In a sport where championship contenders are measured against others by their resumes rather than head-to-head competition, one such team had to be brilliant Saturday night and wasn’t, and therefore showed it should not play for the national title under the current system. Boise State hosted Oregon State on the blue turf in prime time, and with a convincing win would have stated its case for staying on the short list of teams with a real chance to play in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 10 in the BCS Championship game. The Broncos won, but not convincingly, beating the Beavers 37-24. It wasn’t enough.
Saturday was judgment day.
In a sport where championship contenders are measured against others by their resumes rather than head-to-head competition, one such team had to be brilliant Saturday night and wasn’t, and therefore showed it should not play for the national title under the current system.
Boise State hosted Oregon State on the blue turf in prime time, and with a convincing win would have stated its case for staying on the short list of teams with a real chance to play in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 10 in the BCS Championship game.
The Broncos won, but not convincingly, beating the Beavers 37-24.
It wasn’t enough.
Because Boise State plays a putrid schedule compared with teams like Alabama, Ohio State and Oregon, it had to show it was head and shoulders better than Oregon State, which came in ranked 24th in the Associated Press poll. The Broncos had to show they were not just better than the mediocre Beavers, but that the teams didn’t really belong on the same field.
They just didn’t do that.
The problem lies in the fact that Saturday represented the second and last time this regular season Boise State could be measured against a team from a conference with an automatic berth in a BCS bowl. The Broncos beat Virginia Tech on Labor Day but needed a touchdown in the last two minutes to beat a team that went out and lost to James Madison the following weekend, crushing whatever luster Boise State’s initial victory possessed.
Beyond Virginia Tech and Oregon State, the Broncos play no one significant.
Only one team that remains on their schedule is ranked, and that’s current No. 25 Nevada.
Compare that with Alabama, the defending champions and current No. 1 team in the nation. The Crimson Tide were at Arkansas - then ranked 10th - on Saturday. They beat then-No. 18 Penn State the second weekend of the season. They host No. 7 Florida on Saturday, play at 20th-ranked South Carolina the following week and also have No. 12 LSU and 10th-ranked Auburn looming.
Ohio State already has a win over then No. 12 Miami, travels to 11th-ranked Wisconsin on Oct. 16 and finish the regular season with a three-game stretch of No. 22 Penn State, at 17th-ranked Iowa and home against No. 19 Michigan.
It’s no different at Oregon and Florida, among others.
Assuming there are at least two undefeated teams from the Big Six conferences, Boise State’s resume just isn’t enough merit inclusion in the championship game. That can’t be debated.
It was the same with Utah a couple of years ago, which finished second in the final BCS standings but based on its regular season resume belonged right where it would up - a BCS bowl but not the championship game.
Where the judgment gets murky is if the Broncos are undefeated and fewer than two Big Six teams make it through the season unscathed. And the fact is, Boise State still doesn’t deserve a chance to win the national championship over a team that plays four or five ranked teams including one or two in the top 10 and has just one loss.
Those teams, even when they’re not playing ranked teams, are playing competition better than Boise State’s. The Broncos routinely play the kind of opponents those other teams play once or twice each season - usually early in the year - to get guaranteed easy victories.
If they’re deemed championship-worthy with their schedule, Nebraska is making a huge mistake by joining the Big Ten next year. Instead, the Cornhuskers should join the Mid-American Conference, put Michigan State and Kansas on the schedule as its marquee non-conference opponents and beat everyone by 50 points.
That’s the equivalent.
That said, Boise State is just a victim of circumstance.
The Broncos reportedly have tried to schedule more top-tier teams, asking for home-and-home series. But while those teams are willing to play the Broncos at their own place, they refuse to play at Boise State, and so no contracts have been signed.
It’s legitimate for Boise State to feel it’s earned the right to play Big Six teams on equal terms, but if those teams wont grant home-and-home series the Broncos have to swallow their pride and do what Florida State did when Bobby Bowden first took over and built the Seminoles into what they became. They have to schedule as many powerful teams as possible and be willing to play all those games on the road.
Boise State’s schedule would look a whole lot better if Virginia Tech and Oregon State were joined by Oklahoma and Wisconsin, for example, rather than Toledo and Wyoming, as non-conference opponents.
The Broncos, assuming they go undefeated, most certainly deserve to play in a BCS bowl. But in a sport where all you can go by is a team’s body of work, where championship participants are determined by subjective judgment, they cannot do enough with their weak schedule to merit inclusion among the top two.
They are, of course, Exhibit A for why there needs to be a playoff in college football. It’s sad that a team can go undefeated but not get a chance to be crowned the best in its sport.
But a postseason tournament doesn’t exist. And on judgment day, Boise State was deemed unworthy.
What We Learned
Alabama may wind up undefeated and win its second straight national championship, but it’s vulnerable.
Arkansas showed that the Crimson Tide can be had, but wasn’t able to finish the job. The Razorbacks led 20-6 in the second half, but when Alabama fought back they folded rather than stand tall and respond to the Tide. Alabama demonstrated the kind of grit it takes to make it through a season without a loss, the maturity to handle adversity, while Arkansas demonstrated just the opposite by crumbling.
By going ahead two touchdowns, however, the Razorbacks revealed the Crimson Tide as a very good team but not one substantially better than all others chasing them in the polls. In fact, Arkansas and Alabama played a statistically even football game last Saturday.
