Playoff is a problem for the little guys

Boise State worked its way into college football lore with a little bit of trickery and a whole lot of gumption, pulling an upset for the ages over Oklahoma to start 2007 and completing a perfect 13-0 season in the process.

At the time, the Broncos were the lovable upstarts, the plucky underdogs nobody really knew much about. They were Butler before Butler.

Only, Boise State did not take all the love and walk quietly out the door. Boise State kept winning and winning, threatening to disrupt a BCS system that rewarded teams from only the biggest, most powerful conferences with national championship game appearances.

Over a few short years, Boise State became the most polarizing team in college football. Lines were drawn: You were either for the little guys from the smaller conferences, or you raged against them. There was no room to appreciate their style of play or the talent assembled nor the hard work and preparation necessary to actually go undefeated.

There was no more room to embrace Boise State. But there was plenty of room to try to tear the Broncos down. Arguments erupted about their weak schedule, the pitiful WAC and how they would never survive in a tougher league.

Utah (2004) and TCU (2009), playing outside the Power Five in that era, also made BCS bowl games and won. But those programs never got the same vitriol of Boise State. In fact, those programs cashed in on their Mountain West and BCS success, earning safe harbor into the Power Five.

Boise State did not. So where does that leave the Broncos and all their small-conference brethren now that the College Football Playoff era begins?

Almost assuredly, out of the mix.

Again.

Is it any coincidence the College Football Playoff selection committee will put a premium on strength of schedule? All those knocks against Boise State in the BCS era will be magnified and scrutinized in a much bigger way now.

That criterion makes it feel as if half the programs in college football are completely disqualified from playoff contention before the season even begins. There are only 64 tickets into Power Five conferences at this time. Add into the mix the recent autonomy ruling, another striking blow to the Group of Five (American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt), and a clear message has been sent.

Those in power are trying to permanently stack the deck in their favor. Yet those on the outside maintain hope. Because without hope, there is no real way to believe in a system that, in the words of San Diego State coach Rocky Long, makes it "almost impossible" for the little guy to hold up a championship trophy in January.

"One of our coaches said it best -- we've been out-housed, out-clothed and out-fed for a long time, but we've won bowl games, we've won regular-season games and we're playing these guys from the [power] five 20 times a year," Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said. "It's up to us, then, to win those games and achieve and build our résumé."

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