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After undefeated season, why can't Boise State be national champion?


GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Here's the thing I don't understand: Why can't Boise State be national champion? No, I'm not talking about writing another BCS rip job. I don't blame the BCS. I actually think the system worked pretty well this year. The BCS is supposed to give the nation a viable and compelling national championship game, and I think it did that. I suspect most people will believe in Alabama vs. Texas and will accept the winner as national champ.

No, I'm asking a whole other question: Who says Boise State isn't national champion too? The Broncos went undefeated. They pounded an Oregon team that went to the Rose Bowl. They rolled through the year undefeated -- only one team all year stayed within one score of them. And, finally, the Broncos won a gritty 17-10 game against No. 3 Texas Christian Monday night in the Fiesta Bowl. They have the resume. They had the perfect season.

And, it seems to me they have every right to go back to Boise, throw a parade, hand out diamond-studded rings and declare themselves national champions. Why not? Is it because the BCS will give either Texas or Alabama a big trophy? You know, trophies are not that hard to buy. Is it because a conglomeration of coaches and computer programs and sundry football observers ranked the Broncos third? Big deal: Football is not a democratic process. Is it because the Broncos won't be listed as national champions on Wikipedia? Hey, they can create their own Wikipedia page.

No ... all of that seems to smack of a lack of imagination. Boise State has the resume. Boise State has the victories. Boise State doesn't need anyone else to declare them national champions. If it makes them feel better I can declare them national champs. I'll get them a trophy. I'll fly out to Boise to present it.

Back in the old days of college football there could have been a half dozen national champions every year. AP. UPI. The Dickinson System. The Helms Foundation. The Dan Jenkins system. Did anyone die because of it? No. It sparked disagreements. It created multiple celebrations. What's wrong with an everlasting argument about whether Alabama or USC was better in '78, whether Washington would have beaten Miami in '91, whether Colorado was better than Georgia Tech in 1990 (and whether Miami or Florida State or Notre Dame was better than both of them)?

But somewhere along the way, people in college football wanted something definitive. We wanted answers. We have become a playoff nation. We understand that the best teams may not win the Super Bowl or the World Series or the NBA title -- playoffs, by their nature, generate upsets -- but we don't care because we get something conclusive. Something we can etch on a trophy. The Diamondbacks won the World Series in 2001, the Dallas Cowboys won the Super Bowl in 1993 and the 1986 Boston Celtics won the NBA Championship. We know this is true. And we have something to hold.

But it is also true that big-time college football is different from those pro sports. There are four times as many teams, playing in 11 different conferences, playing wildly different schedules that are in part chosen by the individual schools. It's big and sprawling and messy, and the reason the BCS so rarely seems to work for everyone is that it CANNOT work for everyone. Oh, every once in a while you will get two teams like USC and Texas that are almost unanimously viewed as the two best teams. But you cannot reach in to a giant, spinning barrel year after year after year and pick out the two best teams, no matter how good your computer programs may be.*

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*And more to the point: Even if the BCS DOES manage to get the two best teams -- it's certainly possible that this year Alabama and Texas are best -- there will still be a lot of people (many of them living in Fort Worth and Boise) who will know in their hearts that they screwed it up yet again.

It just gets back to my point: So what? The good thing the BCS has done is give us more compelling bowl games in January. We no longer have No. 1 Miami playing No. 12 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. We get some version of 1 vs. 2, and we get undefeated teams like Boise State and TCU playing, and we get Cincinnati vs. Florida, and we get Ohio State vs. Oregon. That's a good thing.

But that doesn't mean that there's only one national championship at the end. "I've said this all along," Boise State coach Chris Petersen declared after Monday's victory. "(Rankings) don't mean much to us."

And the rankings shouldn't matter to Petersen or his players. Boise State didn't play a pretty game Monday night. This wasn't anything like their epic, Hollywood victory over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl three years ago when the Broncos lit up the night with 1,000 trick plays and a marriage proposal.

No, the Broncos came into this game with a surprising defensive game plan -- "Early on we didn't really know what exactly they were doing," TCU quarterback Andy Dalton said -- and they played ferocious defense all game long. Then, they turned the game with a daring fake punt in the fourth quarter. The fake punt from deep in their own end worked, the Broncos scored the game-winning touchdown four plays later, and Boise State held on at the end.

"I think (trick plays) are what they expect out of us," Petersen said with a little smile, "so we're happy to deliver if it gives us one more point than the other guys."

I don't know if Boise State's victory was impressive enough or showy enough to convince people that they could beat Alabama or Texas. But I never thought that football was a judge's sport. The Broncos won the game. That gave them a BCS bowl victory and an undefeated season, and their piece of the national championship, if they will just claim it. In a couple of days, Texas and Alabama will play a game that the BCS and people around America will call the National Championship Game. And it is that: Texas and Alabama are undefeated too, and those teams played great opponents, and the winner absolutely deserves to be national champions, too.

But I guess that's the point. College football is a big game. And America is a big country. It's a country big enough for Limbaugh and Moore, for Beyonce and Taylor Swift, for Clooney and Pitt, for three CSIs AND Cold Case, for Harry Potter and Twilight, for Julie and Julia. Nobody will ever be able to prove that the Texas-Alabama winner is better than Boise State or vice versa.

And it seems to me that we can embrace that. We should embrace that. Nobody can stop people from Boise State from selling "National champions" T-shirts. Nobody can stop people from buying those shirts. And nobody can say those shirts are wrong.