Well, that threw everything into a tailspin. For the second straight season Boise State blew its chance at reaching a third BCS appearance in team history when their kicker proved deficient to meeting the challenge at hand. The face changed, the conference opponent changed, but the script was far too real for Chris Petersen, Kellen Moore and the rest of this veteran Broncos team to stomach as it unfolded.
And the BCS got its wish once more. Now there are just three undefeated teams, after Boise lost and Oregon throttled Stanford despite the ungrazed lawn at the Farm by an even wider margin than they did last season in the Autzen Zoo.
Two are the front-runners in their respective power conferences, LSU and Oklahoma State on a collision course to meet in the BCS National Championship Game on January 9. With the attrition that occurred this weekend, now the situation is as clean and unambiguous as it possibly can be in a given season. If the Tigers and Cowboys win out, they’re in.
The third undefeated team is Houston, who now leads our Power Rankings despite their standing below the Broncos in this week’s BCS standings. But while the Cougars could end up being just one of two undefeated teams — or, conceivably, could have the ONLY unblemished record at the end of championship week at the beginning of December. But the best Houston can hope for is the first-ever BCS bowl berth for Conference USA. Even a landscape where every other FBS team had at least TWO losses probably wouldn’t be jumbled enough to elevate the Cougars to the national championship game.
Why would Boise State not earn that spot, you may ask? Well… if you read the BCS fine print, you will find that the automatic bid to a non-AQ team in the top twelve only counts if you win your conference. And while the Cougars still have several obstacles in their path still ahead, with Tulsa still a threat to steal the West Division and, should Kevin Sumlin’s team surmount that challenge, a likely showdown with Southern Miss in the C-USA Championship game, they are the front-runner now until knocked off their throne. And Boise State would need two TCU losses just to win the MWC, a highly improbable scenario.
The question we asked in previous editions needs to be asked again, though — could TCU conceivably climb high enough to take the automatic non-AQ bid despite their two losses, given that they are all lined up to finish 10-2 and win the Mountain West?
The Power Rankings have been completely shaken up this week as the BCS Busters settled some matters on the field. And it could lead to history, one way or another, depending on which circumstances shake out. One first is almost certainly off the table, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still celebrate the opportunity to write a different sort of milestone moment for the sport.
Nine non-AQ teams have earned at least one point toward the BCS standings this week. It isn’t the highest concentration of BCS Buster candidates to appear this late in the season — at this juncture just last year, FOURTEEN teams split up the handful of points cast to the mid-majors by the polls and computers. But really there are just five teams who have any semblance of a chance still to make real noise in the BCS Buster race. So let’s look at those top five candidates and reassess where they stand in the hierarchy in this week’s Power Rankings…
1. Houston Cougars (C-USA/10-0 – Last Week: 2nd)
Overall: 11th (.5673) — Harris: 10th (.6233) — Coaches: 10th (.6285) — Computers: 13th (.450)
- W v. UCLA 38-34
- W @ North Texas 48-23
- W @ Louisiana Tech 35-34
- W v. FCS Georgia State 56-0
- W @ UTEP 49-42
- W v. East Carolina 56-3
- W v. Marshall 63-28
- W v. Rice 73-34
- W @ UAB 56-13
- W @ Tulane 73-17
At this point, what does it really matter? The fact that the Cougars continue to win is what works best in their favor, now that every other BCS Buster contender has at least one loss. If they win out, they’re in the show — a year later than anticipated, once Case Keenum went down injured last year, but the sixth year of eligibility granted by a medical redshirt has allowed the dream to incubate and survive the passing of one aberrant season.
But the final string of games is no walk in the park for Houston. Next Saturday marks Senior Day in the regular-season home finale for the Cougars, as Keenum and the rest of the veterans are honored on the Robertson Stadium turf one last time as they take on a Jekyll-and-Hyde SMU team. There regular-season finale then comes the next week on the road at Tulsa, where a de facto division championship game will be played between the Cougars and Golden Hurricane, both undefeated currently in C-USA play.
