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August 5, 2010

Mailbag: Does Boise State have a real shot?

There's a saying that the more things change, the more they remain the same. That's especially true for Western Athletic Conference football teams.

In 1975, Arizona State -- then in the WAC -- posted a perfect season, but the national championship was given to one-loss Oklahoma. Arizona State's misfortune? It was a member of the WAC and not taken seriously.

But at least Arizona State, which was ranked second in '75, had a chance.

Since then, three teams with perfect records watched teams with one loss raise the national championship trophy. In fact, Boise State in 2006 and Utah in 2008 didn't even get a chance to play for the championships; Florida won the national title both seasons. Auburn was perfect, but ineligible for postseason play in 1993.

Boise State, a WAC member, twice has posted perfect records in the past four seasons without having any chance to win a championship. That makes their fans wonder what the Broncos have to do to get a shot at a national title.

There may be no answers. But theories abound in this week's mailbag.

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Why not?

If Boise State is undefeated at the end of the season, would you rather see them or a one-loss team from one of the Big Six conferences play in the national championship game?
Joey from Virginia Beach, Va.

There's not a clear-cut answer to that question. An undefeated Boise State could deserve to play for the national championship -- but not necessarily more so than a one-loss team from an automatic qualifying conference.

What if LSU lost to North Carolina in the season-opener, but bounced back to beat West Virginia, Florida, Auburn and Alabama on the way to winning the SEC championship? That, to me, would be more impressive than posting non-conference wins over Virginia Tech and Oregon State and finishing undefeated in the WAC as well.

What if Ohio State fell at Wisconsin on Oct. 16, then finished strong with November victories over Penn State, Iowa and Michigan? Clearly, Ohio State would have played a more difficult schedule than Boise, so which team would deserve to play for the national title in that scenario? I'd say Ohio State.

But Boise State doesn't enter the season with no chance of playing for the national championship, which always has been the case for teams from non-automatic qualifying leagues since the inception of the BCS. It's just that the Broncos will need some help.

Boise State would have to go unbeaten. Then, it would help if Virginia Tech of the ACC and Oregon State of the Pac-10 won their conference championships or at least were strong contenders. Second, Boise State needs to dominate its WAC foes. Narrow victories won't help change the perception that the Broncos' amazing success is a by-product of playing weak competition. Third, Boise State needs other WAC teams to post some impressive non-conference wins, too.

The case for Boise would get a boost if, say, Nevada had a strong season and beat California on Sept. 17. The same goes for Fresno State if it could defeat Cincinnati of the Big East or Ole Miss of the SEC or if Louisiana Tech upset Texas A&M of the Big 12 or Hawaii knocked off Colorado of the Big 12 and/or USC of the Pac-10. Any victory that adds validity to the WAC is to Boise State's advantage.

At the same time, Boise State also would need one-loss teams from the big conferences to lose late, lose to average or below-average teams or barely escape (perhaps controversially) from upset bids. It also would help if there were some upsets in conference championship games.

The best chance Boise State would have over a one-loss team is if that team turns out to be Virginia Tech or Oregon State.

I don't think Boise State would go unbeaten if it played a schedule as demanding as teams from the Big Six conferences. Yet with recent victories over Oregon, Oregon State, TCU and Oklahoma, Boise State has proved it deserves respect. Thus, if teams in automatic qualifying conferences don't play at a consistently high level -- like in '07, when LSU won the national title with two losses -- I'd have no issue with Boise State getting a shot at the national title.

Recruiting ripples

With Nebraska joining the Big Ten, how will this affect its recruiting? Will Nebraska have to change its primary recruiting spots?
Michael in Atlanta

It's doubtful the move will have much effect at all on the Huskers' recruiting. It may even enhance it.

Nebraska is a high-profile program that recruits nationally and dominates inside its own state. Neither of those things will change. And with the Huskers joining a conference that will have a footprint in nine states, includes major media markets such as Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit and Minneapolis, and has its own TV network, it's reasonable to assume their national appeal could increase.

True, Nebraska may lose some recruiting leverage in Texas, but the Huskers don't rely on that state as heavily as most teams in the Big 12. Nebraska has 25 Texans on its roster, which is a sizeable number -- about a quarter of its roster. But not one Texan started for Nebraska in last season's 33-0 Holiday Bowl victory over Arizona.

Besides, if the move to the Big Ten weakens Nebraska's presence in Texas, wouldn't it then strengthen its presence in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania?

Dark-horse Heels

Do you think North Carolina could be a dark-horse national championship contender?
Max in Boulder, Colo.

The Heels will have one of the best defenses in the country (we're assuming tackle Marvin Austin will be playing despite his involvement in "agent-gate"). That defense should ensure that North Carolina has a competitive season and challenge for the ACC championship.

But the offense was awful in '09 and must make dramatic improvement for the Tar Heels to legitimately challenge Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Miami for the Coastal Division crown.

Quarterback T.J. Yates threw more interceptions (15) than touchdown passes (14) last season. The rushing offense produced just 132.8 yards per game, and the Tar Heels' averaged only 23.8 points per game.

There were some injuries in the offensive line and Yates now is a senior, so the Heels should be better offensively.

Still, I don't think they're good enough to get through a schedule that includes LSU, Georgia Tech, Rutgers, Clemson, Miami, Florida State and Virginia Tech unscathed. North Carolina's focus should be solely on finishing first in the Coastal, then go from there.

UNC won't be in the national championship picture, not even as a dark horse.

Tough road

Oregon State once again has one of the toughest non-conference schedules. Do the Beavers have a chance of upsetting at least one of their two top-10 opponents?
Matt in Eugene, Ore.

Give coach Mike Riley and the Beavers credit: They don't try to boost their record by scheduling a bunch of overmatched programs in non-conference play.

In each of the past five seasons, Oregon State has played at least one non-conference opponent that posted at least nine victories and/or finished in the top 20.

In 2005, the Beavers played No. 19 Louisville (9-3) and Boise State (9-4). The next season, they faced No. 5 Boise State (13-0). In 2007, Oregon State met No. 17 Cincinnati (10-3) and Utah (9-4). In '08, it faced No. 2 Utah (13-0) and No. 8 Penn State (11-2). Last season, Oregon State played No. 8 Cincinnati (12-1).

The Beavers were 2-6 in those games (beating Boise State in '05 and Utah in '07), but they always seem to get better as the season progresses. Perhaps facing formidable competition early is a big reason.

This season, Oregon State opens against TCU in Arlington, Texas, and plays at Boise State on Sept. 25. Those teams lost a combined one game last season (Boise beat TCU in the Fiesta Bowl) and both could open the season in the top 10. Oregon State also plays archrival Oregon to end the season, and the Ducks also could open the season ranked in the top 10.

The Beavers will be the underdog in both key non-conference games. But Oregon State could win both. Although the Beavers are breaking in new quarterback Ryan Katz, they still have two of the nation's most explosive players in running back Jacquizz Rodgers and his brother, wide receiver James Rodgers. The offensive line is good, defensive tackle Stephen Paea is scary good and kicker Justin Kahut has a strong leg.

Sure, the Beavers have their issues -- the new quarterback and a lackluster pass rush chief among them -- but they have talent and are dangerous.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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