Boise Is Back

Broncos buck their way back into the BCS rankings

College Football Preview: Week 10

> The Red Zone  |  Tape It Up  |  Strike The Pose  |  Breaking The Code
> B.J.: Corn-shusked  |  Amsinger: Weekly Picks  |  Sorenson: 10 Questions  |   Braff: Boise's Back
> Trev: Look Out For 'Bama  |  Ohio State Isn't No. 1   |  Palm: Soft Schedule Warriors
> Hart: Georgia Not Top 10 Material  |  Roland: Alabama's Not What They Appear
> Caparell: No Secret To Oregon's Success  |  Crystal Ball: Weekend Predictions

Oct. 30, 2007

By Carolyn Braff


Carolyn Braff

Carolyn is an assistant editor and writer for
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The last time most of us heard from Boise State, the nation's favorite BCS buster had just been busted.


After upsetting their way into our hearts with that trick-and-treat Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma that made the Statue of Liberty play standard water cooler conversation across the country, the smurf turf squad was poised for a season in the spotlight. How did they handle it?


They lost.




BCS disaster struck the Broncos in Week 2, when Washington handed Boise a 24-10 decision that bucked the Broncos' 14-game winning streak, yanking them from the polls, our collective conscience and another magical BCS bowl berth.


In any other season, sure. But not this year.


With the probability of a one-loss team winning the national championship growing with each weekly giant-slaying, Boise suddenly has a chance to make it to the bigs for a second-straight year. Especially now that the BCS has endorsed the Broncos with a No. 22 rank in this week's standings.


So what have the Broncos been up to these past six weeks? A whole lot of winning.


Sitting at 7-1 and needing only one win over a FCS (I-AA) team to get there, Boise has put up some enviable offensive statistics. Key conference wins over Nevada (in a 4OT shoot-em-out 69-67 classic) and Fresno State have helped the Broncos average more than 41 points per game, good enough for the sixth-best scoring offense in the country. For some perspective, that ranks them ahead of No. 7 West Virginia, No. 9 Missouri, and No. 20 Florida.


The Broncos' total offense is No. 9 in the nation and with an incredibly balanced attack, Boise's playmakers are evenly split between a potent pass offense (20 TDs on the season) and a solid run game (23 TDs).


They also convert 49.2 percent of their third downs, which is more than No. 3 LSU can say.


The nation's 14th-best rush attack is led by a triumvirate of tailbacks whose names are worth learning.


Ian Johnson, everyone's favorite newlywed-to-a-cheerleader running back, is leading the team in rushing, averaging 5.4 yards per carry and 115.5 yards per game. Even after sitting out two weeks with a bruised kidney, Johnson ranks 18th in the nation in rushing and 13th in scoring. But he's not alone in the backfield.


Freshman Jeremy Avery is right on Johnson's heels, averaging 63.4 yards per game and picking up 6.5 yards per carry. Fellow freshman D.J. Harper rounds out the trio, logging 45 yards per game and 4.7 per carry. Together, the three tailbacks account for 20 touchdowns and one mean ground attack.


Last weekend's win over Fresno State, the top team in the WAC behind Hawaii and Boise, was a coming out party for the freshman duo. The two combined for 282 yards rushing on the day, getting 153 from Harper and 124 from Avery, and marking the first game since 1977 in which two freshmen have each hit a century on the ground.


"I saw some pretty physical runs [out of D.J. Harper]," Avery said. "I challenged him to step up this game. We kept challenging each other after every down."


Johnson has the all-clear to return to the gridiron this week, and with conference bottom-feeders Utah State and Idaho still on tap for the Broncos, that tailback trifecta should continue running wild.


The passing game is no slouch either. The Broncos had no trouble replacing the production of quarterback Jared Zabransky, as Taylor Tharp is the 15th-best signal-caller in the nation. Completing 64.9 percent of his passes, the 6-foot-2, 206-pound senior has 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions on the year.


Tharp's favorite receiving target is sophomore Jeremy Childs. The 6-foot, 196-pound wide receiver has caught 56 balls for 761 yards, earning him a spot among the top 20 wideouts in the country. Eight of his receptions were for touchdowns and he averages nearly 14 yards per catch.


Defensively, Boise is not nearly so hot.


Marty Tadman leads the team in tackles with 59, including 2.5 for a loss, five broken up passes, and is tied with three other players for the team interceptions lead with two. Kyle Gingg has 57 tackles and Dallas Dobbs rounds out the top three with 40. Not exactly mind-blowing numbers, but this is the team that gave up 67 points and still came out with a win.


Still, Boise's total defense ranks 29th, good enough to get by while the offense reloads its ammo on the sideline.


With no clear-cut championship team in sight and a fair share of losses spread across every wannabe winner in the nation, Boise certainly has a chance to get back in it, but don't tell that to Chris Petersen.


"We just really don't pay attention to those rankings till it's all said and done," the second-year head coach said. "I know you've got to be on the radar to do that, but we just know that if we take care of business, we know that we'll end up ranked at the end of the year. It's something that we just don't pay attention to right now."


Petersen may not pay attention, but the rest of the country will.


Granted, the Broncos remain a long shot to upset another big gun in a Fiesta Bowl do-over. To get back to one of the big four, they will need to work their way into the top 12 of the final BCS standings, or into the top 16 if they leapfrog a BCS conference champion.


Boise's biggest test is unquestionably the finale at Hawai'i, where the Broncos meet their WAC and BCS nemesis (unbeaten Hawaii is sitting pretty at No. 14). The winner of that matchup will almost certainly take the plum bowl bid, should one arise.


The Broncos are 28-3 all-time when ranked in one of the polls, but will need some help to rise as high as No. 12. But that's getting ahead of ourselves.


"We've got four weeks of football left and we won't be ranked anywhere if we don't play well," Petersen said.


True enough. Next stop: San Jose State.