I have, it seems, sinned a great sin. I have followed in the dark-side-of-the-force footsteps blazed by Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter and Clinton Portis.
Passion hits me in waves of e-mails and phone calls and, surprisingly, tweets. They tell me, in so many words, that I am an idiot, that I should be fired, that I have embarrassed myself, The News-Sentinel, the journalistic profession and the free world.
Coco still likes me. Did I mention that?
My crime is simple — I am the only one on this week's AP football poll to vote Boise State No. 1. It has been that way the last two weeks. The seven others who previously picked the Broncos changed their votes. Fifty-three of my fellow media voters selected Alabama. Five chose Ohio State. One picked Texas.
The Texas voter, I'm sure, gets no grief. Texas is considered major college royalty and worthy of such mention despite a roster full of vulnerability (it is ranked seventh in the AP poll). Boise State, despite impressive tradition and credentials, is not.
That's a shame.
Boise State is 51-4 over the last four years, made everybody's preseason top-five list, has earned eight straight bowl bids, has beaten Oregon twice and Oklahoma once in recent years, and returns 20 of 22 starters from a 14-0 Fiesta Bowl winning team. That makes it, by far, the most experienced team in America. If ever there was a non-BCS conference school that had a chance to win a national championship, this is it.
Do I even watch college football, the e-mails ask.
Did you know Boise State has a Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Kellen Moore, who is 28-1 as a starter and who threw 39 touchdowns against three interceptions last year (he's 5 and 1 after wins over Virginia Tech and Wyoming). That it has a thousand-yard rusher and, basically, a pair of thousand-yard receivers as part of one of the nation's most explosive offenses (42.0 points a game)? That it has one of the nation's best offensive lines, best group of linebackers and best special teams led by kicker Kyle Brotzman?
Have you ever seen Alabama play, the e-mails ask. They smashed Penn State, a ranked team. Boise State would be lucky to finish fifth in the SEC.
I try to respond (Penn State started a true freshman quarterback on the road and was a big underdog), but the messages come too fast too often — even tweets from a co-worker who should know better.
The delete button, by the way, is a wonderful thing.
Critics point to Virginia Tech losing to James Madison five days after losing in the closing seconds to Boise State. They insist this means Virginia Tech is lousy, and the fact Boise State needed a late touchdown to squeak out a three-point victory proves its undeserving nature. The critics don't appreciate the tough-minded nature Boise State showed to travel a couple of thousand miles in what was, in essence, a road game to make the game-deciding plays in a national championship-like setting (the game was played at the Washington Redskins FedEx Field). They don't recognize the quality of James Madison and the poor — almost arrogant — scheduling that set up Virginia Tech for failure.
Not many teams could lose a season-opening, nationally televised, late-night heartbreaker as Virginia Tech did against Boise State, get home around 2 in the morning, deal with classes, and overcome a four-day turnaround and lack of preparation time against a well-rested, highly motivated underdog primed for upset opportunity. Boise State should not be penalized for the Hokies' well-deserved loss.
Why would you rank a cupcake team like Boise, an e-mailer asks. You should be banned from ever casting a vote again. You are a bozo.
Did you know the same arguments and insults used against the Boise State vote could have been applied to Butler basketball if someone had voted the Bulldogs No. 1 last November? That Butler was a pretender from a weak conference that had no business belonging with the big boys despite a top-10 early rating.
And then, of course, Butler showed it did belong.
The difference is that basketball has a playoff. Butler, a veteran, talented team, had the opportunity to prove itself. It just missed winning it all.
Boise State, ranked No. 3 behind Alabama and Ohio State, might not get that chance. It didn't last year when Alabama and Texas met in the BCS championship game. If Boise State had faced Alabama, it might have been the Broncos, rather than the Crimson Tide, that won the championship.
We'll never know.
The major conferences and major bowls do not want a playoff because the BCS system favors them. Protect the bowl system, is their cry, even though a playoff would affect only a few of the 35 bowls. The system would survive just fine, although the major bowls would have to adjust.
ESPN officials asked me to appear on their “Outside the Lines” show to explain my vote. Veteran Bob Ley is the host and a consummate pro. He gave me my shot thanks to Carol Mayer, who runs the booking department. I went to a TV studio on the Indiana University campus, had powder applied to my shaved head to avoid glare (don't you hate it when that happens?), and made my case to a national TV audience. It was replayed a few days later on ESPN's College GameDay.
Were critics convinced?
I arrived home to a few supporting e-mails (a couple mentioned a former Arizona columnist who once stood alone voting Alabama No. 1) and several more insisting I remained an idiot. You either don't know college football or don't take your vote seriously. Perhaps the e-mailers forget that the AP poll does not determine the BCS title game finalists, or that my vote didn't change anything (Alabama is still No. 1), or that I didn't vote, say, Indiana State No. 1 and drop Alabama out of my poll.
Oh, well. Reasonable people can disagree. Unreasonable ones can demean and disrespect. I will stay true to my convictions and not be swayed by insults and pressure. I will cuddle with Coco, an adorable Sheltie wise beyond her species. In fact, I will cuddle now and …
Coco is barking the Alabama fight song.