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Boise State is still No. 1, and very few readers are happy about it

The very idea of Boise State in the national title game makes a lot of you angry. My e-mail told me that this week. In message after message, you told me that Boise State is a media creation that doesn't deserve to share a field with the likes of Auburn.

There will be no Disgrace to the University this week, because while those e-mails were overwhelmingly negative, most were thoughtful. No one drunkmailed or completely butchered the language. And I completely understand the points all of you made.

I just happen to disagree.

First, I rank Boise State No. 1 because I believe the Broncos would beat every other team in the country on a neutral field. Because there is so little overlap between conferences, I can't compare apples-and-oranges résumés. I use this standard for every team in the poll. Missouri is No. 14 because I think all the teams above the Tigers would beat them and all the teams below would lose to them. Boise State is No. 1 for the same reason. Boise State and the other powers from non-AQ conferences must deal with a perfectly acceptable double standard that I'll explain below, but for the most part, they are judged strictly on which teams I believe they would beat.

Second, Boise State's national title chances weren't created by the media. They exist because the fathers of the BCS left a gaping loophole in their system that they thought would never be exploited.

The BCS cartel of six conferences created this system to ensure the national title money and most of the postseason money went to the most powerful schools. Those schools are more than happy to share the Football Bowl Subdivision with schools such as Boise State -- just as long as the little guys know their place. They're supposed to be cupcakes that provide mediocre big-conference schools with easy wins so the big boys can become bowl eligible. They aren't supposed to compete for national titles.

But since human polls help determine who plays for the national title, the system has one vulnerability. If a team can begin the season ranked high enough, it might be able to sneak into the title game by going undefeated. When the BCS was created, no one imagined a program such as Boise State could earn enough respect to start the season in the top five. Certainly no one imagined a second minor-conference school (TCU) would start in the top 10 the same season.

But that's what happened. Boise State went 26-1 in 2008-09, losing only to TCU in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl. TCU went 23-3 over the same span, losing only to BCS title game loser Oklahoma and undefeated Utah in 2008 and to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl following the 2009 season.

That kind of success was impossible to ignore. Now, remember the dirty secret of any poll-reliant system: If a team starts with a lofty enough ranking, it doesn't really matter who that team beats during the season. Boise State wants to play better competition, which is why the Broncos are moving to the Mountain West. (Presumably, the Big 12 and SEC did not extend offers of membership.) But absent decent conference competition in 2010, Boise State officials made the most of their opportunity. They scheduled two teams that always have respectable seasons (Virginia Tech and Oregon State) and then added cupcakes to the already soft WAC schedule. It was brilliant.

On Friday, a dominant Boise State win against Nevada coupled with an Auburn loss to Alabama or an Oregon loss to Arizona probably will propel the Broncos into the top two of the BCS standings. This makes power conference fans angry and insecure. Privately, the people in charge of the power conferences probably feel the same way.

Which is absolutely hilarious.

The cartel designed the system to keep out the Boise States of the world. Now Boise State might exploit a flaw in the system to play for a title, and the cartel is crying foul.

The little guys couldn't just accept their place as the batteries that kept the bloated bowl system humming. (Sounds a little like the plot to The Matrix, doesn't it?) They had to fight for more. That tends to happen in any system in which a group feels oppressed. The highly intelligent, highly educated people who created the BCS should have known this. They shouldn't be surprised that a program figured out a way to obtain some measure of equality.

They could always fix the problem. Start a playoff just like every other NCAA football division. Make Boise State earn a national title by winning four consecutive games against elite competition. It's fair to the Boise States, and it's fair to the Auburns. It also might be the only solution now that Boise State and TCU have exposed the loophole. Some program in Conference USA might be the next to catch lightning in a bottle, and now it has the blueprint to infiltrate the BCS title game.

