Boise State is at it again.
Coach Chris Petersen's Broncos are quietly piling up victories with a team that underwent a major reconstruction.
"Boise State's always been pretty good at football for whatever reasons," Petersen said Monday.
And wouldn't you know it, the Broncos are threatening to bust into the BCS. There's a twist this time.
After all those seasons Boise State was shut out of the best bowl games in favor of brand name teams from more high-profile conferences, now it's the benefit of the doubt the Broncos are getting from poll voters that might push them onto the big postseason stage in their last season in the Mountain West.
The Broncos were one of the most debated and divisive teams in the country the last few years. Good, but how good? Boise State fans felt the Broncos got overlooked and slighted. Others felt they were overrated, a product of a weak schedule and sympathetic media coverage.
The Broncos kept the debate raging by winning, a lot.
Since Petersen took over in 2006, Boise State is 80-7 and has twice made it to — and won — BCS games.
But the last two seasons, with one of the best teams in the country, quarterback Kellen Moore and the Broncos had to settle for bowl trips to Las Vegas, while teams such as Virginia Tech, Michigan, Arkansas and Ohio State were handed at-large BCS bids.
Moore, Doug Martin and about a dozen other Broncos from those teams have now moved on to the NFL. The Broncos have had as much turnover, not just quality but quantity, as any team in the nation this season.
Boise State opened the season with a 17-13 loss at Michigan State, and hasn't lost since, winning seven straight.
The defense has been one of the nation's best, allowing 311 yards per game. The new stars are linebacker J.C. Percy and defensive end Demarcus Lawrence.
The offense, with new starting quarterback Joe Southwick, is coming along, though it's not nearly as potent as it was in recent years. The Broncos are tied for 59th in yards per play (5.8). But they've only lost 12 turnovers, and are seventh in the nation in turnover margin at plus-11.
Simply put, Boise State is good again, though a familiar problem persists: Strength of schedule. The Broncos don't have a victory against a ranked team, and the Mountain West isn't quite what they hoped it would be when they decided to leave the Western Athletic Conference a few years ago. The Sagarin computer rankings rate Boise State's schedule 78th-best among Division I teams.
It's the reason why next season Boise State will be on the move again, joining the new Big East, where the Broncos will have access to an automatic BCS bid for the last year of the Bowl Championship Series.
The Broncos face what looks to be a challenge on Saturday when San Diego State (6-3, 4-1) visits. After that they travel to Hawaii, and play Colorado State at home, before finishing the season at Nevada, another potentially tricky hurdle.
Despite the so-so competition, Boise State has been ranked for most of the season, and should continue to rise in the rankings — even if only slightly — if it keeps winning. The Broncos have become a reliable commodity, the type of team that voters can trust. So while Louisiana Tech and a bevy of quality Mid-American Conference teams struggle for attention and poll votes this season, Boise State keeps rolling along.
Though, to be fair, Boise State's schedule rates better than any of those other potential BCS busters.
Boise State will have a tough time getting a top-12 ranking in the final BCS standings, which along with a conference title, could give the Broncos an automatic BCS bid. They have taken that route to the BCS before. But if they can get into the final top 16 and be ranked higher than a champion from one of the automatic qualifying conferences, the Broncos are in.
The Big Ten's struggles are aiding Boise State's cause. Nebraska is the only team ranked in the BCS top 25. The Cornhuskers are a spot behind the Broncos at No. 20. If they win out all the way through the Big Ten championship game, the Huskers will probably pass Boise State. If not, it will be tough for any other Big Ten team to do so. Aside from postseason-ineligible Ohio State, Nebraska (6-2, 3-1) is the only Big Ten team with less than three losses.
The irony, of course, is this Boise State wouldn't stand a chance against the ones Petersen rolled out the last two seasons. Those Broncos could play with any team in the country, but the system left them without a spot, sent them to pound Utah and Arizona State in late December, instead getting to prove themselves against another top-10 team.
This season, Boise State could wind up in the BCS with a team that might not be capable of matching up against a highly rated opponent.
Say this about the Broncos, they are always interesting.
Barring a major meltdown by Notre Dame against inferior teams in the next few weeks, Manti Te'o looks like a lock to be a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Te'o has had a remarkable season, leading one of the top defenses in the nation with 80 tackles, two fumble recoveries and five interceptions. Notre Dame's defense has been one of the best in the nation and Te'o is the best player on the No. 4 team in the country.
The interceptions have been key to his candidacy. He's tied for second in the nation and only one other linebacker, USC's Dion Bailey, has as many as four.
Te'o's diving pick of a tipped pass against Oklahoma, a turnover that set up a field that ultimately sealed the game for the Irish, was the type of highlight reel moment that makes a Heisman campaign. Even if there is still some debate about whether he did catch it.
A pure defensive player has never won the Heisman, and it's unlikely that will change this season. But when the invitation to the Heisman presentation in New York comes, Te'o will be the first finalist from Notre Dame since Brady Quinn in 2005.
— Western Kentucky defensive end Quanterus Smith had five sacks in a victory against Florida International on Saturday and leads the nation with 11.5 and 1.64 per game. The senior uses yoga as part of his training.
— Huge credit to Navy and coach Ken Niumatalolo for an impressive in-season turnaround. The Midshipmen were 1-3 after a 12-0 loss at home to San Jose State. It was the first time in six years Navy had been shut out. Navy has won four in a row since behind freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who has the Middies' option offense humming again. Navy had an eight-season bowl streak snapped last year, but is a victory from being back in the postseason with Florida Atlantic (2-6) coming to Annapolis, Md., on Saturday.
— Maryland has lost four quarterbacks to season-ending injuries and will start freshman linebacker Shawn Petty, who played quarterback and high school, at QB against Georgia Tech on Saturday. Petty played quarterback in high school and has been seeing time there in practice when the injuries started piling up recently.
"I was coming over here today, and I got in the car, and my seat was hot. And I looked up, and I had hit the seat warmer." — Kentucky coach Joker Phillips, trying to keep his sense of humor while his job status is in doubt.
AP Sports Writer Gary Graves in Lexington, Ky., contributed to this report.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoap
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