LEAF: Undefeated carries unmatched weight

AFTER NINE straight weeks on the field, injury-riddled Washington State is in serious need of a bye. And so am I after the drubbing ASU inflicted on WSU last week. So in an attempt to step away and get renewed perspective on where the Cougs have been and where they're going, I'm taking my own bye this week. No Cougar talk. Instead, I'm jumping into one of the hottest topics in college football.

Do Boise State, TCU and Utah belong in the national title picture?

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Any team in this country can line up and win on any given Saturday.

The biggest drawback you hear about Boise State, TCU and Utah is that they just don't play a tough enough schedule to warrant national title consideration. I understand this argument. Oregon, Ohio State, and anyone in the SEC has to play a major opponent pretty much every week, year in and year out. A team that can go undefeated in the Pac-10, SEC, Big-12, or Big-10 deserves to be in the national championship game. There really are no two ways about that.

If Auburn and Oregon stay undefeated, there is no doubt they belong in the BCS Championship. But if either of them gets upset along the way, then the championship game, I believe, goes to the two teams with the best records. Period.

People keep saying you can't bring up the past -- i.e. Boise State's Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma or Utah's Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama -- when talking about the merits of this 2010 season. I say nonsense. Those two games proved that these programs belong. Football is a game about preparation, technique, and heart. People talk about a team's body of work. But as a former player and college coach, I can tell you that taking it one week at a time is the cardinal rule of football. Focusing on the task at hand is what matters. That's the same philosophy that should reign supreme in this debate. Teams that take care of business each week of the season have earned the opportunity to take care of business in post-season prime time -- just as Boise State did against Oklahoma and Utah against 'Bama.

These programs long ago dispelled the notion that they don't belong on the same stage as the big boys. It's a bit like Gonzaga basketball. In the first five years of their national climb, they were often dissed because of their conference. Nowadays, it's pretty much presumed that they're a perennial top 20 team that can hold their own with virtually anybody in the nation.

The Boise State discussion will no doubt rage right through this season and probably on into the next as well. Boise State beat Virginia Tech -- in the Hokies' backyard -- in the season opener and VT is now poised to win the ACC Championship. Boise State beat Oregon State and the Beavs are going bowling yet again this winter, perhaps even to the Rose Bowl if Oregon heads to Glendale.

Last year and the year before that the Broncs beat Oregon.

Boise State has proven time and again over the years that they prepare harder and play with more heart than just about any opponent you line up against them. Do they really deserve to be dismissed from the national title discussion the way so many national pundits think they should?

Isn't what we want in a national championship game the two teams that didn't lose a game all year?

We're talking about teams that are bona fide members of Division I-A. Boise State, TCU and Utah play Division I-A schedules. This is not some idle speculation about how a Division I-AA Appalachian State might do. These are college football powers. Let them play for the big prize if they go undefeated.

The one good thing to come out of all this do they or don't they talk is that the cry for some sort of national system will continue to grow louder. If a non-automatic qualifier, like Boise State, gets into the big game and wins, it would be Exhibit A as to why a national playoff system is needed. How many Boise States over the years have been denied their rightful place, or at least their rightful chance?

The playoff debate also will hit overdrive if Oregon and Auburn remain undefeated and play for the national championship, while the winner of this weekend's Utah-TCU game remains undefeated, along with Boise State, and winds up against the Broncs in the "national runners-up bowl." When all this dust settled you'd still have two undefeated teams left standing, with no possibility of them settling matters on the field. That of course begs for a playoff system.

Such is the madness of college football. But right now, in my one-game-at-a-time view of the world, I'm thinking only one thing matters: Time for the Cougs to beat Cal!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ryan Leaf is a Washington State graduate who quarterbacked the 1997 Cougars to the Pac-10 title, a top 10 national finish and a berth in the 1998 Rose Bowl. He shattered records, earned first-team All-America honors, and was a Heisman Trophy finalist. He later spent four seasons in the NFL, and three seasons as the quarterbacks coach at West Texas A&M. Today, Ryan still keeps many balls in the air. He works in sales and marketing for West Coast Resorts, has become a passionate advocate for those trying to overcome addiction to prescription painkillers, is pursuing varied business interests, and writing a periodic column for CF.C. He can be contacted at rdl16@aol.com.

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