Both gained 421 total yards, with the Tide outgaining the Hogs 227-64 on the ground and the Razorbacks dominating the airwaves 357-194. The difference, ultimately, was a late interception thrown by Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett that ended the Razorbacks’ attempt to answer Alabama’s go-ahead touchdown by Mark Ingram.
It was the third turnover committed by Arkansas, all picks thrown by Mallett. Alabama committed just two.
“There’s certainly plenty to learn from last week’s game,” said Alabama coach Nick Saban at a press conference on Tuesday. “I think the biggest thing is what we’re capable of when we do things correctly and what can happen when you don’t. I think the intensity of the game overwhelmed us a little bit early in the game. We kind of counterpunched our way back into it, but it’s an unbelievable job of overcoming adversity, which is something that some teams may or may not be able to do.”
With Florida coming to Tuscaloosa this Saturday, and South Carolina, LSU and Auburn all still out there to be played, Saturday’s struggle in Fayettville gave reason to think Alabama will fall at some point.
The Crimson Tide, however, weren’t the only team chasing the crystal football that revealed vulnerability.
Oregon, more dominant than anyone through the first three weeks of the season, struggled in Week 4 at Arizona State, winning 42-31 in the desert. The Sun Devils gashed the Ducks’ defense for 597 total yards - 381 passing - and 31 first downs, but Oregon was able to survive thanks to seven Arizona State turnovers.
Nebraska also had a tough time, somehow beating South Dakota State just 17-3.
The Cornhuskers held the Jackrabbits to 236 total yards, which is to be expected. But instead of rolling up 500 or 600 of their own, they gained only 345 and turned the ball over three times.
This is a season that has no dominant favorite.
Alabama is an overwhelming No. 1, but not starkly better than a handful of other teams, Oregon and Nebraska among them. Last Saturday revealed just how difficult it will be for anyone with any depth on their schedule - in other words, not Boise State - to go undefeated.
Game of the Week
It’s the first weekend of true conference play, and already there will be games that will result in frontrunners.
Florida’s visit to Alabama will have a major role in how the SEC plays out. Texas and Oklahoma’s annual dustup in Dallas will reveal the early favorite to win the Big 12 South. And Wisconsin at Michigan State will be crucial in the Big Ten.
But the Tide should beat a Gators squad that’s been mostly mediocre - last Saturday the exception - through four weeks, and after the Longhorns were crushed by UCLA Last weekend it looks likely that the Sooners will take down the Longhorns. The Badgers, though to date not as impressive as its ranking would suggest, should handle the Spartans.
Out in the Pac-10, however, is a game of real mystery.
Ninth-ranked Stanford is at No. 4 Oregon, and with all due respect to Arizona and USC, the Cardinal and Ducks are the class of the conference. There will be plenty of tests down the track for both teams, but Saturday night at Autzen Stadium will give one substantial position over the other in the race for the Rose Bowl ... or more.
“We want to get stronger, we want to get more physical,” said Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, who led his Cardinal to a 51-42 upset win over Oregon last year. “That’s what’s going to be one of the big factors to who wins the Pac-10 championship. I really believe that. I believe this is a strong-man conference and the strongest team will eventually be the champion.”
On paper, the matchup is even.
Both teams have superb offenses - Stanford averages 48 points per game, fourth-best in the country, while Oregon leads the nation with 57.75. Both have solid defenses - the Cardinal allows 13.75 points per game and the Ducks give up an even 11.
And both have amassed their statistics against decent but not great teams.
Stanford’s best wins are over UCLA (35-0) and Notre Dame (37-14) - both on the road - while Oregon’s most notable wins are over Tennessee (48-13) and Arizona State (42-31) - also, both on the road.
“We both strive to run the football,” said Oregon coach Chip Kelly. “I think we finished first in the conference the last couple of years running the football and they finished second running the football. I think it’s a game based on fundamentals. We go about it in different ways because they use more tight ends than we do, but I think it’s still a tough, hard-nosed, physical game on both sides.”
The Pac-10 race won’t be decided on Saturday night. But a frontrunner will.
If I Had a Ballot ...
1. Alabama (4-0): Unfortunately for the Tide, Florida may have finally found its offense just in time for Saturday’s trip to Tuscaloosa.
2. Ohio State (4-0): The Buckeyes are just biding their time the first half of the season.
3. Oregon (4-0): Saturday night could be the game of the year in the Pac-10.
4. Boise State (3-0): Next up are the mighty Aggies of New Mexico State. That’s sarcasm.
5. Nebraska (4-0): Struggling against South Dakota State was surprising.
6. Florida (4-0): After three very mediocre weeks, it was hard not to be impressed with what the Gators did to Kentucky.
7. Stanford (4-0): With a win on Saturday night, Stanford would suddenly be a national title contender.
8. Oklahoma (4-0): No one is more confusing so far than the Sooners, so good against Florida State and so uninspired against everyone else.
9. TCU (4-0): Like Boise State, style points count for everything with the Horned Frogs, and they didn’t get too many with their win over SMU.
10. Auburn (4-0): Wins at Mississippi State and home over Clemson and South Carolina were all close, but they were wins.
Eric Avidon is a Daily News staff writer. He can be reached at 508-626-3809 or email@example.com.