NCAA Football Power Rankings
1Boise St. Broncos
Last Week: 1
I mentioned a double standard above, and here it is: Since Boise State plays such a soft schedule, the Broncos must absolutely dominate to remain ranked this high. If Boise State doesn't annihilate Nevada, I'm dropping the Broncos. If Auburn beats Alabama by one, I'm probably not dropping the Tigers. Boise State made a conscious choice to play only two AQ schools in its nonconference schedule. If I had more games against AQ schools as a basis for comparison, I might not need to see Boise State win blowouts. But Boise State chose to play the nonconference schedule it played. The potential reward is a spot in the BCS title game. The potential consequence is dropping in the polls after clinching a conference title.
Last game: Beat Fresno State, 51-0
Next game: Friday at Nevada
 
2Auburn Tigers
Last Week: 2
Auburn's position here seems tenuous because the people who usually don't have an emotional dog in the hunt (gamblers) simply refuse to get behind the Tigers. Auburn never seems to be favored by much when it is favored, and this week the undefeated, second-ranked team in the nation will go to Tuscaloosa as a four-point underdog. What do the wiseguys know that we don't? Maybe nothing. Maybe the Tigers will keep on winning. (Disclaimer: As in the past few weeks, this ranking assumes Cam Newton is Auburn's starting quarterback. That will remain the case unless something happens in the ongoing NCAA investigation that affects Newton's eligibility.)
Last game: Beat Georgia, 49-31
Next game: Friday at Alabama
 
3Oregon Ducks
Last Week: 3
The Pac-10 is looking into the trend of Oregon opponents faking injuries to slow down the Ducks' offense, but there isn't much that can be done this season to solve the problem. Officials aren't doctors, and a conference could face a pretty serious lawsuit if a player actually is injured and doesn't receive proper care because someone thought he was faking. I posited last week on Twitter that it might be possible to shame players into discontinuing the practice by requiring them to be removed on those little sissy stretchers they use when soccer players fake injuries to draw fouls. (This suggestion was followed by a number of readers suggesting Oregon's opponents invest in that magic spray soccer trainers use to heal "injured" players.) Here's a more logical suggestion the NCAA's football rules committee should investigate as more teams switch to a hurry-up offense: Instead of forcing injured players to sit for one play, make them sit for three or four -- unless their coach wants to burn a timeout. That probably would cut down on the faking.
Last game: Beat Cal, 15-13
Next game: Friday vs. Arizona
 
4TCU Horned Frogs
Last Week: 4
TCU has done almost everything it can to establish itself as a team deserving of a chance to play for the national title. Now all the Horned Frogs can do is beat the tar out of one of the nation's worst teams and hope for chaos. TCU held on to the No. 3 spot in the BCS rankings this week. That will change if Boise State manhandles 10-1 Nevada on Friday night.
Last game: Beat San Diego State, 40-35
Next game: Saturday at New Mexico
 
5Stanford Cardinal
Last Week: 6
Stanford can put a bow on one of its best regular seasons with a win against an Oregon State team that followed a humiliating loss to Washington State by pounding USC. Beyond that, the Cardinal need some help to assure themselves a spot in a BCS bowl. If Stanford finishes in the top four in the BCS standings, it's in as an at-large. Right now, Stanford is sixth in the BCS standings. The Cardinal would need at least one of the undefeated teams to lose. The next best shot is probably BCS No. 5 LSU, which plays a tough game against Arkansas in Little Rock on Saturday.
Last game: Beat Cal, 48-14
Next game: Saturday vs. Oregon State
 
6LSU Tigers
Last Week: 5
LSU Tigers (10-1)
After a great win against Alabama and a blowout of cupcake Louisiana-Monroe, it seemed the Tigers were finally playing up to their potential. Then Ole Miss came to Baton Rouge. The Rebels have lost to Jacksonville State, Vanderbilt and Tennessee. They almost beat LSU in Tiger Stadium. LSU is the most talented one-loss team in the country, but that doesn't necessarily mean LSU is the best one-loss team in the country. At the moment, that would be Stanford. But LSU probably can reclaim that honor by going into War Memorial Stadium on Saturday and beating Arkansas.
Last game: Beat Ole Miss, 43-36
Next game: Saturday vs. Arkansas in Little Rock, Ark.
 
