Sure, Boise had put together a few good seasons by then after moving up to Division I-A in 1996, and there had been some close calls against Washington State, Arkansas and even Oregon State just the year prior in Corvallis.
But on September 10, 2004, the Broncos did something they had never done before. They not only beat a Pac 10 team for the first time in school history; they bludgeoned the Beavers with a 53-point outburst to put an exclamation point on the fact that they had arrived.
While the Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma will probably go down as the game most people recall, it’s often a forgotten and overlooked contest on the blue field inside Bronco Stadium that carved a path for Boise’s ascension to the elite of college football.
No, they didn’t beat USC during their illegal glory years or Alabama or Michigan, but that’s just the point of such a win. Oregon State was a winnable game at that time. And it was a win that propelled the Broncos to an undefeated regular season. The only thing that soiled the campaign was a last second loss to Louisville in the Liberty Bowl.
It all set the stage for what happened two years later when Boise repeated the feat taking Oregon State to the woodshed (42-14) on its way to a perfect 13-0 record including that aforementioned classic against Oklahoma. By the time the second win over the Beavers had occurred, Boise was showing the way to the rest of us for how to emerge from the obscurity of college football’s basement.
With three wins over Vanderbilt and two over Maryland, one could argue that Middle Tennessee has already achieved as much as Boise with respect to the number of BCS conference wins. That would be true, but Vandy is still Vandy and the program has also undermined its own success with difficult schedules. One has to wonder what impact, if any, losing non-conference money games has on the psychological behavior of kids playing for schools the ESPN-driven sports media have deemed not as worthy?
Where Boise State went right and where most other non-AQ schools have gone wrong is with scheduling. Rarely has Boise loaded up its schedule with a murderer’s row of elite college football programs. You’ll never see USC, UCLA and Oregon as Boise’s first three games. Although many opponents have intentionally avoided Boise, much of the their approach to scheduling has included what could arguably be considered looking for “winnable games" and limiting games against opponents that could undo it's own successes.
All games are winnable to a degree, so this is perhaps a bit of a paradox to say that Boise has scheduled games that are perceptually more winnable than others. Defining this can be challenging and certainly subjective, but in the most simplistic terms it’s games against automatic qualifier conference opponents that don’t have a history of consistently producing conference championships, being ranked in the Top 25 or who have not had a recent string of successful seasons.
Despite the fact that Middle Tennessee has scheduled smarter in recent years, it’s still not been in line with how Boise approaches it philosophy toward opponents. In the years where Middle Tennessee defeated a BCS school in one of those “winnable games”, the average number of BCS opponents in those same seasons is more than three games (3.4). In those other games, the Blue Raiders have gone 0-12.
This season is similar with three games scheduled against programs from a BCS automatic qualifier conference. Middle Tennessee opened with one of those so-called winnable games against Purdue and nearly pulled out the win and probably should have. Purdue has only won eight Big Ten Championships since 1918 and the last occurred over a decade ago. Purdue also has recently lost against programs that are nearly a carbon copy of Middle Tennessee (i.e. Northern Illinois, Toledo). Purdue certainly fit the criteria of a winnable game for Middle Tennessee.
Georgia Tech may or not fit that description depending on your pre-conceived assumptions. You could argue that any program that’s won a national championship in the modern area as Georgia Tech did in 1990 should be avoided. And the Yellow Jackets have won three ACC championships since 1998. Last year they had a 13-year consecutive winning streak snapped, so Georgia Tech may not be the type of program you want to target in your scheduling. The Yellow Jackets have undergone a very successful renaissance in the past decade plus. However, the Rambling Wreck may have capitulated and could be in the beginning stages of a slide, so perhaps this is the perfect time catch the Yellow Jackets?
So here’s the rub. Middle Tennessee already owns wins over SEC and ACC programs, but the Blue Raiders haven’t defeated a program that’s won a national championship in the modern era, and it may take that for the Blue Raiders to get to where they want to go. Maryland last won a national title in 1953.
A win over Georgia Tech has the potential to do more (or at least as much) for Middle Tennessee than Boise’s win over Oregon State did for them. There are a number of reasons, but the main one is because of the long-lasting impact it could have throughout the college football crazed southeast. Boise defeating Oregon State didn’t register much of a tremor nationally at the time. In fact, most of you probably don’t remember September 10, 2004, but defeating Georgia Tech could be much bigger than the three wins over Vandy or either win over Maryland.
To this point, Middle Tennessee hasn’t gotten the same bump off of any of those wins that Boise got in their first win over a Pac 10 school, largely in part, because the Broncos began to consistently compile 10-win seasons at the same time – something Middle Tennessee has only done once since moving up in classification. The Blue Raiders have undermined its own success due to a schedule that's often looked more like an SEC or ACC schedule than a Sun Belt schedule. The point being is it's very difficult to build a program into a consistent winner like that -- something Boise State figured out before anyone else. Seven years later, Boise now has the facilities and the gravitas to recruit football players that now make them a favorite over SEC programs - much like they were in Saturday's annilation of Georgia in a defacto home game for the Bulldogs.
So that brings us to the exact same day of the year (Sept 10) seven years later. Middle Tennessee will face Georgia Tech Saturday with an opportunity to propel the program to the next level. Will history repeat itself for a program desperately hoping to achieve the same success as the Broncos? There is no question, the Blue Raiders face more challenges rising to the top than have the Broncos. The shadows cast by the SEC and ACC are more prominent barriers than those of the Pac 10, not only with the news media, but also with the psyche of the southeastern college football fan and high school recruit.
For Middle Tennessee to ascend, it’s going to take victories over a program like Georgia Tech or Tennessee, and perhaps this is the year that a game against a school like Georgia Tech could be considered a “winnable” opportunity?
The outcome of Saturday’s game could very well give us a glimpse into where Blue Raiders football will be seven years from now and there would be no better time than to position Middle Tennessee for the next 100 years than on the anniversary of its first 100.