BOISE, Idaho -- Cue the national surveillance cameras.
In the coming months, don't be surprised if TMZ reveals that Chris Petersen bites his nails.
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Or that the New York Times reports that Kellen Moore beats his dog more than deep coverage.
Don't laugh, this could get serious. Ask North Carolina. Two words for you Boise State: friendly tutors.
This wasn't just a game out here in the high desert. It was the end of the anonymity for Boise and the beginning of a two-month long referendum on this modest school's worthiness to play for the sport's national championship. From the corner bar to loudest of talking heads, it will be less about football and more about pedigree.
Boise State beat Oregon State on the field Saturday night 37-24 and nation is about to get its scrutiny on. In minds of millions of fans, the result put out the fire that is a nationwide debate with gasoline. All the sometimes-sloppy win did was extend that debate. Boise just finished the toughest part of its schedule before October. A conference title is a given. It has won 57 consecutive regular-season home games. Its current 17-game overall winning streak is second only to Alabama. Whether you love 'em, like they do here, or believe what they play isn't even football -- hello, SEC honks -- nothing was decided here except to keep on bickering.
"That doesn't bother me at all ...," Boise coach Chris Petersen said. "We're not into, 'Is winning by 10 [points] enough or is this many points enough?' We're into, 'Are we playing up to our capabilities? Are we getting better every week?' We're not going to play to the outside noise."
Petersen has been a master at accepting his team's fate. The 2006 team that beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl was the only undefeated team in the top 25. It ended the season ranked behind a couple of two-loss teams (USC and LSU) and one-loss Florida and Ohio State. Last year some thought unbeaten Boise was matched in the Fiesta Bowl to face unbeaten TCU to keep either team away from embarrassing power conference teams in other bowls.
The stakes, though, have gone up. The difference this year is the ranking, currently at No. 3, a supposed springboard to a title berth if the Broncos win all their games. History is on their side. In only five of the 12 previous BCS title games has there been two undefeated major-conference champions facing off. That's what would probably keep Boise out of the title game this year if, say, both Ohio State and Alabama finished undefeated. But as we saw Saturday with 'Bama's narrow win at Arkansas, upsets are always lurking.
That's the problem for those who watched this game while holding their noses. The road is much tougher in places like the Big Ten and SEC than it is in the WAC. Boise has now beaten two ranked teams (Virginia Tech being the other) by a total of 16 points. Most likely it won't play another ranked team until possibly Nov. 26 at Nevada. But because of that high ranking, it also means Boise has a hell of a chance to play for a national championship in a system that decides who is worthy largely by opinion. If nothing else it means the scrutiny will only increase.
"We want our stadium bigger," Petersen said looking around a crowded conference room during the postgame, "not you guys [national media] bigger."
|Head coach Chris Peterson likes 'being under the radar,' but his Broncos are anything but after another solid win. (AP)|
Vegas said they were supposed to win by 17, but should that even be an issue? It is when you are going to be judged over these next few weeks playing a schedule that includes New Mexico State, San Jose State and Utah State. Oh, and Toledo. Don't forget that non-conference doozy here on Oct. 9. Actually, it was mostly a good day for Boise regarding that kind of stuff. Toledo (over Purdue) and Nevada (over BYU) each beat teams from stronger conferences, which helps the ol' strength of schedule.
Oregon State was at least a barometer. It has also played and lost to No. 4 TCU -- also unbeaten, also a BCS buster -- a team that has somehow been lost in the national championship discussion.
"They're both about the same," Beavers defensive tackle Stephen Paea said on the field immediately after the game.
That opinion lasted about two minutes until Paea got in front of reporters outside Oregon State's locker room.
"It's like we were playing an NFL team," Paea said of Boise.
But you just said ...
"They do their thing and they'll play for a national championship," Paea said.
Beavers coach Mike Riley may have been a quarterback from beating both TCU and Boise. New starter, sophomore Ryan Katz, is still finding his way (159 yards passing, sacked four times). Meanwhile, only Terrelle Pryor may be playing better than Moore right now when it comes to ranking quarterbacks. Moore threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns against the Beavers.
"That's great question for other people," Moore said of his Heisman worthiness. "Ten other players made me look, maybe, better than I am."
Isn't that the point for everyone in the polls -- to look better than they are?
"I'm not going to be the one that separates them," said Riley, who has a coaches' poll vote.
Actually, he will have to be in some small way. For the 10 remaining weeks left in the season. Boise remains a national story in college football -- maybe the biggest -- playing for hearts, minds and votes.
"We always like being under the radar," Petersen said. "I don't know if the discussion will die or not."
Not anytime soon.