IAN JOHNSON, Boise
State's free-spirited running back, is a natural salesman. In high school he
sold soup and candy to classmates for lunch, and he now has a thriving business
on campus, where he crochets--that's right, he crochets--hats, scarves and
blankets that he sells to friends and fans. It's not surprising that Johnson, a
sophomore whose major is entrepreneurial management, is spearheading the sales
pitch that's aimed at putting 9--0 Boise State in a BCS bowl game for the first
time in school history.
biggest selling point is their undefeated record, which they kept intact with a
45--21 victory over Fresno State on Nov. 1. It will have to remain unblemished
through the final three games, against Western Athletic Conference opponents
San Jose State, Utah State and Nevada, for Boise State to have any chance of
becoming the second team from a non-BCS conference to be invited to a BCS bowl.
( Utah, which beat Pittsburgh in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, was the first.)
refuse to delve too deeply into the possible scenarios that could make them BCS
busters, the Broncos realized the importance of putting on an impressive
performance for the Fiesta, Orange and Rose Bowl representatives who were in
attendance at the Fresno State game. "We know there are a lot of eyes on
us," says Johnson, who gained 136 yards on 24 carries against the Bulldogs.
"Every game is a chance to make our case a little stronger." The WAC
champion isn't guaranteed a BCS berth, but Boise State, which is ranked 14th in
the BCS standings, has two ways to earn a spot. The Broncos will get an
automatic bid if they finish in the top 12, or they could be invited if they
finish in the top 16 and are ranked higher than the champion of a BCS
In the latter
scenario, it will surely help Boise State's r�sum� to have a runner like the
5'11", 200-pound Johnson, who leads the nation in scoring with 20
touchdowns and ranks third nationally in rushing with 1,317 yards. The Broncos
have cranked up the Heisman Trophy campaign machinery, distributing 20,000
cheer cards promoting his candidacy at the Fresno State game. The recognition
can only help raise Boise State's national profile, but first-year coach Chris
Petersen wants to make sure it doesn't cause Johnson to lose focus. "We
want everybody to believe the hype except him," says Petersen, who was
promoted from offensive coordinator when Dan Hawkins left to take the Colorado
There have been no
signs of arrogance from the eccentric Johnson, whose quirkiness endears him to
his teammates. They nicknamed him Dog Food after he ate a four-ounce can of the
stuff during a freshman talent show. The crocheting began at Damien High in San
Dimas, Calif., after he asked his mother to buy him a hat and instead she
taught him how to make one for himself. He enjoyed doing it so much that he
began making them for friends.
The Broncos have
more selling points than their unbeaten record and the touchdown machine at
running back to recommend them to BCS bowl committees. Senior quarterback Jared
Zabransky runs a prolific offense that has been held below 35 points only once,
and senior Korey Hall has more interceptions (six) than any other linebacker in
the country. Still, if Boise State reaches a BCS bowl while a team from a
higher-profile conference with one or even two losses is shut out, there
undoubtedly will be grumbling about the Broncos' strength of schedule.
But Boise State
isn't interested in a debate, just in winning its remaining three games.
"Whatever happens with the polls and computers is out of our control,"
Zabransky says. "All we can do is finish the season strong." In
salesman's parlance, it's called closing the deal.