2012 wasn’t destined to be like the others. With a playoff lingering just two years down the road — and the stipulation that one automatic-qualifying spot in the upper-crust bowls will be reserved for one of the mid-major conferences each season — we could have history in the making on several levels.
In the most recent BCS standings, MAC East champion Kent State is ranked 17th. With the Golden Flashes occupying such a lofty spot this late in the season, we could be on the verge of several firsts.
In every season past, a BCS Buster has had to climb into the top 12 of the BCS standings to invoke the clause granting a berth to a mid-major. (Utah, the first BCS Buster in 2004, had to climb into the top 6 before the rules were altered to increase access.) This year, because of the collapse of Louisville and Rutgers last weekend, the Big East could allow Kent State to sneak into the BCS by reaching the top 16 and finishing ahead of a BCS-conference champion.
Why is this significant? Well… no team from one of the non-AQ conferences has ever qualified for a BCS berth with a loss on their record. And Kent State has one hell of a loss, a 47-14 drubbing at Kentucky in their first road trip of the season. (Yes, the Wildcats were an SEC opponent… but they were a 2-10 SEC opponent.) Yet, despite such an ungainly blemish, the Golden Flashes could become the first one-loss BCS Buster in the 15-year history of the beleaguered system.
Kent State could also become the first MAC school to break through the barrier of exclusion. Twice the MAC would have qualified a team under the current rules, but in both cases they came before the barrier was decreased from 6 to 12. In 1999, a 12-0 Marshall team (then in the MAC before moving to C-USA) was ranked #12 in the BCS standings… falling short of the top-six requirement of the time. Four years later, the RedHawks of Miami University of Ohio finished 11-1 and were ranked #11 in the final BCS standings… also, as the numbers attest, falling short of the magic number of the moment.
The Golden Flashes, then, could set three BCS Buster records in one season. Of course, they’ll have to survive a conference championship against another 11-1 team to win the MAC and keep their shot alive. Let’s learn more about Kent State and the rest of the non-AQ heavyweights as we dive into this week’s BCS Buster Power Rankings…
1. KENT STATE GOLDEN FLASHES (MAC/11-1)
- CURRENT BCS POSITION: 17th (0.2512)
- LAST WEEK: W 28-6 v. Ohio
- NEXT WEEK: MAC Championship v. Northern Illinois
Kent State has an opportunity before them like few teams have ever held in their power before. Although, to be fair, we’ve been in this situation in the recent past, with a mid-major holding its BCS fate in its hands on the weekend before the final rankings. The Golden Flashes, in that respect, are little different than, say, Houston last season as they prepared for Southern Miss in the C-USA championship game. The key now for this team is not to become complacent. Hovering on the cusp of the BCS fault line between immortality and obscurity, Darrell Hazell must make sure to keep this team focused on the next task at hand. As one of the hot coaching candidates for a BCS-school vacancy, Hazell himself must also not become complacent (see: Sumlin, Kevin). With an explosive offense and special teams led by Dri Archer (ranked 5th nationally with 197 all-purpose yards per game), Kent State can become more than a footnote in ’60s history and reinvent itself as the first-ever one-loss BCS Buster, the first-ever BCS Buster from the MAC, and the first-ever BCS Buster to get in without reaching 12th or higher…
2. NORTHERN ILLINOIS HUSKIES (MAC/11-1)
- CURRENT BCS POSITION: 21st (0.1936)
- LAST GAME: W 49-7 @ Eastern Michigan
- NEXT GAME: MAC Championship v. Kent State
… of course, they have to get through this year’s version of Southern Miss. Northern Illinois has its own offensive sparkplug, QB Jordan Lynch, who is ranked third in the nation in total offense. Lynch, the junior who replaced NIU legend Chandler Harnish as the field general of the Huskies offense, produces nearly 400 yards of offense passing and running — he ranks 5th nationally in rushing with over 134 yards a game, the top-ranked quarterback in rushing, and is also ranked 12th in passing efficiency. Head coach Dave Doeren, formerly the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin, has also built the Huskies defense into a top-15 defense in terms of keeping opponents off the scoreboard. With too much distance between themselves and the 16th spot in the BCS standings, Northern Illinois is likely not playing for a BCS spot of their own. The best they can do is win a conference title, a 12th game, a better bowl position for themselves… and screw the MAC out of a bigger BCS allotment. Just like the Golden Eagles did to Houston last year.
