A season ago, a Boise State team ranked #7 in the country was bypassed in favor of teams ranked in the mid teens. The Broncos were just one of four top 10 teams to get passed over. (In fairness to the cartel, one of those teams was SEC member Arkansas, who was not eligible because two other SEC teams - Alabama and LSU - were playing in the title game.) This season, following a narrow, season-opening loss at Michigan State, the Broncos were written off for dead in terms of being this year's BCS buster. But is that still the case after the first week of October?
Maybe not. The first BCS standings have the Broncos at #22 - a full 10 spots below where they need to end up to qualify for a big bowl game. But they currently meet the criteria of being the highest ranked non-automatic-qualifying BCS team in the poll, and with half the season left to play, the chance to inch their way up the poll those 10 precious spots over the next month and a half seems to be reasonable.
The Broncos' convincing win over Fresno State - done the old fashioned way with a powerful running game and a stout defense - has placed Boise State back in the picture. The Bulldogs appeared to be a serious road block, but instead, the Broncos defense, led by Demarcus Lawrence , manhandled FS. It was the fourth straight game an opponent has failed to score a point in the first half against the Broncos defense.
Meanwhile, running backs D.J. Harper and Jay Ajayi were powering through what had previously been one of the tougher defenses around. Fresno State entered the game leading the country in turnover margin but walked off the blue turf holding nothing but regret.
So now Boise State's goal of winning their first Mountain West championship appears well within reach. There's still a big game with Nevada on December 1st - a game that will close the regular season, as well as five other league games with a least limited upset potential (remember the trip to New Mexico a couple of weeks ago?) If BSU does win the MW title, and finishes #12 or higher in the final BCS poll, they will automatically qualify for a BCS game. No bias or poll politics could keep them out.
According to the published BCS selection criteria: "The champion of Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference, the Sun Belt Conference, or the Western Athletic Conference will earn an automatic berth in a BCS bowl game if ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS Standings, or, if ranked in the top 16 of the final BCS Standings and its ranking in the final BCS Standings is higher than that of a champion of a conference that has an annual automatic berth in one of the BCS bowls."
The criteria also states: "No more than one such team from Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference, the Sun Belt Conference, and the Western Athletic Conference shall earn an automatic berth in any year."
With WAC member Louisiana Tech's loss to Texas A&M, no other potential non-AQ BCS conference champ-to-be (outside of maybe Ohio) appears to have a legit shot at the BCS. What about the teams ranked ahead of 5-1 Boise State? It stands to reason that three Big East teams (Rutgers, Louisville and Cincinnati) will not all win the rest of their games, since they have to play each other. At least two of them will lose at some point, and probably all three (meaning the MW champ could finish ranked ahead of the Big East champ yet again. In that case, the Broncos would only need to reach #16 in the final BCS poll...)
It also stands to reason that 5-1 Texas A&M will not stay ranked ahead of the Broncos after they're finished going through the SEC gauntlet, and Texas Tech from the Big 12 still has several tough games in front of them. Stanford has two losses and still has to face Oregon and Oregon State. Mississippi State will drop at least three games before the season ends for the same reason as A&M.
So that's seven slots you can project the Broncos climbing without any real upsets occurring...again, assuming Boise State wins out and claims the MW title. (That remains a big assumption.) The chances of other surprises happening - in the form of Top 25 upsets - are about the same as the chances of snow falling in Laramie in October.
So ironically, in what is the second-to-last season of the BCS cartel, the conference they've worked so hard to keep out could be holding a defacto conference title game on December 1st in Reno with an automatic BCS bid on the line. Will the two teams play another epic as they did in 2010, when the Broncos chances at going to the BCS - even the BCS TITLE game - went wide right...and then wide left...in a heart wrenching overtime loss to Colin Kapernick and the Wolf Pack? It could be the kind of high quality drama that leagues with those automatic bids only wish they could have.