad, but want to talk about Boise. What grabbed me were the last two minutes. Forget the favorable calls. Look at how methodically Moore drove down the field with no timeouts, down four. That showed experience and coaching. Then Virginia Tech came out with two timeouts and a minute remaining. They threw one deep bomb, got sacked when they literally had seven blockers in the backfield, underthrew a tight end deep down the field, then had a receiver drop a 40-yard pass. That is where Boise showed its class. They faced adversity and knew how to handle it, and that's why they can stay on the field with everyone.-- Paul Supple, Atlanta
Indeed. Chris Petersen can coach just a little bit. But let's talk about Virginia Tech for a second. In many ways, the Hokies are the anti-Boise. I know it's hard to take much umbrage with a team that wins 10 games every year and has three league titles in the past six seasons. But when it comes to the truly big games -- be it LSU in 2007, Alabama in '08, Boise this year -- they spit the bit. Their biggest nonconference win in the last seven years was their last-second miracle against Nebraska last season. On the one hand, Frank Beamer deserves infinite credit for building that program practically from scratch and for finding ways to win games and championships the last several years with almost no offense to speak of, but at some point, you've got to win at least one big one, don't you?
I have a question about sportswriting logic (not necessarily yours). In 2004, Auburn went undefeated while beating three top 10 teams (at the time they played them), yet they were denied a chance to play for the national championship because many media types thought their nonconference schedule was too weak. These same media types are now saying if Boise State, which plays one top 10 team and one top 25 team, goes undefeated this year it deserves a shot at the national championship. How can this uneven logic be applied in good conscience?-- Jason, Altoona, Ala.
Auburn's biggest problem in '04 wasn't its nonconference schedule; it was that the No. 1 and 2 teams to start the season never lost. Also, at the time, most voters did not hold the SEC in any particular regard with comparison to the other conferences. Four straight BCS championships later, that's no longer an issue, to the point where I guarantee you a one-loss SEC champion will finish higher than undefeated Boise. It's the other one-loss champions I'm not as sure about. Would they be more "deserving" based on their schedule? We'll see.
It's not like the Broncos choose to play New Mexico State, San Jose State and Hawaii every year. The best they can do is schedule and beat respectable nonconference foes (which they have), then play the hand they're dealt. If, by season's end, they've won 27 straight games, and if there aren't two clearly dominant teams from tougher leagues, many (myself included) might say they're pretty "deserving" themselves. But we're only one game in. I'd like to see how this thing plays out before deciding one way or the other.
Shall we move on?
As you noted Monday, a few of the preseason top 10 teams looked quite mortal last weekend. Florida can't snap the ball, Texas looked uninspired and Oklahoma was lucky. Which team to you think will have the more difficult time meeting or exceeding its preseason hype/position?-- Carlos Gomez, San Antonio
The obvious answer would be Florida because that offense looked so incredibly inept, but while the Gators may struggle early, I have a feeling they'll kick it into gear once their starting offensive line is back intact. They won't be 2008-'09-level Florida, but nor will this be a return to the Zook years. Texas didn't exactly inspire confidence in its new, more physical running game against Rice, but its defense is good enough to win 10 games by itself.
The one I'm suddenly and surprisingly concerned about is Oklahoma. I'm worried Phil Steele brainwashed me. There was a lot to like about the Sooners' depth chart coming into the season -- weapons galore on offense, standouts like Jeremy Beal and Travis Lewis on defense -- but one largely overlooked nugget was the fact that Oklahoma was replacing both starting cornerbacks. So when the first team on the schedule, Utah State, basically spent the entire night picking apart the secondary, and when three of the Sooners' next four games are against Florida State (Christian Ponder), Cincinnati (Zach Collaros) and Texas (Garrett Gilbert) -- yeah, I'd say I'm pretty concerned.
That said, OU has made it to national championship game with shaky secondaries before, because its offense was so unstoppable. Landry Jones didn't play particularly well in the opener, but we know he's capable. My guess is the Sooners are going to score a lot of points on the Seminoles; the question is whether they can stop Ponder and Co. from doing the same.
Stewart: You failed to notice, but Derek Dooley got his first season at Tennessee off to a bang-up start with a 50-0 shutout of UT-M. The UT offense looked better than expected, especially the running game, and the defense was stifling. From now on, you should pay attention to all the Division 1A teams, not just a handful of your favorites. You'll not get far in sports punditry by ignoring outstanding performances.-- Steve Hatley, Jonesboro, Ark.
