So after the last ACC/SEC scheduling rules set off another spate of panic among many BYU fans, the prevailing remedy prescribed, including from me, was basically to "just win more". Short of moving the university to just outside New York City, the only tried and true way to build a reputation and to provide more flexibility and clout is from sustained success.
Another football program recently rode a hot streak of winning big games to try and climb out of an awkward position. No, not Notre Dame. I'm thinking instead of Boise State, and this one tweet in particular really got me thinking:
But did those wins get Boise, still in the MW, ahead of BYU as a program? Nah. I don't think so.— Brett Hein (@bhein3) May 17, 2014
I think this is actually a really good question. I've tried to look at every variable I could think of to see where the two schools match up. If we consider Boise State's entrance to the national state their 2006 Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma, then let's look at the data since that point. Are they "ahead" of BYU?
The evidence is pretty overwhelming that recruiting matters, and if you're looking at the foundation of a program, the caliber of players you're bringing in is a great place to start. The following rankings come from the 247Sports Composite rankings. The team in bold has the higher ranking.
2014: BYU 65 Boise: 67
2013: BYU: 64 Boise: 55
2012: BYU: 72 Boise: 60
2011: BYU: 70 Boise: 53
2010: BYU: 30 Boise: 110
2009: BYU: 51 Boise: 68
2008: BYU: 51 Boise: 82
2007: BYU: 46 Boise: 57
Average: BYU: 56 Boise: 69
It seems pretty remarkable, given how much they have accomplished on the field, that Boise State's recruiting never really picked up. It's made their already highly unlikely success story even more remarkable (although to be fair, like BYU, a lot of their wins were against teams with recruiting classes still far below theirs).
BYU gets the edge if we go back a few years, thanks to their surprisingly strong 2010 class (yes, we know Jake Heaps didn't work out), and Boise State's surprisingly bad one (thanks in part to it being a small class). Over the last four years though, Boise has brought in better players, and even in their most recent class, the best non-Power Five signee went to Boise State.
So drawing conclusions with this is probably imperfect, but for whatever it's worth, per the CLC, Boise State was ranked 39th in apparel sales, while BYU was 50th, in 2013.
These rankings can be found here: The F/+ is a combined advanced stat that tracks success rates, efficiency and more, adjusted for schedule strength.
2013: BYU: 30 Boise: 45
2012: BYU: 23 Boise: 21
2011: BYU: 40 Boise: 5
2010: BYU: 58 Boise: 1
2009: BYU: 22 Boise: 7
2008: BYU: 38 Boise: 7
2007: BYU: 15 Boise: 36
Average: BYU: 28.25 Boise: 15.25
If we want to use commonly relied upon advanced statistics to tell how strong a football team was, instead of say, the AP poll, or straight wins and losses, it isn't particularly close. Boise State's run during the late 2000s, was truly elite, better than the Ohio States or Floridas could hope for, and certainly substantially better than BYU over that time period. Since 2011, the distance between the teams has closed some, but in recent memory, BYU has never approached the heights that Boise State has reached.
Wins, Losses and Bowls
2013: BYU 8-5 (Lost to Washington in the Fight Hunger Bowl) Boise: 8-5 (Lost to Oregon State in the Hawaii Bowl)
2012: BYU: 8-5 (Beat San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl) Boise: 11-1 (Beat Washington in the Las Vegas Bowl)
2011: BYU: 10-3 (Beat Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl) Boise: 12-1 (Beat Arizona State in the MAACO Bowl)
2010: BYU: 7-6 (Beat UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl) Boise: 12-1 (Beat Utah in the MAACO Bowl)
2009: BYU: 11-2 (Beat Oregon State in the Las Vegas Bowl) Boise: 14-0 (Beat TCU in the Fiesta Bowl)
2008: BYU: 10-3 (Lost to Arizona in the Las Vegas Bowl) Boise: 12-1 (Lost Poinsettia Bowl to TCU)
2007: BYU: 11-2 (Beat UCLA in the Las Vegas Bowl) Boise: 10-3 (Lost Hawaii Bowl to ECU)
Total: BYU: 65-26, 5-2 in Bowls Boise: 79-12 4-3 in Bowls, 1 BCS win
This is a little trickier to ballpark, since BYU is a private institution and notoriously careful about financial disclosures, but we can make some educated guesses. As far as TV money is concerned, this article says that Boise got $1.6 million in bonus TV money from the MWC. Another article (from last September) said that Boise's bonus had the potential of getting up to $2.1 million. Plus, Boise State gets their home games on the ESPN family.
As far as their recruiting budget is concerned, despite their relatively remote geography, Boise State has one of the lowest budgets in the country, as the 16th smallest recruiting budget team. BYU's recruiting budget is unknown, but I would be surprised if it wasn't higher than that, perhaps substnatially so.
The exact terms of BYU's ESPN contract aren't disclosed either. This estimate has it at $800K-$1.2 million a home game (~$5 million a year). The fact that BYU is in a superior financial situation to Boise State is not up for dispute. Whether this matters for football, I suppose, is another discussion.
Boise State is locked in the Mountain West Conference for the foreseeable future, giving them an annual game with Utah State, and regular games with cross-divisional foes Fresno State and San Diego State – although it also locks them in with usually lousy teams like UNLV and San Jose State.
The Broncos get four non conference games to play with a season, and have done a good job assembling compelling slates. In addition to an annual game with BYU, over the next few years, Boise will play Ole Miss in Atlanta, host Washington, will travel to Oregon State, and will host home and homes with Washington State, Oklahoma State, Florida State, Virginia, Cincinnati and Michigan State. For a "non Power-5" school, that's a pretty impressive scheduling hustle. Right now, it looks like Boise State fans will be treated to at least two, if not three, compelling non-con games a season, plus at least two decent MWC games.
BYU's scheduling is a dead horse that has been properly pulverized, but the Cougars get a few games a year with the MWC without being locked into annual games against the worst part of the league. BYU has games scheduled with teams of comparable, or exceeding prestige in the future, and on the balance, probably has a better overall home schedule, even if a team like Florida State or Michigan State isn't scheduled to make a trip to Provo in the near future.
It is worth pointing out that Boise State's bowl flexibility and access are superior to BYU's though.
I think there are data points that would support saying either Boise or BYU is "ahead", depending on how you define the term. Boise's streak of domination might not have bought them "Power 5" access, but it did improve their conference situation, and it brought them enough respect that schools of Florida State's caliber are willing to make the trip to Boise.
The wild card in all of this, of course, is Boise State's coaching situation. The Broncos were so successful in large part because of their ability to develop talent beyond their recruiting level. They now need to retool under Bryan Harsin, and there is no guarantee that the success will continue.
If you put a gun to my head, I'd probably say that I'd consider Boise State to currently have a higher "stature" as a program than BYU, just because of their superior on the field product, but I don't consider that chasm to be vast, and with a few more victories over the Broncos like last years, it's one that could be closed. I think I'd be open to other arguments though.
Even if "win and you're in" doesn't necessarily mean "Power 5 conference invitation", the benefits can't be ignored.