GAME DAY! #23 Boise State vs. Weber State
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BOISE, Idaho (AP) Boise State capped its undefeated 2006 season with an overtime win in one of the most entertaining college football games in recent memory.
In 2007, the Broncos want their focus to be on finding a way to follow up the best season in school history.
With expectations higher than ever before, the Broncos look to extend the nation's longest win streak when they host Weber State in their season opener Thursday night.
Boise State swept its regular season schedule last year to earn the Western Athletic Conference title and a date with Big 12 powerhouse Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. After blowing an 18-point third-quarter lead and falling behind by seven, the Broncos tied the game with a 35-yard hook-and-ladder touchdown pass with seven seconds remaining in regulation.
They overcame another seven-point deficit with a fourth-down touchdown pass in overtime. On the ensuing two-point conversion, tailback Ian Johnson took a handoff on a Statue of Liberty play and ran to the end zone untouched to seal a 43-42 victory.
The breathtaking win allowed the Broncos to post the only undefeated record in the nation, secure the first perfect season in school history and climb to No. 5 in the AP poll - their best finish ever.
As exciting as it was, coach Chris Petersen is ready to move on.
"We loved last year and loved everything it has done for our program," said Petersen, who signed a five-year contract in February. "But I can't tell you how much we're tired of talking about it."
The Broncos enter this season ranked 24th, thanks in part to the loss of quarterback Jared Zabransky - a three-year starter - and the team's top three wide receivers in Drisan James, Jerard Rabb and Legedu Naanee.
Boise State, which had the second-highest scoring offense in the nation last year, will turn to senior Taylor Tharp to replace Zabransky. In two seasons as a backup, Tharp completed 32 of 47 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns.
Boise State lost 11 starters overall, but its running game remains mostly intact with the return of Johnson, who set a school record with 1,714 rushing yards while leading Division I-A with 25 touchdowns on the ground.
Johnson - the featured back on a team that averaged 214.2 rushing yards per game, sixth-most in I-A - isn't concerned with the expectations put on him and his team after last year's storybook ending.
"You just build on what you have," Johnson said. "You build on 13-0. You let what's happened in the past be what it was. Now it's all about trying to do something new."
While the Fiesta Bowl thrust the Broncos into the national spotlight, Boise State has been among the most successful teams over the past six seasons. The Broncos' 86-16 record since the beginning of the 1999 season is the nation's best over that span.
"The expectations are no different than they've always been," said Petersen, whose team has won five straight WAC titles. "This place has always been a good football place. The standards and expectations are always very high."
On Thursday, Boise State will face a Weber State team that's as optimistic as it has been in years, despite a 4-7 finish in 2006. The Wildcats have high hopes because of the arrival of Alabama transfer Jimmy Barnes, who will take over at quarterback.
Barnes, who backed up John Parker Wilson with the Crimson Tide last year, is expected to start Thursday. He has three years of eligibility remaining.
Barnes will join a backfield that features sophomore Trevyn Smith, who led the Big Sky Conference with 1,129 rushing yards in his first season in 2006. Smith rushed for more than 200 yards in two of his last three games.
Smith will try to help the Wildcats snap a four-game losing streak against the Broncos, who have won 22 of the 29 all-time meetings. The schools haven't met since 1998.
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