Dec. 29, 2006
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) -Big-time bowl games are a birthright to the Oklahoma Sooners. If "Boomer Sooner" isn't echoing through a stadium in early January, it's been a bad year in Norman.
Boise State, however, still is trying to gain notice for something other than its "Smurf Turf," the Broncos' blue football field.
Monday night's Fiesta Bowl, which not long ago gave us BCS-busting Utah, pits a powerhouse program against a pretender in a game that could show if the have-nots are worthy of a share of the big stage.
"We've got a bunch of really confident guys walking around with huge chips on their shoulders," Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky said, "ready to prove a point that we deserve to be here."
The ninth-ranked Broncos (12-0) are one of two unbeaten teams in major college football - No. 1 Ohio State is the other - but they had to win an uphill fight to make it to a Bowl Championship Series game. The addition of a separate national championship game created two new BCS berths, and the Broncos earned one automatically by finishing No. 8 in the BCS rankings.
Zabransky called it "the biggest game in the school's history" but said with 23 seniors and a 32-5 record the past three seasons, the team is not overwhelmed.
"You can't be a bad football team and be undefeated two out of three years," he said.
The seventh-ranked Sooners (11-2) are saying all the right things about having healthy respect for Boise State.
"They are a good, disciplined football team, very talented," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "A team that wins all of their games is very sure of themselves and very confident in how they play."
Oklahoma overcame serious obstacles, too, to advance to a BCS bowl for the fourth time in five years.
First, quarterback Rhett Bomar and offensive guard J.D. Quinn were dismissed from the team before the season began for receiving improper benefits. Three games into the season, the Sooners lost at Oregon 34-33 after officials wrongly awarded a late onside kick to the Ducks.
And on Oct. 14 against Iowa State, star tailback Adrian Peterson broke his collarbone diving into the end zone at the end of a 53-yard run.
The Sooners regrouped, going 7-0 without Peterson, including a 21-7 victory over Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game, as the running game kept churning with Allen Patrick and Chris Brown.
"It has been a crazy year and I get reminded of that a lot, but as a team we knew we could get here," Oklahoma quarterback Paul Thompson said. "I know some folks had some doubt. But in the end, we are here, and we are going to take this opportunity to make it 12 wins."
Peterson is here, too, back for what might be his final college game. Although he hasn't said so, there is speculation Peterson will forego his senior season to go to the NFL.
He needs 151 yards to break Billy Sims' school career rushing record.
"I'm very excited," he said. "My legs are fresh. I'm ready to run."
Peterson's return has overshadowed the presence of Boise State running back Ian Johnson, a sophomore who led the nation in rushing touchdowns with 24 and was second in rushing at 147 yards per game.
Against San Jose State, he had 139 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries, despite sustaining a partially collapsed lung in the second quarter. He missed the next game but came back for 147 yards and three touchdowns against Nevada in the Broncos' regular-season finale. His 1,613 yards - 6.4 per carry - set a school record.
"His numbers speak for themselves," Oklahoma co-defensive coordinator Bobby Jack Wright said. "A really good running back, does a heck of a job reading. He's just one of those naturals. He's got a feel for it."
Boise State's Chris Petersen was offensive coordinator for five years before moving up to head coach this season when Dan Hawkins left for Colorado. With Petersen's offense second nature to the senior-laden squad, the Broncos feature a dizzying array of shifts and motions before the snap.
"It's a lot of jumpin' and tradin' and shifting," Sooners linebacker Zach Latimer said. "It's real good to try to get you so you can't lock in to a certain formation or something. It gets you kind of foggy for a minute."
All the shifting in the world might not be enough against the ever-improving Oklahoma defense.
"Look at how big they are? They're huge," Johnson said. "If you asked someone what size you want each position to be, that's them. They are the perfect prototype football players."
Maybe, but the Sooners say they are not taking this one for granted.
"Anytime we think we can just roll our hat out there and win," Latimer said, "then that's when you get beat."