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Thursday, August 8, 2013
Screw U

By Steve Wulf
ESPN The Magazine

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Aug. 19 College Football Preview. Subscribe today!

IT IS NOT TRUE that birds dive to their death at the Blue, mistaking it for a lake. But the field here at 37,000-seat Bronco Stadium did have something to do with the demise of the BCS.

This is the home of Boise State University football, a team that has gone 84-8 with two perfect seasons since Chris Petersen took over as head coach in 2006; that has produced 18 current NFL players, two of them Pro Bowlers; that beat Oklahoma 43-42 in overtime of the 2007 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl in what some consider the best college football game ever.

In another world, say, college basketball, Boise State would have been Butler. But in the BCS era, the mid-majors have been made to sit at the kiddie table. Let 'em eat the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas. Which the Broncos have won the past three years.

Now it's July of 2013, the thermometer is tickling three digits and Petersen is packing up to move.

Relax, Treasure Valley, Coach Pete is not leaving to take a job at USC or Nebraska or Texas or any of the other high-profile schools that might be looking for a new coach. He's simply relocating from the south end of the Blue to the new football facility at the north end (with air conditioning!). That's where he and his players and coaches will prepare to do battle with Washington, Tennessee-Martin, Air Force and, for one last time, the BCS.

But the former UC Davis quarterback with a master's in educational psychology would much rather talk about another three-letter acronym, one that sums up his outsider approach to building a program in the BCS era. "We call it OKG, Our Kinda Guys," he says amid the plastic moving bins in his office. "That philosophy has had more to do with our success than anything else. We look for student-athletes who are serious about their studies, who put football at 11 on a scale of 1 to 10, who know we can compete with bigger schools."

"To be honest with you," continues Petersen, "we've never wasted much time thinking about the BCS. It's just a system that helps us focus on winning every game, one game at a time."

The Broncos are poised to do just that in 2013, with QB Joe Southwick throwing to wide receiver Matt Miller, a strong running back tandem of Jay Ajayi and Derrick Thomas, and two defensive tackles who are as difficult to stop as they are to spell: Tutulupeatau Mataele and Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe.

But because the computer-driven BCS rankings are so reliant on strength of schedule, the Broncos -- who are ranked 21st in the ESPN Power Rankings -- will have to win every game of their Mountain West season to get any kind of consideration for one of the five BCS bowls, including the national title game on Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif.

The same pressure is on preseason No. 8 Louisville, a member of the American Athletic Conference (formerly the Big East), which is the weakest of the six automatic-qualifying conferences (SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, ACC, AAC). Despite having a coach on the rise in Charlie Strong and a Heisman Trophy candidate in QB Teddy Bridgewater, the Cardinals have a schedule that's soft as Charmin. So it's conceivable that Louisville, like Boise State, may go undefeated and still miss out on the chance to match its basketball team as national champion. "I can't blame anybody," says Louisville AD Tom Jurich. "I was on a BCS advisory committee."

The Cardinals will join the ACC next year, making it easier for them in the first year of the College Football Playoff. In the CFP, a committee will choose four teams to play in traditional bowl games that will serve as semifinals for the national title game. But only one of those slots will be reserved for a team from the Group of Five conferences (Mountain West, American, C-USA, Sun Belt, MAC). In other words, it won't change much for Boise State.

Jon Helmandollar
In 2004, Boise State ended the regular season on a 22-game win streak.

"I'd like to see the playoff eventually go to eight schools," says Petersen, 48. "But this is a better system. Again, it's not something we think about, beyond making a postseason game one of our goals. If anything, we like our role as outsiders. It makes us work that much harder."

Petersen wasn't always this accepting of the BCS. Even though Boise State's victory over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl started a clamor for democracy, the powers-that-be resisted any change. At a news conference before the 2011 Maaco Bowl Las Vegas, Petersen expressed his frustration. "I'm really tired of the BCS, even the name," he said at the time. "It doesn't make sense anymore … I don't think anyone is happy with it, anywhere. The whole thing needs to be changed, no question about it."

College football fans hope the new system is an improvement, but there are so many rules and riders and restrictions attached to the new CFP that nobody knows exactly how it will play out. But don't think for a moment that democracy is coming to college football. At a 2010 forum on collegiate athletics, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany made that clear when he said the push for more inclusion in the bowl process "takes away opportunities for my teams to play on the stage they created in 1902."

If the NCAA actually decided to live up to its ideals, or at least its commercials about the virtues of being a student-athlete, it might declare Boise State OKP: Our Kinda Program.

For the second year in a row, the school finished second among all football schools in Academic Progress Rate (APR), this time behind Northwestern. And a recent charity softball game organized by the football team drew 1,500 fans, who waited hours in 100-plus-degree heat to get posters signed -- proving that the Broncos give fans a sense of pride, even without five-star recruits.

"All of us came here with some goofy recruiting stories to tell," says former Broncos legend and current Lions quarterback Kellen Moore, who stopped by the Blue for a workout. "Maybe we weren't big enough or fast enough for the big schools, but Coach Pete saw something in us. And because we're overlooked, we carry this little chip on our shoulders."

People still find it hard to believe that Petersen has stuck around. But he is handsomely paid (he just got a five-year deal worth $12 million), his wife and two sons love the area and he gets to control his program in a way he wouldn't be able to at USC or Nebraska or Texas. "The blessing of being out of the spotlight," he says, "is that you can do things your own way."

He doesn't need a computer model to tell him where he belongs.

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