3. BOISE STATE BRONCOS (MWC/9-2)
- CURRENT BCS POSITION: 20nd (0.2512)
- LAST WEEK: W 42-14 v. Colorado State
- NEXT WEEK: @ Nevada
Pollsters love the Broncos… that’s the ONLY way to explain Boise State’s two-spot jump in the BCS standings. Their points climb from .1043 to .2512 from last week to this week was predicated on a big bump in the coaches’ poll and the Harris Poll. How do we know this? Well… only one computer, that of Richard Billingsley, has the Broncos ranked in the top 25. And since the high and low computer scores are thrown out, Boise still ranks zeroes among the algorithms. Technically they can do no better than winning a share of the Mountain West title this season, but they also can’t take lightly a matchup against Nevada. Remember, it was the Wolf Pack who knocked the Broncos from BCS contention two years ago when Kyle Brotzman missed a fateful field goal in Reno while both teams were still members of the WAC. Now, with Nevada out of contention for their first Mountain West title, they’d love nothing more than to keep Boise State from winning their first in the league before they depart for the Big East… unless rumors of them trying to beg their way back into the Mountain West alongside San Diego State are indeed true.
4. UTAH STATE AGGIES (WAC/10-2)
- CURRENT BCS POSITION: 24th (0.1171)
- LAST WEEK: W 45-9 v. Idaho
- NEXT WEEK: Famous Idaho Potato Bowl v. TBD
Back in 1962, the Utah legislature unsuccessfully lobbied for the Aggies to be included in the newly-formed Western Athletic Conference. One of two schools left behind by the dissolution of the Skyline Conference, Utah State was further aggrieved seven years later when the league expanded to include Colorado State and UTEP. Now, 51 years later (and just eight years after finally gaining admittance into a completely-revamped WAC), the Aggies can finally lay claim to their first and only WAC championship in the league’s final season of existence. After going to Ruston and knocking off Louisiana Tech in the penultimate game of the season, Gary Andersen’s crew came home and dispatched of an Idaho team that is in a similar situation to that suffered by the Aggies half a century ago as the displaced Vandals search for a new FBS home while pining for Mountain west status. Utah State will be headed there next year, deserting the WAC with the rest of the crew, but for one shining moment they finally realized the dreams of five decades’ past…
5. SAN JOSE STATE SPARTANS (WAC/10-2)
- CURRENT BCS POSITION: 25th (0.0974)
- LAST WEEK: W 52-43 v. Louisiana Tech
- NEXT WEEK: Bowl TBD
Let’s face it… I certainly didn’t see this coming in the preseason. The Spartans had gone a combined 19-42 in the past five seasons. They were languishing in the depths of the WAC, for crying out loud! Yet there were obvious signs of improvement I had missed. San Jose State improved by four wins last year with incremental improvements in their defense and passing game. Those improvements were exponential this season, as the Spartans grew leaps and bounds into a 10-win team. For the first time since 2006, San Jose State is going bowling. Due to their head-to-head loss against Utah State, the Spartans failed to lay claim to the WAC championship. But they survived a shootout against Colby Cameron and the Louisiana Tech offense to get that tenth victory, and the future looks bright for Mike MacIntyre’s squad as they prepare for a move to the Mountain West next season. First, though, they must prepare for a bowl game and a postseason opponent yet to be determined…
THREE-LOSS TEAMS GARNERING CONSIDERATION
Toledo (MAC/9-3), UCF (C-USA/9-3), San Diego State (MWC/9-3), Tulsa (C-USA/9-3), Louisiana Tech (WAC/9-3), Fresno State (MWC/9-3), Ball State (MAC/9-3), Arkansas State (Sun Belt/8-3), Middle Tennessee (Sun Belt/8-3)