With Utah crashing the BCS in 2004 and the BCS easing its restrictions for allowing at-large non-BCS teams, programs outside of the BCS are becoming more and more prevalent. Utah, Boise State and Hawaii have all now made BCS bowl games and it's likely more teams will be added to that list in the coming years. However, which team best defines non-BCS football? It's all subjective, but I believe if you whittle each major non-BCS team down to one, you'll find the answer.
Let's start by creating a list of the strongest non-BCS programs over the years. Again, this too is subjective.
- Boise State
- Brigham Young
- Fresno State
- Texas Christian
I'm sure there are other teams you could add to this list, but I think this is a solid representation of the best non-BCS programs over the past 10 or so years.
And now we begin to whittle them down.
The Rockets once were easily one of the better non-BCS programs, routinely flirting with 10-win seasons under Tom Amstutz and former head coach Gary Pinkel. Yet the past two years has seen a dramatic drop-off for Toledo, as they've had back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since former Utah head coach Chuck Stobart went 2-9 in the 1977 and 1978 seasons. Toledo could have had a strong case as the face of non-BCS football a few years ago, but today, they appear to be downtrodden and a mid-tier MAC team.
If this were 2003, Fresno State would undeniably be the face of non-BCS football. Pat Hill's Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere belief in scheduling helped catapult the program and often positioned them to contend for a BCS bowl game. Beyond their obvious flaws of failing to win conference championships and imploding as the season wore on, Fresno still managed to make more noise than most any other non-BCS team during the height of the Pat Hill era. However, 2004's implosion, coupled with the meltdown post-USC in 2005, has hurt the program's overall image. And even though they had a solid season last year, it wasn't good enough to repair the damage caused by the 4-8 campaign in 2006.
The Warriors are this high mostly because of last season's success. And even though it's hard to overlook their embarrassing loss in the Sugar Bowl to Georgia, they're still one of only three non-BCS teams to make a BCS bowl game, so that has to count for something. Hawaii has faults, though, as they lost their coach June Jones to SMU, a desertion which brought to light many deficiencies within the football program. They were also only moderately good prior to 2006's 11-3 season and of course last year's 12-1 campaign.
The Horned Frogs have yet to make a BCS bowl game, but they've been one of the strongest non-BCS teams record wise over the past few years. And though the team has a one-step forward, two-steps back mentality, they've been able to be consistent enough to be perceived as a threat to bust the BCS. This is an image that solidifies their standing here, but they've still yet to break the BCS and until they do that, it's hard to believe they're the face of non-BCS football.
Utah is the original BCS busters, however, the Utes have failed to sniff the BCS since. That hurts, but they've still proven to be a strong non-BCS team, consistently receiving pre-season praise, even after a couple of mediocre years early on in the Whittingham era. It is, though, the mediocre seasons that keeps them from making a strong case as the face of non-BCS football. Mostly because they haven't won 10-games since 2004, been ranked at all in that span and have failed to even win a conference championship. Luckily for Utah, unlike say Toledo, if the Utes win 10+ games and a conference championship this season, they automatically rise in the rankings, because they still have that BCS bowl win and relative success since.
Three years ago, BYU would not have even made this list, but Bronco Mendenhall has been able to create a program that is now favored by many to make a BCS bowl game for the first time this year. Of course, the Cougars have yet to crash the BCS, even though they came their closest in 2001. If they do that, then they'll rightfully take over control as the face of non-BCS football, especially with their rich history. But until then, this honor belongs to...
The Broncos have been dominant the past ten years and the fact their victory over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl two seasons ago has gone down as a classic makes their case stronger. But, as Fresno State has seen, being consistently good is not good enough. For Boise State to hold onto this title, they're going to have to shake things up more in the future. Another season like last year probably will force this program back, especially if they fail to beat any real decent teams and either Utah or BYU make a BCS bowl game.
And there you have it, the face of non-BCS football at this point. Which means it's entirely possible next year at this time the entire list is completely different. But as of today, that's how I see it.