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Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Opportunity knocks but no answer

By Gene Wojciechowski
ESPN.com

GLENDALE, Ariz.-- I am now going to list the top five reasons why Tostitos Fiesta Bowl winner Boise State deserves to split the national title with the winner of the Texas-Alabama Citi BCS National Championship Game:

Gary Patterson
Gary Patterson's TCU squad did not impress in the Fiesta Bowl.

1)
2)
3)
4)
5)

How do I say this nicely? Boise's 17-10 victory against TCU was as exciting as watching someone watch paint dry. The game didn't lay an egg; it laid an omelet.

Here I was hoping, even wishing that undefeated TCU, ranked No. 3 in the coaches' and Associated Press polls, would purple faze undefeated Boise Monday night at University of Phoenix Stadium. Not because I have anything against No. 6 Boise, but because TCU had the best chance of flipping the national title debate on its helmet crown.

If TCU won big, and Texas won little -- and sloppily against No. 1 Bama -- then maybe, just maybe, enough AP voters would go all Horned Froggy on their ballots. Two national titles to two teams in the state of Texas. Perfect.

Except that TCU left its game at poolside. The Horned Frogs forgot that before they could make a statement, they first had to make some plays. They wasted an opportunity of a lifetime. At the very least, they suffered from BCS bowl stage fright.

"I'll be honest with you -- and let me say one thing to you -- I'm very appreciative of the people who are sitting in this room," said TCU coach Gary Patterson to the media after the game. "Because at some point in time you decided to change your mind and give us a chance as a program. Give Boise a chance as a program. And … what we tried to do tonight was to try to prove you right."

I wanted to believe. I really did. But it's hard to become a believer when you're nodding off. TCU and Boise didn't prove us right or wrong. Instead, they sort of flopped around like a fish on land.

"We didn't come out as intense as we normally do," said TCU defensive tackle Cory Grant.

"I thought we were a little bit nervous," said Patterson. "Not nervous, but tight."

Tight … nervous … lacking intensity. Whatever it was, it showed. TCU and Boise had the whole football nation to themselves Monday evening and they whiffed. OK, maybe not whiff, but they kept fouling off pitches down the middle.

At times, the game had a high school spring jamboree quality to it. The first 18 plays of the game featured a pick 6, four penalties, six incompletions, three punts, one rush for no gain, two rushes for positive yards and two pass completions.

"Early on we didn't know exactly what they were doing," said TCU quarterback Andy Dalton.

What he meant to say is that TCU didn't know what it was doing. Boise used a funky defense (constantly switching out of a 4-3 to a 3-4, moving a corner to safety) and TCU froze in the headlights.

Two of the most prolific offenses in the country combined for four turnovers, a missed field goal, 14 penalties and just 27 points. TCU had exactly 36 rushing yards, threw three interceptions and was 1-of-12 on third-down conversions.

Touchdown passes were dropped. Wide-open receivers were missed. Snaps flew through the hands of quarterbacks. All you really need to know about the game is that Boise punter/place-kicker Kyle Brotzman might have been the best player on the field.

Andy Dalton
TCU QB Andy Dalton had a rough night against Boise State, throwing three picks -- one that was returned for a touchdown.

Weeks earlier, as the TCU-Boise Fiesta Bowl matchup was formalized, Horned Frogs linebacker Daryl Washington grumbled about facing the Broncos for a second consecutive postseason. What Washington really wanted, he said, was to play someone like Florida -- you know, one of the biggies.

But first you've got to beat the near-biggies.

"We heard that," said Broncos linebacker Derrell Acrey. "We took that as a chip on a shoulder. Not insulted, but we were challenged."

"We wanted to be here," said Boise safety Jeron Johnson. "We didn't care if they wanted to be here or not."

Boise State finished 14-0, a record matched only by Ohio State in 2002. Impressive. Bama or Texas will have the same record after the BCS Championship Game.

But Bama or Texas will also claim sole possession of both national titles. It probably would have ended like that anyway, but TCU and Boise sucked all the mystery out of the final voting. TCU played as if it was still thinking about the Crimson Tide, not the orange-and-blue Broncos. And Boise did enough to win, but little else.

"I don't think it's a setback at all," said Patterson. "We played the No. 6 team in the nation. We got beat 17-10. The difference in yards was 300-and-something to 300-and-something. Somebody was going to have to lose tonight. … For me, I don't think we backed down the mountain at all."

He's right. And dead wrong.

The reality is that the TCUs and Boise States still have to do more than the Bamas and Texases of the football world. They aren't novelty acts, but they also don't have the pedigree of the Tide and Longhorns. They don't get the benefit of the doubt.

Boise and TCU had a chance Monday night to dig their feet deeper into the BCS concrete mix. Instead, they delivered a forgettable game and by doing so, gave the anti-WAC and anti-Mountain West faction another reason to freeze them out of the BCS.

Too bad. It would have been nice to see the BCS sweat.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

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