Six schools have "busted" the BCS. Boise State has done it twice, TCU twice, and Utah twice. Hawaii and Northern Illinois once each. The jury is out on Northern Illinois but Hawaii was a "one hit wonder." Utah and TCU have parlayed their success into membership in the Pac-12 and Big XII.
What does it take to be a "Boise" rather than a "Hawaii"?
Prior to the first BCS appearance Boise posted seven winning seasons and went 4-2 in bowl games. The Broncos went 73-16 winning 82% of their games.
Boise's record up to and including that first BCS appearance and ranking.
1999 10-3 UNRANKED
2000 10-2 UNRANKED
2001 8-4 UNRANKED
2002 12-1 #12 USA Today #15 AP
2003 13-1 #15 USA Today #16 AP
2004 11-1 #13 USA Today #12 AP
2005 9-4 UNRANKED
2006 13-0 #6 USA Today #5 AP
Since then Boise has been ranked at the end of five seasons and in the top 10 three of those years. Their record has been 71-8, a nearly 90% winning percentage.
In the eight years from that first 10 win season through the BCS appearance, Boise had three different coaches but got at least three years out of those coaches. However Boise State had its own period of coaching turmoil. In 1996, fighting a losing battle against cancer, fourth year head coach Pokey Allen split head coach duties with Tom Mason.
Houston Nutt was hired to fill the job in 1997 and had a memorable start for the program's second season in I-A (now FBS). Leading FCS Cal State -Northridge (a program that would drop football five years later) by 20, the Broncos allowed a stunning comeback and lost 63-23 and finished the year with a 5-6 record that included a close loss to Wisconsin and a rout by Washington State and sent Nutt to the head coach job at Arkansas.
Boise then hired Dirk Koetter who went 6-5 then 10-3 and 10-2 before going to Arizona State.
Dan Hawkins coached 4 years going 53-11 before heading to Colorado and he was replaced by Chris Petersen who took the Broncos to the BCS his first year and he promoted Bryan Harsin to offensive coordinator.
How far is Arkansas State off the Boise State pace?
In the final poll for the 2000 season when Boise State finished with their second 10 win season in a row, the Broncos were 33rd in the AP poll votes received with 24 points. This year with a second straight 10 win season, ASU was 32nd in AP poll votes with 28 points.
At this point you may be thinking, "That's all nice but Boise didn't have an SEC team in the state drawing fans, they have a larger community to support their program." Both points are true but neither point proves Arkansas State cannot draw support similar to the Broncos.
In 2000, their second consecutive 10 win season, Boise State averaged 26,493 fans per game. In 2012 Arkansas State averaged 26,398 fans per game. Unlike ASU, all of Boise State's home games that season were played on a Saturday.
What about available talent?
While many people look at FBS signees per state that number can be skewed by the number of schools in the area and whether they can afford to recruit over a wider area. Each new FBS means another 25 FBS signees per year. The NFL draft produces a better idea of the average talent in a state. The number of teams has been fairly constant. The evaluation of players is truly national in scope. Teams are not constrained by a player's willingness to sign or outside factors such as wanting to leave home or stay close to home.
High schools in Idaho have produced 14 NFL draft picks since 1996 with two FBS teams in the state. Arkansas high schools have produced 37 NFL draft picks with two FBS teams in the state.
High schools in the states bordering Idaho have produced another 136 NFL draft picks. So the total for Idaho and neighboring states is 150 NFL draft picks with 12 FBS schools in those states or about 12.5 NFL draft picks if divided equally among the schools.
High schools in the states bordering Arkansas have produced 780 NFL draft picks. Combined with Arkansas that is 817 NFL drafted players or 27 NFL draft picks per FBS school in the region since 1996.
Potential fan base
Boise is a larger city with 500,000 more people in the metro area than the Jonesboro metro. That sounds like a huge advantage but college football fans regularly travel two or more hours a football game. So how many fans live near ASU and Boise State?
50 miles ASU 339,000 BSU 688,000
60 miles ASU 643,000 BSU 705,000
75 miles ASU 1,758,000 BSU 711,000
100 miles ASU 2,412,000 BSU 770,000
125 miles ASU 3,555,000 BSU 881,000
150 miles ASU 4,691,000 BSU 954.000
Obviously many of the people as you move further from Jonesboro are in Missouri, Tennessee, and Mississippi but some of those people are alums, parents or children of alums, have friends who attended ASU, or their family moved from Arkansas for work opportunities. Some are casual fans of other FBS programs but that team is further away and tickets more expensive leaving them open to be swayed by a successful program that is closer.
From 1999 to 2006 Boise State played five games against BCS AQ schools that were not part of a home/home series over those 8 years. The Broncos traveled, played the game and collected a check. They went 0-5 in those games. But they played six games against AQ schools that were part of a home/home series. The Broncos went 2-4 in those games. Boise State also played six FCS schools winning all six games. Over the eight years leading up to and including the Fiesta Bowl with Oklahoma, Boise State played more games at home against FCS schools than road games for money. They played quite a few non-conference games against MAC and Mountain West schools home and home.
Arkansas State this year will play one "money" game playing an unreturned game at Auburn but will travel to Missouri for a game to be returned in 2015, will travel to Memphis to wrap an extended series with the Tigers, host Idaho as the first game of a home/home and will host FCS UAPB. To have the greatest opportunity for success, Arkansas State will have to have schedules more like this year's and less like last season's which featured two non-returned games at BCS AQ schools.
Arkansas State is located near more high caliber high school football players than Boise State. Arkansas State has fewer people in the immediate area but has a larger regional population to draw from and has already developed a similar sized fan base. The key now is continuing success to eventually gain the sort of national respect Boise State has earned. While the Boise mantra has been repeated often in the past year, one thing has changed. Now Arkansas State has a coach who truly knows "The Boise State Way"