Graham Watson, bless her everloving soul, has ranked the top non-BCS teams of the decade. The list isn't half-bad, however, I take great exception with her choice to follow the 2004 Utes (who placed first). She put Boise State's 2006 squad in there. For the life of me, I can't figure out why.
For starters, 2008's Utes went out and finished with the highest ranking of any team in non-BCS history (counting the BCS era only, of course). That was a second place finish to the declared champion Florida Gators. The Broncos, in 2006, reached only as high as fifth (the Utes were fourth in the coaches poll in '08).
Now my math has always been suspect, however, in terms of finish, two is better than five.
But maybe we'll give her a pass on that one. I mean, final placement in the top-25 is subjective after all. Yet beyond overall ranking, is there any evidence to suggest 2006's Broncos were better than 2008's Utes?
I don't think so.
Sure, their win over Oklahoma was improbable and probably the most entertaining bowl game of the decade. But it was also only The Greatest Ever because Boise State blew a huge first half lead and nearly lost in regulation before pulling a few rabbits out of their hat at the end and in overtime. It was not a dominant effort.
Likewise, Oklahoma was not a dominant team. They were good - but far from great. They entered that game as winners of the Big 12, but also had losses to Oregon and Texas. They spent all of zero weeks at number one and were only ranked 7th heading into the Fiesta Bowl.
To compare, Utah dominated Alabama. It was not a game that came down to one play in the closing minutes of regulation or overtime. It was a wire-to-wire abusing. The Utes jumped to a 21-0 lead, took the Tide's best shot and shut them down for pretty much the entire game. It was as convincing as it was surprising. And while it might not have as many lasting images as the 2007 Fiesta Bowl between the Broncos & Sooners, it was a far better and more complete effort by Utah.
They should not be docked because they failed to blow a lead and win in spectacular fashion. In fact, they should be praised for such an effort against a team that was clearly better than the '06 Sooner squad Boise State beat to finish their undefeated campaign.
Alabama entered that game ranked 4th nationally. Their lone loss came to Florida in the SEC Championship game. Prior to that contest, they spent five consecutive weeks atop the polls. They were, for a good stretch of the season, the top team in college football.
Oklahoma, for how good they were in 2006, could not lay claim to that. Not at the start of the season and certainly not toward the end of it.
Alabama also finished that season 6th nationally. Oklahoma's final ranking in 2006 was 11th. Again, a clear edge to Utah.
But maybe she's looking beyond just the bowl performance. It's just one game, right?
Okay, sure. Yeah.
But look at Boise State's 2006 schedule:
Oregon State (10-4)
@ Wyoming (6-6)
@ Utah (8-5) - Still painful
LA Tech (3-10)
@ New Mexico State (4-8)
@ Idaho (4-8)
Fresno State (4-8)
@ San Jose State (9-4)
Utah State (1-11)
@ Nevada (8-5)
Overall, a rather mediocre schedule. Outside of their win over Oklahoma, only Oregon State found its way into the final AP poll at 21st. Beyond that game, their next best win was against Hawaii. They did face five teams with an above .500 record (Utah included), but also faced five teams with four or fewer losses (including Utah State, who went 1-11).
Now compare their schedule with that of Utah's from 2008:
@ Michigan (3-9)
@ Utah State (3-9)
@ Air Force (8-5)
Oregon State (9-4)
@ Wyoming (4-8)
Colorado State (7-6)
@ New Mexico (4-8)
@ SDSU (2-10)
On its face, the schedules don't look that much different. Utah is dragged down a bit by their win over Weber State (though that seems almost equal to Utah State in '06). However, dig deeper and you'll see the Utes again trump Boise State's 2006 squad. Firstly, the Utes, outside of the Sugar Bowl, beat three teams that finished the season in the top-25 (Oregon State, TCU and BYU). That win over TCU is, in my opinion, equal to that of Boise State's victory over the Sooners in the Fiesta. Those Frogs managed to finish the season in the top-ten. Even counting the Broncos' Fiesta Bowl win, they still failed to beat a team that finished the season ranked in the top-ten.
Now beyond the rankings, the Broncos and Utes share a very similar schedule. They're both bogged down by weaker opponents. But it isn't necessarily the strength of their weakest team and more about the greatness of each good team they defeated. In that regard, Boise State doesn't stack up.
What we're left with is a ranking that isn't substantiated by much. Which explains why Watson didn't even try to justify it.
2. Boise State, 2006: The Broncos appear several times on this list, but this is the season that really put them on the map. The win over Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl made Boise State a household name.
Fantastic! But what's that got to do with being great?
If anything, Boise State's 2009 squad has a far better case for that number two slot than their 2006 counterparts.
Why she felt the need to rank them over the 2008 Utes makes little sense. Not because '06's Broncos weren't good. But because Utah's '08 team did far more.