When the announcement that everyone expected was finally spoken, just about everyone who was listening from Idaho to Texas to, well, everywhere in the United States, uttered the same exasperated sound: "UGH!" Any noise that varied from this syllable probably conveyed some combination of expletives.
Every year, when officials announce the pairings for the five Bowl Championship Series games, the nation shares a collective moment of disappointment. Feeling cheated by the BCS system has evolved into a kneejerk reaction for sports fans across America. Like breathing and sleeping, it just happens - no matter what happens.
This year, conspiracy theorists cried foul when replay officials overturned the final score of the Big 12 Championship, allowing the Texas Longhorns one more chance and one more second to kick their way into the National Championship Game, avoiding a whole hooey of controversy in the process. For once, only a small minority would dispute the top two teams heading into bowl season: Alabama and Texas.
Of course, nothing could possibly prove that simple for the BCS. Nebraska's loss guaranteed a big money bowl for the Boise State Broncos, who would join the Texas Christian Horned Frogs as the second undefeated non-BCS conference invitee. Since this system was instituted in 1998, never before had two non-BCS schools busted into the elite tier of bowl games - let alone two schools boasting unblemished records.
Lovers of the underdog salivated at the prospect of two small programs having the chance to throttle two separate big name schools - in this scenario, the defending champion Florida Gators and undefeated Big East champion Cincinnati Bearcats. As long as the BCS did not 'cop out' and pit the Broncos and Horned Frogs against each other in January, critics would have kept their mouths shut for the next month.
OOPS! UGH! BSU versus TCU - January 4, 2010 at the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona.
Unsurprisingly, everyone and their mothers think the BCS got it all wrong, as per usual. Looking at the bowl half empty, this consensus is correct. Looking at the bowl half full, the critics are - believe it or not - the ones that are wrong.
Every year, fans demand that the most deserving, talented, and successful college football programs have the opportunity to face each other in the best bowl possible. With the national title game out of the question, the Fiesta Bowl was actually blessed with the third- and fourth-best teams in the country: Boise State and Texas Christian.
An overwhelming desire to stick it to the perennial powerhouse programs is understandable - but people who want to overthrow the BCS need to be careful what they wish for.
Boise State's miraculous overtime upset of Oklahoma in 2007's Fiesta Bowl and Utah's dismantling of Alabama at the Sugar Bowl last season have lured underdog lovers into a dangerous false sense of overconfidence. The Cinderella inside all of us wants to believe that, if you match TCU against Florida, the Horned Frogs top-ranked defense will unquestionably stop Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and the Gators offense.
Possible? Of course. Probable? Maybe. Would you bet your mother's life on it? Hell no!
The risk BCS bashers take by separating Boise State and TCU into two high-stake games is the possibility of two highly embarrassing blowouts. If the Broncos and Horned Frogs played down to the average level of their respective conferences and lost decisively on the national stage, the repercussions for non-BCS schools would be felt for years to come.
Instead, the Fiesta Bowl will feature a battle of undefeated schools for the first time ever in a BCS bowl game that was not for the national championship. Rather than perpetuating a pattern of self-pity, Boise State and TCU finally have a platform to preach success from.
After criticizing the BCS for years, these programs can finally praise the convoluted system - and use that to their advantage. Instead of crying disrespect, both schools can commend the BCS for finally getting it right, showcasing the two next-best football teams in the same game. By legitimizing themselves, Boise State and TCU suddenly elevate themselves into previously unchartered territory: the land of the elite.
It does not matter whether you think the Broncos and Horned Frogs are truly justified in asserting these claims - they are in the position to do so. And suddenly, schools like Florida and Ohio State are the ones shouting from below, forced to answer questions in the voice of the inferior team.
None of it has to be true, but come on, how many publicity campaigns have never embellished some quasi-truths in one way or another? For Boise State and Texas Christian, it is simply a matter of convincing everyone that this year's Fiesta Bowl is truly the second-most important game of the year - that their football programs were not gypped, but actually rewarded.