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SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
1/02/2007 02:00:00 AM

Boise's Thrilling Win A Landmark Moment

Oakland Arena
Ian Johnson scored the game-winning two-point conversion on a crafty play.
Steve Grayson/WireImage.com
PASADENA, Calif. -- It takes something pretty special to leave a writer at a loss for words. But when Ian Johnson crossed the goal line on his Fiesta Bowl-winning, Statue of Liberty handoff late Monday night, I stood in front of the television speechless for a good, long minute.

How do you sum up one of the most remarkable endings any of us will ever be fortunate enough to see? How do you sum up one of the most exciting bowl games ever contested?

And how do you sum up what will one day be viewed as one of the most significant moments in the history of college football?

I’m not exaggerating.

On paper, the 2007 Fiesta Bowl was nothing more than a minor upset -- the No. 9 team beat the No. 7 team. In reality, it was so much more than that. Boise State beating Oklahoma in a New Year’s Day bowl game is college football’s equivalent to George Mason reaching the Final Four, with one extremely significant difference: George Mason had its chance to compete for the national title; Boise State does not. Like it or not, Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42 just became the single biggest argument to date for a college football playoff.

You’re going to hear it a lot in the coming weeks. If Boise State can beat Oklahoma, why shouldn’t it get a shot at Ohio State? And while the BCS commissioners can offer any number of general arguments against a playoff, the fact is there is no reasonable answer to that specific question.

No, this was not the greatest of Oklahoma teams the Broncos beat -- but it was a pretty darn good one. Certainly a more worthy adversary than the Pittsburgh team Utah routed in a less memorable Fiesta Bowl two years earlier. Meanwhile, in the Rose Bowl, USC throttled a Michigan team that plenty of people deemed worthy of a national-title shot. The Trojans lost two games this season, one of them to Oregon State. Boise beat those guys 42-14.

I’m sure there will be plenty of people arguing this week that if Florida upsets Ohio State, the Broncos, as the nation’s lone remaining undefeated team, should be voted No. 1. I’m not ready to go that far, but anyone who watched Monday night’s thriller would have a hard time arguing that Boise State isn’t a legitimate, big-time team. We saw a physical Broncos defense bottle up former Heisman runner-up Adrian Peterson and pick off Sooners QB Paul Thompson three times. We saw the ultra-talented Johnson rush for 100 yards.

But the undisputed star of the Fiesta Bowl was a guy who spent the entire game on the sideline: Boise State coach Chris Petersen. Facing off against the nation’s winningest coach this decade, OU’s Bob Stoops, the Broncos’ first-year head coach exhibited some of the boldest, most creative play-calling ever seen in a major bowl game. To think, in the final 18 seconds of regulation and overtime alone, we saw a hook-and-ladder (Jerard Rabb’s game-tying, 50-yard touchdown to send the game to OT), a direct snap to a receiver (Vinny Perretta’s 5-yard touchdown pass in overtime) and the game-winning, soon-to-be-immortal Statue of Liberty two-point conversion in which QB Jared Zabransky faked a screen pass to the right, then handed off to Johnson on a run left.

And that wasn’t even the extent of the late-game drama. Oklahoma’s three two-point conversion attempts to tie. Zabransky’s near-fatal interception that Marcus Walker returned for a touchdown. And of course, Johnson’s nationally televised proposal to his cheerleader girlfriend afterward.

All of it combined to produce an indisputable, all-time classic. But like I said from the beginning, we saw more than just an exciting bowl game Monday night. We saw a potential landmark moment.

That Boise State was even in the Fiesta Bowl to begin with was only made possible just a couple years ago thanks to a major lobbying effort by the non-BCS schools. In the pre-BCS era, the Broncos would never even have merited consideration. Under the old, top-six requirement that was in effect through last season, the Broncos also would not have been chosen. Not only did they get in the game, they made a major statement on behalf of their mid-major brethren that none of us will soon forget.
posted by Stewart Mandel | View comments |

Comments:

Posted: 2:39 AM   by Anonymous
Also worthy of note is that a mediocre Notre Dame team with a mediocre schedule (Army, Navy, North Carolina, Stanford) was somehow invited to a better bowl (a play-date with LSU). When was the last time Notre Dame won a bowl game? Why does a large television deal with NBC ensure a team a BCS allocation?
Posted: 2:48 AM   by Anonymous
"If Florida upsets Ohio State, the Broncos, as the nation’s lone remaining undefeated team, should be voted No. 1. I’m not ready to go that far."

Why not? The only good reason not to vote for an undefeated team is because they play in a 2nd tier conference. I think they destroyed that argument tonight.

