College Football Week 7: Can Boise Make It Back To The BCS?

Boise State fell off the national radar after their season-opening loss to Michigan State, and sits at #24 in the AP poll coming into Saturday. But don’t write off the Broncos chances for busting the BCS just yet. If they win out, they’d have a very reasonable chance of rising into the Top 12 of the BCS rankings, a status that would make them an automatic qualifier.

Furthermore, given the shortage of quality at-large teams in the Big Ten & ACC, and given that Boise has become a decent national brand-name, the Broncos could get selected if they just get in the Top 16, the point at which they would become eligible, if not automatic.  But before Boise fans start making plans for Miami—presumably they’d end up in the Orange Bowl, which has the final pick in the bowl selection process—they can’t risk overlooking Saturday’s home game with Fresno State.

Fresno State has a well-balanced offensive attack, with running back Robbie Rouse having compiled 711 rush yards in his team’s first six games. Those games include Oregon & Colorado, along with Mountain West opponents San Diego State and Colorado State. The Bulldogs’ only game against competition non-representative of what they’ll see on Saturday was the opener against Weber State. Fresno’s losses are Oregon—and the 42-25 final was better than what Pac-12 teams are doing against the Ducks—and Tulsa, who’s undefeated in Conference USA play. They throw the ball with Derek Carr.

Boise is not without its vulnerabilities. The poor rush defense they played against Michigan State was reasonably attributed to the quality of the Spartan running game, but Michigan State has been less than impressive since. And while Boise beat Southern Miss badly last week, the Golden Eagles were very effective on the ground.

If this game were in Fresno, I’d probably take the Bulldogs. On the blue turf though, Boise needs to be respected. But the 7.5 points they’re favored by looks a little on the high side. The win would keep their Orange Bowl hopes on track and likely unimpeded until the season finale on December 1 at Nevada.

The Fresno-Boise battle isn’t the only quality game at the mid-major level. San Jose State is a legitimate dark horse in the WAC, and they host Utah State. The Aggies have mastered the art of the near-miss against higher-profile teams (losses to Wisconsin & BYU by a combined five points). They play good defense and have a versatile quarterback in Chuckie Keeton.

But San Jose is playing well in its own right, they’re at home and if quarterback David Fales can get comfortable and put some points on the board, Utah State will have problems coming back.  Both teams are jousting with Louisiana Tech for position in the WAC and the fact San Jose is giving three is a sign of the seriousness that’s accorded this program on the rise.

And our last midmajor game to keep an eye on is Western Kentucky’s visit to Troy on Thursday night. Troy was the power of the Sun Belt as recently as a couple years ago, before going through a rebuilding process. They’re back to playing decent football and defending their homefield against a conference favorite would be a significant statement. Western Kentucky needs to establish that, for 2012 anyway, this league belongs to them and UL-Monroe.

TheSportsNotebook will do its usual Friday preview of the marquee games of Saturday. For now we’ll do our regular Thursday routine of going conference-by-conference with other notable games.

SEC: Vanderbilt had high hopes of contending coming into the season, but an early loss to South Carolina marked a 2-3 opening to the season. Now the Commodores play host to Florida, who could be in a letdown spot after their physical win over Florida last week. There’s no such luck for Missouri, who hosts Alabama and has no reason to think the Tide won’t be focuses.

We’ll talk about the South Carolina-LSU prime-time battle tomorrow, but don’t forget the fourth unbeaten team in this league. Mississippi State hasn’t lost, and the meat of their schedule starts with a home game against Tennessee. If the Vols can get the game opened up with Tyler Bray throwing the ball, the Bulldogs don’t play at a fast enough pace to keep up. But Mississippi State, under Dan Mullen, is steadier, more disciplined, better defensively and playing at home. I like them to keep the unbeaten season going.

Pac-12: Arizona State is one of the league’s surprise teams at 4-1 overall and 2-0 in league play, as the building process under new coach Todd Graham moves at an accelerated pace. They get some national TV exposure with a Thursday game at Colorado. It’s a game the Sun Devils should win easily, but this is a team with a sophomore quarterback in Taylor Kelly dealing with some unexpected success and a prime-time road game. It will be interesting to see how they respond. And speaking of responding, USC needs to start doing something impressive and a road game at Washington has to be seen as an opportunity to do just that.

Big 12: The Geno Smith Heisman campaign goes to Texas Tech and between Geno & Seth Doege, this game might match the West Virginia-Baylor 70-63 game from a couple weeks ago. At worst, it will match the offensive output the Mountaineers combined for with Texas last week, a 48-45 win. The Over/Under on the game in Las Vegas as 77.5, a total that would normally be absurdly high and in this case seems ridiculously low.

Texas-Oklahoma gets its share of the spotlight tomorrow, and in the meantime don’t overlook Kansas State-Iowa State. The Cyclones have shown their ability to play spoiler and their own win over Texas Tech last week has demonstrated their firm position in the league’s middle class. Furthermore, Iowa State can play physical with K-State, maybe the only teams left in this league that still really depend on the run.

Big East: If Syracuse is going to show it can compete with the big boys in this conference, they’ve got an opportunity with a Saturday visit to Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights play better defense and run the ball better with Jawan Jamison, but sophomore quarterback Gary Nova can be up and down. If the Orange can get their own QB, Ryan Nassib, to play to his potential, it can put some extra pressure on Nova and create conditions for an upset. Is that a realistic scenario? Sure. Would I bet on it? Are you kidding?

Big Ten:  Believe it or not, the Wisconsin-Purdue game in West Lafayette is likely for a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game. With Ohio State and Penn State on probation, the Leaders Division is reduced to these two teams, along with Illinois and Indiana. The Boilermakers’ defense has been lit up two straight weeks, but that was against quarterbacks like Rakeem Cato (Marshall) and Denard Robinson (Michigan) who can spread them out and make plays with their feet. Wisconsin doesn’t have that and this looks we’ve finally reached the year where the Badger offensive line doesn’t ever grow in to its usual punishing self. Having said that…Wisconsin did assert itself enough to beat Illinois 31-14 last week, and has to be considered a little bit better than Purdue.

ACC: We talked about the rising Duke program in the recap of last week’s games and now the Dookies get a chance to do something about it at Virginia Tech. Is this the game where the Hokies finally assert themselves, or the one where the Blue Devils demonstrate they’re a Coastal Division contender? I think Duke can put up some points on what’s been a vulnerable Tech defense, but I guess at the end of the day I can’t pick against Frank Beamer at home. Especially when he’s probably spent the week in a foul mood after giving up 48 points in a loss to North Carolina.

Speaking of the Tar Heels, they go to Miami. Though North Carolina’s probation means they can’t win this division, they can play a big role in deciding who does. Miami’s an early frontrunner with a 3-0 record in the conference, and as their losses to Kansas State & Notre Dame by a combined 93-16 score shows, they can pummeled up front. Carolina put just such a pummeling on Virginia Tech last week, with Giovanni Bernard rushing for over 200 yards and they can do the same in Coral Gables on Saturday.

Tomorrow TheSportsNotebook previews the marquee trifecta of South Carolina-LSU, Texas-Oklahoma and Stanford-Notre Dame.