So what is a big-time BCS Buster to do when the big non-conference win they thought they’d notched on the road is exposed as something south of truly impressive? That’s the dilemma now facing Boise State, who watched in disbelief as FCS power James Madison went into Blacksburg and upset Virginia Tech. Despite having a bye week, Boise State remained in the public eye — but not for any reasons they would’ve desired. The VT loss cost them seven of their eight first-place AP voters and places the onus on finishing big the rest of the season.
That’s the danger for BCS Busters, though. While the Hokies can still win the ACC and earn a BCS berth despite their I-AA humiliation, the Broncos’ chances of becoming the ultimate BCS Buster and playing for a national championship were seriously injured due to the failures of others. Their only fault? Picking the wrong big-name powerhouse program with whom to schedule a “neutral-site” game that was anything but neutral.
But at least a third BCS berth is attainable for Chris Petersen’s crew… that’s more than can be said for some of their fellow non-AQ contenders. The second weekend of games saw the field of viable Buster contenders thinned a little more, and new ones emerging on the scene. Let’s dive right in and assess who is still in the hunt and who saw their chances mortally wounded by mid-September…
1. BOISE STATE BRONCOS (WAC/1-0)
- LAST WEEK: 1st
- LAST GAME: IDLE (W 33-30 v. Virginia Tech – 9/4 @ Landover, MD)
- NEXT GAME: September 18 @ Wyoming
We’ve already gone into the misfortune of the Broncos already quite a bit, but when you take a bye week and you’re the #3 team in the land, the press will find something to talk about regarding your team. Unfortunately, that often means finding something to nitpick, and James Madison gave the pundits more than they could handle. But there’s only so much that the team can do about how their season opponents perform in their other eleven games. Chris Petersen has to have his team focused on the task ahead — beating Wyoming, who gave Texas a tough time in the first half in Austin (just like they did in Laramie last year) before petering out in the second half and ultimately getting blown out by the Longhorns. Win against their soon-to-be-fellow MWC foe, and it sets up their second and last BCS-conference matchup of 2010 when they host Oregon State on the Smurf Turf. Given that TCU has already played the Beavers and won by nine in their own virtual home game (as in it was played in the greater Dallas/Fort Worth area), the Broncos will have to make their statement to voters by handling Mike Riley’s crew better than Gary Patterson’s team could. Especially since the Mountain West receives so much more respect from voters when it comes to grading non-AQ conferences — a benefit Boise State will start to enjoy next season when they move over — they have to do that much more than their opposition for the BCS Buster title, especially against common opponents. Boise State’s next two are also TCU opponents, which could prove quite positive in the end.
2. TCU HORNED FROGS (MWC/2-0)
- LAST WEEK: 2nd
- LAST GAME: W 62-7 v. FCS Tennessee Tech
- NEXT GAME: September 18 v. Baylor
You know that you’re a non-AQ team by conference affiliation only when you are scheduling cupcake games against I-AA schools for yourself and padding the schedule for the voters. The Horned Frogs invited in Tennessee Tech for the weekend, and TCU quickly went about demolishing the FCS program. The only real blemish you could argue is that their ferocious, nationally-revered defense allowed a touchdown against the Golden Eagles. Despite the jump from playing a I-AA school to playing a BCS-conference school next week, there really won’t be as appreciable difference in opponent quality when they take on Baylor — again at home. Along with the win over Oregon State in the opener, this is their last chance to prove themselves against BCS-level competition, but while the traditionally woeful Bears are better this year with QB Robert Griffin back in the fold after losing all last year to injury and are currently 2-0 they are hardly even a middleweight in the Big XII South. When you get down to it, though, you could say that the Horned Frogs are playing just as hard a schedule last year (just substitute Oregon State for Clemson and Baylor for Virginia) if not a little more so given the improvement in Waco. Now they just have to keep winning.
3. FRESNO STATE BULLDOGS (WAC/1-0)
- LAST WEEK: 3rd
- LAST GAME: IDLE (W 28-14 v. Cincinnati – 9/4)
- NEXT GAME: September 18 @ Utah State
We still have just as much to go on with the Bulldogs as we did last week, when they caused the biggest upset among the top dozen teams entering the season with BCS dreams when they took out defending Big East champion Cincinnati. They will have their own image problem coming up, though, as they were about a year late in scheduling their game against Ole Miss in Oxford — after the Rebels played loose with the spirit of the rules and picked up QB Jeremiah Masoli in the summer only to lose their season opener to FCS Jacksonville State, the Bulldogs are getting an opponent that will be a dangerous out with diminished street credibility for their troubles. Their toughest challenge of the season is still yet to come, though, as the benefit for all WAC hopefuls not named Boise State is that they automatically have at least one quality game scheduled, against… Boise State. The Bulldogs play the Broncos on the Smurf Turf in Idaho on Friday, November 19 in a nationally-televised ESPN2 matchup to kick off one of the final selection weekends. If both teams arrive at that date undefeated, this game will be a raucous battle between two well-matched foes with the winner likely taking the WAC in both teams’ last year in the conference.