7Michigan St. Spartans
Last Week: 7
Michigan State finds itself in a particularly unpalatable position this week. The Spartans face the toughest game (at Penn State) of the three teams tied atop the Big Ten, and they also must root for their hated in-state rival. Unless Northwestern shocks Wisconsin, Michigan State must beat a much-improved Penn State team and the Wolverines must beat Ohio State in Columbus. Michigan State's head-to-head win against Wisconsin may help in these rankings, but it won't help the Spartans make the Rose Bowl unless Ohio State drops from atop the Big Ten standings. If all three teams wind up tied, all will be declared Big Ten champs. But a Big Ten championship season that ends in Orlando is no fun. In the event of a three-way tie, that's probably where Michigan State is headed. Why? Read about Wisconsin and Ohio State to find out.
Last game: Beat Purdue, 35-31
Next game: Saturday at Penn State
 
8Wisconsin Badgers
Last Week: 8
Wisconsin enters the weekend with the best chance of winding up in the Rose Bowl. Northwestern is a decent opponent, but quarterback Dan Persa is out. Plus, the game is at Camp Randall. Ohio State should beat Michigan, and the Badgers -- who beat the Buckeyes on Oct. 16 -- have every reason to sing Hang on Sloopy on Saturday. As noted above, Michigan State has the toughest task of the three teams tied atop the Big Ten. Wisconsin probably can go ahead and pull for all three to win in the interest of conference strength. The Badgers are ranked No. 5 in the Harris and coaches' polls, and the computers -- which seem to prefer the Pac-10 to the Big Ten -- like Wisconsin best of the three. If the tiebreaker comes down to the BCS rankings, Wisconsin is probably headed to Pasadena.
Last game: Beat Michigan, 48-28
Next game: Saturday vs. Northwestern
 
9Ohio St. Buckeyes
Last Week: 9
The Buckeyes have the worst chance to make the Rose Bowl because they need a Northwestern win at Wisconsin, and that seems like the least likely outcome because of Persa's injury. Still, a win against Michigan would put Ohio State in an excellent position to play in a BCS bowl. A one-loss Ohio State would be attractive to any bowl looking to sell tickets and get ratings.
Last game: Beat Iowa, 20-17
Next game: Saturday vs. Michigan
 
10Oklahoma St. Cowboys
Last Week: 11
You can read all about the machinations of the process to break a three-way tie in the Big 12 South in the section on Oklahoma. For Oklahoma State, it's pretty easy. Win Bedlam, and the Cowboys are in. Last year, Oklahoma State needed to win this game to get in position for a BCS at-large bid. The Cowboys got shut out. This team is much better, but there could be a mental block for a program that hasn't beaten Oklahoma since 2002. More important is the sprained ankle star receiver Justin Blackmon suffered against Kansas. Blackmon is using crutches and a protective boot this week, but he is expected to play Saturday.
Last game: Beat Kansas, 48-14
Next game: Saturday vs. Oklahoma
 
11Alabama Crimson Tide
Last Week: 12
Do yourself a favor this week. Log onto the Web site of the Birmingham-based Paul Finebaum Radio Network and listen to Paul's pre-Iron Bowl shows. Paul is live in the afternoons and available on Sirius/XM, but his show also is available for download on the site. Five minutes should be enough to make anyone understand why Alabama will take this game seriously even though the SEC West is already decided. College football matters in this state more than it does anywhere else, and bragging rights are at stake. Last year, Auburn played one of its best games in an ultimately futile attempt to derail Alabama's national title run. The Crimson Tide are in the spoiler role this season, and they want nothing more than to dash Auburn's dream. But can they do it? No one has stopped Newton yet.
Last game: Beat Georgia State, 63-7
Next game: Friday vs. Auburn
 
12Arkansas Razorbacks
Last Week: 13
A win against LSU doesn't necessarily guarantee that Arkansas would receive a BCS at-large bid, but it certainly would help the Razorbacks' chances. The ultimate decision probably would hinge on which two teams make the national title game -- unless South Carolina wins the SEC title, in which case the Hogs probably are sunk. Still, nothing happens without a win against LSU.
Last game: Beat Mississippi State, 38-31 (2OT)
Next game: Saturday vs. LSU in Little Rock, Ark.
 
