If you watch college football, or just care about the concept of fairness, you’ll root for the Boise State Broncos this season.
College football needs, but doesn’t have a lineal champion. That’s what the American definition of champion is. Champions aren’t selected by a bunch of coaches with their hands tied. The champion is the last team standing. No one was satisfied when USC split the title with LSU in 2004, and who wouldn’t have watched a “Champions Bowl” two weeks later? If the BCS (“Hey, guys, let’s let a computer pick the best two teams. Most years there will be tiresome controversy”) were introduced today, it would be met with the same reception as if tobacco was a hot new invention (“so…it kills you?”).
So, um, why even watch?
That reason is Boise State. Boise State represents the potential for an egalitarian playoff system like college basketball has (seriously, just have the top 16 teams in the country play a single elimination tournament. It is that simple). Unless you went to a football school that matters like SEC loves to say, you have no excuse not to root for Boise State. Rooting against Boise State the past few years is like rooting against Rudy in the Rudy or for Duke over Butler without having gone to Duke. It’s rooting against the underdog, and as Daniel Engber explains, that’s something sports fans generally don’t do.
The Broncos are hardly underdogs in their own conference. Boise State beat Toledo 57-14 last year and is favored by 19 points on Friday, but they are underdogs within the football establishment. Boise State is a team that, more often than not, dismisses all comers from a weak conference and goes toe-to-toe with teams from the BCS conferences when they play—similar to Memphis under John Calipari or Butler under Brad Stephens. So rooting against Boise State is rooting for greedy sports bureaucrats who want to preserve the status quo. Rooting for Boise State is rooting against the BCS—and the BCS sucks, so you should root for Boise State.
Boise’s State’s story is about as dramatic as the Dillon Panthers’. In 2006, Boise State put together an undefeated season and found itself in a Fiesta Bowl matchup against Oklahoma. The Broncos scored on a 50-yard Hook and Ladder play with seven seconds left to tie the game in regulation, a Halfback Toss to tie the game in overtime, and a Statue of Liberty to win on a two point conversion. After the game, Ian Johnson, who scored the final touchdown, proposed to his cheerleader girlfriend in the end zone. It was ripped from the cheesiest, most clichéd sports movie never written.
Stewart Mandel from Sports Illustrated’s College Football Blog wrote at the time, “Like it or not, Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42 just became the single biggest argument to date for a college football playoff. You’re going to hear it a lot in the coming weeks. If Boise State can beat Oklahoma, why shouldn’t it get a shot at [Florida]? And while the BCS commissioners can offer any number of general arguments against a playoff, the fact is there is no reasonable answer to that specific question.” Boise State, at 13-0, finished as the only undefeated team in the Nation. Florida, the eventual champion, finished 12-1.
The argument strengthened in 2009, when Boise State finished 14-0. Alabama, also 14-0, was named the National Champion after a Bowl Game despite Boise State beating another undefeated team, TCU, in a Bowl Game. If it weren’t for another drama filled game against Nevada last year, in which Boise State’s kicker missed a for-the-win kick with two seconds left and another in overtime, Boise State would have found itself undefeated once again, in prime position to be Montreal-Screwjobbed out of the National Title by the BCS for a third time.
The concept of a lineal champion (becoming the champ by beating the champ) became prominent in boxing because all the different federation’s belts rendered the concept of belts meaningless. When there are multiple undefeated teams that haven’t played each other, and one of them is arbitrarily named champion because of a contractual obligation to an organization that’s little more than a group of large-scale event planners with a malleable strength of schedule algorithms, well, that’s as meaningless as holding one of six heavyweight belts.
That’s why we need to root for Boise State to run the table this year, and do it with style. Every year they finish undefeated is a year that they should have a claim to the National Championship, but they need to be so continuously excellent that it’s indisputable despite what the old guard will say.
Kellen Moore, their senior quarterback, makes opposing linebackers feel sick to their stomachs, and will graduate. Chris Peterson, their coach, has won two Bear Bryant Coach of The Year awards, and as this Grantland article theorizes, might leave soon. As long as the BCS exists there will be good small conference teams for them to short-change, but this might be Boise State’s last chance to turn college football on its head.
And if all that’s not enough for you, they play on blue turf.