Welcome to the big time
WAC making case as premier mid-major conference
Posted: Monday June 18, 2007 12:25PM; Updated: Tuesday June 19, 2007 12:28PM
Colt Brennan and Ian Johnson graced the cover of the WAC's spring preview. The picture featured both players standing with their arms crossed behind the headline "Heisman Hopefuls: Two of the Nation's Best Make Another Run [or Pass] at the Heisman Trophy," with the iconic piece of hardware pictured in the background.
"We did that with a purpose," conference commissioner Karl Benson said. "That was to remind the media and remind the voters in various preseason polls that not only did Boise State finish the season in the Top 10 and Hawaii finish the season in the Top 25 [in the USA Today Coaches' Poll], but both those teams have the premier, marquee, Heisman-type players coming back."
How could anyone forget the last we saw of Johnson? The Boise State running back was down on bended knee proposing to cheerleader Chrissy Popadics after the Broncos' miraculous Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma. And Brennan left a lasting impression, too, setting the NCAA single-season record for touchdown passes (58). Benson would be remiss if he didn't take full advantage of this mid-major's darling status and its most recognizable faces. Eight years after its last four charter members -- BYU, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming -- left to form the Mountain West, the new WAC is reveling in its golden age. It's all largely due to that golden moment in which the Broncos defeated Oklahoma, capping a 13-0 season with three trick plays that will stand the test of time.
"The Boise State win over Oklahoma was the grandest day in WAC history," Benson said. "It was the biggest win in WAC history."
And while the Broncos and Brennan -- who broke or tied 16 NCAA records in arguably the most productive single season in history -- garner all the attention, this conference is deeper than its poster children. The WAC returns a number of national leaders aside from Brennan: New Mexico State's Chris Williams (receptions and receiving yards per game) and Chase Holbrook (completions per game), San Jose State linebacker Matt Castelo (the country's top returning tackler) and Idaho cornerback Stanley Franks (interceptions per game). The league also went 3-1 in bowls last season -- Boise State, Hawaii and San Jose State prevailed, while Nevada was the only loser.
The flagship program, Boise State, has garnered household-name status. There is a movie being made about Boise State's undefeated season. So how are the Broncos coping with the new set of distractions? By putting the past in the past: Fiesta Bowl gear has been barred from Boise State's weight room.
"The bigger this program grows the more distractions we seem to have," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. "We kind of played from an underdog role in the past, which really isn't the case anymore. Whether we're better or worse, I think the perception of us is different. People aren't going to look past us. Our whole thing is we're going right back to work."
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