GAME DAY! #11 Boise State at Nevada, Kickoff at 2:00 pm on ESPN2
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RENO, Nevada (AP) - For what may be the biggest game in school history, Boise State will have Ian Johnson back to help its cause.
With an outright WAC championship, an undefeated regular season and a potential spot in a BCS bowl on the line, the 12th-ranked Broncos visit Nevada on Saturday.
The Broncos are one win away from regular-season perfection and a very rare accomplishment - becoming only the second team from a non-BCS conference to play in one of the major bowls, following the lead of the 2004 Utah team.
``It's on the line now,'' said Broncos coach Chris Petersen, discarding his long-standing custom of declining to address BCS possibilities. ``This has been a goal from way back when.''
Boise State (11-0, 7-0 WAC), currently ranked 11th in the BCS standings, needs to finish at least 12th to guarantee it a spot. A win over the Wolf Pack would likely ensure the Broncos the necessary ranking.
It would also give Boise State - one of only two undefeated teams in the nation along with No. 1 Ohio State - the outright conference championship. The Broncos have already clinched a share of their fifth straight title, but a win Saturday would mark the fourth time in five years they've gone undefeated in the WAC.
``We know what's on the line,'' said Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky, who is 31-5 as a starter. ``We said every week we're zero and zero and this is our season. But truly, this is our season.''
Having Johnson available to play is a big boost to Boise State's offense. The sophomore running back is averaging 147 rushing yards per game, third in the nation, and has scored 21 touchdowns. He sat out last week's 49-10 win over Utah State with a partially collapsed left lung suffered two weeks ago against San Jose State.
He spent five days in the hospital before being released last Thursday.
``Whatever my role is I'll embrace it,'' said Johnson, who leads the nation in scoring with 12.6 points per game. ``I'm going to play like nothing happened. There's going to be so much adrenaline, I don't think I'm going to worry about it at all.''
The Broncos - who went 11-0 in the 2004 regular season but lost 44-40 to Louisville in the Liberty Bowl - might need a strong effort from Johnson to get past the Wolf Pack (8-3, 5-2), who have won five straight and eight of their last nine after opening the season with two losses.
``The main thing for us is to not overlook Nevada,'' Boise State linebacker Korey Hall said. ``If they beat us our BCS dreams are pretty much down the drain. Everybody on our team - that's in the front of everybody's mind. Without that game we're not going anywhere.''
If the Wolf Pack pull the upset, Boise State is likely to end up playing in the MPC Computers Bowl at home, where it lost 27-21 to Boston College in 2005.
Nevada has won 10 straight home games, although the Broncos are the highest ranked team to ever visit Mackay Stadium.
``Boise is as good a football team as I've seen in WAC football,'' Nevada coach Chris Ault said.
The Broncos have won six straight over the Wolf Pack and Nevada has never beaten Boise State as a member of the WAC.
However, the Wolf Pack have experience playing the role of spoiler. They upset Fresno State 38-35 in last year's final regular-season game to earn a share of the conference title, then beat Central Florida 49-48 in the Hawaii Bowl, part of a five-game win streak to end 2005.
``I'll guarantee you this, now. We're going to play some football. It's going to be a great game,'' Ault said.
Nevada leads the nation with a plus-15 turnover margin. Boise State leads the all-time series 20-12.
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