Broncos-Frogs: What could have been
In a just and righteous America, Monday night's Fiesta Bowl would be a national semifinal game.
The winner of TCU-Boise State plays the winner of Alabama-Texas for the national title. See you all next week for a game that would settle all the arguments. (OK, most of the arguments. Nothing settles all the arguments in college football.)
Of course, we know national semifinals are pure fantasy at the Football Bowl Subdivision level. Instead of even the most modest of playoffs -- a plus-one game -- we are saddled with the mockery of a system that is the Bowl Championship Series. Having the BCS is worse than having shingles.
It would be intriguing to see the champion of the Striver Conference Bracket (Mountain West Conference versus Western Athletic Conference) take on the champion of the Old Money Bracket (Southeastern Conference versus Big 12). Fans would adore the natural underdog-overdog storyline.
Sports writers would be spraining themselves making comparisons to Milan versus Muncie Central, accurate or not.
Really, the ideal matchups would be Alabama-Boise and then Texas-TCU in a juicy Lone Star State semifinal. But the ideal remains unreal. There are no semifinals.
So we have TCU-Boise, a great bowl game on its own merits. The nation's No. 1 scoring offense (Boise) against the nation's No. 1 total defense (TCU). Matchup of two of the winningest programs of the decade. Rematch of a one-point bowl game last season.
I vigorously disagree with people who panned this Fiesta Bowl as an exclusionary BCS tactic to keep the guys from the "little conferences" from embarrassing champions of the power six leagues. The 12-0 Horned Frogs and 13-0 Broncos get better competition against each other than they could have playing Iowa or Georgia Tech. What would beating either of those teams prove?
There are plenty of legitimate reasons to rip the BCS. But this matchup is not one of them.
Except for the fact that it's not a semifinal. Lacking that, we'll never know whether the 2009 editions of TCU or Boise were good enough to win a national title. They won't get their shot.
That's especially unfair for TCU, which has been No. 2 on my ESPN.com power rankings ballot since late November. I believe the Frogs are more deserving of being in Pasadena than Texas after their brilliant season.
In fact, their body of work just keeps looking better as more games are played.
TCU dominated the Mountain West. How good is the MWC? It was difficult to know during the season since many of its games were cleverly hidden from national television cameras, but you know if you've watched the bowl games. The MWC is 4-0 so far, and every victory has been a spectacular, take-notice statement.
Wyoming was a 10-point underdog against Fresno State and scored a one-touchdown upset. Brigham Young was a three-point underdog against Oregon State and dominated the Beavers by 24. Utah was a 2½-point dog to California and won by 10. Air Force was a 4½-point underdog to Houston and won by 27.
TCU's average margin of victory over those four conference opponents? An emphatic 24 points. The Frogs didn't just win big games; they dominated big games.
But don't forget the nonconference work as well. TCU beat Clemson on the road in September; the Tigers won the Music City Bowl over Kentucky. TCU handled SMU easily in October; the Mustangs won the Hawaii Bowl over Nevada in a rout.
The Frogs were 6-0 against bowl-bound opponents -- and all six of those teams now have won their bowls. How you like 'em now?
There's plenty to like about Boise State as well. The Broncos handily defeated Pacific-10 champion Oregon and scored at least 42 points in 10 games. They had only one victory by single digits, a seven-point win at Tulsa. They've won 25 of their past 26 games, with the only loss that one-pointer to TCU last year. Quarterback Kellen Moore is the highest-rated passer in the country and hasn't thrown an interception since Nov. 6.
So the team that wins this Fiesta Bowl will prove its excellence.
Unfortunately, it will not be able to prove -- or disprove -- its national championship mettle.
We're all denied the chance to know for sure the best team in America.
Because there are no semifinals in college football. (New twist on an old bumper sticker: No justice, no playoffs. Know justice, know playoffs.)
So enjoy a very good bowl game between TCU and Boise State. But think about what it could have been in a better system.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.