One of the unforeseen perks of the maligned Bowl Championship Series was the annual major-bowl quest of the mid-major.
Will the last year of the BCS mean the last year of the underdog?
Not necessarily, but the new College Football Playoff in two years will be different and less intriguing.
Instead of a madcap BCS standings race for a coveted “BCS buster” spot, the lucky winner will be hand-picked by a selection committee.
The committee will determine the top team from the “Group of Five” leagues and place it into a major bowl game.
Except, there will be six major bowl games starting in 2014 instead of four, with the Cotton and Chick-fil-A being added to the rotation.
BCS honchos never wanted lower-tiered schools involved and rigged the system in 1998 to make it extremely difficult.
A school from outside the “power six” conference structure had to finish top six to earn an automatic bid to a major bowl.
No “non-automatic-qualifying” school came close in the first six years.
Tulane finished undefeated in 1998 and ended only No. 10.
In 2004, though, Utah threaded the BCS needle and finished No. 6.
Urban Meyer’s Utes then capped a perfect season with a win over Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl.
The rules were later relaxed so that a non-AQ had only to finish in the top 12, or top 16 if it was ranked higher than one of the six AQ champions.
Boise State took advantage in 2006 to make underdog history when it finished No. 8 to earn a Fiesta Bowl spot and then shocked Oklahoma in, arguably, the greatest game in BCS history.
Mid-majors used the big-bowl carrot for motivation and the thing took on a life of its own.
Hawaii broke through at No. 10 in 2007 and earned a Sugar Bowl trip, losing to Georgia.
The next year, Utah got the bid at No. 6 and scored a huge upset over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
A year later, two non-AQ schools earned major bowl bids with Boise State defeating Texas Christian in the Fiesta Bowl.
In 2010, TCU made more history when it earned the auto bid and turned the Rose Bowl purple with a win over Wisconsin.
The new College Football Playoff will be here before you know it. That leaves only one more year for a true “BCS” buster.
Here are five leading contenders:
1. Boise State. No surprise. The Broncos, at No. 19, are the highest ranked non-AQ team in the USA Today preseason poll.
Boise State is coming off an 11-2 season that was considered sub-par by some Broncos fans. The toughest obstacle is a schedule that starts at Washington. Boise State also plays at Brigham Young, Fresno State and San Diego State.
2. Fresno State. The Bulldogs became a BCS contender when quarterback Derek Carr (37 touchdowns) announced he was returning for his senior year. Fresno State opens with a home game against Rutgers and also gets Boise State in Fresno on Sept. 20.
3. Utah State. The Aggies are coming off an 11-2 season and return Chuckie Keeton at quarterback. They have two big chances to make an impression against Pac-12 schools with trips to Utah (Aug. 29) and USC (Sept. 21).
4. Northern Illinois. The Mid-American champions sneaked into the BCS last year at No. 15 before losing to Florida State in the Orange Bowl. The Huskies, led by quarterback Jordan Lynch, should contend again provided they get by the opener at Iowa.
5. Western Kentucky. Go Hilltoppers! Start tooting the BCS car horn if Coach Bobby Petrino’s team defeats Kentucky in the opener and follows with a win at Tennessee on Sept. 7. Two early wins over Southeastern Conference teams should vault WKU into the rankings.