Boise State's fate in other teams' hands
BOISE, Idaho -- After traveling more than 2,200 miles, I wanted to see one of two things Saturday night from No. 3 Boise State in its game against No. 24 Oregon State.
I wanted to see the Broncos blow the Beavers' doors off.
Or I wanted to see Boise State lose.
But after walking out of Bronco Stadium, I really know nothing more about Boise State than I did three weeks ago.
I know Boise State is better than Oregon State, which probably will end up being a middle-of-the-pack team in the Pac-10 Conference. The Broncos defeated the Beavers 37-24 in front of a school-record crowd of 34,137 fans, and the score probably would have been worse if the home team hadn't hurt itself with so many foolish mistakes.
I know that Broncos junior Kellen Moore is one of the country's best quarterbacks and is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. He completed 19 of 27 passes for 288 yards with three touchdowns and made a couple of throws that most quarterbacks around the country can't make.
I know the Broncos have one of the country's best receiver corps, and now I know running back Doug Martin is better than I thought, after he ran 19 times for 138 yards against the Beavers.
But I still don't know whether the Broncos are good enough to line up toe-to-toe with No. 1 Alabama, the defending BCS national champion, or No. 2 Ohio State, the defending Rose Bowl champion.
The worst part about college football is we really won't know how good Boise State is until after it plays in a bowl game. During the next two-plus months, Boise State won't be tested while playing its WAC schedule. The Broncos will play WAC teams such as New Mexico State, San Jose State, Louisiana Tech and Hawaii. Their Nov. 26 road game at Nevada looks somewhat daunting, but what championship-caliber team can't get jacked up for one more game?
So during the next 10 weeks, Boise State's chances of playing in the Jan. 10 BCS National Championship Game in Glendale, Ariz., will be determined more by what teams such as Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon and Florida do. If two of those teams or a different team from a BCS conference finishes undefeated -- or even with one loss -- the Broncos probably won't get a chance to prove themselves on the sport's biggest stage.
"It doesn't bother us at all," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. "It really doesn't because college football is such an awesome game because we know on any given night if we're not playing well, we can be beat regardless of who we're playing. We see it every weekend. We're not going to play to the outside noise."
After beating Virginia Tech 33-30 on Labor Day night and then defeating the Beavers on Saturday night, Boise State's two biggest obstacles are in its rearview mirror.
A week from now, the Broncos will play New Mexico State in a half-empty stadium in Las Cruces, N.M.
"One of the nice things is the craziness that's been going around is gone now," Boise State defensive end Ryan Winterswyk said. "It's just down to playing football now."
ESPN's "College GameDay" was here Saturday, and an estimated 20,000 fans flocked into Bronco Stadium in the early-morning hours to watch.
"It was great," Petersen said. "We appreciate it. We loved it. We want them to come back, just not next week."
That's Boise State's big advantage in the BCS national championship race. While the Broncos are playing out their final season in the WAC -- they'll move to the Mountain West Conference in 2011 -- the rest of college football's BCS contenders will face a gauntlet of competitive games.
Teams such as Alabama and Ohio State will be under the microscope every week, and most college football fans will only glance at Boise State's scores.
"I think everybody would just like to pay attention to football and just go to work and try to improve," Petersen said. "If that's around the corner for us, we'll welcome that tremendously."
Teams such as Alabama, Ohio State and Oregon won't have a chance to catch their breath. The Crimson Tide barely survived a 24-20 victory at No. 10 Arkansas on Saturday, coming back from a 13-point deficit in the second half. Alabama will play No. 9 Florida at home next week and travel to No. 12 South Carolina in two weeks. The Tide also will play No. 15 LSU on the road and host No. 17 Auburn at season's end.
The Buckeyes will play at No. 11 Wisconsin on Oct. 16 and close the regular season with three consecutive games against ranked foes: home against No. 23 Penn State, at No. 18 Iowa and home against No. 21 Michigan.
Oregon will play four more games against teams that are currently ranked in the Associated Press' Top 25 poll: No. 16 Stanford (home), No. 20 USC (road), No. 14 Arizona (home) and No. 24 Oregon State (road).
Petersen knows his team can be upset on any given Saturday, but in reality it's much easier to win when your team is playing a WAC schedule.
While the rest of college football's heavyweights knock one another off from now until the first Saturday of December, the Broncos will keep winning and winning and winning.
Rankings won't matter until Dec. 5, when the final BCS standings are released. The top two teams will play in the BCS National Championship Game.
"I just kind of keep chuckling every week when somebody gets beat," Petersen said. "I think that's the beauty of it."
Boise State's performance against Oregon State was far from beautiful. Although the Broncos had nearly twice as many yards in total offense -- 469 to 237 -- they were undone by special-teams mistakes and other self-inflicted wounds.
Oregon State's James Rodgers returned a punt 54 yards for a touchdown. The Broncos committed two personal-foul penalties that kept alive a Beavers touchdown drive, and Boise State's Titus Young muffed a punt that set up another Oregon State score.
"We really made some bonehead plays that kept them in the ballgame and kept them in drives," Winterswyk said.
In all honesty, the Broncos were more impressive coming from behind in the final minutes to beat Virginia Tech than they were in pulling away from the Beavers.
"I think we really don't care," Moore said. "It's three games out of 12. This is only a fourth of the season. It's a long way. We've got a lot of football to take care of."
But after beating the Beavers, the Broncos happily walked out of the spotlight.
"I like being under the radar, that's where we're most dangerous," Winterswyk said. "I hope people forget about us and quit talking about us. It's about where you are at the end of the season, and this is the beginning."
But for all intents and purposes, Boise State's audition for the BCS National Championship Game ended with its 13-point victory Saturday night. The Broncos can only hope that victories over Virginia Tech and Oregon State will be enough to impress the voters and computers.
Meanwhile, the rest of college football will keep playing to determine where the Broncos truly deserve to play at season's end.
"People have been saying that for several years, and every year it seems to work out for us," Petersen said.
Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. He co-authored Bobby Bowden's memoir, "Called To Coach," which was published by Simon & Schuster. The book is available in stores and can be ordered here. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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