Even if Ohio St. wins, the Broncos still have a legitimate claim. Their wins over Oregon State, Hawaii, and Oklahoma are more compelling now than OSU's big wins vs. Texas and Michigan (both unimpressive in bowl season). How do you knock Boise State's schedule and say Cincinatti, Northern Illinois, and Bowling Green were good wins for the Buckeyes? I think Illinois, Michigan State, Northwestern, Indiana, and Minnesota might as well be WAC teams.

The bottom line is that the case for Boise State splitting a share of the title in 2006 is stronger than the case for USC in 2003. NO ONE BEAT THE BRONCOS.

I'm not from Idaho, and I'm not a WAC fan. I just think the right thing would be for the AP writers to recognize these tremendous accomplishments with a #1 vote for the Broncos. They just gave college sports the most thrilling game ever. Let's give them some credit.
I'll one-up you, Stewart, my man: I sat in jaw-dropped silence in front of my television for TWO minutes following Johnson's improbable conversion. To think, this immortal moment in the history of college football, a perfectly executed Statue of Liberty, wasn't even the best play of the game. Facing 4th-and-18, the Zabransky-to-James-to-Rabb textbook sequence not only broke Sooner hearts nationwide, but will be replayed on BCS pre-show montages for years to come. I, for one, haven't seen a more dramatic ending to a bowl game since another Fiesta Bowl, 2003's Ohio State shocker over Miami. You're absolutely right, Stewart; if a non-BCS team such as Boise State can win a game of this magnitude on a stage like this, what could one do in a national championship game with even more on the line? I hope I'm around to see that question answered. What a game!
Posted: 2:57 AM   by JDPhD
Stewart, If you were really so impressed by Boise State's performance, then don't ever again use the term "mid-major" when writing about college football. It is condescending. It is insulting. All D-1 programs should be treated the same. BSU isn't the first outsider school to get screwed by the BCS and its predecessors. Utah in 2004 and BYU in 1996 similarly didn't get their deserved chances to go for the title. The whole notion of the BCS is nothing more than asnine selfishness. We need a real playoff system. Now.
Posted: 2:57 AM   by Anonymous
I understand the desire for a playoff that arises from this game, but why change something that isn't broken. While it may be said that Boise State deserves a shot at OSU, I think most people agree that on Jan. 8 America will watch the two best teams in the country face off. Also, college football is unique in that the regular season is the playoff. A playoff would just cause the value regular season to drop drastically. Where else do you get to see something like what D-1 college football brings to the table week in and week out?
Posted: 3:00 AM   by Steven
I don't know about you Stewart, but after I watched the Rose Bowl in its entirety, and feeling very content with the dominating USC win over Michigan, I really didn't I'd switch over to Fox's rookie presentation of a supposedly overmatched BCS game. Instead, while I was roaming the blogosphere on my laptop right after the Rose Bowl game, the background noise of the television started to catch my attention. It wasn't a fast start 14-0 Oklahoma lead, but supposed underdog Boise State.

I can honestly say that deciding to watch the rest of the game and root for cinderella Boise State provided one of the best football viewing experiences I can imagine. Let's just say for short, by the very last play that ended the game, I was jumping up and down screaming for the excitement Boise State must feel right now.

What a great way to end the day (or shall I say, to start a new year!)
Posted: 3:02 AM   by beau
The key is that all teams should have the chance. Boise State played with class and creativity, and there is no reason that the teams not fortunate enough to participate in a BCS conference should be kept out of the national title hunt. Isn't that what college football is all about? Not about ensuring that certain schools always remain on top.
Posted: 3:06 AM   by Anonymous
That might have been the best college football game I've ever seen! Simply amazing. My 70 year old dad, who doesn't often get too excited during games, was yelling for Boise State's receiver to make it into the endzone on the lateral play. Definitely one of the 4-5 best sports games I've ever seen. Maybe the best.
Posted: 3:07 AM   by Anonymous
Yes, Boise State played a thriller right to the end. But, anyone who has watched the Broncos play, know they don't know when to quit; always fighting until the end in every game that's close. There is still the arguement out there that Boise hasn't played anyone in the traditional power pool of College Football. With this win and the future wide open for the Broncos, I hope that Gene Blaymeyer (AD) will endeavor to schedule even tougher opponents and prove to everyone that Boise State is for real!
Posted: 3:11 AM   by Anonymous
Great Article. This will certainly go down as one of the great games in college football. This is better than the BYU-SMU Holiday Bowl where JIm Mcmannon won it on a hail mary, because there were more incredibles plays, more drama on both sides, and the game had a bigger impact. The famous Cal-Stanford games compares to this one, but both teams were not the best in the country like OSU and BSU are. Ian Johnson will now be immortalized for his impromtu marriage proposal. Hopefully the marriage will last a lifetime for the two and for the magic of the moment.
Posted: 3:37 AM   by McKay
The system needs to change. 3 years ago UTAH beat a 'BCS' school. No, they didn't beat them they murdered them. Last year TCU should have been invited to a BCS game. This year Boise State proved they could win.

