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The Great Debate: Will the Fiesta Bowl Winner be on track to the 2010 BCS Title Game

Kevan from our Boise site and I went back and forth about can the winner of this game -- or any non-BCS team -- get a legit shot at the national title, next year or ever within the current system.  This is long but well worth the read.

Kevan:  The Broncos can lose the Fiesta Bowl without it affecting their 2010 national championship aspirations for two reasons: 1) Boise State is deep enough, its schedule is strong enough, and other college football teams are inconsistent enough for BSU to work its way into contention by the start of the year, and 2) this is college football, non-BCS teams are never in serious national championship consideration anyways.

Of course, you can't believe both reasons at the same time unless you were like a Unitarian or something. It is either one or the other, yet both serve to prove my side of the debate that the Fiesta Bowl outcome does not matter.

Jeremy, let me take you back two months. Boise State was the No. 4 team in the BCS standings after nonconference play had finished. The Broncos had not started the season with any national championship talk, they had lost their bowl game the season prior, they had a total of five seniors on the team. Yet there they were stuffing Jay Mariotti's AOL blogumns with national championship talk.

Jeremy, let me take you back two weeks. TCU was the de facto second best team in the country in the eyes of virtually everybody. The only other undefeated BCS teams were a deserving Alabama, a dogged Texas, and a plucky Cincinnati. The national championship game, in the opinion of many (including, probably, Jay Mariotti), should have been TCU versus Alabama. Instead, the Horned Frogs finished fourth in the final BCS standings.

Whether a national championship for a non-BCS can happen or not, one thing's for sure: The 2010 Fiesta Bowl will matter very little.

Jeremy: If 2010 is anything like 2009 with multiple undefeated teams then yes a win over TCU in the Fiesta Bowl is needed to propel Boise State to gain even more national title consideration.  A win in the Fiesta Bowl most likely will have them finish this season ranked as high as number three, because the only teams that would be ahead of Boise would be the Texas/Alabama and Florida/Cincinnati winner.  
Even though college football polls are supposed to reflect the current season, but that is a lie as historical and recent success are taken in account for preseason rankings, so a top three finish this year will help out next year.
A Boise win going into next year will have them much higher then the 16th ranking they had going into the 2009 season.  Going into 2010 Boise State has a realistic chance of being in the top five with a win.  Depending on NFL defections Boise would be in the mix for a top five spot with Alabama, Oregon, Miami, Ohio State, Florida, Texas, LSU, and Virginia Tech.

By starting in the top five Boise will not have to climb as much to get to the number two spot and will have to rely less on teams ahead losing just so they will move up.  Also, the Bronco's schedule is tougher then last year with three bowl teams on the non-conference schedule with Wyoming, Oregon State, and Virginia Tech and seven overall within WAC play.  These teams -- specifically Oregon State and Virginia Tech-- will keep the Broncos from slipping as they did this year.

If Boise were to lose they would start any where from 10-15 and have a lot of work to do pass other schools by either winning or moving up because of other schools losing.  It is not out of the possibility for Boise to lose and get to or very close to the title game, because of QB Kellen Moore returning as well as others.  For a non-BCS team to be considered they need to start the season high enough so that their schedule is not a hinderence as it was this year for Boise as the year went on.  The Bronco 2010 run at a national title starts at the Fiesta Bowl this year, and a win is what they really need to be able to achieve that goal.

Kevan: Jeremy, you make some interesting points, and that fact alone probably excludes you from future consideration as a member of the Fiesta Bowl board.

 Your points are valid in the same way that the "Showtime Rotisserie" (set it, and forget it) is a good way to cook a dinner: Makes sense on paper, but until I see it done in real life, I can't help but be skeptical. College football has given me no reason to believe that a non-BCS team can make a national championship game no matter how high they are ranked preseason. The relatively innocuous occurrence of two non-BCS teams in BCS bowls threw the whole sport for such a looop that they panicked, crammed both no-BCSers into the same bowl, hyperventilated into a paper bag, then panicked again and started Big Ten expansion talk.
This is not a sport of progress. At least, not by next year it isn't.
Let's say, for instance, that Boise State starts No. 5 in the preseason polls. They open the year against a WAC team and get jumped by the winner of a BCS vs. BCS matchup. Next, they visit Wyoming and win handily, yet they get jumped by another BCS vs. BCS winner. They beat Toledo big the next week and fall again based on perceived strength of schedule. By the time the Broncos hit their best two opponents (Oregon State and Virginia Tech), they could barely be clinging to a Top Ten position. And I haven't even entertained the idea of BSU not winning its first three games going away. Can you imagine the Tiger-Woods-like fall if any of those games are close?

Voters have yet to treat non-BCS teams fairly in the polls. Why would they start now? The Broncos could win the Fiesta Bowl by 70 points and Kellen Moore could lay golden eggs at midfield, and Boise State would still stand no better chance at getting a national championship in 2010. The system won't allow it. The system is a total nub.

