One For The Little Guys

Those tricksters from Boise State struck a blow for all the teams relegated to second-class status by the Bowl Championship Series.

When the Broncos turned the Fiesta Bowl into a fairy tale with a hook-n-lateral, a Statue of Liberty and a postgame proposal, they pulled off one of the most wildly entertaining upsets in college football history and helped clear the way for the next upstart to break through the BCS glass ceiling.

In Honolulu and Hattiesburg, Miss., from Fort Worth, Texas, to Salt Lake City, Boise State's victory was celebrated as a landmark event in the battle for equality in big-time college football.

"It changed the way people think,'' said Hawaii coach June Jones, whose Warriors are a contender to be this season's BCS buster, if they can get past Boise State in the Western Athletic Conference.
Or is this the year TCU gets in after twice making a run at the BCS only to fall short? Then again, Mountain West Conference rival Utah, the original BCS buster, could get in the way of the Horned Frogs.

Or maybe Conference USA finally gets a piece of the lucrative BCS pie, with a talented and experienced Southern Mississippi team emerging.

"I think it's certainly much more optimistic than maybe it was before (Boise State's win),'' Southern Miss coach Jeff Bower said.

While Boise State's 43-42 victory over Oklahoma created a buzz that hasn't subsided, this uprising in college football truly started in 2004 when Utah became the first team from a league without an automatic berth in the BCS to play in one of the big-dollar bowl games. And the Utes got in when it was even tougher to do so.

Utah finished in the top six of the final BCS standings to earn a Fiesta Bowl bid, but the story of Alex Smith and the undefeated Utes didn't have staying power. They played a lackluster Pittsburgh team in the Fiesta Bowl, dominated 35-7 and were pretty much forgotten as college football fans debated whether unbeaten Auburn should've gotten a chance to play Southern California for a national championship instead of Oklahoma.

Still, that was a turning point for the so-called ``little guys'' in Division I-A. Boise State also went unbeaten in the regular season before losing a 44-40 thriller in the Liberty Bowl to Louisville, then a member of Conference USA.

"That created and established the momentum that we're seeing now,'' WAC commissioner Karl Benson said.

Two key components of the BCS have changed since Utah made its run: There are now five BCS games instead of four; and the standard that teams in the WAC, MWC, C-USA, Mid-American Conference and Sun Belt must meet to gain a bid was lowered. Boise State had to break into the top 12 to earn a bid last season.

"The top-12 model was put into place before the fifth game,'' Benson said. ``It was created to protect the six guaranteed leagues.''

Benson is quick to point out if the BCS hadn't expanded after changing the qualification standards, it would've been LSU and Notre Dame left out of the mix last season, not Boise State.

In a system based largely on subjective opinions, teams from the non-automatic qualifying conferences can't simply play their way into the BCS the way the champions of the Big Ten, Big East, Pac-10, SEC, ACC and Big 12 can. Those outsiders not only need to be good on the field, they need to convince voters in the Harris and coaches' polls they deserve a shot on the big stage.
Boise State undoubtedly won over some hearts and minds.

"I certainly hope so,'' Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "It certainly did not hurt our cause when the two BCS busters not only got in but also won. It's just as important to show you're capable of playing with those guys.''

Utah and Boise State got into the BCS by going undefeated, and conventional wisdom has been that a team from outside the big six conferences had to go unbeaten to even have a shot.
TCU athletic director Danny Morrison said scheduling is key for aspiring BCS busters whose conferences don't get much respect.

"I do think it places importance on playing a tough nonconference schedule,'' he said.

The Horned Frogs play Texas in Austin the second week of this season. If they go 11-1 with a competitive loss to the Longhorns it could be a test case for how much things have changed in the post-Boise Fiesta Bowl world.

Benson said he believes Boise State's success, and what it brought, will motivate other WAC schools to improve their football programs. The WAC received $9 million in BCS money to split among its schools, with 70 percent going to Boise State.

"More than the money, the other WAC schools saw what it did for Boise State and what it did for their recruiting,'' Benson said. ``You can measure the financial gain but the exposure value is not measurable. It's intangible but a significant benefit.''

Former Auburn coach Terry Bowden, now working as a broadcaster and analyst for Sirius Satellite Radio and Yahoo! Sports, said it's not just the WAC schools who'll want to be like Boise State.

"If I'm at SMU or some other non-BCS school, I'm thinking, 'If Boise can do it, we can do it,''' he said. ``We are about to the point where, no it's not easy but it's not a pipe dream to say, 'You can go to a BCS bowl. You can attain national prominence.'''

As for the Broncos themselves, well, as cool as last season was, and as great an impact as their brilliant performance in the Fiesta Bowl could have on the future of the BCS, they're ready to move on.

"Very much so,'' coach Chris Petersen said. "We loved last year and loved everything it has done for our program. But I can't tell you how much we're tired of talking about it.''

It's a problem that the guys at Hawaii, TCU, Southern Miss and a host of other schools wouldn't mind having at this time next year.
by: Anthony White - - Email Us

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