That was easily one of the top 2 or 3 football games I have ever seen. However, Boise State is not the only non-BCS school that could compete in BCS games. BYU could. TCU could. Hawaii could.

It is time for the obnoxious and arrogant sportswriters and decision-makers of the college football world to pull their collective heads out and realize that quality football is played outside of the the Midwest, the South and USC.

Again, this year and each year there are one or two teams in the Mountain West and WAC that can beat anyone. Boise State proved that and if given a chance teams like BYU and TCU would also.

Any of those teams I just mentioned would MURDER Wake Forest. That is a fact.
Wake Forest vs. Louisville? There's the sleeper. What will that prove. The scandal with the BCS is not just the exclusion of good teams, but the inclusion of lousy ones. Why oh why oh why is South Florida considered a BCS team, while Boise State is a midmajor?
Posted: 4:08 AM   by Anonymous
Just to throw a different view on all of this, let me ask this question: If this was, say, a first-round game in a playoff of 8 teams, do you think Boise State goes for 2 in OT? Or do they play it safe? Because it was a bowl game with no future game on the line they could go for broke. Just a thought. And I'm a guy who would love a playoff, but in this case, I think a playoff would've changed what might be the greatest end to a game I've ever seen (and I watched Doug Flutie throw that pass to beat Miami in the early 80s, the only other time I was left completely speechless after a football game).

All of that said, Boise State should get a shot at Ohio State or whoever to make the Broncos' case for the national title. Will it happen? No way. Stewart, you're enthusiasm is great but you know as well as I do that there is no way the presidents will approve a playoff, at least not in the immediate future. We can only hope that'll change someday soon.
Posted: 4:39 AM   by Anonymous
Actually, that is speculation. Does that mean that since USC beat Michigan by 14 that UCLA is 17 pints better than Michigan and would beat Ohio State by 14? Anyone in Vegas want to give me that line? That's a bet I would surely take (UCLA -14 vs. Ohio St.). The reality of the situation is that Boise St. played in an amazing game and won in what has to be considered an upset. Congratulations to them, and can we please get a playoff to end these silly arguments. Any network want to sponsor Boise St. vs. Ohio St. after the Buckeyes crush Florida? That, I would pay for on Pay Per View!
Posted: 5:00 AM   by perrymecium
Taking nothing away from Boise State and one of the most dramatic wins in college football history, I don't think this proves that a playoff would be a good idea and I really don't think this proves that Boise State is a national power.

One appeal of college football and the BCS system is that it's the ultimate game of reputation. We'll overlook fluky USC losses to Oregon State and UCLA because USC has the strength of tradition behind it, proven by its beatdown of Michigan. Similarly, Michigan is beginning to earn an ugly reputation for being unable to win the big one, after three straight losses to both Ohio State and bowl opponents. I like the college football openly admits the bias of tradition, because other teams are intimidated and motivated by seemingly strong opponents.

Your column reflects this every time it mentions that a team like Oklahoma or Miami will win five or six games on pride and talent alone, even with devastating injuries to star players or horrific riots.

The thing about reputation is that you don't get respect when you catch lightning in a bottle or run a hot streak. That's why a previous commenter ironically insulted Wake Forest on this topic. If Boise State keeps winning, then they'll get the reputation that they like. And I find it perplexing at best how a #9 ranking going into the game and a top 5 ranking coming out of the game is anything short of respect.

