It finally happened. We finally arrived at this point.
In case you live in a fish bowl (or don’t follow College Football), I’m talking about Boise State’s epic win over Virginia Tech. They went Far East to a hostile environment and defeated a big name team on their turf. But instead of shutting up all the critics, they only increased the amount of squawking and squabbling from the ignorant college football elitists that refuse to give credence to teams that earned, and weren’t born with, noble blood. After all that (and not to mention the fantastic game itself) I simply couldn’t resist penning a column about the Broncos.
Let me start with some background info: Boise State is not just another program for me. I’ve know about them and been a pseudo-member of the bandwagon long before anyone else. Back before terms like “smurf turf” and “hook and lateral” and “statue of liberty” came into the national consciousness, my Oregon State Beavers used to play the Broncos every year. Those were always fun, high scoring border wars, and they usually ended with Boise coming out on top. I fondly remember OSU getting pounded back in 2004 and thinking that this was not some ordinary small-conference school. I ended up being right – that year they had their first of many undefeated regular seasons and ended up finishing the year in the top 10. By the time they were ready to take on Oklahoma, I knew that Sooner country had no idea what was in store that this would not be the blowout that most expected. If you’ve ever followed a band before it hit mainstream, you know what I’m talking about. It’s one thing to hop on to an artist after he/she has already reached fame; but there’s nothing like being the talent scout that found Usher when he was just a 14 year old about whom nobody had a clue. It’s like seeing your baby grow up from a youth with boundless energy and potential into a highly successful young man – it just feels awesome to know what would happen before everyone else found out.
But it goes deeper than just having known about Boise before everyone else. Here’s the thing about college football: Everyone has his or her favorite team (usually based on where you grew up or went to school). Every so often your team has a transcendent season and overachieves to win big. But for most schools those seasons are sandwiched between many seasons ranging from terrible to mediocre to pretty darn good. For example, in 2001 my Beavers went 11-1, thrashed Notre Dame in the fiesta bowl, and arguably could have been the best team had there been a playoff. But most years the Beavers finish in the 6-9 win range and go to a decent bowl game. If the Beavers were to play an elite team from another region (Alabama, Ohio State, Texas, etc) then they would lose eight times out of 10. And that’s how it is for most schools. There are only a few teams that are year in, year out able to compete nationally and can stand up to the best teams not just from the conference but from around the country. Each region has its own elite team, which are few and far between. And I think that in the Northwest, it’s fair to say that the Boise State Broncos are our team. They represent that region in the national picture. They represent us when compared against all the teams from the South, the Midwest, etc. For that reason I don’t ever claim to be completely impartial in respect to the Broncos. To be clear, I am an Oregon State fan. I root for the orange and black, and wish they could win the national title every year. But when comparing all the truly elite schools Boise State is the team behind whom I throw my support. They’re not my favorite team; they are, however, my favorite elite team, which does matter in a sport that’s as top-heavy, and has as many cultural and regional implications as College Football.
Now on to the game: All I can say is WOW. WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW. What a game. If haven’t heard, hears the rundown: Boise came out of the game roaring, going up 17-0 in the blink of an eye with the help of two Virginia Tech turnovers. At that point I (and quite a few of the people who had gone against the grain and predicted a Boise State victory) prematurely thought it was over. Over the next forty minutes Virginia Tech pounded, out hit, outran, and outplayed Boise to the tune of a 30-10 scoring run. When Virginia Tech dwindled the clock down to two minutes all hope seemed lost for the Broncos of Boise Idaho, lacking any timeouts and needing a touchdown to win. That’s when we saw the grits and guts that Boise was made of. The defense forced an incompletion on a questionable pass call from the Hokies. From there Kellen Moore got the ball and in his trademark fashion, calmly led the Broncos down the field like a surgeon. 10 yard curl. 11 yard out. 14 yard corner route. After two plays, Moore and Austin Pettis connected on the throw heard round the world, sealing the dramatic comeback for Boise. After a turnover on downs for Virginia Tech, the smurfs had the shocking 33-30 victory. It was exhilarating. It was surreal. There are very few ballgames that I have ever seen that have elicited such dramatic mood swings, that have inspired such a gamut of emotions. Basically this was the 2007 Fiesta Bowl all over again, only if Boise State had won in a de facto road game without using any unconventional plays.
Naturally of course, the old guard would not allow Boise State to have its cake and eat it. You see, as the Broncos have had to learn the hard way, all the BCS apologists feel the need to rain on every single Boise State parade. They can’t go a day without pissing over the orange and blue – after all who wants to think rationally and not have an east coast bias? What’s the fun in that? Apparently Oklahoma didn’t give a shit about the game (funny, they seemed to be trying really hard when they got down by 18), so that didn’t count. Beating Texas Christian didn’t count because it was against another non-AQ team (never mind that those teams were forced to play in the same bowl, and that TCU was the number 4 team in the country prior to the game – let’s just ignore facts, that’s more fun) and because it was a low scoring, “sloppy” game (believe me, if you had changed the uniforms to Alabama and Georgia everyone would have raved about what a tough, hard-nosed defensive struggle that was). I can’t wait to see what everybody comes up with for this one. “It was too close!” “Any big school team would have won by 30!!!” (Bill Plaschke actually made the argument that Boise needed to dominate for this to be legitimate. Really? Really!!! How many schools in the country would even beat a top-10 team in front of a heavily partisan and hostile crowd? You think just any SEC team could go up there and whoop Vatech? Child please). “Virginia Tech is overrated that’s all!!!” (yeah, I mean most teams ranked in the top 10 really suck right?). All I know is that the BCS apologists will continue to make excuses and try to explain this off. They can’t accept another school working its way into elite territory. They can’t accept that there’s another school that’s competing with the big boys despite having far fewer resources and history. They can’t handle the truth.