"Dooley" noted. Starting next week, I'll be sure to include a shout-out in College Overtime for every team that beat up on an FCS opponent. Be warned, though: The column will now be 10 pages long.
I know it was Western Kentucky, but does QB Taylor Martinez's play eliminate the doubts about Nebraska's national championship chances?-- Al Caniglia, Belmopan, Belize
See note above. (Though technically the Hilltoppers are an FBS foe.)
Stewart, which loss to a FCS (formerly I-AA) team is a bigger setback: Ole Miss to Jacksonvillne State or Kansas to North Dakota State?-- Telly, Alexandria, Va.
Ole Miss, no question. While the 6-3 loss was indisputably embarrassing for Turner Gill, expectations were low to begin with in Lawrence, and are relatively low in general. It's just the first game in what could be a considerable rebuilding job. But there's no such thing as patience in the SEC, even if, as in Ole Miss' case, your team was picked to finish last in its division.
Here's the crazy thing: If Houston Nutt had never gone after Jeremiah Masoli, the Jacksonville State game would barely have registered a blip outside of Oxford. It simply would have been affirmation that maybe the Rebels are in for a rebuilding season. But Nutt invested so much energy in the Masoli situation, it created the perception, rightly or not, that just by adding the former Rose Bowl quarterback, the Rebels would be a factor in the SEC West. And maybe they still will be.
If, however, they go 5-7, Nutt will find himself right on the hot seat he tried so hard to avoid. Remember, the past two Cotton Bowl teams were comprised almost entirely of Ed Orgeron's recruits. Now it's on Nutt. If Masoli gets in the groove and leads them to a decent season, Nutt's fine. All is forgiven. If not, he will have cost Nathan Stanley a year's experience and will basically be right back in the same spot next year -- only Boise State's coming to town instead of Jacksonville State.
No wonder he called it "the worst loss I've ever had."
OK Stewart, I know that one game does not make a season, but are you now re-evaluating your prediction that Oklahoma State will bring up the rear of the Big 12 South? With Kendall Hunter's "Barry Sanders-esque" performance and some solid play from both sides of the ball, I see a very competitive team; don't you?-- Bryan Gallatin, Houston, Texas
Yeah, they told me to make a "bold prediction," and "Oklahoma State will go 7-5" wouldn't have been all that bold. I'm sure I'll end up eating those words. I loved watching Hunter in 2008 and it's good to see him back healthy.
Having said all that, be warned that reading into a rout of Washington State is not that different from reading into a rout of UT-Martin.
I'm sure you're getting flooded with reaction e-mails from Florida/Miami asking about the state of the Gators. But what about the Redhawks? After last year's nightmare 1-11 season, are they really on their way out of the cellar, or was the team benefiting from Florida's offensive anemia? We're Ben Roethlisberger's school, so maybe, like him, our football's already hit rock bottom and is starting to shape back up?-- Amy, Oxford, Ohio
I'd say it was definitely encouraging for the RedHawks. It takes two sides to hold a team below 20 yards for nearly three quarters, even if one couldn't snap the ball correctly, and Miami's defense should get its share of the credit. Really, it's bewildering how the RedHawks ever got so bad to begin with. The Cradle of Coaches lost its way during the brief Shane Montgomery era, but there's too much tradition there to stay down for long, and I'd be surprised after watching that game if Mike Haywood's team doesn't win some games in the MAC this season. Make Travis Prentice proud.
Stewart, I've got a dilemma. I grew up in South Florida, a huge Hurricanes fan. I moved to Ohio at 15 and have been a diehard Buckeye since I graduated from OSU. I am going to the Ohio State-Miami game this Saturday and I have no idea who I'll be rooting for. I was in Miami's corner for the national championship game, but that was before college. I'll be at the game with friends (Buckeyes) and family ('Canes), and my heart is divided.-- Bruno, Miami/Columbus
C'mon, man. Your alma mater always comes first.
People like me dream of watching games on the sideline and covering sports (especially college football) for a living like you. What do you dream of?-- Eric Roberts, Missoula, Montana
Oh, that's easy. I dream of being Roger Sterling.