And if we're going to make suggestions, can we get rid of the transitive property in college football? Just because Boise State beat Oregon State and Oregon State beat USC doesn't mean anything about whether or not Boise State could beat USC. If Boise State wants to make that argument so badly, they should just play USC in the regular season. Rather than a playoff, I'd prefer to encourage bigger regular season games like Ohio State v Texas.
Posted: 5:36 AM   by Alaska
I guess not watching this game was a mistake!
Posted: 6:06 AM   by Anonymous
Great article Stewart. I was able to attend the game, and it was tremendous to see so many Boise State fans at the game. So much for the theory that the "mid-majors" do not travel. Finally, a t-shirt worn by a fellow Bronco fan said it best, "right place, right team, wrong date." Thank goodness for underdogs that make you think, "maybe, just maybe that dream is not so far out of reach."
Posted: 6:11 AM   by Anonymous
A fellow Bronco shirt at the game said it best, "right place, right team, wrong date." Thank goodness for underdogs that should make us all think, "maybe, just maybe I can reach that dream." The BCS has never been, nor will it ever be the solution, but more pressure from teams like Utah and Boise State further expose the flaws.
Posted: 6:36 AM   by Anonymous
Simply Awesome. I am a Hawaii fan and I never cheered so hard for a team since the old Stabler/Greise battle back when. Congrats Boise-you should be in THE BIG ONE, I know Ohio would be praying for victory, plain fact of the matter is, nobody wants to schedule the WAC too much anymore, huh boys
Posted: 6:37 AM   by Anonymous
Congrats to Boise, they deserve to be in the big game
Posted: 7:01 AM   by Anonymous
If Boise State played a tougher schedule, they'd get more respect. I KNOW they wouldn't be 13-0 if they played an SEC schedule. All said and done, I believe there should be a playoff system in college football (#1 vs. #4, #2 vs. #3, then the winners meet for the title)...something like that.
Posted: 7:20 AM   by Anonymous
I have watched about 30 years worth of NFL, CFL, college and high school football games. Must be over a thousand games. But this was, without doubt, the most exciting and entertaining game I have ever seen. It has been hours and I am still in an afterglow that reminds me why I watch sports in the first place. What a game!
Posted: 7:30 AM   by Anonymous
The system is fine. The poll voters will remember this game and give Boise State (and others) more credit next year. It's up to Boise State to beef up their non-conference schedule if they want to make it to the big game.
Posted: 7:35 AM   by JW
Dream on. I predict we will still be waiting for a playoff 10 years from now. As long as the BCS conference presidents control college football, any changes to the current system will only be made if more money can be squeezed from their television contract. It will always be about money.
I hate the term "upset." Not in regards to this game, just in general. It's a phrase sportswriters created and use so they don't have to use another phrase: "I was wrong."
Posted: 8:27 AM   by Anonymous
Since you mentioned Notre Dame ...

They're being an independent yet allowed to be invited to the BCS party is bogus, bunk and bull!!!

I don't care about their "tradition," times have changed. Make them join a conference.

Now as for a playoff, if the Fiesta Bowl proved anything, it is that there needs to be one, and that ALL conferences deserve a shot like basketball.

16-team (11 conf winners, 5 at-large) 1st round at the host school, this INSURES that every year at least two BCS schools must travel to non-BCS sites.

Use the Rose, Fiesta, Sugar & Orange - promote the Cotton, Peach (ChikFA) & Gator Bowls, 7 sites for 8 teams.

As for Rose "tradition" see what I said about Notre Dame above. Yesterday was the first Big Ten/Pac-10 match in a while, and it stunk ...
Posted: 8:41 AM   by Jo$e
You want to talk about a mediocre schedule, why don't we bring up ohio state ? They played Bowling Green, Cincinnati, and against a very weak Big 10. It should be more like the Big 3 (Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio St) !
Posted: 8:42 AM   by Anonymous
Your good article missed one great point: Boise State was DOMINATING Oklahoma for most of the game. Oklahoma was trailing by 18 late in the third quarter when they received an incredibly lucky bounce on a punt that bounced backward over ten yards, hit a Boise blocker’s back foot and gave OU possession on the 11 yard line. What a lucky break to get OU back into the game!

Boise displayed the heart of a national champion. Without the fluke, bad call, loss to Oregon, Oklahoma would have been a one loss team playing for the national championship. Your eyes were not deceiving you: Boise State out hit, out ran, out passed, out coached and out played a very worthy Oklahoma team on a neutral field. They were the better team. And like a true champion when the breaks went against them and momentum turned away Boise State still believed AS A CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM and found a way to win. (Do you really believe Ohio State could have won under the same circumstance?)

I watched Ali beat Foreman, Gibson defeat the Athletics, the 'Miracle Mets' win it all in '69 and Joe Montana lead a 92-yard winning drive in closing seconds of a Super Bowl. Boise State’s dramatic win was not just one of the great college bowl games of all time, it was one of the greatest sports moments of all time.

If you can’t, after watching that game, vote them at least a share of the national championship, you become nothing more than a rubber stamp endorsement for a BCS system that remains broken and unfair.
Posted: 8:50 AM   by Anonymous
Every non-BCS team that has made it to the BCS has won their game. There obviously needs to be some change in the system. I don't know why this is all of the sudden a topic again. Look back at 2004. How many undefeated teams were there after they played their BCS games, three-USC, Auburn, and Utah. There were four going into the BCS games. I find it interesting that NCAA Division I is the only "brand" of football without a playoff. Why? No one with any say wants to find out if Boise State can beat OSU. No one is with any say wants to find out if Utah can beat Auburn or USC. Dare I say, no one wants to find out if an Auburn team from Alabama can beat a team with Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush from the media giant of Southern California?
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