LANDOVER, Md. -- A slice of Boise State's national perception slapped hands with Broncos players from the first row of FedEx Field on Monday night.
That perception was named C.H. Carey, a good-old-boy North Carolina resident and die-hard Alabama fan, who wore Julio Jones' No. 8 jersey. It's never too late to jump on the bandwagon even if your team is suddenly on a collision course with a former junior college that plays on blue turf.
|Boise State is no longer a small school trying to break through -- but a true national power. (Getty Images)|
Neither does anyone else. That's what will make the next 13 weeks so great and confusing and probably a little bit nasty. It is a question that won't be answered ever. All we know for sure is that third-ranked Boise State's 33-30 comeback win over Virginia Tech kicked off a national debate that will last from now until perhaps January.
Are the Broncos good enough?
Are they deserving?
Just what the heck is a 'Bama fan doing slapping hands with Boise State players?
"I don't know and I don't care," said Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore, who beat the Hokies with a game-winning touchdown with 69 seconds left.
The latest piece of Boise lore had them playing a de facto road game in FedEx where about 90 percent of the 86,000 were in full throat for the Hokies. It was a stirring comeback that had to happen to help Boise's credibility. The Broncos blew a 17-0 first-quarter lead and a 26-21 third-quarter lead. The nation was ready to fall asleep on the Broncos. Boise State sensed its own mortality.
"In the back of your mind you think about it," cornerback Brandyn Thompson said. "It was probably the most anticipated hyped game I've ever been a part of."
Thompson was one of the cornerbacks who struggled while Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor announced himself in the Heisman race. Moore, though, had the ball last -- Boise's final possession started with 1:47 left -- and that was everything Monday night. After struggling for most of the second half, he completed 4 of 5 passes on the final drive, aided by a dubious call -- late hit out of bounds against the Hokies.
From Virginia Tech's 13, he found fellow senior Austin Pettis streaking behind a defender.
"It's practice. It's what we do. It's nothing out of the ordinary," Moore said. "This time they gave us a little bit more time. Usually they give us a 1:30 in practice. We had a little more time."
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The postgame scene was eerily familiar to the two Fiesta Bowl wins that put Boise State on the national radar. Fans and players were celebrating more than a season-opening win over a top 10 team. This was the program's biggest game in its history. Until Moore threw his third touchdown of the game, the Broncos were about to choke it away.
They trailed four times all of last season. On Monday, they trailed most of the second half. They blew leads. The usually detail-minded Broncos committed 11 penalties. Two lost fumbles led to touchdowns. Moore coughed one up when his left tackle ran into him.
The game-winning 56-yard drive was set up because the Big Ten officiating crew picked up a flag for a block in the back on a Boise punt return. Instead of being pushed back near its goal line, Boise started at its own 44.
"It was huge, no question about it," said coach Chris Petersen, now 50-4 in his career. "It changes your whole mindset."
And now they want your vote, or at least those in the coaches' and AP polls.
"I think you should gain a little respect beating Virginia Tech out here," Moore said. "You're basically playing a road game. You're having a heck of a game with them, fighting back and forth."
Somewhere in the ether, Bear Bryant saw the result and just gagged a little on his bourbon. Boise's win doesn't put the Broncos in the national championship game. The threat, though, is now more likely. Boise's last year as a junior college, 1964, Bear began a run of consecutive national championships.
Now it has come to this: Carey's boys are on top again, but may be challenged by a program that has the nation's highest winning percentage since 2000. Alabama doesn't appear in the top 15. Alabama also doesn't play in the WAC, a conference that may cease to exist in a few years due to a recent raid by the Mountain West. That's the same Mountain West that Boise will join next season in hopes of a strength-of-schedule boost.
But with better competition comes more chances for losses. That's all for the future. For now, all Boise can do is point to its 5-1 record against BCS schools since 2006.
Just don't call the Broncos a BCS buster. They haven't busted anything. On Monday, they propped up the system.
The BCS will take this victory and spin it like the Bush administration sold us the Iraq war. Back then Bush and Cheney were trying to sell us weapons of mass destruction. Over the next four months BCS executive director Bill Hancock and the boys will be telling us that the BCS works, that there is room for the little guy. Without the BCS, Boise would be playing in some no-count bowl sponsored by a truck stop consortium or an auto parts company.
With the BCS, Boise needs only to beat Oregon State at home in a couple of weeks before easing into a WAC schedule that includes Utah State, San Jose State and New Mexico State. That's the bottom end of WAC schedule that has one high end -- Boise.
Boise State knew the rules coming in. It was a one-game season. Win and you're in, or at least on a rocket sled to the national championship game.
Lose to Virginia Tech and you're out.
Boise State president Bob Kustra said it out loud in the offseason.
"Everything," he said, "is riding on that one."
Faced with that pressure, Boise played shaky at times. The Hokies hadn't been down 17-0 after one quarter since 1992. Miami won that game by 20. After the first quarter Monday, Boise had three scores. Virginia Tech had 5 yards.
That's what good teams do -- break out, strike right away, then never back off. For a comparison, think of those vintage USC teams when Reggie Bush was the best-paid tailback in the nation. Say what you will about lack of institutional control, USC finished the deal on the field.
Boise almost didn't.
A loss would have made the Broncos an old story. They were easier to like for guys like Chaney when they were a BCS bowl curiosity. A warm-up act for their big brothers from the major conferences. It was also easier for Boise to play those games. The Broncos had nothing to lose. Why not trick play Oklahoma into submission? Why not try a fourth-down pass from the punter against TCU in January?
On that last drive, they faced first and the rest of the season.
The win will do nothing for Boise's ability to schedule non-conference opponents. The Broncos go to Ole Miss next season for a game that won't be returned. It will do everything for the Broncos' national cred, or least start a monster debate about it.
Monday was the moment when they morphed from BCS bowl curiosity to national championship contender. Did you enjoy it or question it?
"They're tough," Chaney said, "but they still need to play one or two more tough teams."