(AP) -- The Boise State Broncos are breathing some rare BCS air.
The fifth-ranked Broncos have climbed higher and faster than any non-BCS team in the controversial system's 12-year history.
The Broncos, pride of the Western Athletic Conference, have shouldered in front of three storied powers - USC, Oklahoma and Ohio State, each with one loss. Now Boise State is trying to scale the college football equivalent of Mount Everest and become the first team from outside the six BCS conferences to play for a national title.
Best known for their blue field and an exhilarating Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma, the Broncos have ignited a debate that figures to grow hotter after the first BCS standings are released on Oct. 18.
"It is unprecedented," WAC commissioner Karl Benson said Wednesday from his office in Colorado. "The stars are kind of lining up for Boise State."
But BCS numbers-cruncher Jerry Palm advised the Broncos to take a photo of the summit, because he doubts they'll ever reach it. He believes that once-beaten teams from major conferences will climb past the Broncos down the stretch.
"There's a chance that Boise has peaked earlier than anyone else in their position has peaked," said Palm, editor of collegebcs.com. "But maybe not."
It's the "maybe not" that has the college football world buzzing this week.
The Broncos have introduced the shadow of a doubt into the sport's convoluted system for selecting the teams that will play for its Waterford Crystal championship trophy.
And the Broncos aren't alone. No. 11 Texas Christian of the Mountain West Conference and 12th-ranked Houston of Conference USA are also clamoring for BCS recognition.
"I think people like the Cinderella," TCU coach Gary Patterson said this week. "They like the underdog. It makes a great story."
The rise of the BCS outsiders comes after an offseason that saw more threats - but no real action - by politicians to dismantle the lucrative system that grants automatic berths to the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and Southeastern Conferences. The gist of the politicians' argument is that the BCS is unfair to schools outside the six richest conferences.
BCS honchos bowed to Congressional pressure when they added a fifth game in 2006 and eased access for outsiders.
For Boise State, that tweak in the BCS paid off in 2006. The Broncos went unbeaten, rose to No. 8 in the BCS standings and stunned No. 10 Oklahoma 43-42 in an overtime Fiesta Bowl thriller.
At the time, some wondered whether Boise State belonged in the national title game on the same field a week later. But most observers seemed to think the Broncos, with their sandlot plays and a tailback proposing to a cheerleader after the game, were a nice little story that would go away.
Well, they're back.
Boise State is building a case for a BCS title berth on two foundations.
The first is the Broncos' 19-8 victory over Oregon on Sept. 3 - a game that made national news when Oregon's LeGarrette Blount slugged Boise State's Byron Hout.
No. 16 Oregon has rebounded with three straight wins, and every Ducks victory adds a measure of credibility to Boise State's resume.
The Broncos need help from Eugene, because they won't be getting much lift from their WAC brethren. Boise State ranks second, behind Florida, in this week's Sagarin Football Ratings, one of the BCS computer rankings. The next-highest WAC team is No. 50 Fresno State, and four teams are ranked outside the top 100.
"Their league is not going to help them at all," Palm said.
How can the Broncos counter that?
"They can't afford a 23-20 game," Palm said. "They've got to light everybody up."
So far, so good: the Broncos have yet to trail this year.
The second pillar of Boise State's case is history. Non-BCS teams are 3-1 in BCS bowls, with Boise State beating OU, Utah beating Pitt and Alabama, and Hawaii losing to Georgia.
Although those results shouldn't matter in this year's voting, Benson hopes the pollsters keep them in mind.
In the past, non-BCS teams have faced a steep climb in the polls. But Boise State opened at No. 16 in the coaches poll, so it didn't have to go far as team after team tumbled from the top 10.
This week, the Broncos trail Florida, Texas, Alabama and LSU in the coaches and Harris Poll, the two BCS human rankings. They're also No. 5 in the AP poll.
Only one SEC team can emerge unbeaten. If all three lose, or if the Longhorns stumble, that could open up a lane for Boise State.
And remember, the Broncos only need to be in the Top 2 of the final BCS standings to draw an invitation to the title game in Pasadena on Jan. 7.
But there are plenty of skeptics, including Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson.
"Anything is possible," Thompson said in an e-mail response to a question. "For an undefeated non-(automatic qualifying league) team to play in a national title game, it would probably take everyone else with two losses."
Palm said he thinks the Broncos' only hope is a pileup of two-losses teams from the power conferences.
"If Boise State were Michigan State, they would move up if the teams ahead of them lost," Palm said. "But it doesn't work that way for the Boise States of the world. Teams like that always have to watch their back as much as they need to watch what's going on in front of them."