UNSUPPORTED BROWSER
More Sports

In a strange twist, Boise State intertwined with Oklahoma again

Even in Canada, Jared Zabransky cannot go many places without someone mentioning his claim to fame. Yes, right, he is that guy who ran the Statue of Liberty to beat Oklahoma in 2007.

The Fiesta Bowl triumph still resonates, far beyond Idaho.

"It's never gonna be forgotten," said the former Boise State quarterback, who spent the 2009 season with the Canadian Football League's Edmonton Eskimos.

But the thing is, the Broncos would very much like to see it surpassed. The 2007 Fiesta Bowl is easily the most cherished moment in a short, but rich football history, and probably always will be. But they want more. Which is why this weekend, they're feeling a bit, well, weird.

Boise State hosts Nevada on Friday night, the pursuit of another perfect season down to two games (the finale is against New Mexico State, on Dec. 5). Then on Saturday, Bronco Nation will hunker down to cheer on the Sooners.

Yes, really.

Boise State's big dreams are again intertwined with Oklahoma. If the Sooners knock off rival Oklahoma State, they'll knock the Cowboys out of the running for a BCS at-large berth -- and create an unprecedented opening for the Broncos.

"It's funny," Zabransky said. "We need another assist from Oklahoma."

No matter what happens, the 2007 Fiesta Bowl will forever be the moment when Boise State went from that school with the cute blue field to a mid-major powerhouse that can't find BCS-league opponents willing to play the Broncos -- because when it does, it whacks them (see: Oregon, 2008 and 2009). When the Broncos morphed into serious contenders, every year, for a BCS bowl berth. And maybe, someday, for the ultimate breakthrough: a shot at the national title.

But Boise State's 43-42 overtime victory -- the hook-and-ladder, the Statue of Liberty, Ian Johnson proposing to the cheerleader -- was about more than the Broncos. It remains the watershed moment of the BCS era.

Suddenly, we realized mid-majors really could bust the big boys. With apologies to Utah, a win over Pittsburgh in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl didn't pack the same oomph as Boise State beating Oklahoma, one of college football's perennial elites. And while the Utes' Sugar Bowl win over Alabama last year came against a better team, it was simply another step in the evolution of perception, and performance, that began when Johnson scored the winning two-point conversion that night in the desert.

By contrast, getting an at-large berth to the 2010 Fiesta Bowl wouldn't make the same waves. But it would be another significant step for Boise State -- and for the BCS.

We've seen plenty of progress, and we're only an upset or two in the next few days from something previously unthinkable. With a Texas loss, TCU, which is currently ranked fourth in the BCS standings, could find its way into the BCS Championship.

More likely is the scenario where two teams from outside the six power conferences play in BCS bowls. TCU would automatically qualify. Boise State (No. 6 in the BCS) would become the first BCS-buster to get an at-large berth.

Instead of crashing the party, the Broncos could get an actual invitation. What would Orrin Hatch say then?

Both teams deserve it, if they finish unbeaten. But for Boise State, everything hinges on what happens elsewhere. Which brings us back to the Broncos' sudden interest in the Bedlam series.

It's a weird time in Norman, Okla., where the Sooners are not talking BCS, but bust. A year removed from another BCS title game loss, Bob Stoops' injury-ravaged bunch is a stunning 6-5 heading into the final regular-season game. The fans who fretted over all those BCS bowl losses have a whole new set of concerns; they're questioning whether the Sooners should even accept a bowl bid.

Bedlam has a strange tint, as evidenced by this comment from Sooners linebacker Travis Lewis to the Tulsa World: "If you can't get up for Bedlam, regardless of what your record is, you shouldn't be playing football."

Meanwhile, Oklahoma State (9-2) won't lack for motivation. With a win, the Cowboys would snag their first BCS bowl berth (as a Fiesta Bowl replacement for Texas, assuming the Longhorns reach the BCS Championship). That would leave Boise State, even with a perfect record, out of the BCS mix.

Again.

A year ago, the Broncos went unbeaten but Utah got the automatic BCS bid; Boise State met TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl. This year, the Broncos' lofty ranking provides reason to hope for an at-large berth. But if Oklahoma State wins, the Broncos will be consigned again to a low-profile destination. The GMAC Bowl, or the Texas Bowl, or something similar.

All of which is why the Broncos suddenly know the lopsided history of Bedlam. They know Oklahoma holds an overwhelming lead in the series (80-16-7), and has won six straight.

They also know Oklahoma has won 29 straight at home, and has lost only twice in Norman in Stoops' 11 seasons. But one of those losses came in 2001, when Les Miles' first Oklahoma State team upset the No. 4 Sooners 16-13, knocking them out of a potential Rose Bowl matchup with Miami.

Other than simple brotherly hatred, that's been the Cowboys' added incentive most years: playing the spoiler. So it's an odd role reversal.

The Broncos will be watching closely, hoping the Sooners can help them create another Fiesta Bowl memory.

"It's funny how it's gone full-circle," said former Broncos offensive lineman Pete Cavender, who's now part of the Boise State radio broadcast team. "We find it ironic that our BCS hopes all lie in the hands of Oklahoma and Bob Stoops. ... We'll all be wearing crimson and white on Saturday."

"Hopefully," Zabransky said, "they can pull it off for us."

Promoted Stories
Comments
SI.com

Drag this icon to your bookmark bar.
Then delete your old SI.com bookmark.

SI.com

Click the share icon to bookmark us.