Where would you rank the following team going into the 2010 season?
It is coming off a 14-0 season capped by a victory in a BCS bowl. It returns 21 of 22 starters from a team that finished the 2009 season ranked in the top five. It loses the fewest graduating players in the entire country -- five seniors, just three of whom dressed for its bowl game, just one of whom played a significant role in that game. It returns the nation's most efficient quarterback during the regular season, a 1,000-yard rusher, a 1,000-yard receiver and a complete offensive line. The defense returns its top tackler, top sacker and leading interceptor. The guy who handles punting and place-kicking is back. The core of an excellent coaching staff also is expected to be intact.
That team has to be ranked No. 1.
But when you put a name on that team, and that name is Boise State, watch the voters suddenly fall out of love with the Broncos.
They can grudgingly accept voting them into the top five at season's end -- because the results demand it. But putting them on top at season's beginning? That novel concept will meet a bourgeois backlash.
It's wrong, but it will happen. Watch it. College football's age-old laundry issue will rear its ugly head again.
If the Broncos wore, say, Florida's laundry, or USC's, or Ohio State's, they'd be the landslide No. 1 team heading into next season. Amazing how much a team's uniform and tradition can affect how we look at it.
But because the Broncos don't dress in the gear of an old-money superpower, and because their turf is blue and their conference is the Western Athletic, not the SEC or Big Ten, they will not start the season on top.
Boise State should be No. 1 going into 2010, and it will be on my ESPN.com power rankings unless something catastrophic happens in the offseason. The Broncos have taken loaded to a new level, returning more experience than any other team I can remember from one season to the next. The single starter who is leaving is a great one -- cornerback Kyle Wilson, a cinch NFL draft pick -- but he is the only loss.
Alabama figures to be the heavy favorite for '10, and on one level, I can understand that. But don't tell me the Crimson Tide have anywhere near as much coming back as Boise State. The Tide started 10 seniors in the BCS National Championship Game on Thursday night, plus clutch kicker Leigh Tiffin and punter P.J. Fitzgerald. They likely will lose superstar junior linebacker Rolando McClain as well and possibly junior cornerback Kareem Jackson.
There certainly is more rebuilding work to be done in Tuscaloosa than in Boise.
You also will hear a lot of buzz about Ohio State as a 2010 title contender. The Buckeyes don't lose much -- but they still lose more than the Broncos, and they finished this season behind Boise in the rankings. No way Ohio State should start ahead of Boise in the polls.
We all know the knock on Boise State is its schedule, and there is no denying that this season's slate was soft. The WAC was weak, and the nonconference schedule was uninspiring outside of Pacific-10 champion Oregon. Jeff Sagarin's computer rated Boise's the 96th-strongest schedule in the nation, lowest of anyone in his top 30.
But next season, Boise State will have two credibility-enhancing nonconference games. The Broncos play Atlantic Coast Conference heavyweight Virginia Tech in Washington, D.C., and host perennial bowl team Oregon State. Win those two, and national respect will be non-negotiable.
They also travel to Wyoming, which won a bowl game this season under first-year coach Dave Christensen. The fourth nonleague opponent is Toledo.
So Boise State will get its opportunities to prove itself a legitimate national title contender. I hope the voters give the Broncos a fair shot and don't hold their laundry against them.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.