By Chadd Cripe
© 2012 Idaho Statesman
The Boise State football team’s season-opening loss to Michigan State was a TV ratings winner.
The game drew a 3.2 rating and 4,194,000 viewers — the third-highest rating for a Friday night game in ESPN history. The two higher-rated games were both ends of a doubleheader on Thanksgiving weekend in 2010. Those games: Oregon-Arizona (5.3) and Boise State-Nevada (3.9).
The only game on this past Friday, Saturday or Sunday that drew a higher rating was Saturday night’s Alabama-Michigan game (4.8) on ABC. There is a media report that says Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech on Monday night on ESPN was No. 2 last week, but ESPN hasn’t released that rating.
One week into the season, there already is some clarity in the race among non-BCS teams to earn automatic berths into the BCS.
Ohio, with its win at Penn State, is in the driver’s seat. Nevada, with its win at California, looks good, too. And Boise State, which is higher ranked than either of them despite losing to Michigan State, still has a shot.
Houston, meanwhile, is out. The Cougars were blown out by Texas State in the opener. Some writer ranked them the top potential BCS buster other than Boise State going into the season. Not sure what that guy was thinking.
So here is a revised look at the top candidates. Remember the rules: A team must win its conference and finish in the top 12 of the BCS, or in the top 16 and ahead of a BCS-conference champion. If multiple teams qualify, the highest-ranked goes.
Keep in mind this is not a ranking of the best team, but of the team with the best chance to reach the BCS.
1. Ohio (MAC): The Bobcats won a bowl game last season for the first time in school history. Now Frank Solich has them positioned to make a BCS push. Their biggest asset and potential obstacle is the same: the schedule. The Bobcats don’t have any tests left on the non-conference schedule — at Marshall is the closest — and they caught a break in the conference schedule that allows them to miss the top West Division teams until the conference title game.
2. Nevada (MWC): The Wolf Pack face South Florida on Saturday in Reno. If they can add a Big East victim to their opening win at California, they become a significant threat. Like Ohio, they caught a break from the conference schedule — Boise State, San Diego State, Fresno State and Wyoming all have to visit Reno. The Boise State-Nevada game to end the season could be a winner-take-all showdown.
3. Boise State (MWC): The Broncos couldn’t get to the BCS the past two years with a loss because TCU was undefeated in 2010 and they didn’t win the conference title in 2011. If they win out this year, they would win the Mountain West and should at least be ranked in the top 16 — particularly if Michigan State wins the Big Ten. That’s a tall order, though — the Broncos could face two more ranked opponents in BYU and Nevada.
4. Louisiana Tech (WAC): The Bulldogs’ opener against Texas A&M was postponed by hurricane, and that could be a problem. Texas A&M would have been playing its first game under a new coaching staff in the opener. The Aggies should be more prepared for the meeting later in the season. Louisiana Tech also has road games against Illinois and Virginia, so going undefeated — a necessity for a WAC team — will be difficult.
5. UCF (C-USA): The Knights get their big chance this week at Ohio State. They also get a visit from Missouri on Sept. 29. Two wins seems unlikely, but it would be enough to push them well into the polls. An interesting subplot: The Knights were given a bowl ban by the NCAA for this year but have appealed. So it’s possible they will be ineligible for a bowl, and they might not find out for sure until late in the season.