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Elite status new for Boise State
There’s plenty of preseason hype surrounding Boise State football.
Sports Illustrated’s regional college football preview with the Broncos on the cover sold out, they play the biggest game of college football's first week in prime time against Virginia Tech on Labor Day and quarterback Kellen Moore is a top Heisman Trophy candidate.
In this scenic city of 205,000, people from bar stools to church pews are abuzz about whether Boise State can play in the BCS national championship game.
Although a team in a non-BCS conference has never made the BCS championship game, it’s one of college football’s most intriguing questions of the upcoming season.
After all, the Broncos are already ranked No. 5 in the USA Today Coaches Poll, play marquee non-conference games against No. 6 Virginia Tech and No. 22 Oregon State and return 20 starters from an undefeated team that beat Texas Christian in the Fiesta Bowl last season.
To have a chance at the BCS championship game, Boise State would - at the least - need to go undefeated in the regular season and for there to be no more than one undefeated team from a BCS conference. But don’t even try telling that to Boise State coach Chris Petersen, who's had two undefeated seasons the last four years.
“I know you can do an unbelievable job and still not be there,” Petersen says.
Still, the national championship talk is flattering for Boise State, once known more for its blue turf field than the team that played on it. But in a Hulk Hogan-like voice, Petersen kiddingly mocks the notion that he’s telling his team, “All right guys, here we go, national championship. It’s right there. Right within our grasp.”
“Playing for a national championship doesn’t even kind of cross my mind right now,” Petersen says. “I don’t think like that.”
As hard as that it is to believe, Petersen’s perhaps justified after his undefeated teams didn’t sniff playing in the BCS championship game last season or in 2006.
“I just don’t judge our success around here on that situation,” Petersen says of winning a national title. “I’m not saying we wouldn’t want to be there, but that’s not going to determine whether we’re successful or failures.”
So as usual, Peterson’s goal for his team this season is the same as it is every year: playing well enough to be able to smile at the end of the season.
“That doesn’t mean win every game,” Petersen says. “Everybody is so hung up on the scoreboard. We get it, this is big-boy football and that’s what matters most. But that’s not our focus around here. Our focus is doing our very best and playing our very best.”
And while others call that coach-speak, that’s about as candid as it gets from the reserved Petersen, who enters his fifth season at Boise State with a 49-4 record.
“I know they say I’m robotic, and there’s no emotion and that I say the same things over and over,” Petersen says. “You know what? That’s how I want our kids to be. I want them to say nothing and speak loud on the field.”
For Boise State, that starts with this season’s motto of “Every damn day.” Along with it, Peterson preaches to his team the virtues of having “spectacular attitude” and “relentless effort.”
Again, it all sounds trite, but Petersen doesn’t care.
“I might think something, but I just don’t say it,” Petersen says. “But if I say something, I believe those words.”
That explains why Peterson had his players twice run to midfield last week to close a three-hour practice. He felt they ran too slowly the first time and sent them back to the sidelines to do it again.
Never mind that his team had just practiced for three hours in sauna-like conditions in its indoor facility with the temperature set at 90 degrees and the field watered down to simulate the humidity Petersen expects his team to encounter in its September 6 season opener against Virginia Tech at FedExField in Landover, Md.
“It takes no talent to give great effort,” Petersen told his team after it ran to midfield for the second time.
For years, Boise State was the underdog trying to topple college football’s hierarchy. But for the first time, the Broncos enter a season as the elite.
Moore insists that hasn’t changed his team's preparation. If anything, the hoopla's only been further motivation.
“We’ve kind of always had this prove-people-wrong, chip-on-your-shoulder attitude,” says Moore, who passed for 3,536 yards and 39 touchdowns last season. “We’re still going to keep that, but now let’s prove some people right.”
Yet when asked about the possibility of Boise State playing in the BCS championship game this season, Moore laughs nervously and is almost speechless.
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“I really can’t even think of it that far,” he says. “I really don’t know.”
Like Petersen, Moore doesn’t acknowledge that winning a national championship is a goal. Instead, he recites the cliché that his coach has instilled in him and his teammates.
“We know as long as we play our best football that we’ll be smiling at the end,” Moore says.
Yet for a brief moment, Peterson does break ranks and at least ponders the prospect of his team playing in the BCS title game.
“Obviously, it’d be totally cool for college football if somebody like us was truly in something like that,” he says.
But almost as quickly as Petersen says that, he returns to his clichés and talks about how his team could be beaten by any of its opponents this season.
“We can be really good if we have a little bit of luck,” he says. “Does that mean win all of our games? I don’t know. I know our schedule’s tougher than it’s ever been, so someone might knock us off or a couple of teams might knock us off and we still might have a really, really good team and really good program. People on the outside are going, ‘Oh boy, they blew it.’ I’m not willing to say that.”
Of course, Petersen wouldn’t. And with that he flashes a wily grin.
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