Watch Video Highlights of Boise State's 2006 Season
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) - There are between 14 and 17 million reasons why Boise State should be happy with reaching the Fiesta Bowl as a non-BCS school.
But the one thing money can't buy the undefeated Broncos - national respect - can be earned with a victory over perennial powerhouse Oklahoma as the teams meet New Year's Day.
Boise State (12-0) became just the second team from a non-Bowl Championship Series conference to claim a berth in one of the most lucrative bowls since the 1997 inception of the BCS. With their eighth-place finish in the BCS rankings, the Broncos took advantage of less stringent rules - most notably the one that guaranteed a team from a non-BCS conference a spot in the field if it finished in the top 12 - than the first team to accomplish the feat, Utah in 2004.
``I think it's great. I think that we've got a great team,'' said BCS coordinator and SEC commissioner Mike Slive. ``It's a Cinderella team and they have earned it; they have made the criteria that we set forth and it's exciting. You know, they have played on the field and earned the slot and we're looking forward to watching them play.''
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops didn't need any convincing the Broncos will be a quality opponent for his Sooners, who reached the Fiesta Bowl by defeating Nebraska in the Big 12 title game.
``It will not be hard for us to focus in on this,'' Stoops said. ``I look at people's track records. I look at what people have done over a great period of time, and Boise State has been excellent.''
Despite the excitement of the Broncos reaching the Fiesta Bowl, there is the matter of proving they belong in a high-pressure environment. For first-year Boise State coach Chris Petersen, the high stakes of winning every game just to earn the opportunity to be in the BCS is now replaced by the pressure of representing all the non-BCS conferences.
``We know we've got to go out and compete well and show well, or people will be saying, 'Yeah, they shouldn't have been there anyways,''' said Petersen. ``It's a great challenge.''
Boise State - which has the best record of any Division I-A team since 1999 at 85-16 - played just one school from a BCS conference this season, routing Oregon State 42-14 at home Sept. 7. The Broncos scored 30 or more points in 10 of their 12 games, topping 40 on eight occasions.
The Broncos have a top-flight offense that averaged 39.4 points and 424.2 yards. Ian Johnson ranked fourth among Division I-A running backs with 1,613 yards and first with 24 touchdowns despite missing one game with a partially collapsed lung. The sophomore - wearing a flak jacket to protect his cracked ribs - rushed for 147 yards and three touchdowns as Boise State capped its perfect regular season with a 38-7 win Nov. 25 at Nevada.
``This means everything on our pyramid is done,'' Johnson said after that win. ``We've had so many goals and we've knocked off every one.''
Jared Zabransky threw for 2,325 yards and 20 touchdowns this season, and his 161.9 passer rating was good for eighth among Division I-A quarterbacks. His top three receivers - Drisan James, Legedu Naanee and Jerard Rabb - have combined for 100 receptions, 1,583 yards and 11 TDs, while tight end Derek Schouman added 21 catches for 204 yards and three scores.
While Boise State will receive the most media exposure it's ever seen, a BCS appearance is almost routine for Oklahoma (11-2). The Sooners are playing their fifth BCS game in the last seven years under Stoops, who has been to a bowl game all eight seasons he has been at the Big 12 school.
Oklahoma's five BCS bowl appearances are second only to Florida State's six, and its 86-18 overall record since 1999 is second to Boise State's mark.
The Fiesta Bowl, though, is small consolation for the Sooners after entering the season with higher expectations. Expected starting quarterback Rhett Bomar and offensive guard J.D. Quinn were dismissed for receiving improper benefits, and star tailback Adrian Peterson suffered a broken collarbone that cost him seven games.
``You know what? We can't do anything about it,'' Stoops said. ``For us to sit here and make an issue of it is not going to come off the right way.
``You guys call it what you want,'' he said. ``We're going to get ready to play the next game.''
Stoops did find a competent backup for Peterson - who had 935 yards and 10 touchdowns in six games - as he healed. Allen Patrick rushed for 700 yards and scored a touchdown in the Big 12 title game, but the Sooners also found a balance offensively as quarterback Paul Thompson enters this game with 2,434 passing yards and 20 touchdowns.
Thompson, who was a wide receiver last season, came into his own as the Sooners reeled off eight consecutive wins to reach the Fiesta Bowl, throwing for 12 touchdowns and only three interceptions in that span.
The Sooners received good news Dec. 8, when Peterson was cleared to play for this game after team doctors pronounced him ready to practice.
``He's cleared to play,'' Stoops said. ``Were going to give him more as we lead up to the game and (I) fully expect him to play. He's anxious to play and wants to.''
The junior running back, who has not played since suffering the injury Oct. 14 against Iowa State, has 3,968 yards and 39 touchdowns in 30 career games.
This is Oklahoma's third appearance in the Fiesta Bowl and first since a 32-21 loss in 1983 to Arizona State. The Sooners routed Wyoming 41-7 in 1976 in their only other showing.