On Sept. 21, the Pitt Panthers ran a trick play that felt as if it drew a fitting close to the era of the aspirant underdog in college football. That little bit of razzle-dazzle, known as the “Pitt special,” could trace its roots to Boise State’s embrace of goal-line deception during an epic Fiesta Bowl upset of Oklahoma in 2007. In this case, it delivered the Panthers a 35-34 win over UCF and shattered the Knights’ 27-game non-bowl winning streak, along with any slim hope UCF had of finally qualifying for the College Football Playoff.
But it felt, too, as if the very idea of a true underdog Group of Five team ever qualifying for the Playoff in its current format — ahead of a school from a Power Five conference — had been delivered a stylish death blow in the process.
Less than a month later, here we are again: Boise State is 6-0 heading into this week’s game at BYU, with a road victory over Florida State on its resume. If the Broncos win this weekend, they could sweep the remainder of their Mountain West schedule and wind up undefeated. And yet six years into the Playoff era, it feels as if the Boise/UCF moment has passed.