Posted: Thursday December 7, 2006 5:25PM; Updated: Thursday December 7, 2006 7:56PM
Boise State RB Ian Johnson leads the country with 24 rushing touchdowns this year.
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Few teams in Division I-A have won with more spectacular regularity in recent years than Boise State. In fact, since 2001 the Broncos have won a whopping 65 games, the same number as powerhouse programs USC and Texas, and more than Georgia (63) and Ohio State (62). But for all that success, there is one failure that sticks out, one loss that has taken some of the luster away from Boise's shiny program.
The date was Sept. 3, 2005. Boise State had traveled to Athens to take on No. 13 Georgia in a highly anticipated season-opening game between two top-25 teams. The 18th-ranked Broncos had arrived in town seeking much more than victory. Throughout the offseason, players and coaches talked openly about the respect they could earn by beating one of college football's traditional powers. In short, they saw the game as a chance to validate their young program -- Boise made the jump to I-A football in 1996 -- as something more than an oddity of the WAC, an offensive juggernaut incapable of dominating outside of its provincial domain.
Instead of validation, the Broncos received a public whupping, losing 48-13 in a game that wasn't as close as the score indicated. At the heart of the meltdown was quarterback Jared Zabransky, who turned the ball over six times and left the game after the second quarter to be treated for dehydration. He'd entered the game as a dark-horse Heisman candidate, but his dream of hoisting the trophy was gone by the time the night was over. Senior left tackle Daryn Colledge (now with the Green Bay Packers) presumably spoke for all his teammates after the game when he told a gathering of reporters, "I'm just ready to go home."
Boise State has come a long way since that humid night in Georgia, through a coaching change, an undefeated season and a long-awaited berth in the BCS. And when the ninth-ranked Broncos (12-0) line up against No. 7 Oklahoma (11-2) -- another one of college football's traditional powers -- in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day, they will remember the lesson they learned from the Bulldogs. "Internally, as a program, we put too much emphasis on the Georgia game," said Zabransky, who ranks eighth in the nation in pass efficiency (161.9). "A lot of us pressed and forced things, me especially."
Make no mistake, Boise State belongs on the field with Oklahoma. The Broncos again feature one of the country's most balanced and prolific offenses, averaging more than 200 yards a game on the ground and in the air, as well as more than 39 points. The Broncos are paced by sophomore running back Ian Johnson, the country's second-leading rusher (146.64 yards per game) and leading scorer (13.09 ppg). A fast, powerful runner who also excels as a blocker and a receiver, Johnson probably should have received a bit more Heisman hype this fall. The kid is for real. He was the lone bright spot for the offense in last year's debacle against Georgia, gaining 48 yards on just six rushes in very limited action.
He was probably capable of putting up big numbers last year, but he had to split time with three other running backs, including two seniors. "Some people might say that's not good coaching," said first-year coach Chris Petersen, "but that's how we do things around here."