4. UTAH UTES (MWC/1-0)
- LAST WEEK: 4th
- LAST GAME: W 38-10 v. UNLV
- NEXT GAME: September 18 @ New Mexico
Conference play started for the Utes this weekend against UNLV, and it was a great way to kick off their final year in the Mountain West before graduating to the Pac-10 for the 2011 season. They took on UNLV at home, trading field goals in the first half before opening the floodgates. Eddie Wide scored two touchdowns and 77 yards rushing in 15 carries. Backup QB Terrence Cain, the starter at the beginning of last year who was in solely to rest starter Jordan Wynn for tougher competition, showed no rust in completing 65% of his passes for 207 yards and two TDs. Shaky Smithison also scored two TDs, catching one of Cain’s scoring strikes and returning a punt 77 yards in the middle of the 3rd quarter. Utah ended up winning by four touchdowns and having the best-looking game of any of the top-four contenders in the mix.
5. AIR FORCE FALCONS (MWC/2-0)
- LAST WEEK: 10th
- LAST GAME: W 35-14 v. BYU
- NEXT GAME: September 18 @ Oklahoma
It was supposed to be a close game, but for the second straight year BYU bungled their second game of the season and lost to Air Force in Colorado Springs by three touchdowns. I must admit that I was not quite sold on the Falcons to open the season; I was afraid the fewer number of returning players on both sides of the ball compared to the big three (TCU, Utah and BYU) in the Mountain West was going to doom them in 2010. Credit Troy Calhoun with not allowing that to happen. In a huge conference opener for both teams, Air Force was clearly better prepared, more focused and keeping their mind on the task at hand. Honestly, a person could’ve forgiven them for looking ahead to their trip to Norman next week to face the Sooners… but these guys knew that the only way their away game in Oklahoma could be one for the ages was if it was a steppingstone on the way to greater things in a season. Don’t blink, because this year’s version of Falcons football could be the one that finally puts everything together. After Navy was the trendy preseason pick to become the first service academy to play in a BCS bowl game, it is now the Air Force that flies the banner for the military schools this year.
6. HOUSTON COUGARS (C-USA/1-0)
- LAST WEEK: 6th
- LAST GAME: W 54-24 v. UTEP – 9/10
- NEXT GAME: September 18 @ UCLA
The Cougars once again are the top-scoring team in college football, putting up 122 points in their first two games after avenging last year’s loss to UTEP in El Paso by welcoming the Miners to Houston for a 54-24 blowout. The Case Keenum-led offense plays a video-game sort of offense, but they lack that signature game on their record this year like Oklahoma State was last year for them in the early going. They travel to Los Angeles next weekend to play UCLA in the Rose Bowl, but a win against the hapless Bruins at this point is something that most people expect from the Cougars rather than anticipate. Their return matchup against Mississippi State is the biggest potential trap left on their record, the Bulldogs playing much better in Dan Mullen’s second year as head coach in Starkville. Kevin Sumlin will have to have his team ready to compete through the rest of September and beyond if they hope to finally move beyond merely Conference USA titles and secondary bowl status.
LURKING IN CONTENTION… OR OUT OF THE HUNT?
Which teams beyond the top six are still in the hunt? There is little likelihood any of these teams will surpass the others ahead of them in the pecking order, but for a non-AQ school being undefeated at least affords them the right to dream. Not many schools remain in a position for greater success, but here’s the class of the pack so far:
|7.||Temple Owls (MAC/2-0)||
|8.||Nevada Wolf Pack (WAC/2-0)||
|East Carolina Pirates (C-USA/2-0)||
|San Diego State Aztecs (MWC/2-0)||
It’s crazy to think about… we’re just two weeks into a four-month regular season and there are only ten non-AQ teams left undefeated and with the most legitimate chance possible at reaching a BCS bowl game. We saw five more teams with Buster potential take their fatal hit this weekend — some in conference play, some against big-name programs. Rest in peace, BCS dreams:
|(5.)||BYU Cougars (MWC/1-1)||
|(7.)||Idaho Vandals (WAC/1-1)||
|(8.)||Central Michigan Chippewas (MAC/1-1)||
|(11.)||Wyoming Cowboys (MWC/1-1)||
|(12.)||Troy Trojans (SUN BELT/1-1)||
|(14.)||UCF Golden Knights (C-USA/1-1)||