Boise State, Hawaii confident that the system will work

When Boise State's Ian Johnson was asked earlier this week about the Broncos falling in the BCS standings, the running back thought the reporter was kidding.

"Did we seriously drop?" Johnson asked. "I really had no clue we dropped. I thought it was a joke."

It was no joke. A day after Boise State blew out rival Idaho 58-14, the Broncos fell from No. 18 to No. 19 in the BCS standings. Tennessee, which needed Vanderbilt to miss a last-second field goal to win 25-24, jumped Boise State in the BCS standings. The Broncos are 10-1; the Volunteers are 8-3.

"We're not voters," Johnson said. "We have no control over whether we go up or down. Whatever we deserve, we'll get."

Maybe not. A year after Boise State finished undefeated and ranked No. 5 in the final Associated Press top 25 poll, it's almost as if its miracle season never happened.

And with the way last season ended for Boise State -- with the Broncos scoring on a hook-and-ladder play to force overtime against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, and then scoring a tying touchdown on a halfback pass and winning two-point conversion on, of all things, a Statue of Liberty play that seemingly was drawn up in the Arizona sand -- it's hard to believe its 13-0 record and 43-42 win over the Sooners could be so easily forgotten.

"I think there certainly was validation that a WAC team that qualified for the BCS was able to prove itself," WAC commissioner Karl Benson said.

But as No. 19 Boise State prepares to play No. 15 Hawaii at Aloha Stadium on Friday night (ESPN2, 9 ET), in what might very well be the most important game for the WAC in more than two decades, neither team is guaranteed of getting the same opportunity the Broncos had a year ago.

Hawaii is two victories away from finishing the regular season unbeaten. After playing the Broncos, the Warriors host Washington on Dec. 1.

Even if Hawaii wins its final two games, though, it might not finish in the top 12 of the final BCS standings, which would guarantee the Warriors an automatic spot in a BCS bowl game. Boise State or Hawaii also would qualify for an automatic BCS berth if it finishes in the top 16 and is ranked ahead of a champion from one of the six BCS conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Big East, Pac-10 and SEC).

At this point, both scenarios are far from guaranteed.

"I think that if Hawaii wins out, I'm still confident the system will get them to the top 12," Benson said. "I wish I could say the winner of the game would be given a spot, but that's not the case. A Boise State win will probably require a few more losses by teams above them. But I've said this from the get-go: a 12-0 Hawaii will make it to the top 12."

Benson can only dream of equality. While other teams have leap-frogged Hawaii in the BCS standings during the past few weeks, the Warriors seemingly have been stuck in neutral. After Hawaii beat New Mexico State, Fresno State and Nevada, the Warriors actually fell from No. 14 to No. 15 in the BCS standings.

"We knew from the start that we had to win them all to get any respect," Warriors coach June Jones said.

Beating Boise State, the five-time defending WAC champion, would be a pretty good start. The Warriors never have beaten the Broncos during WAC play, losing six games in a row, including a 41-34 loss in Boise, Idaho, last season. Boise State won 44-41 in its last trip to Hawaii in 2005.

"Everybody has been wanting to play Boise, after the last two years, because of how crazy the games have been," Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan said.

It has been a crazy season for Brennan, the record-setting quarterback who came into the season as a Heisman Trophy candidate. The senior has missed most of three games because of injuries, and his record-setting production has gone largely unnoticed nationally.

Brennan threw only two passes in Week 12's 28-26 win at Nevada, after suffering a concussion a week earlier against Fresno State. Jones said Brennan will start against the Broncos on Friday night.

Brennan ranks fourth nationally in pass efficiency, completing 69 percent of his passes for 3,237 yards with 28 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

"He's a special player," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. "He's just got a knack for finding receivers and throwing the ball in tight coverage. He's one of those guys that has 'it.' "

But Brennan, who needs only one more touchdown pass to break former BYU quarterback Ty Detmer's NCAA Division I-A career record of 121, is barely mentioned among Heisman Trophy favorites.

"Last year, I played Alabama, Arizona State and an undefeated Boise State team," Brennan said. "I had the best statistical season but wasn't invited to [the Heisman Trophy ceremony]. It didn't matter. I think winning football games is what's it's all about."

Few teams have won as much as Boise State during the new millenium. Both the Broncos and Warriors are 7-0 in WAC play. If Boise State wins, it will be the fifth time in six seasons it has finished unbeaten in conference play.

Boise State's only loss this season was a 24-10 defeat at Washington on Sept. 8.

"This is our bowl game right now," Johnson said. "This game is really huge. We've done everything to get ourselves to this point. We lost that one game, but now we've got ourselves turned around. This is the pinnacle for our season."

In an inequitable sport, Johnson might actually be speaking for both teams.

"I'm never surprised about how those things go," Petersen said of the BCS standings. "I think when it's all said and done, and after everybody has played their final game, hopefully the rankings will be where they need to be. If we take care of our business, we'll play somewhere good, and we'll all be happy and have smiles on our faces."

Jones has even bigger dreams for the Warriors.

"I don't think if we go unbeaten that we'll be left out," Jones said. "If we go unbeaten, I think not only will we not be left out, but I think Colt will win the Heisman Trophy. If we go undefeated, he will win the Heisman Trophy. You can book that."

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.