Now if you’re willing to listen to this next part with an open mind, here are the facts:
Fact 1: That “neutral site” was about as neutral as the Super Bowl in Dallas will be if the Cowboys make it. It was just over 200 miles from Blacksburg (compared to about 2800 miles from Boise, Idaho). The fans were AT LEAST 75% Hokies fans. This was anything but a neutral site game.
Fact 2: Virginia Tech was ranked in the top 10 by nearly every major polling service, including the two that count, the coach’s poll (6th) and the AP poll (10th). They’re considered by many to be the favorites to win the ACC. They have a senior quarterback in his fourth year as a starter. They have two NFL running backs that form what is arguably the best backfield in College Football. They have what is annually one of the best defenses in the country, as well as the best defensive coordinator (Bud Foster) in the game. They’ve played in and won many ACC championship games and BCS bowl games, and they’ve even played for a national title in this decade (they even had a lead in the fourth quarter). They annually finish the season ranked in the top 20. Virginia Tech is one of the top programs not just in the ACC but all of College football.
Fact 3: By extension of the first two facts, Boise State just beat an elite program ranked in the top 10 in a de facto road game in front of a hostile crowd. That counts for something. Period.
Remember when Alabama beat Virginia Tech last year in the Georgia Dome (a true neutral field as opposed to a Fedex Field covered by a sea of Hokies fans)? Despite the fact that ‘Bama didn’t play a perfect game and had its share of struggles, people hailed it as an impressive win for the Tide and gutsy win that would greatly enhance their resume. Yet when Boise State beats the same opponent in a road game it’s not good enough. I’m not trying to take anything from what Alabama did last year – all that praise was quite justified. No, quite the opposite – I’m calling for Boise State to finally get the credit that it has worked so hard for, that it has clearly earned.
Also, allow me to deal with the biggest misconception about the Broncos: they aren’t some gimmicky team that uses smoke and mirrors to overachieve against better opponents. They win with guts, grit, heart, and above all, talent. Pure, unadulterated talent. Talent that the recruiting rankings can’t capture, talent that is often underappreciated by the schools that passed on all of Boise State’s blue chippers. First of all, I think the whole gimmick label is kind of stupid in the first place. Good plays are good plays are good plays. Some are more unconventional or creative than others. But the Hook and Lateral is as much of a football play as is a power run up the middle, even if the latter is used more often. The Broncos offense is VERY creative and uses an infinite number of formations, shifts, and route combinations, but being unorthodox does not equate to being inferior. If you think Boise is just a big gimmick, then you might as well say that the Saints don’t deserve the Super Bowl title because they won with smoke and mirrors.
More importantly, did you watch the game? Boise State wasn’t winning with advanced schemes and designs – they were lining up and hitting Virginia Tech in the mouth. The defense was extremely physical and was flying around all night; the Broncos defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage for a good chunk of the game (something that simply cannot be accomplished at any level without legitimate talent and physicality). Boise’s receivers got open with regularity against the linebackers and defensive backs. The Broncos even dominated the special teams battle, which has long been a staple strength of Frank Beamer’s teams. At some point can’t we just accept that just because the recruiting rankings don’t say so it doesn’t mean Boise State’s players aren’t good?
Now before signing off, I have one memo to all the big conferences and big teams of college football: If you don’t like the Boise State title express, then beat them. Oklahoma couldn’t do it. Oregon couldn’t do it. Virginia Tech couldn’t do it. So far nobody has been able to beat the Broncos on the big stage. The best teams refuse to play Boise State (perhaps for fear of getting embarrassed - too much risky business). Oregon and Oregon State are the only major programs with the guts to make the trip to the smurf turf, and most teams won’t even schedule them at all. Nobody will give the Broncos an invite to a major conference where they would be able to fill up the schedule with BCS-conference opponents. Colleges continually reject a playoff system that would force the Broncos to prove themselves over the course of several consecutive games against legit opponents. Well, now the Broncos have found a loophole in the system that the other schools created to keep Boise State out. I have news for the SEC, ACC, and everyone else questioning the Broncos legitimacy: if you don’t think they can handle the true big boys, then grow some balls, go up to Boise and prove it by beating them fair and square. If you don't think think they can stand up to repeated challenges, then invite them to your conference, or better yet put in a playoff, and let them get beat on the field. Until then don’t complain. It’s simple really: put up or shut up.