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Reflecting on Boise State’s Fiesta Bowl championship sequel

by Tom Scott

Bio | Follow: @thescottslant


Posted on January 6, 2010 at 8:25 AM


Wednesday, January 6, 2010.
A late return from Arizona last night dictates that today’s column is all Fiesta Bowl. Variety will have to wait one more day. So, this question was sprung on me in KTVB’s postgame after the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl Monday night, and I blurted out an answer. But I think I did okay with it. “How is this year’s Fiesta Bowl win by Boise State different than the one three years ago?” The 2007 win was the ol’ David over Goliath story, making the Broncos America’s darlings. It propelled the Broncos into a true national consciousness. 
This 17-10 victory over TCU has a different feel. Skeptics call it “David vs. David,” but more national media rightfully see it as “Goliath vs. Goliath.” It’s a launching pad to a new level that could make the end of the 2010 season very interesting. BSU may, in fact, just be at the midway point of this journey. As one Bronco fan put it, “It feels like the 2009 and 2010 seasons are merged. This was Part I of a two-part series.”
The Boise State offense had no illusions of matching its 44 points-per-game scoring average against TCU. The goal was to keep the Horned Frogs off balance—and do enough to win the game. It started in the first quarter with three deep-route throws to Titus Young. Though Kellen Moore didn’t connect on any of them, the bombs told the Frogs that the Broncos weren’t hesitant to try them. The nation’s No. 1 defense was kept honest, and BSU used every running crease and short route space it could find to grind out 317 yards, the most allowed by TCU all season.
Statistically, Moore’s 23-for-39 night for 211 yards is not going to go down as his most efficient. Considering what he was facing, though, it was very efficient. There were no touchdown passes, but neither were there any interceptions. Moore made good decisions and did not take a sack. He will now finish second in the nation in pass efficiency after Tim Tebow’s career night against Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl. Kellen has, however, set an NCAA record for touchdown-to-interception ratio with his 39 TDs against three picks.
The list of ironies in the Fiesta Bowl began with the similarities to the first half of the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl and ended with the fantastic finish that harkened back to New Year’s Day 2007. But here’s an irony that Doug Martin has to like. Martin fumbled with 7:21 left in the third quarter Monday night, leading to the TCU field goal that tied the game at 10-10. Martin’s winning touchdown? It came with exactly 7:21 left in the game.
Boise State didn’t delve too far into its two-deep against TCU, going chiefly with frontline players. The exception was in the defensive line, where nine players were rotated (including Shea McClellin, who spent a lot of time in a linebacker role). It was amazing to look out there and see guys like Michael Atkinson, J.P. Nisby and Darren Koontz in the crunch time of all crunch times in the Fiesta Bowl, but that’s how much faith the Bronco coaching staff has in the talent on that unit. What happened on the D-line Monday night was in stark contrast to the Poinsettia Bowl last season, when the BSU front four was a patchwork crew due to injuries. I’d venture to say TCU noticed a difference in Glendale.
Michael Hiestrand in USA Today looks at the overnight TV ratings from the Boise State-TCU matchup, suggesting that those two teams maybe “aren't brand names that the masses really want to watch.” The game drew a respectable 8.6 overnight rating, which is based on 56 large markets.  But Hiestrand notes that last year’s Fiesta Bowl rating was 35 percent higher. “There are caveats,” writes Hiestrand.  “Last year's game was on Sunday, TV's most-watched night, and the Boise TV market isn't included in overnights.” And, as Chadd Cripe points out in the Statesman, it was the second-largest audience for a BCS bowl involving a non-BCS team (the Broncos’ win over Oklahoma was the highest).
My son Mark notices things I don’t—things I think I probably should. For example, 1) for the first time in its FBS era, Boise State has defeated two conference champions in a season, bringing down the Pac-10 and Mountain West winners, and 2) the margin of victory Monday night, only seven points, was still the largest spread either way in any of the Broncos’ last seven bowl games. I did notice this one myself: the 10 points scored by TCU were the fewest ever allowed by BSU in a bowl game, and it happened in a BCS bowl.
A sidebar of Boise State’s triumph is what it did to save face for the WAC in the postseason. Idaho’s win over Bowling Green in the Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl was a relief to the conference after its supposed second and third-best teams, Nevada and Fresno State, were embarrassed in their bowl games. But it didn’t change perceptions about the WAC. The Broncos’ victory over TCU at least gives the WAC back a little credibility, even if people still see the league as “the big one and the little eight.” Harsh—but in football right now, it’s true.
This Day In Sports…January 6, 1995, 15 years ago today:
With Atlanta’s 112-90 win over Washington, Hawks coach Lenny Wilkens becomes the NBA’s all-time leader in regular season victories. His 939th win topped the mark set by Boston’s Red Auerbach. Late in the game, with the Hawks safely in command, Wilkens pays tribute to a legendary Auerbach tradition and lights up a victory cigar.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 1350 KTIK/The Ticket. He also handles color commentary on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football.)