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Is this the season that a non-AQ team sneaks into the BCS national championship game?
Debate: Does a "Mid-Major" football team deserve a chance to play in the BCS national championship game?
Athlon editors Braden Gall and Patrick Snow debate whether or not a non-AQ team deserves a chance to play for the national title.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman): In most cases, I tend to believe that a one-loss team from a power conference has a stronger resume than an undefeated “non-automatic qualifier”. However each case must be analyzed on its own merit, and the school that has the potential to cause a huge debate during the upcoming football season is Boise State. For all of those fans who celebrated Nevada’s overtime win over the Broncos last year, you might want to prepare for some more BCS stress if Chris Petersen’s squad wins its third-straight featured opener (Oregon ’09, Virginia Tech ’10) against Georgia in Atlanta.
The college football nation has finally realized that Boise can play with any team in the country on any Saturday. The argument against them – and others like TCU, Utah, etc. over the last few years – has been that they don’t have to go through the brutal four-to-five game conference gauntlet in the middle of many SEC, Big Ten or Big 12 schedules. While I agree with that sentiment about 90 percent of the time, the 2011 version of Boise State looks like a possible exception. They will play a stronger league schedule in the Mountain West, and a win over a talented SEC team like Georgia would further the Broncos’ case to play in the big game if they go through the season unscathed.
It’s no secret why Chris Petersen is 61-5 in his five seasons as a head coach – he has good players. While his trick plays and multiple formations are fun to watch, the reality is that no one has that type of record without solid talent on the field. Petersen has his team prepared for each game as well as anyone in the country, but schemes alone do not beat Oklahoma, TCU, Oregon (twice), Virginia Tech and Oregon State. There will be roughly 20 ex-Broncos on NFL rosters when their season finally begins. Recent Boise State players like Austin Pettis, Titus Young, Kyle Wilson and Ryan Clady are being drafted highly in the NFL because they are on the same level as bigger conference studs, and Petersen has built the program to that type of level. It will be more of the same this season with five Broncos elected as All-Americans in our preseason magazine: offensive lineman Nate Potter and defensive lineman Billy Winn were named to the first team, while quarterback Kellen Moore, defensive lineman Shea McClellin and safety George Iloka made the second team.
Many top teams in our 2011 preseason rankings play each other, so there is a high possibility that no BCS league team goes undefeated. Oklahoma and Florida State battle in September, Alabama plays in the brutal SEC West and has to travel to Penn State, LSU plays Oregon and West Virginia before ever getting to the SEC, and Nebraska will find a tough road in trying to get through the Big Ten unbeaten.
Georgia will be a difficult foe for Boise State, but something has been missing in Athens over the last couple of seasons. Mark Richt may revive the Bulldogs and lead them to another blowout of Boise like he did in 2005, but we know Chris Petersen’s veteran team will be ready in all facets of the game. If Boise State beats an SEC stalwart like Georgia, be prepared for a BCS Championship Game debate throughout the season. Led by a record-setting senior quarterback and a stellar defensive line, an undefeated Broncos’ squad should go to the title tilt over a one-loss team from a power conference this season. I usually don’t see it that way, but this year – with this particular Boise State team – I do.
Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden): The record book shows us that non-AQ, or "mid-major," football teams can beat the big boys in a one-game scenario. It's football, anything can happen and that is why they play the games. But there is no way a WAC or C-USA team will ever deserves a chance to play in the BCS National Championship game - as the BCS format currently stands. Additionally, I don't believe any of the BCS bowl winners would have challenged the eventual National Champion. Utah, TCU and Boise State have all won BCS bowls, but I have no faith in TCU beating Auburn (2010), Boise State beating Alabama (2009) or Utah beating Florida (2008).
The bottom line is scheduling. The week-in, week-out grind of any of the big six power conferences is dramatically more difficult than anything any mid-major league can throw at you - including the Mountain West, especially now without BYU, Utah and TCU. Certainly, the MWC has elevated its level of play in recent years, but the level of competition isn't even in the same stratosphere.
For example, Athlon Sports has Michigan, Tennessee, Clemson, Mississippi State, Arizona, Oregon State, Georgia Tech and Illinois picked fourth in their own divisons this season. Auburn, UCLA, Cal, Northwestern, Boston College, Virginia, Purdue and Kentucky are picked fifth. Those are supposed to be the "easy" games for the national title contenders this season. Are you kidding? These are teams that operate with $80, $90, $100 million athletic budgets. No offense to Air Force or Hawaii or Tulsa, but it would be virtually impossible for any mid-major team to hit .500 against those teams. And those are supposed to be the "below average" BCS teams.
Boise State is going to have an excellent football team in 2011, there is no doubt. They have are excellent along the line of scrimmage and have an elite signal caller under center. They might torch the Georgia Bulldogs in Atlanta in Week One. But if it goes undefeated - barring two losses for every team in America - the Broncos don't deserve a trip to New Orleans with a schedule that includes UNLV, Colorado State, New Mexico, Wyoming, San Diego State, Toledo, Fresno State, Nevada and Tulsa - none of whom would be picked higher than fifth (if that) in any BCS division in the nation.