Not to get you all worked up or anything, Boise State Broncos, but the commissioner of your new conference says that league's hopes of getting an automatic BCS berth ride on your game against Georgia in the Chick-fil-A College Kickoff on Sept. 3.
OK, he didn't say it in so many words. But you can forgive partisans of the Mountain West (and, previously, the WAC) for verging on hyperbole whenever the Broncos square up against a major-conference opponent. Every time it happens, the media launches into a predictable frenzy about how this is Boise's big test to prove they belong, can they hang with the big boys, et cetera. As far as the MWC's prospects of earning automatic-qualifier status, though, Matt Hinton is probably right when he says a Boise State victory in the Georgia Dome would only raise their chances from "not a chance in hell" to "maybe a snowball's chance in hell." What the MWC needs to join college football's upper echelon, he posits, is not more stunning upsets from the teams at the top of the standings but better production from the New Mexicos, Wyomings and UNLVs creating dead weight at the bottom.
Besides, if Boise State's reputation was all that mattered as far as BCS qualification, we wouldn't even be debating this issue -- those questions have been answered many times over. In Chris Petersen's five years as the Broncos' head coach, his team has played four ranked BCS-conference opponents, three of them away from Boise, and they've won all four. In fact, Petersen has only sustained three out-of-conference losses period since becoming the head coach, and two of those were in bowl games.
And let's be honest with ourselves here, Georgia fans -- the Dawgs may not end up counting as part of that statistic, because there's no guarantee Georgia will even be ranked come September 3.
We've come a long way from six years ago, when Boise State went to Athens for one of the first big tests of its mettle as a national powerhouse -- and caught a 34-point beatdown from a Georgia squad with a first-year starting QB and a rebuilt defense. Since then, the Broncos have gone 70-8 with a pair of Fiesta Bowl victories; that's twice as many BCS wins as the Dawgs, who haven't sniffed a top-10 ranking since midway through the 2008 season. This isn't the Boise-Oklahoma Fiesta Bowl of '06, or even the Boise-TCU Poinsettia Bowl of '08 -- conference affiliations notwithstanding, this is an established national powerhouse playing a team that went 6-7 last year and didn't beat anyone who finished 2010 with a winning record. If Boise isn't favored by at least a touchdown, it'll be the bookmaking upset of the decade. We know the 2011 Broncos will be good; we can't be nearly as sure about the '11 Dawgs.
Or to look at it another way, a Boise State loss on Sept. 3 would cause a lot less hand-wringing about the future of the program than a Georgia loss would. If Chris Petersen loses to Georgia and goes 6-7 this season, it'd be a big disappointment and a major head-scratcher for BSU fans, but Petersen still has his job for as long as he wants it. If the Dawgs lose the opener and finish 6-7 for a second straight year, Mark Richt is probably gone.
So while it would be nice to think of Boise State trudging to Atlanta this September with "the fate of nations," in Senator Blutarsky's words, resting on their shoulders, it's hard to imagine that having much of an effect on their players' preparation or mindset. They'd want to win this game no matter what conference they were representing, and more to the point, they know they can win it. They've already proven they matter; Georgia, on the other hand, is being forced to re-prove that they do, and they're probably playing for their coach's job as well. The media hype will surround the Broncos on Sept. 3, but the team in red and black will be the one playing with much higher stakes.