OBNUG's Kevan will be writing this post in the first person in order to convey gravity and to absolve the other members of OBNUG from any association with his opinions. They appreciate this more than you know.
The 2008 Boise State Broncos are one of the top teams in America. This is a fact. I just looked it up on Graham Watson's web site.
The 2008 team has rolled through the regular season undefeated, dominated conference opponents, won on the road against BCS teams, and overcame adversity, youth, and inexperience. They are great. No question about it.
But are they the greatest?
This is where the matter gets tricky, and then it gets messy, and then it gets sad.
First, for the tricky part.
When you think of great Boise State teams, there are several that come to mind. First and foremost is the I-AA national champion 1980 team with Cedric Minter and Randy Trautman. That team was great, and for the longest time they were the gold standard by which all other Boise State teams were measured.
Then came the era of the quarterback with Tony Hilde, Bart Hendricks, and Ryan Dinwiddie. These teams advanced Boise State football from I-AA power to I-A up-and-comer, and they set the stage for some great years under Dan Hawkins. Hawkins' finest hour was in 2004 with Zabransky at the helm of the offense and Andy Avalos leading the defense. The 2004 team went undefeated through the regular season before losing 44-40 to No. 7 Louisville in the Liberty Bowl.
Two years later, we all remember the 2006 team with Ian Johnson, Zabransky, and Korey Hall. Their undefeated season and Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma still gets the team traction to this day. Beating Oklahoma is, in the minds of many, the greatest moment in BSU history.
With all due respect to the 1980 team (and even the 1958 JC champion team coached by Lyle Smith), this discussion of greatest Boise State team should really be focused on the teams that have excelled in Division I-A, the highest division in all of college football. And for that discussion, you can pretty much narrow it down to the 2004 Liberty Bowl season, the 2006 Fiesta Bowl year, and today's 2008 BSU squad.
Now, it gets messy.
Picking between these three teams is tough. Each went undefeated in the regular season and put up some downright scary numbers. The best way to compare all three is to really put all the numbers side-by-side, which is what I had a co-worker do in Microsoft Excel for me. Observe:
As you can see, each team has something unique going for it. The 2004 team had the better offense. The 2006 team was ranked higher and defeated a tougher opponent. The 2008 team has had the stingiest defense, won by the biggest margin, and faced the hardest schedule.
Let's say for the sake of argument that the 2004 team is out of the discussion due to its loss to Louisville. If we are going to be talking about the greatest Boise State season in history, then we need to choose an undefeated one. That's my new rule I just made up. Sorry, Hawk.
So that brings it down to the 2006 team and the 2008 team.
There is absolutely, positively no denying the greatness of the 2006 Boise State Broncos - not in the history of BSU football, and not even in the history of college football. This team did everything that was asked of it, and they finished the season as the only undefeated team in the country. No other team could claim the same level of success as BSU in 2006. Nobody. They played strong defense and great offense. They beat every team on their schedule, and they upset a top-ranked team from a BCS conference. There was not a single chink in their armor. They were great - historically great.
But who's to say that the 2008 team couldn't have reached the same heights?
This is where the conversation takes a turn towards the sad.
No one can compare the 2006 and 2008 Boise State teams because there is not going to be a chance to place this year's team in the same situation as the Fiesta Bowl winners from two years ago. The 2008 team is undefeated, yes, and they are ranked in the Top Ten. But that's where the fun ends.
If the Broncos beat TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl, it will be a great victory over a solid team, and it should help the Broncos be set up very well for 2009. But it will do nothing for their legacy other than cementing their status as an undefeated team. For some people, this may be enough. Undefeated is great, but as far as I'm concerned, legendary is better.
Beating TCU is not the same as beating Oklahoma, even if the Horned Frogs are BCS-conference caliber. In the discussion of great teams in Boise State history, there will be no comparison between the 2006 Goliath killers and the (possible) 2008 Mountain West killers. That argument would hold zero weight.
The only way we could have ever found out just how great this 2008 Boise State team is if they had played in a BCS bowl. That's it. Anything else will always leave the question open-ended.
The 2008 team was not perfect, but neither was the 2006 squad. A 20-7 win over Bowling Green by Kellen Moore and gang looks just as awkward a 23-20 win over SJSU by Zabransky. Both offense struggled at times and looked great at others. The defenses were spectacular. These teams were similar in so many different areas, including their level of success.
The biggest difference is that the 2006 team got to prove themselves on a national stage in a well-deserved matchup against a BCS school where all of America could judge if the Broncos belonged or not.
Is the 2008 Boise State football season the greatest season in the history of Boise State football? We'll never know.
But we'll always wonder.