BOISE, Idaho -- For Alabama, it might have been the 1926 Rose Bowl.
That year the Crimson Tide beat Washington in Pasadena, announcing not only that the program had arrived but that southern football was right behind it. On the way back, the Alabama team train was met by adoring fans as it whistle-stopped its way through the South.
For Michigan, it might have been earlier than that. The 1901 team didn't give up a point, beating Stanford in the first Rose Bowl. Back then, the Wolverines truly were the champions of the West. Back then, the Pac-10 might as well have been a nickname for Lewis and Clark's traveling party.
Nebraska was a relative late-comer, becoming a national power in the early '70s as Bob Devaney handed off to Tom Osborne while I-option quarterbacks handed off to bruising fullbacks.
Florida State arrived even later, a mere '80s throwback.
At one point or another, though, they were all Boise State. All of them were questioned about their worthiness. All of them operated on a small budget, out of the limelight with players no one knew or wanted to recruit. Their glory is immortalized in lore, books and movies. At Florida State they can tell you more about Chief Osceola than the former Florida State College for Women.
All anyone can seem to talk about outside this city is the blue turf. Boise is much, much more, of course. The program has essentially taken off since Houston Nutt left after one season in 1997. Like Miami, it has endured through multiple coaching changes. Like Ohio State, it has dominated its conference. Like a young Bobby Bowden, Chris Petersen has built his rep with trick plays, efficient quarterbacks and, most recently, a strong defense. Like Florida State back in the day, it has won big scheduling BCS conference schools.
Is it possible, then, that we are living through Boise State's tipping point? Every major power has had one, the moment when it was no longer climbing the mountain, it had planted the flag. Is this Boise's equivalent of Alabama in 1926 or Michigan in 1901? Decades from now will we look upon this time as when the Broncos elbowed their way onto the national stage?
|Dodd's Power Poll|
|2. Boise State|
|3. Ohio State|
|18. South Carolina|
|19. Michigan State|
|23. NC State|
|24. Kansas State|
Chris Petersen sat around the football office Sunday pondering the question.
"I don't think it's ever any one thing. I don't think it can happen just once. I think it all builds on itself," the coach said the day after his program won its 57th consecutive regular-season home game. "I've just felt that way about recruiting way before I got here. You can have one good season or two good seasons and things slowly start to change. But it's not like an epiphany, a snap of the fingers and you're there. It's a slow occurrence on all this stuff. You've got to keep building on it, then you look back and say, 'Boy, we've come a long way.' "
Boise State is still waiting for that snap of the fingers. BYU got that championship in 1984 when everybody around it lost. Howard Schnellenberger tapped into South Florida's talent a few years after officials considered dropping Miami football. Obviously, it hasn't happened yet at Boise. The buildup has been a rush. Saturday's win over Oregon State made Boise 6-1 against BCS conference schools since 2006. The game drew a school-record 34,137. While that was a big deal here, in Baton Rouge that's how many folks are still in the parking lot at 2 a.m. following a home game.
Items like that, of course, will be used as ammunition over the next few weeks. Boise State has nowhere to go but down in the rankings. The hard part of its schedule is over. Its future games are just as much talking points. If it beats San Jose State by 30, is that enough? Should we expect 60 to be hung on awful New Mexico State next week?
"It's just down to playing football now," defensive end Ryan Winterswyk said
If that were only true. It's a fashion show from here on in. Despite plans to enlarge Bronco Stadium, critics will snicker at a crowd smaller than some Texas high schools get for a state playoff game. There are preliminary plans to expand the stadium to 50,000. All Petersen has to show recruits are some artists' renderings. The biggest recruiting weekend of the season came and went with the coach openly campaigning for a new locker room and football offices.
"We need to get that thing built and built in a hurry," Petersen said. "It needs to not be a five-year project."
Despite switching conferences in search of that BCS legitimacy, the move to the Mountain West is still a year away. Boise's long-term future might be decided on how it does in its final year in the WAC.
"Everybody talks about the SEC and the Pac-10, how competitive that league is," Petersen said. "But college football is college football. I know the rivalries we have in our league. I know what those teams will bring on those given days. If we're not playing our best, there are going to be problems."
To even get this far with the coach is a coup. In this community, Petersen is accountable to one daily newspaper and mostly fawning TV coverage. He once held receiver Titus Young out of interviews for more than a year, never explaining why. Young was suspended for 10 games in 2008. Petersen said only that the now-star receiver's place on the team at one point was tenuous. This is the first time, he says, he has taken time out on a Sunday after a game to meet with reporters. When reminded that SEC coaches sometimes "compete" for media attention in the Deep South because of recruiting battles, Petersen said, "More is not better. More is not worse. I would not fit in good there."
Petersen is happy here, though, BCS or no BCS. Boise is in this position both because of the BCS and despite it. In the old bowl system, the Broncos would be shunned because of their pedigree. Now, because of threatened legal action by Tulane president Scott Cowen, Boise State (and TCU and Utah and others) must be accounted for. At its base level, though, the BCS is still a compilation of opinions -- both human and machine. The coaches poll continues to be kind to the Broncos. Boise solidified its spot at No. 3 Sunday in the coaches poll. Its lead over the No. 4 team -- Texas last week, Oregon this week -- jumped from 40 to 69 points. Boise also gained on No. 2 Ohio State, cutting the Buckeyes' lead from 119 points to 100.
Right now, Boise has played as many ranked teams as Alabama (two). The difference is seven of Boise's next nine opponents are 80th or worse in the Sagarin Ratings, one of the six computers used by the BCS. Alabama plays four in the top 20. If Boise is going to get up into that top two in the BCS, it is going to have to win the rest of its games against that weak competition and hope for a loss (at least) by the No. 1 Tide or No. 2 Ohio State.
"They do their thing," Oregon State defensive lineman Stephen Paea said Saturday night, "and they'll play for the national championship."
That would be a tipping point. Unfortunately for Boise, Paea's is only one opinion. Not one that counts for anything at the moment.