The battle of unbeaten mid-major conference champions culminated Monday night in an intriguing, yet deceptive, match-up in Glendale, Arizona. Sixth-ranked Boise State (14-0), of the Western Athletic Conference, outlasted third-ranked TCU (12-1), of the Mountain West Conference, 17-10 to claim its second Fiesta Bowl victory in four years and become the second team in college football history to finish with a 14-0 record.
In a game dominated by defensive prowess and sub-par offensive output, Boise State employed trickery reminiscent of its 2007 win over Oklahoma in the same venue. With the score locked at 10-10, nine minutes left in the fourth quarter and both offenses struggling, Boise punter Kyle Brotzman connected with tight end Kyle Efaw for a 29-yard pick-up and a Bronco first down in Horned Frog territory. The fourth down gamble by Broncos coach Chris Petersen paid off, as running back Doug Martin dove in for Boise's lone offensive touchdown of the game and swept away any momentum had by TCU.
The mastery of Petersen's call aside, the match-up Monday night lacked the anticipated fireworks. Both teams averaged over 40 points per game while posting 200 yards both on the ground and through the air entering the game. Defense dominated, however, and both teams put up just over 300 total yards and 20 points offensively.
There is no denying that the highly-anticipated battle of the mid-major powers may well have been the best match-up of the bowl season with evenly matched undefeated teams squaring off. However, the pairing of two top-ten-ranked mid-major programs against each other epitomizes the glass ceiling in effect by the BCS committee. The possibility of one mid-major upset over a major BCS conference team draws plenty of controversy and is apparently acceptable, evidenced with Utah's dismantling of Alabama in last year's Sugar Bowl. Two mid-major upsets, on the other hand, would be unfathomable for the BCS and the heads of BCS conferences. This would double the cry and pressure for a playoff format in college football, while tarnishing the reputation and respectability of "greater" BCS conference schools.
Essentially, the prospect of both TCU and Boise State being placed in separate bowl games, against say Georgia Tech and Iowa, is a lose-lose situation for the BCS system. Wins by TCU and/or Boise in that instance would display the legitimacy of top mid-major teams compared to major BCS-caliber programs. Utah's argument for national recognition and equality in the BCS would only be strengthened and progressed with more mid-major upsets and the potential for financial dismantling from major changes to the BCS system would grow.
The Fiesta Bowl seemed more a play for appeasement by BCS bowl-makers than equal opportunity for TCU and Boise State. Both undefeated teams were awarded with a BCS game, yet playing another mid-major denied both quality teams the opportunity to prove themselves for national respectability against quality programs of BCS conferences.
The Broncos and Horned Frogs certainly came close to the pinnacle of the BCS atop the national rankings this season, yet both were restricted and hopefully appeased beneath the glass ceiling of the BCS. Both programs came within reach of the top, only to be paired together and left with the illusion that they were competing for national prominence. Until a mid-major breaks through the ceiling of the BCS, the Utah's, TCU's and Boise State's have no choice but to keep scheduling, keep winning and refuse to be satisfied.