I could make this article an impassioned defense of some SEC coach who I believe is on the hot seat this season. However, I didn’t want to do anything to threaten ESPN’s role as water carrier for the SEC. I’ve decided to branch out with my selection for the NCAA football coach with the most prove in the 2010 season. Join me on a little journey to the home of the Smurf turf so I can explain to you why I think Chris Petersen has the most to prove in this upcoming college football season.
It seems like each of the last several seasons there has been a non-BCS conference college football team knocking on the door of the national championship game. That team then prompts weeping and gnashing of teeth among some of the college football commentariat class. The supposed experts espouse that said team will be left out of the national title game for a variety of reasons such as: comparative strength of schedule, not enough games on TV for exposure to a nationwide audience, or Lou Holtz has never heard of them. The arguments against these teams being granted a shot on college football’s biggest stage are always the same. While the nominees for Best Team Not In A BCS Conference change every year or two, rarely have the stars aligned for one of these teams as they are aligned for Chris Petersen’s Boise State Broncos this season.
When we last saw coach Petersen and the Broncos they were defeating the third ranked TCU Horned Frogs in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl. While many fans and commentators said the game would be perceived as a junior varsity BCS game, those who watched the game knew what they were seeing – two quality football teams duking it out in a game worthy of the stage provided by the BCS. The FOX broadcast team even alluded to the national perception by talking about how, if the game had featured two BCS conference teams, the reporting of the game would have universally vouched for its physicality and quality. Instead, feared the broadcast team, the low score would prompt shoot from the hip analysis that these teams were rightly segregated from the big boys of the sport.
Thankfully FOX’s fears were somewhat misguided, and coach Petersen’s team landed in the top five of both 2010 pre-season polls (#3 AP, #5 ESPN/USA Today). As we’ve seen over the past several years, a key part of a national championship campaign is where a team begins the season in pre-season poll. It appears Boise State is finally poised to overcome one of the obstacles that has stood in front of non-BCS championship contenders. Beyond that, the comparative strength of schedule argument is somewhat moot this season given that Boise State opens at a “neutral site” (metro Washington D.C., FedEx Field) against the top ten ranked Virginia Tech Hokies. I broke out the quotation marks for neutral site because Blacksburg is only 276 miles away from the stadium (chump change for the well-traveled VT fan base), whereas Boise checks in at a cool 2,386 miles from FedEx Field. Nineteen days after that VT matchup, BSU takes on Oregon State atop the Smurf turf. Both the VT and OSU games are on ESPN, which should allow poll voters ample time to analyze the Broncos. Following those games, four of the remaining nine games are on ESPN2. Six games on the ESPN family of networks will go a long way toward quieting the people who say Boise State isn’t on national TV enough to get a fair analysis.
These factors add up to one point – the heat is on Chris Petersen, and he has more to prove than any other coach in the nation this year. Now, he won’t get fired (heck, they’re probably casting his statue as you read this), but the hopes and dreams of his rabid fans and, indeed, the fan base of every successful non-BCS program, ride on the success or failure of Petersen and his Broncos. Given the unsettled nature of conference alignment in FBS football, it’s not an exaggeration that the future of several conferences and teams may hinge on the mighty orange and blue Broncos of Boise State. Peterson has to strike a blow for the little guys because this is the best chance ever for a have-not to crash the have party. If he doesn’t, the college football establishment will go back to patting non-BCS teams on the head and telling them what a cute, little team they’ve got out there. And that’s not right.