The winner will take on Southern Miss in the Conference USA Championship. If that team is Houston, a 13-0 regular season will guarantee a BCS trip — likely to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl — to cap the greatest season in school history. Thanks to TCU’s upset, the Cougars will no longer have to cross their fingers and pray for a second BCS Buster at-large bid. Win out and they’re in the big show…
2. TCU Horned Frogs (MWC/8-2 — Last Week: 4th)
Overall: 19th (.2522) — Harris: 21st (.2407) — Coaches: 19th (.2658) — Computers: 19th (.250)
- L @ Baylor 50-48
- W @ Air Force 35-19
- W v. Louisiana-Monroe 38-17
- W v. FCS Portland State 55-13
- L v. SMU 40-33 (OT)
- W @ San Diego State 27-14
- W v. New Mexico 69-0
- W v. BYU 38-28
- W @ Wyoming 31-20
- W @ Boise State 36-35
TCU launches themselves up the Power Rankings this week with a masterful display of the same guts and grit that propelled the team to a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin last January in Pasadena. The roster might largely be different, but the coaching staff is the same. And by displaying the largest set of cajones in Bronco Stadium, Gary Patterson showed that he knows what he has rebuilt in Fort Worth and that it could still play a part in this race.
Remember several important things. For a non-AQ school to win the automatic bid, they have to be either A) in the top 12 or B) in the top 16 and ahead of the top-ranked team in an AQ conference. And despite their two losses, TCU is now within three positions of that second qualifying opportunity AND sitting eight spots ahead of Big East-leading West Virginia.
We’ve never seen even a one-loss non-AQ team reach a BCS bowl game in the 13-year history of the cartel. But if Houston stumbles, and TCU closes out the season with big wins at home over Colorado State and UNLV — we might just see a two-loss BCS Buster as the Horned Frogs rewrite the terms of Buster history once again before leaving for AQ status in the Big XII…
3. Boise State Broncos (MWC/8-1 — Last Week: 1st)
Overall: 10th (.5959) — Harris: 11th (.6143) — Coaches: 11th (.5634) — Computers: 12th (.610)
- W @ Georgia (@ Georgia Dome) 35-21
- W @ Toledo 40-15
- W v. Tulsa 41-21
- W v. Nevada 30-10
- W @ Fresno State 57-7
- W @ Colorado State 63-13
- W v. Air Force 37-26
- W @ UNLV 48-21
- L v. TCU 36-35
At 8-1, having lost to a TCU team that still resonates with pollsters, the Broncos still remain the highest-rated of the non-AQ teams in the BCS standings. And it doesn’t matter one whit that they have done so. The fact that the Horned Frogs need just one more win — and with two home games against MWC bottom-feeders to get that one win, it’s essentially guaranteed — to win the conference outright means that Boise State once again misses out on a BCS bowl game.
Of course, if they were in the Big East this year, the Broncos likely would still be undefeated — or, were they in a similar situation to that suffered by Cincinnati against West Virginia this past week, they would still be leading their conference and in position to nab an automatic qualifying bid as Big East champion. That reality might be enough to drive them that direction… but given Boise’s luck, the BCS would remove AQ concerns from the equation as soon as they moved cross-country for their football affiliations.
If this is indeed the end of Boise’s run as a mid-major, it’s a run that will be remembered with both fondness for all their successes and forlorn sadness for all their near-misses. There was their first WAC championship season of 2002, when their only loss came to SEC West champion Arkansas in Fayetteville and they finished 12-1. The next year they repeated as WAC champions, and once again their only loss was on the road to an AQ-conference school. They nearly upset Oregon State in Corvallis, losing 26-24, and they would finish 17th in the final 2003 BCS standings behind MAC champion Miami of Ohio.
And then 2004 rolled along. While everyone was arguing the relative merits of USC, Oklahoma and Auburn, another debate raged on — Utah, Boise State or Louisville? The Utes got the bid, trouncing Pitt as the first BCS Buster. The Broncos and Cardinals waged a 44-41 thriller in the Liberty Bowl, as Louisville prevailed in its last game as a C-USA representative before moving to the Big East. So there had been three near-misses by the time they finally beat Oklahoma on New Year’s Day 2007 in the Fiesta Bowl.
Utah trumped them again in 2008, as the Utes took on Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and Boise headed to take on Mountain West runner-up TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl. There the Horned Frogs’ and Broncos’ paths intertwined, the 17-16 defeat the lone blemish on an otherwise impressive season. The two teams would meet again in 2009, pitted against one another in the Fiesta Bowl in a move that saw two BCS Busters break through in a single season — and everyone too afraid to face them. Boise’s 17-10 return victory set the series at one apiece.