Jeremy: I am not saying a non-BCS will get a shot into a title game because they are ranked high in the preseason, because that team will need help because there will be the inevitable jump by a BCS team you mentioned.  Just look at this year the only way TCU would have been in the title game was by needing help from a Texas loss and even then they would have been jumped by Cincinnati because of those wonderful computers.
I am curious if Texas had lost would the voters actually kept the order of TCU and then Cincinnati because that would have meant TCU would be second in both polls, but out of the title game because of once again the computer love toward the Bearcats. I just wonder if the voters would have kept with the company line and vote Cincinnati over TCU to ensure no non-BCS school gets a shot.  
Another thing to consider is that if TCU had been second ahead of Cincinnati with the Bearcats going to the title game what kind of uproar had their been?  I doubt it would have been as big as 2003 when USC was snubbed by LSU because of the computers even though they were number one in both polls. As we both know the voters would have put Cincinnati second to ensure the ‘right' teams were in the bowl game.
I think if TCU were ranked in the top five they would have a better chance then Boise to make the title game, because the Mountain West has more strong teams in their league then Boise gets to play in the WAC.  Even with being ranked fifth in the preseason coupled with another undefeated season TCU would still be behind four BCS teams, and unless three were to lose a game TCU has no shot of jumping to number two.
If the 2004 Auburn team from the mighty SEC cannot get in a title game as an undefeated then neither would an undefeated non-BCS team that starts in the top five.  However, in saying that both TCU and Boise State have some credit built up with previous great seasons, both played in a BCS game in 2009, and return a ton of talent.  The 2010 schedule for both gives them opportunities to showcase their talent with TCU getting Oregon State, BYU, and Utah; while Boise gets Oregon State and Virginia Tech.  Those games should be good enough to earn respect if both squads win them, and hopefully out weigh the dregs of the Mountain West and WAC.
Unfortunately the bottom of both leagues is treated worse then the bottom of the BCS leagues. Is Indiana, Washington State, Syracuse, Kansas State, or Vanderbilt really that much better then UNLV, Utah State, San Diego State, or Louisiana Tech?  If the voters would realize that a bad team is a bad team no matter what league they are from then the non-BCS would have a chance.

Kevan: It appears that voter perception is going to be the biggest factor in Boise State's chances for a national championship in 2010. Perhaps we should be debating Chris Fowler's mood in August when he's filling out his preseason ballot. Grumpy? Pensive? xx?

If voter perception is the key, then I cannot see a way that the Fiesta Bowl will help out either TCU or Boise State. The Fiesta Bowl pairing of two non-BCS teams has made it that much more difficult for the country to quantify either team's win. Sure, the matchup is exciting. But the aftermath is anything but. A Boise State win will still cause detractors to point to a lack of BCS competition. As my good friend Stuart Scott says, "Haters gonna hate." And win-or-lose in the Fiesta Bowl, nothing is going to change that for the Broncos.

Jeremy: One of these days it has to happen for a non-BCS team to get to the BCS title game right?  I think progress has been inching forward over the past decade it started with the 1998 Tulane team being undefeated and not getting a sniff at the BCS, then BYU in 2001 getting a letter from the BCS saying they were being released from BCS consideration even though were undefeated with a few games left.  That BYU and Tulane teams threatened government intervention, which did eventually ease the restrictions to a top 12 ranking requirement and adding another BCS bowl.

The 2004 Utah team was the first non-BCS team to make it to the BCS with a top six ranking being the requirements.  However, every time it seems a non-BCS makes a move they get a slap in face -- that Utah team face an 8-3 Pitt team.  Then we all know the 2007 Fiesta Bowl where Boise State defeated the highly touted Oklahoma team that was a much better match then the Pitt team Utah faced a few years earlier.  That game provided at least the credence that a non-BCS team could compete at least on a one game basis with a BCS school.

Progress again happened when the 2008 Utah team was making a case to be considered national champions after they crushed Alabama (even though no one including myself thought of Utah as a title contender prior to that game).   Even getting in the discussion for a title was huge. Then there is this year with both Boise State and TCU getting into a BCS game; even though the BCS matched them up to fans dismay.
Another reason why I think it is possible for the winner of this game to get a shot at the title game is that the Mountain West has had three teams ranked in the final top 25 the past two years, and in the final coaches poll of this year there were five non-BCS teams ranked.
The winner will still need help with BCS teams losing, but I still feel the winner will be in the top 5 when the preseason polls come out in August and they will have a legitimate case at the national title.  However, as we know the BCS will try to find a way from that happening, and the block will most likely come from the BCS coaches not ranking a non-BCS team number two even if it is deserved.

Kevan: I am of the mind that progress can only last so long until it becomes change. College football is okay with non-BCS schools showing progress in the polls and in the BCS bowl picture. College football has yet to show that it is okay with change.

As such, I will not believe it until I see it. Win or lose in the Fiesta Bowl, Boise State and TCU will be no closer to a national title in 2010 than they were in 2009. That is college football for you.