Much discussion will be had this season if Boise State continues their remarkable success and end the regular season undefeated. The Broncos made a big statement in their first game and climbed up to #3 in both polls, including an agonizing close 13 points behind Ohio State in the AP. The Broncos will bear the burden of a season-long tiptoe up the rankings as attrition inevitably runs its course; instead, from the moment the polls came out, the voters recognized both teams as bonafide national title contenders.
But... what if?
That's the question on the minds of college football fans everywhere. What if the team goes undefeated? What if they happen to creep up to one of the two coveted spots atop the polls? Are other teams going to take themselves out of the race? Or will this media darling, this Cinderella-don't-call-them-Cinderella story, be forgotten as the season wears on and the traditional heavyweights jockey for position? Or even more baffling: what if TCU, a team BSU beat fair and square but who also boasts arguably a tougher schedule, wins out and leapfrogs the Broncos, locking them out of the title game? How could BSU possibly salvage a season where they were handed expectations only to have them taken away?
Enter the Rose Bowl.
It crept under the college football world's nose without much of a peep, but the Rose Bowl reps--perhaps begrudgingly--added a little clause to their selection process as part of the new television contract. We know how it usually goes--the old-fashioned bigwigs seek to preserve the Big Ten/Pac-10 matchup at all costs. But as part of the new contract, non-BCS teams could snatch up Rose Bowl bids if the Rose Bowl loses one of its two conference champions to the BCS title game.
Imagine, if you will, what sort of implications this could have for the rest of the 2010 season. Ohio State is already a trendy pick to reach the title game, and Oregon's domination in Week 1 already has Duck fans believing that this could be the big year, too. If either of these teams reaches the national championship game, Boise State would likely be sitting pretty at #3, and the Rose Bowl would instantly be obligated to take the Broncos (assuming they haven't been leapfrogged by TCU).
It'll be another postseason of immense disappointment for the Broncos, surely, as they will once again not get to play for all the marbles. Rose Bowl officials will be seeing red at the idea of the big blue Broncos invading their property, and we'll once again have to ask ourselves, "what if?"
But as far as consolation prizes go, the Rose Bowl is as big as it gets.
Consider that one BCS title spot will likely be grabbed by the SEC champion. There's only one additional spot available, so at best one of the two teams tied to the Rose Bowl--let's just say, for example, Ohio State and Oregon--is going to be left out. That opens the door for the new contract rule to take effect, as the team who misses out on the BCS title game fills one BCS spot, and the other spot goes to the highest-ranking non-BCS team that qualifies (which at this point is Boise State).
Now suddenly you've got an extremely compelling matchup between two (likely) top-ten teams in Boise State and whoever their opponent might be. Maybe Oregon falls short of the BCS title game but gets a rematch with the Broncos. Maybe Oregon State storms to the Pac-10 title and gets their own rematch against a team that's beaten them like a drum on the Smurf Turf over the last few years.
Or maybe--and this would be even more compelling--Boise State gets the Big Ten representative. The Broncos could get Iowa in what would be one of the best defensive struggles of the bowl season. They could see how they match up with Wisconsin and their mammoth OL and three-headed rushing attack. Or best of all, BSU could find themselves on the same field with Ohio State, where Chris Petersen would attempt to match wits with Jim Tressel in a coaching battle for the ages.
By the time that game rolls around, it's likely that Boise State, even if they're locked out of the BCS title game, will be sitting pretty at #3 in the AP poll at the absolute lowest, and may even be higher given how favorably they're already received by the AP voters. If the Broncos occupy any of those top three spots and put on a show in the Rose Bowl, it might--just might--be enough to push them to #1 in the final polls, guaranteeing them the AP national championship (and creating a headache for fans and pundits who believe that the BCS was supposed to put a stop to this sort of thing!). So in short, a trip to the Rose Bowl would give Boise State center-stage on New Year's Day against a strong BCS conference champion--a scenario that's much sexier to college football fans who don't want to see them lumped with TCU again, and perhaps much more indicative of just how good this Bronco team really is.
That's not all though. For two, the Rose Bowl is the most practical of the four BCS bowls for Boise State fans who plan to take a trip. BSU fans showed up in impressive numbers for their previous two BCS games, and you can bet that the Rose Bowl will be filled to the brim with their fans, turning half the stadium into that distinct shade of blue come game time. The city of Pasadena comes to a screeching halt for this game, so Bronco fans can spend the day enjoying the festivities in beautiful weather before capping it off with a high-quality football game. And Pasadena just seems like a perfect fit for these Broncos, whose innovative, high-octane, high-risk high-reward offense is tailor-made for the bright lights of Hollywood.
Beyond all this stuff, though--beyond the competition, the chance to stake a claim for a national title, the glitz and glamor, the chance to prove that they truly belong--lies the chance to turn history on its head and to usher in a new era of college football.
You see, the Rose Bowl represents a dead generation of college football. It's the oldest, it's the biggest, it's the Granddaddy of Them All. It's hallowed grounds for American sports. Legendary coaches and players have marched its halls and scraped its grass, and surrounding it all are the best fans in the world, spending hard-earned money to wear their school's colors, sing their fight songs, and see the best displays of pageantry and tradition in the country. Entire careers can be defined by what happens within those walls, and the list of names is staggering: George Halas, John Robinson, Ernie Nevers, Woody Hayes, Charley Trippi, Jim Plunkett, Ron Dayne, Vince Young, among countless others. On top of their already-ridiculous resumé, a Rose Bowl championship would immortalize these Broncos.
Imagine it's game day and Big Blue trots out onto the field. But not the one we know best--it's not the mighty Michigan Wolverines, who have made this journey countless times before. No, it's Bronco Nation, the "it" team, the little guys that could, the guys who've made it quite clear that despite all that's happened in the 20th century and all the history and all the tradition, the 21st is a new era of football, and they're here to stay, bringing their rabid fans and unique blend of gamesmanship and entertainment to televisions across the nation.
It'll be a historic day if Boise State gets to Pasadena. A passing of the torch, if you will; a symbolic little gesture that not only have the Broncos been welcomed into college football history, but that the Rose Bowl, stubborn and steep in its ways as it was, now looks to a new century, ready to take the next step. All this time we've been waiting for the Rose Bowl to catch up to the rest of college football; all this time we've been waiting to see what catalysts might serve to push this great bowl game into modern times. 20 years from now we might look back and say that all it took was the little football team from Boise, Idaho, bringing their quiet slice of life down to the one of the biggest stages of all.
For all the resistance Boise State and its fans have faced, they've been commendably patient as they wait for their time to come. I don't feel as though the Rose Bowl will in any way offend the Broncos, nor should it. A win will still validate the Broncos as one of the nation's elite teams, and even if they get back to Idaho without a national championship in tow, they won't need you to hand them respect; they'll have taken it from you.
The Broncos' time is coming. It seems almost inevitable. It isn't a matter of "if" anymore, it's a matter of "when." The answer isn't far off. It might be there for us on January 1, 2011, under the stars in Pasadena.
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