13Virginia Tech Hokies
Last Week: 14
Maybe not knowing who they'll play in the ACC title game will help the Hokies concentrate on beating Virginia. It's tough to look ahead when you aren't sure how far south your opponent sits. If Virginia Tech wins Saturday, the Hokies can sit back and watch the N.C. State-Maryland game to find out whether they'll face N.C. State or Florida State in the title game in Charlotte.
Last game: Beat Miami, 31-17
Next game: Saturday vs. Virginia
 
14Missouri Tigers
Last Week: 15
If ever there were a time for Colorado to make amends for the Fifth Down, this is it. The Buffaloes got an extra play 20 years ago, and the Tigers got their hearts broken. If Colorado can stun Nebraska on Friday, it would open the door for Missouri to win the Big 12 North by beating Kansas on Saturday. That's asking an awful lot of a Colorado team that already has fired its coach, but stranger things have happened. But if the Buffs don't come through, Missouri will have to live with the regret of a stunning loss to Texas Tech that kept the Tigers from playing for the Big 12 title.
Last game: Beat Iowa State, 14-0
Next game: Saturday vs. Kansas in Kansas City, Mo.
 
15Texas A&M Aggies
Last Week: 17
Even though it would take an Oklahoma win and a poll miracle to give the Aggies the Big 12 South title, Texas A&M still has plenty of motivation to beat Texas on Thursday. If the Aggies win, the Longhorns would finish 5-7 and wouldn't go to a bowl. In a rivalry that bitter, that's a win-win. Still, it's no given that Texas A&M will win even though the Aggies are surging and the Longhorns are reeling. Each team has a short week, and strange things happen on short weeks.
Last game: Beat Nebraska, 9-6
Next game: Thursday at Texas
 
16Nebraska Cornhuskers
Last Week: 10
Big Red is going crazy this week because of some questionable officiating in the loss at Texas A&M. At issue is this bogus roughing the passer penalty that allowed the Aggies to sustain a drive that led to the game-winning field goal. Another problem call is the 15-yarder on tight end Ben Cotton for kicking at the Aggies' Tony Jerod-Eddie after Jerod-Eddie got a little fresh at the bottom of the pile. Judging by the video, Jerod-Eddie deserved much worse than a flailing foot, and Cotton deserves a medal for not retaliating in a much more violent fashion. We won't go call-by-call, but the penalty disparity (16-2) was glaring in a game in which the box score was otherwise even. Still, Nebraska's right to complain was neutered by the fact that the Cornhuskers scored a measly six points. Just as in the Big 12 championship loss to Texas last year, a semblance of an offense renders the officiating issues null and void and the brothers Pelini don't have to take out their frustrations on their injured quarterbacks or on fan site camera guys. But it seems this offense just doesn't function very well if quarterback Taylor Martinez isn't at 100 percent. If Nebraska beats Colorado on Friday, it will earn one final Big 12 game. The best revenge for the perceived officiating slights would be to grab the conference title trophy and take it to the Big Ten.
Last game: Lost to Texas A&M, 9-6
Next game: Friday vs. Colorado
 
17Oklahoma Sooners
Last Week: 18
If Texas A&M wins Thursday and the Sooners win Bedlam on Saturday, it would force a three-way tie atop the Big 12 South. In that case, Oklahoma would have the best chance to go to the Big 12 title game. In 2008, when one-loss Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech all finished tied, the highest ranked team in the BCS standings won the tiebreaker. The same rule applies now unless the two highest ranked teams are separated by only one place in the BCS standings. In that case, the team that won the head-to-head matchup would take the division. In the case of Oklahoma and Texas A&M, the Aggies would have too far to jump to get within one spot of the Sooners. Oklahoma, meanwhile, probably would overtake Oklahoma State as voters upgraded the Sooners and downgraded the Cowboys.
Last game: Beat Baylor, 53-24
Next game: Saturday at Oklahoma State
 
18Arizona Wildcats
Last Week: 19
According to The Tucson Citizen, Arizona has devised a way to prepare its defense for Oregon's up-tempo offense without attempting to make its scout team recreate a pace it can't possibly match. Defenders begin with their backs to the line of scrimmage. When the scout offense lines up, the defenders turn around, learning the formation only seconds before the ball is snapped. Will it work? Maybe. Cal slowed down Oregon's offense on Nov. 13, but no one else has.
Last game: Lost to USC, 24-21
Next game: Friday at Oregon
 
