Crossroads: Could a non-AQ team crash title game?

Boise State and TCU return most of the starters off their BCS teams from last season. So surely 2010 is the best chance yet for a non-AQ team to make history and bust into the BCS national championship game.

As our good friend Lee Corso would say right about now – not so fast my friend.

The Broncos and Horned Frogs do have specific advantages their past teams never had. For one, they are both ranked in the Top 10 in the preseason coaches’ poll, the first time two non-AQ teams have been ranked so high to start a season. Boise State starts No. 5; TCU at No. 7.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a non-automatic qualifier or a qualifying school -- the higher you start, the better chance you have to play for a national championship,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said.

Both programs made history last season, the first time two non-AQ teams made it into a BCS game. Both are on the lips of most every college football fan in America. Both have gained respect, and both are living in a world where fans increasingly want to see the current BCS system torn up, if for no other reason than to expedite a playoff.

So yes, compared to 10 years ago, non-AQ teams are getting unprecedented consideration.

But for the incremental movements up the poll, there still is a glass ceiling between them and a spot in the coveted BCS national championship game. The preseason poll already shows some of the favor power schools have with voters -- Florida and Texas, with unproven quarterbacks, are ranked ahead of them.

Undefeated TCU has been the closest to the title game in the BCS era, finishing with a No. 4 ranking in the BCS standings last season. Boise State was No. 6. But if history is any indication, it is going to be just as difficult for any non-AQ team to play for a national championship.

For one, they must go undefeated. For another, going undefeated has meant nothing. Let us take a look back at the past six final BCS standings to 2004, when Utah became the first non-AQ team to make it into a BCS game.

2004: Undefeated Utah (AP preseason No. 20) finishes No. 6 in the BCS standings behind three unbeaten teams and two one-loss teams: Texas and California). The Utes beat Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl.

2005: No non-AQ team in BCS bowls.

2006: Undefeated Boise St. (preseason unranked) finishes ranked No. 8 in final BCS standings – behind two 2-loss teams to boot (LSU and USC). The Broncos beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl in one of the greatest games in college football history.

2007: Undefeated Hawaii (AP preseason No. 23/coaches No. 24) finishes No. 10 in the BCS standings.

2008: Undefeated Utah (preseason unranked) finishes No. 6 in the BCS standings behind five one-loss teams (Oklahoma, Florida, Texas, Alabama and USC). The Utes beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Undefeated Boise State finishes No. 9 and fails to make a BCS bowl game.

2009: Undefeated TCU (AP, coaches preseason No. 17) is No. 4. Undefeated Boise State (AP preseason No. 14, coaches No. 16) is No. 6. Boise State finishes ranked behind a one-loss Florida team. Interesting note: TCU and Boise State were ranked behind a one-loss Gators team in the computer average.

This season could be different, yes. Starting a year ranked in the Top 7 definitely helps. But even then, their schedules will no doubt be discounted because each team plays in a weaker conference – Boise St. in the WAC and TCU in the Mountain West.

So let us say Boise State is able to open its season with a win against Virginia Tech, beat Oregon State a few weeks later and run the table in the WAC. Will its high preseason ranking give it enough mojo to earn it a spot in the final two, ahead of a one-loss team from the SEC or Big 12 or Big Ten?

We can debate the same question with TCU, which plays Oregon State to open the season. Neither coach wants to hazard a guess, either.

“The last few years we’ve played well and had a lot of luck along the way,” Boise State coach Chris Petersen said at WAC media days. “We try not to think in those big, broad terms, look down at the end of the schedule what our record might be.”

Patterson: “We understand we’ve got quite a non-conference schedule ahead of us. If you win those kinds of games, for us to start as high as we’ll start in the preseason rankings gives us the opportunity to reach the top of our pyramid. That’s what our goal is.”

If both teams lose to start the season, this story is meaningless. But if both teams continue to win, what happens next will be the biggest storyline in college football.