BSU: 'Later, Sooners'

January 02, 2007 11:00 pm

Games like the Fiesta Bowl remind you that sports are worth watching.

Boise State's improbable, inspiring win over Oklahoma was a reminder that, if only once and a while, underdogs can win the day. Like their modern-day predecessors Gonzaga and George Mason, the Broncos showed great teams can pop up anywhere in this vast sporting landscape.

The whole situation — a rank outsider facing an established powerhouse, gimmick plays working to perfection, a storybook ending that included the star running back proposing to his cheerleader girlfriend on national television — seems too over-the-top, even for the most over-wrought piece of Disney cheese.

Yet, there in Glendale, Ariz., the story that was too good to be true became reality. Little Boise State, carrying the hopes of college football romantics in addition to its WAC championship, not only went the distance with its Apollo Creed, but won.

Quarterback Jared Zabransky exorcised the last of the demons from his howler of a performance at Georgia, the Broncos' 2005 season-opener and last shot at a highly-rated BCS opponent. Ian Johnson ran off with offensive MVP honors and a fiancee. And whichever Boise-area tailor makes head coach Chris Petersen's undoubtedly specially-fitted trousers can rest assured their craftsmanship is unmatched.

Boise State belongs

For all the focus on trick plays and Cinderella stories, though, one fact bears repeating: Boise State was the better team Monday.

The Broncos out-played, out-coached and out-fought a Sooner squad that, if not for one crucial review during non-conference play, would have been 12-1 and in serious contention for the national title.

It was Oklahoma that had to dip into its well of Sooner Magic. It was the big, bad Big 12 champion that had to scramble to keep up with a team previously best-known for its peculiarly-colored turf.

The five bowl-bound teams Boise State beat this season went a combined 4-1 in their bowl games. The Sooners' six bowl-bound opponents went 2-4.

Granted, Oklahoma was not at its best. That said, the gulf in class presumed by many observers was nowhere to be found. The Broncos did not look the part of a program with barely over a decade of Division I-A football under its belt.

So what now?

Don't expect Boise State's win to open the floodgates for a stream of BCS gate-crashers.

Only the threat of litigation convinced the BCS gatekeepers to open their clubhouse to teams like Boise State, TCU, Utah and others audacious enough to challenge college football's caste system.

The Broncos themselves will benefit from better rankings at the start of next season, giving them fewer teams to pass in their attempt to return to this summit. With games at Washington and Ball State, plus home dates with Weber State and Wyoming, Boise State's strength of schedule will once again be questioned.

Of more immediate concern to Petersen will be replacing not only Zabransky, but his top four receivers in Legadu Naanee, Drisan James, Jerard Rabb and Derek Schouman. Defensive stalwarts Korey Hall, Colt Brooks and Andrew Browning, the team's top three leaders in sacks, are also among the 23 departing seniors.

No matter what happens next season, though, Boise State will always have Glendale. For one glorious night in the desert, the Broncos celebrated as equals.

- Paul Freelend