19South Carolina Gamecocks
Last Week: 22
This is the inverse of the 2009 edition of this rivalry. Last year, Clemson looked ahead to the ACC title game and got thumped by the Gamecocks in Columbia. Will South Carolina get caught looking ahead to next week's SEC title matchup against Auburn? Last week's steamrolling of Troy suggests South Carolina is clicking on all cylinders, but it was only a few weeks ago that the Gamecocks dropped a stinkbomb against Arkansas at home.
Last game: Beat Troy, 69-24
Next game: Saturday at Clemson
 
20Nevada Wolf Pack
Last Week: 24
The Wolf Pack will carry the hopes and dreams of the football establishment into Friday night's matchup with Boise State. For whatever reason, the idea of TCU playing for the national title doesn't infuriate power-conference fans as much as the idea of Boise State playing in the championship game. Nevada and its Pistol offense can knock Boise State from contention and win the admiration of the six wealthiest conferences. Too bad a win still won't get the Wolf Pack into a BCS bowl.
Last game: Beat New Mexico State, 52-6
Next game: Friday vs. Boise State
 
21North Carolina St. Wolfpack
Last Week: 25
We know N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien's favorite Smashing Pumpkins song is not 1979. O'Brien has heard about 1979 more times than he cares to remember. Why? That's the last year the Wolfpack won an ACC title. N.C. State can take a huge step toward changing that by beating Maryland and winning the ACC Atlantic division. Of course, O'Brien probably also has been reminded that Maryland has won seven of the last 10 in this series.
Last game: Beat North Carolina, 29-25
Next game: Saturday at Maryland
 
22Iowa Hawkeyes
Last Week: 21
This is not how the Hawkeyes expected their regular season to end. Iowa expected to compete for a Big Ten title, and a few different bounces -- or just some inkling that a fake punt was coming in the Wisconsin game -- might have produced that result. Iowa is the best four-loss team in the country, but the only trophy the Hawkeyes can hope to hoist is the Floyd of Rosedale if they beat Minnesota this week. Pass the bacon.
Last game: Lost to Ohio State, 20-17
Next game: Saturday at Minnesota
 
23Utah Utes
Last Week: --
Utah Utes (9-2)
So did the Utes get creamed at Notre Dame because they still hadn't gotten over their loss to TCU? Maybe. But the bounceback win against San Diego State suggests Utah was not as overrated as originally suspected. I still severely overestimated the Utes, but not quite as badly as I had feared. Quarterback Jordan Wynn, who seemed on the verge of losing his starting job, threw for a career-high 362 yards against the Aztecs. Now Wynn and the Utes will try to finish their Mountain West tenure on a positive note when they face BYU in the final MWC game for both programs.
Last game: Beat San Diego State, 38-34
Next game: Saturday vs. BYU
 
24Penn St. Nittany Lions
Last Week: --
Joe Paterno said Tuesday that he plans to coach Penn State in 2011, so don't bother getting all sentimental Saturday when the Nittany Lions face Michigan State. Paterno doesn't plan on this being his last game at Beaver Stadium. Besides, if Penn State can knock off Michigan State, it would only prove that Paterno, who turns 84 next month, has still got it. This season could have crashed and burned, and Paterno and his staff -- with a big assist from former walk-on quarterback Matt McGloin and a cast of steadily improving youngsters -- have turned it into a respectable effort. Beat the Spartans and win the bowl game, and 2010 might ultimately be considered one of Paterno's better coaching jobs.
Last game: Beat Indiana, 41-24
Next game: Saturday vs. Michigan State
 
25Florida St. Seminoles
Last Week: --
The Seminoles will spend Saturday scoreboard watching. N.C. State's game against Maryland kicks off at 3:30 p.m., the same time the Seminoles kick off against Florida. If N.C. State loses, Florida State wins the ACC Atlantic. But the Seminoles would be wise to concentrate on the task at hand. The Gators are vulnerable, and FSU needs to snap its six-game losing streak to Florida to prove coach Jimbo Fisher and his staff can compete on the field as well as they do on the recruiting trail.
Last game: Beat Maryland, 30-16
Next game: Saturday vs. Florida

Next five: Northern Illinois, Connecticut, San Diego State, Central Florida, Navy

Andy Staples' Power Rankings also serve as his ballot in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

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