It’s always fun when the Boise State football team rolls through September undefeated to speculate where this season could lead.
Often, something goes wrong along the way. (See: 2010, 2011, 2016.) But that’s not going to stop us from gazing into the crystal ball.
And, boy, are there some tantalizing possibilities for the No. 16 Broncos (4-0), who return to action Saturday at UNLV (8:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network).
▪ A date with Notre Dame? The highest-ranked champion of a Group of Five conference is slotted into the Cotton Bowl this year, played Dec. 28 at the home of the Dallas Cowboys — and how fitting would that be? The Cowboys are even home the next day, so offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and the rest of the blue-and-orange Cowboys would get a chance to interact with the team.
Even better: The current favorite to play in the Cotton Bowl opposite the Group of Five qualifier is No. 9 Notre Dame, whose only loss was a nail-biter at national title contender Georgia. A date with the Fighting Irish would energize fans locally, draw a monster TV rating and give the Broncos what they missed out on in the 2010 and 2014 Fiesta Bowls — a chance to line up with one of college football’s most-storied programs.
▪ Could the Broncos make the College Football Playoff? No. Even with unimaginable chaos at the top of the polls, the Broncos’ schedule won’t allow them to get anywhere near the top four.
▪ Could the Broncos get snubbed by the CFP committee? Yes. If Boise State and UCF win out (or, if each loses once the rest of the season), the CFP committee would have to weigh the two schedules and conferences. The Broncos’ schedule strength is down this year because of the Mountain West rotation. However, the conference certainly has helped with its eight wins vs. Power Five, nonconference opponents — two more than any other conference. The SEC, Big 12 and American (UCF’s conference) have six each.
▪ Could ESPN’s “College GameDay” return? ESPN’s flagship college football show broadcast from the blue turf leading up to the 2010 Boise State-Oregon State game — and the spectacle was one of the highlights of that era of Broncos football. The Broncos don’t have a home matchup remaining that will meet the lofty standards of “GameDay,” so they’d probably need some luck with the national schedule. The Hawaii game runs into interference from Florida-LSU, Penn State-Iowa and others. The Wyoming game is the same day as LSU-Alabama. And the New Mexico game runs into Georgia-Auburn.
There was some hope for the Oct. 19 Boise State-BYU game in Provo, but the Cougars’ loss last week at Toledo removed much of the luster from that. “GameDay” hasn’t originated from Provo in 10 years. The top national game that day is Oregon-Washington.
Still, “GameDay” has shown an increased willingness to stray from the sport’s marquee programs in recent years — even without an ideal matchup on the field. It has broadcast from Ames, Iowa, this year (Iowa-Iowa State), Orlando last year (UCF-Cincinnati), Harrisonburg, Virginia, in 2017 and 2015 (James Madison of the Football Championship Subdivision), Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 2016 (Western Michigan-Buffalo), Fargo, North Dakota, in 2014 and 2013 (North Dakota State of the FCS) and Boston in 2014 (Harvard-Yale).
Boise State certainly holds appeal for ESPN, between true freshman quarterback Hank Bachmeier, the Broncos’ unique relationship with the network and the success of the 2010 “GameDay” broadcast. That day is even memorialized at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, which has a scene of Boise fans in the backdrop for the replica “GameDay” set.
And then there’s this: It’s possible that, by mid-October, Boise State will pass Michigan and Ohio State as the winningest program in college football history by percentage. The formula: Three straight Boise State wins and one Michigan loss (vs. Iowa, at Illinois, at Penn State).
▪ Where are the road blocks? Hawaii (4-1) could provide a sneaky test next week on The Blue, and BYU (2-3) already has a home win against USC. In November, the Broncos will face Wyoming (4-1) — a team that upset Missouri of the SEC — and travel to Utah State (3-1), which remains one of the top contenders for the Mountain West title and is already 2-0 in the conference. Boise State also could play in the Mountain West championship game again, with Hawaii, Fresno State and San Diego State the leading contenders in the West Division.
▪ How high can they go? The Broncos are No. 16 in The Associated Press Top 25 and No. 15 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll. They haven’t cracked the top 10 since the end of the 2011 season (No. 8), Moore’s final year at quarterback.
Boise State climbed to No. 13 in 2016 with a 7-0 record before losing at Wyoming. It finished No. 16 with a 12-2 record after the 2014 Fiesta Bowl win against Arizona.
The Broncos are likely to tread water in the polls for a while, with a top-heavy college football season with teams who lose head-to-head battles at the top of the polls likely to stay in the top 15 — like Notre Dame did after losing to Georgia, and Texas after losing to LSU.
Of the teams in front of Boise State, Iowa and the Oregon-Washington loser seem the most vulnerable. Florida and Penn State could sustain multiple losses eventually. That would get the Broncos to the neighborhood of No. 12 — but getting back into the top 10 likely would require a 14-0 record, including a win against a team like Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl.
Chadd Cripe is the Idaho Statesman’s assistant editor and sports columnist. Contact him at email@example.com and follow @chaddcripe on Twitter.