Boise State’s Cinderella story, without a happy ending so far

The Boise State Broncos have the makings of a fairy tale, but minus the key component of a Disney-fied version: the happy ending. Instead, their story reads more like something that might have been put together by the Brothers Grimm. The Broncos are always searching for an invitation to the ball of the BCS championship, but despite the attractiveness of their undefeated records, a flawed system keeps on passing them over in favor of stepsisters who come from wealthier conferences.

To counter that, the Broncos have switched to playing the role of Prince Charming, going from the Western Athletic Conference to the Mountain West Conference (and now apparently heading to the Big East) in search of a conference that will fit their glass slipper. The chances of Boise State finding what they’re looking for don’t seem all that high, though, and unlike Gonzaga, this is one mid-major that hasn’t yet got the slipper to fit.

There’s a lot that’s attractive about the Broncos, who have gone an incredible 69-5 since Chris Petersen took over the head coaching job from Dan Hawkins after the 2005 season. They were good even before Petersen took the reins, though; with him serving as Hawkins’ offensive coordinator, the team earned four WAC titles in five seasons. Once Petersen assumed control, the Broncos shot into the stratosphere immediately; he led them to an undefeated regular season, a BCS bowl appearance and a 43-42 overtime victory over Oklahoma in that memorable 2007 Fiesta Bowl, where Boise State pulled out everything from the hook-and-ladder to the Statue of Liberty play.

They’ve had plenty of success since then, too, going 10-3 in 2007-08, 12-1 in 2008-09, 14-0 (with another Fiesta Bowl win over TCU) in 2009-10 and 12-1 in 2010-11. So far this season, they’re 8-0 overall, 3-0 in Mountain West play and ranked fifth nationally by both the BCS standings and the AP poll. Those are records most programs would kill for.

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Even that’s still probably not enough to get Boise State to the next level of competing for a national championship, though, and that’s more the fault of their conference than anything they’ve done. The Broncos have only one win over a ranked opponent, a road victory over then-No. 19 Georgia, in their non-conference season-opener. There aren’t many impressive squads at all on their conference schedule; they will face TCU, last year’s Rose Bowl champion, but the Horned Frogs have slumped to 7-2 this year with losses to Baylor and SMU and aren’t currently ranked. Given Boise State’s schedule, it’s highly unlikely they’ll be picked for the championship game over an undefeated squad from a tougher conference, and even plenty of chaos and a flood of one-loss teams may not be enough to get them into the ball.

Given how they keep being passed over this way largely because of issues with their schedule, it’s perhaps not surprising that the Broncos are constantly in search of a new conference home. Not many big programs are willing to play them in non-conference games, usually preferring to save those dates for less-formidable foes to pad their records, so Boise State has to find a spot where their conference schedule will get to the point that they’re considered a worthy title contender. However, that’s almost as difficult as scouring a village to find a woman whose foot fits the slipper.

The Broncos moved from the Big West to the WAC in 2001 and dominated that conference, but that didn’t get them far. They since headed to the Mountain West, starting MWC play this season, and for a while, it looked like that might be the answer; the Mountain West at one time had enough impressive teams that it might have gained BCS automatic qualifier status in the next round of conference evaluations. However, those teams also got involved in the constant quest to improve their status via conference realignment, with BYU leaving to become an independent in football, Utah heading to the Pac-12 and TCU relocating first to the Big East (supposedly starting next year, but they’ll never actually play there) and then to the Big 12. With them gone, the MWC’s football fortunes were declining as well, so it’s not surprising that Boise State’s looking to get out while the getting’s good.

However, even the Big East move may not provide the result the Broncos are looking for. There’s no guarantee the Big East will fit Boise State any better, as it’s recently been struck by the loss of Pitt, Syracuse, West Virginia and TCU (although some of the non-TCU teams may have to stick around for a while). Depending on what happens with the other new members the Big East is trying to bring in (including perhaps such familiar MWC faces as BYU and Air Force), the conference may collapse entirely, or it may wind up being no better than the MWC.

It’s a reasonable option for Boise State, as it’s higher than the Mountain West at the moment (in both revenue and standing), but it may not stay there forever. Under the current BCS system, Boise State can’t prove their worth on the field due to schedule, and their location/lack of TV market means they won’t get into a top conference any time soon.

They have to keep trying slippers, but there’s no guarantee that any of them will fit, so this Cinderella story may never get a happy ending.

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