Boise State is college football's darling

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 4, 2007

By Andrew Bagnato

Associated Press

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Say what you will about the BCS, and many have said plenty.

But if it wasn’t for the Bowl Championship Series, most football fans wouldn’t know Boise State from Boys Town.

The ninth-ranked Broncos would never have been given a crack at No. 7 Oklahoma on a stage as grand as the Fiesta Bowl. They’d have run all those gadget plays against Memphis, or someone like it, in the YourNameHere Bowl in Shreveport.

Ian Johnson would still be a 5-foot-11 tailback nobody wanted. Well, nobody except a certain cheerleading captain.

Instead, he’s the giddy kid who proposed to his girlfriend on national television moments after scoring the game-winning points.

On WFAN radio in New York Tuesday morning, they interrupted their regularly scheduled rants on pro sports to rave about … Boise State?

That’s the power of the BCS. It creates storylines even if it sometimes leaves out the happy ending.

But the BCS also did what no one else could this year: it stopped the Broncos cold.

The BCS gave the Broncos their moment on the national stage and then quickly ushered them out the side door.

It was more than a little symbolic that the Broncos had to check out of their resort hotel here Tuesday to make room for the Florida Gators, who arrived to begin preparations for their title game showdown with Ohio State.

Thanks for coming, Broncs. Have a safe trip home!

The Broncos’ performance made the BCS folk look like geniuses. It also gave them another reason to do everything they can to prevent a playoff.

In a playoff, the power conferences would have to deal with Boise State every year — or Utah, Fresno State and Brigham Young.

And the more exposure and money those programs receive, the bigger and badder they’ll become.

Once upon a time, there was a women’s college in Tallahassee, Fla. It decided to admit men and fielded its first football team in 1947, losing all five of its games.

That team eventually became the fearsome Florida State Seminoles.

Boise State started playing Division I-A football in 1996. Eleven years later, it won the Fiesta Bowl.

The BCS doesn’t want to see Boise State every year. But it can put up with the occasional upset, if that’s what Boise State’s victory was. Think about this: the Broncos beat five bowl-bound teams during the regular season. Those teams went 4-1 in the postseason. The Sooners beat six bowl-bound teams. They went 2-4.

The BCS honchos went into full self-congratulation mode Tuesday for showing the foresight to invite the Broncos. Don’t be fooled. Boise State and its ilk gained admission only under threat of federal legislation and lawsuits.

But it was nice of the Broncos not to embarrass themselves when they showed up. They used the right fork at team dinners and accepted the Fiesta Bowl’s lavish hospitality with grace.

Then they smoked the Sooners to the delight of millions.

Now the Broncos have returned to the land of potatoes, but they’ve left a lot of us wanting more.

More trickery. More undersized and unrecruited players. More of rookie coach Chris Petersen, looking like a man who had a peek at the cards after the dealer shuffled.

Petersen was caught smiling on the sideline Monday night. Doesn’t he realize how serious this is supposed to be?

Bless him if he doesn’t.

Petersen wouldn’t bite when reporters asked if he planned to declare his team the uncrowned national champions.

“Hey, we don’t worry about that,” Petersen said. “We just go and play who they tell us to play. The pollsters vote how they want to vote. We’re just happy to control what we can control.”

It wouldn’t take an NFL-style playoff to squeeze one last bit of fun out of Boise State.

If there were a “plus-one” championship game after the bowls, as has long been discussed, the Broncos might be in line for a shot at the Ohio State-Florida winner.

Maybe that would be a bad idea. The Broncos might be overmatched. Jim Tressel’s well-drilled Buckeyes wouldn’t fall for that amazing Statue of Liberty play, would they?

Thanks to the BCS, we’ll never know.

This is as good as it gets for Boise State — for now, and maybe forever.