- Graham Watson, College Football
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- While Boise State and TCU are consumed with game planning for Monday's Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, the significance of the game hasn't been lost on the players or the coaches.
For the first time in the history of the BCS, two teams from non-automatic qualifying conferences will play in one of the nation's coveted games that are usually reserved for powers like Texas, Alabama, Florida and Oklahoma.
"I think about, not necessarily us playing each other, but that there are two so-called non-BCS conference teams in here, and I think that's progress, there's no question about it," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. "I hope eventually they stop talking about us as the other guys. The only way you can do that is just keep winning and showing up to games like that. But I think that progress is being made."
This is the fourth consecutive season that a non-automatic qualifying team has played in a BCS bowl and the fifth time in the last six years. The non-AQ teams are 3-1 in those games, including Boise State's 43-42 win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl following the 2006 season.
In each one of those previous BCS bowl games, the non-AQ team has played a ranked team: No. 20 Pittsburgh (2004), No. 7 Oklahoma (2006), No. 5 Georgia (2007) and No. 4 Alabama (2008). But this year's matchup between No. 4 TCU and No. 6 Boise State has left some questioning what this game really proves, especially since these teams played each other last season in the Poinsettia Bowl -- a 17-16 TCU win.
But both Petersen and TCU coach Gary Patterson have conveyed to their teams that this game is not about the opponent, but rather the ramifications of such a high-profile game.
"I think too much has been made out of the opponent," Patterson said. "The score was 17-16 a year ago. We're playing in the Fiesta Bowl. The way not to play up and down is to think what do you have to achieve? We have a chance to be 13-0, the seniors have a chance to win 43 ballgames in a career, and we have a chance, if we play well enough, to maybe, in the AP, maybe be a national champion. You can go down the list of things that we have to play for. We want to beat Boise, but when you look at all those other things, there are a lot of reasons to get fired up."
Patterson's optimism stems from the fact that many believed TCU would have played in the national championship against Alabama had Texas lost the Big 12 championship. Never before has a non-AQ team come so close to playing for a national title since the BCS was established, and because of that, both teams believe this game will set them up for another run next season. Both Boise State and TCU return a majority of starters from their current squads and the winner of this game could start the season ranked in the top five, which would give them a better opportunity to climb into the national championship game should they go undefeated.
"It is kind of different coming to a BCS game to play a non-BCS team," Boise State defensive end Ryan Winterswyk said. "We're definitely both kind of fighting for the same thing. They're a great team and they have the respect of the whole nation.
"But this is the area where our program could take the next step. Another big BCS game and things like that would catapult us into the new decade. If we win this game, only good things are going to come from it as far as respect and rankings and all those things."
Although Boise State is playing in its second BCS bowl and completed its third undefeated regular season in Petersen's four years, the Broncos are still fighting for respect. They have faced a lot of criticism the past couple of seasons for their weak Western Athletic Conference schedule and lack of AQ teams on their nonconference slate.
TCU is playing in its first BCS game, but it's the third BCS game for the Mountain West Conference. The Horned Frogs have beaten two ranked teams and have been one of the most complete teams in the country this season. While many have championed TCU as one of the best teams in the nation, capping the undefeated season would not only elevate the Horned Frogs' status, but also the status of the Mountain West, which is making a push for automatic qualifying status in 2012.
"Where both programs are, you know they're going to be back," TCU offensive lineman Marshall Newhouse said. "Boise's been having great regular seasons and they've played in the Fiesta Bowl, so they've been here already. We're trying to get to a level of being nationally relevant every year. Like, top five.
"Every team seems to be fighting for that top spot. What we bring to the table people are going to have to respect. We'll be back. No matter what happens, we'll be back. We're looking for a win, but no matter what, we'll be back."
Graham Watson covers non-BCS college football for ESPN.com.
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