Which made this season’s conference showdown a rubber match between the two Buster powerhouses, a referendum on which has been the more successful of the two non-AQ teams to break through and show the power that exists outside the BCS umbrella. Chris Petersen’s team feels a similar pain as they did last season losing to Nevada, but this one stings so much worse. The Mountain West rigged the schedule to turn this into a Boise home game as soon as TCU said they were on their way out the door. This was a last chance to make Buster noise — and the Horned Frogs crowed louder, rendering a Boise State team still highly ranked but neutered of any actual say in the proceedings…
4. Southern Miss Golden Eagles (C-USA/9-1 — Last Week: 3rd)
Overall: 20nd (.2449) — Harris: 20th (.2431) — Coaches: 20th (.2617) — Computers: 21st (.230)
- W v. Louisiana Tech 19-17
- L @ Marshall 26-20
- W v. FCS SE Louisiana 52-6
- W @ Virginia 30-24
- W v. Rice 48-24
- W @ Navy 63-35
- W v. SMU 27-3
- W @ UTEP 31-13
- W @ East Carolina 48-28
- W v. UCF 30-29
Like TCU, Southern Miss is in position to threaten the established order of things and break into the BCS as the first team to do so with a loss already on their record. But winning Conference USA is far less a guarantee for the Golden Eagles than winning the Mountain West will be for the Horned Frogs. But after surviving a scare against UCF on Saturday, at least they have essentially sealed up the East Division.
The Golden Eagles dropped behind TCU in the BCS standings as much because of their lackluster performance against the Knights as due to the astounding upset pulled off by Patterson’s crew in Boise. They can seal up the division next week when they travel to Birmingham to take on UAB, and then a regular-season finale against Memphis will give one final opportunity to climb closer to the top 16 before the conference championship.
We’ve seen undefeated teams blow their shot at the BCS before, going 12-0 in the regular season only to see the dream ruined in a championship game. Remember the 2008 Ball State team, who was upset by Buffalo in the MAC Championship when they were sitting in the top 12? The difference here is that this championship could very well be a play-in game for the automatic bid granted to non-AQ schools that meet the criteria and finish highest in the standings…
5. Tulsa Golden Hurricane (C-USA/7-3 — Last Week: 5th)
Overall: 31st (.0260) — Harris: 36th (.0003) — Coaches: NR (.000) — Computers: 26th (.120)
- L @ Oklahoma 47-14
- W @ Tulane 31-3
- L v. Oklahoma State 59-33
- L @ Boise State 41-21
- W v. North Texas 41-24
- W v. UAB 37-20
- W @ Rice 38-20
- W v. SMU 38-7
- W @ UCF 24-17
- W v. Marshall 59-17
While a three-loss Tulsa team might have expended too much goodwill to earn its way into the BCS, the Golden Hurricane are going to have a great deal of say in what happens through the remainder of the Conference USA season. And it bears remembering just how those three losses transpired early in their season.
A 47-14 loss in Norman to then-#1 Oklahoma was hard to swallow, but not entirely unexpected. A rain delay caused their home game against then-#8 Oklahoma State to begin after midnight, and Tulsa lost big to one of just three remaining undefeated teams. And then there was the loss at then-#4 Boise State.
That last one is the reason why Tulsa dropped three spots in the BCS standings this week despite pummeling Marshall. The residual effect of Boise’s loss is that those teams who lost to them now see a drop in their schedule strength. But with a season finale against Houston for the West Division crown, Tulsa can have a say in how another highly-ranked team’s season finishes. And should they upset the Cougars, a trip to Hattiesburg would give them a chance to upend Southern Miss’ dream as well…
OTHERS RECEIVING BCS VOTES
- 6. BYU Cougars (IND/7-3 — Last Week: NR) 37th @ 0.0011
- 7. Northern Illinois Huskies (MAC/7-3 — Last Week: NR) 39th @ 0.0005
- 8. Arkansas State Red Wolves (SUN BELT/8-2 — Last Week: 6th) 36th @ 0.0021
- 9. Ohio Bobcats (MAC/7-3 — Last Week: NR) 42nd @ 0.0001
DROPPING OUT THIS WEEK: NONE
OTHERS MERITING CONSIDERATION: Louisiana-Lafayette (SUN BELT/8-3, L @ Arkansas State 31-20), Wyoming (MWC/6-3, W @ Air Force 25-17), San Diego State (MWC/6-3, W @ Colorado State 18-15), Nevada (WAC/6-3, W v. Hawaii 42-28)