On Friday, #24 Boise State will kick off their season in East Lansing, Michigan as they face the #13 Michigan State Spartans. Boise only returns a total of five starters (offense and defense), and will be playing their first game without their starting QB of the last four years, Kellen Moore. Michigan State won the Big Ten’s Legends Division in 2011, and will feature a very stout defense led by defensive end William Gholston. Despite the fact that Michigan State is a seven point favorite, I fully expect Boise State to win.
Why? Because that is what Boise State does – they win games against “name” programs. Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, Oregon in 2008 and 2009, Virginia Tech and Oregon State in 2010, TCU in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl, Georgia in 2011, and Arizona State in the 2011 Las Vegas Bowl. They have a very impressive resume of big wins. Many of which, I should add, were played away from Boise State’s famed blue turf.
A Boise State victory will renew a lot of buzz around the program, stoking expectations for their season, including their potential to end up in another BCS bowl game. Heck, it is conceivable that if Boise wins on Friday, they could go undefeated through the regular season and make it to the BCS Championship game.
And that would be a shame.
Sure, it has been proven that Boise State can line up and beat the big boys in a single game. Their list of big wins over the past five years is quite impressive, and cannot be taken away from them.
Of course, nobody ever talks about the common denominator in those big wins: they all occurred in the first game of the season or the bowl game. Why does that matter? It means that Boise is getting a month (bowl game) or more (season opener) to prepare, plan, and practice for these marque games.
Yes, the schools Boise plays in these games get the same amount of preparation time (unless their bowl opponent is playing in a conference championship) so credit should be given to coach Chris Peterson for his efforts in getting his team ready to play. To be clear: Boise has proven that in a single game they can beat anybody, anywhere.
However, there are two things that Boise has not proven:
1) Can they beat that top flight opponent in the middle of the season? Let’s say the Michigan State game is not this Friday, but Saturday, October 27. On that day, Boise will be playing for the seventh straight week, so injuries (along with the general grind of the season) may be taking a toll. Does Boise only prepare for Michigan State for one week, or do they install some of the game plan during week when they play UNLV at home? My guess is without extra prep time, the game plans we’ve seen executed so perfectly by Boise’s talented athletes aren’t quite as polished as they have been in the past.
2) Can Boise beat Top 25 teams in back-to-back weeks? Since the start of the 2006 season (which lead up to Boise’s break-out win over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl), Boise has not played ranked teams in back-to-back weeks, but they have gone to two BCS bowl games. For comparison, let’s look at two other schools to have played in multiple BCS bowls in that same period. Since the start of the 2006 season, Virginia Tech has faced ranked teams in back-to-back weeks eight times, and has been to four BCS bowls. LSU has played ranked teams back-to-back 13 times (including a stretch of four in a row) and has been to three BCS bowls. But based on the preseason AP Poll, after the MSU game, Boise may not face another ranked team in the regular season (BYU received votes but didn’t crack the Top 25).
These are the glaring holes in Boise’s overall resume, and in my opinion, the reason they have been (and should continue to be) denied entrance into the BCS Championship game. Going back to the 1985 season, every National Champion (with the exception of the 1986 Penn State team) has played at least two Top 20 teams in games other than the opener or bowl game (and that PSU team beat #2 Alabama on the road in the middle of the season). In short, as convoluted as the Bowl Coalition, Bowl Alliance, and BCS have been, the simple truth is that college football’s National Champion proves it on the field all season long – not just to open and/or close their season.
Given the competition Boise has faced in the WAC (and now in the MWC), and how they’ve had to fight to get into the BCS bowls, you’d think they would have beaten down the door to the Big XII commissioner’s office, trying to gain admission into a league filled with strong programs. Joining the Big XII would offer them a tougher schedule in which to prove themselves and automatic qualifier status into the BCS. Boise State will join the Big East in 2013, but with the departures of West Virginia, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse, one wonders if that league will be an improvement from the Mountain West.
There is an old cliché that says “to be the best you have to beat the best.” Unfortunately, for Boise playing the best is an exception (and a carefully scheduled one at that), so we have no idea if they can beat the best without 3-4 weeks of preparation.