Despite Boise's loss, non-AQs belong

RENO, Nev. -- Maybe you saw the fireball over the Sierra Nevada. If you were on the East Coast, it happened at about 1:52 a.m. on Saturday and in full view of the locals and whomever else stayed up to watch "Nevada at Night" on ESPN.

We can now confirm that the flames came from Boise State's heat tiles as the Broncos re-entered the earth's atmosphere. Parachutes did not deploy on the BSU capsule.

Boise's BCS championship hopes, its undefeated season, its No. 4 ranking and its 24-game win streak are now scattered across Nevada's Mackay Stadium. It can pretty much forget about a Big Four bowl too.

What happened in Reno isn't going to stay in Reno. The Broncos' 34-31 overtime loss to the 19th-ranked Wolf Pack is already being felt on BCS seismic readings. One moment a national title contender, the next moment a BCS has-been.

"We're all distraught right now," Boise safety George Iloka said.

"Greatest win this university's ever had," Nevada coach Chris Ault said.

The pregame message written on the Nevada locker room board read "Make a memory." The Wolf Pack did more than that. They made a memory and a mess of Boise's season. They eliminated the Broncos from the BCS title equation, strengthened TCU's toehold as a contender and gave hope to, say, one-loss LSU.

The reasons for the Boise defeat are simple:

  • Senior place-kicker Kyle Brotzman missed a 26-yarder at the end of regulation. Then he missed a 29-yarder in overtime.

  • Nevada outrushed Boise 239-8 in the second half and OT. By game's end, the Broncos' defense needed an oxygen tent.

  • Boise, much like Alabama earlier in the day, couldn't hold an early lead. The Broncos led 17-0 and later 24-7 in the first half. And as the game got tighter, so did Boise.

  • Nevada redshirt freshman Anthony Martinez didn't miss his 34-yard kick in OT.

"Well, we told them that one play can never lose a game," Boise coach Chris Petersen said. "One play can win a game, but it can't lose it."

That was the official Broncos' postgame stance and it was meant to provide some protection to Brotzman. But there was also a lot of truth to the statement. Petersen was right: Boise had its chances, lots of them, to win this thing.

The Broncos hadn't lost a regular-season game since November 2007. They hadn't trailed in a 2010 game since the fourth quarter of the season opener against Virginia Tech.

For weeks … months, Nevada had listened to the media lovefest about Boise. The Broncos could play in the BCS championship, and if not there, then the Rose Bowl. They scored lots of points and their defense was top-shelf.

But during Nevada's Friday morning practice, Ault reminded his players, "They haven't seen an offense like this."

He was right. Nevada outgained Boise 528-493. In the second half, Nevada had the ball 24 minutes and 12 seconds, compared to 5:48 for BSU. The Pack ground down the Broncos like a pepper mill.

"We felt we were the only team in the conference, because we had them at home … that we could give them a game and have an opportunity to win," Ault said.

So much for Gordon Gee's blathering earlier in the week. The Ohio State president recently stuck his bow tie in his mouth by saying Boise, as well as TCU, didn't deserve a national title shot because of their schedule strength. Or, according to Mr. Football, the lack of it.

It was an interesting observation, given that Boise played the 19th-ranked Wolf Pack on the road while his Buckeyes face unranked Michigan on Saturday. So when I asked Ault if there was anything he'd like to say to Gee about the quality of non-automatic qualifier teams, the Nevada coach didn't hesitate.

"My only comment is [Ohio State] wouldn't beat Boise State," he said.

"Would they beat you?"

"No," Ault said. "No. I think the Boises, the TCUs of the world have shown people a balance of college football that other schools that don't have the tremendous tradition, because they're newer to this division, can do it. I'm going to tell you this: I believe we can line up against a lot of people. I'm not here to tell you we're No. 1 in the country. And I know Boise can, because they've done it."

Anyway, this is the win that will keep on giving. It was a hard-fought victory for all those Little Sisters of the Poor programs -- the same sometimes-scruffy non-automatic qualifiers Gee so casually mocked with his comments.

For years the non-AQs have been forced to jump through BCS hoops. Now TCU could be bumped up to BCS first class if No. 1 Oregon or No. 2 Auburn falters in its final game.

Make no mistake: TCU is now positioned for a long-shot national title try not because of the BCS "system," but in spite of it. Maybe that's what makes it easier to root for the Horned Frogs and Wolf Packs of the world.

Nobody will mistake the WAC for the NFC South, but it's not like Ohio State's strength of schedule is bench-pressing 400 pounds.

Remember what Gee said: "I don't know enough about the X's and O's of college football, but I do know, having been both a Southeastern Conference president and a Big Ten president, that it's like murderers' row every week for these schools. Until a university runs that gantlet, then there's some reason to believe that they may not be the best teams to [be] in the big ballgame."

He was right about one thing.

He doesn't know bubkes about college football. Or Nevada, TCU or even Boise.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com.