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October 7, 2010

Put 'em in or keep 'em out? The Boise State debate

AP) -- Under-appreciated or overrated. Slighted or skating by. Put 'em in or keep 'em out.

No matter where you go, everybody has an opinion about the Boise State Broncos.

The great debate of the 2010 college football season is whether No. 4 Boise State, if it has another undefeated regular season, should play in the BCS championship game on Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz.

With every week that goes by, with every victory the Broncos rack up, with every team that passes them in the polls, the argument becomes more heated.

A few years ago fans of the Southeastern Conference and the Big Ten didn't give much thought to Boise State. And those that did probably got a kick out of the BCS-busting Broncos, with their trick plays and post-game wedding proposals.

Now Boise State, which plays in the Western Athletic Conference - a league without an automatic bid to the Bowl Championship Series that clearly isn't as difficult as the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-10 or Big 12 - seems to be the most hated team in the country. Or the most beloved.

On one side there's this: "There's no question that (the Broncos) deserve a chance," said Aaron Taylor, the former Notre Dame lineman who now works as an analyst for CBS College Sports. "They have proven that once they get a chance to play against the best teams, they can handle themselves."

On the other side there's this: "Boise State can beat anybody in the country," ESPN's Lee Corso said on College Gameday earlier in the season. "But they play 10 non-BCS opponents and two BCS opponents in Virginia Tech and Oregon State. There's your answer."

Dig into the Boise State debate and what you'll find is two distinct questions:

1) How does Boise State stack up against the likes of Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon, Oklahoma and Nebraska?

2) Should the Broncos be rewarded with a spot in the national championship game when they will ultimately play weaker competition, on the whole, than the other top teams in the country?

The general consensus on the first question is the Broncos can play with any team.

Taylor has seen Boise State in person, on television and he has broken down coach's tape of the Broncos.

"They have the size on both sides of the football and the skill on both sides of the football to compete with any team in the country," he said.

Taylor put it this way: if you took Boise State and, say, No. 6 Oklahoma and started picking 11 starters on each side of the ball from those two rosters, he figures you'd have just about as many Broncos as Sooners among the 22 players.

Receivers Austin Pettis and Titus Young are legitimate NFL prospects. So are defensive end Ryan Winterswyk and defensive backs Jeron Johnson and Brandyn Thompson. And quarterback Kellen Moore, while far from an NFL prototype at 6-feet tall, fits the mold of great college quarterbacks such as Danny Wuerffel and Jason White.

Boise State has won five of its last six game against teams ranked in the AP Top 25, including a 33-30 victory against Virginia Tech at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., to start this season and a 37-24 win at home against Oregon State. Critics will point out those six games are spread across three seasons.

Oregon State has also lost to No. 5 TCU, the other team from a non-automatic qualifying conference that has a shot to become the first team from outside the six automatic qualifying conferences to play in the BCS title game.

Ask Beavers coach Mike Riley if Boise State and TCU, from the Mountain West Conference, are worthy of their high rankings and without hesitation he answers: "Yes."

"I think they are really, really good football teams. They've got all the phases going and they got talent," he said.

Then comes the respectful qualifier.

"I guess the best way to say it is they'd do well in our conference," Riley said. "I don't think their season would be the same competition-wise at all if they were in the Pac-10 or the Big 12 or whatever conference, but I think they can win any certain game at any time."

Translation: They're good, but the Broncos aren't running the table in the Pac-10 the way they have done in the WAC three of the last four seasons.

There's something else fueling the pro-Boise State faction: a passionate dislike for the BCS.

"As one that doesn't naturally root for the underdog, I'd like to see Boise State get a shot," said Brian Jones, a former Texas linebacker and CBS College Sports analyst. "That's why I am a big proponent of a playoff, because then we can find out on the field."

Ultimately, though, the anti-Boise State contingent is more likely to get its way again this season.

Boise State started the season behind Alabama and Ohio State in the AP and coaches' polls and has already been passed by Oregon. The AP poll has no bearing on the BCS. The coaches' poll does, along with the Harris poll, which makes its first appearances of the season Sunday. Rarely does the Harris poll look dramatically different from the other two.

The first BCS standings, which also includes computer ratings, arrive on Oct. 17. The computers always spit out low marks for Boise State's schedule.

It seems pretty clear that an unbeaten record again won't be enough for Boise State. The Broncos will need the teams in front of them to lose and probably a bunch of the teams behind them, too.

If the Broncos are the only unbeaten team at the end of the regular season or one of two with perfect records, they might finally get their big chance.

Or not.

The most controversial BCS question lying ahead this season is this: Does Boise State deserve a spot in the BCS title game ahead of a team with one loss from one of the traditional power conferences.

Alabama coach Nick Saban has already weighed in on this, saying teams should be rewarded for playing tough competition.

The mere thought of Alabama losing one game to, say, South Carolina, then being left out of the national title game for Boise State, is enough to enrage most Tide fans.

Then again, the thought of Alabama, Ohio State or Oregon losing a game, but still reaching the national title game ahead of an unbeaten Boise State team has Broncos fans boiling.

This is certain: No matter what happens to Boise State, there's going to be some very upset college football fans.



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