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Broncos' Fiesta Bowl season inspiring BCS dreams

Those tricksters from Boise State struck a blow for all the
teams relegated to second-class status by the Bowl Championship
Series.

When the Broncos turned the Fiesta Bowl into a fairy tale with a
hook-n-lateral, a Statue of Liberty and a postgame proposal, they
pulled off one of the most wildly entertaining upsets in college
football history and helped clear the way for the next upstart to
break through the BCS glass ceiling.

In Honolulu and Hattiesburg, Miss., from Fort Worth, Texas, to
Salt Lake City, Boise State's victory was celebrated as a landmark
event in the battle for equality in big-time college football.

"It changed the way people think," said Hawaii coach June
Jones, whose Warriors are a contender to be this season's BCS
buster, if they can get past Boise State in the Western Athletic
Conference.

Or is this the year TCU gets in after twice making a run at the
BCS only to fall short? Then again, Mountain West Conference rival
Utah, the original BCS buster, could get in the way of the Horned
Frogs.

Or maybe Conference USA finally gets a piece of the lucrative
BCS pie, with a talented and experienced Southern Mississippi team
emerging.

"I think it's certainly much more optimistic than maybe it was
before [Boise State's win]," Southern Miss coach Jeff Bower said.

While Boise State's 43-42 victory over Oklahoma created a buzz
that hasn't subsided, this uprising in college football truly
started in 2004 when Utah became the first team from a league
without an automatic berth in the BCS to play in one of the
big-dollar bowl games. And the Utes got in when it was even tougher
to do so.

Utah finished in the top six of the final BCS standings to earn
a Fiesta Bowl bid, but the story of Alex Smith and the undefeated
Utes didn't have staying power. They played a lackluster Pittsburgh
team in the Fiesta Bowl, dominated 35-7 and were pretty much
forgotten as college football fans debated whether unbeaten Auburn
should've gotten a chance to play Southern California for a
national championship instead of Oklahoma.

Still, that was a turning point for the so-called "little
guys" in Division I-A. Boise State also went unbeaten in the
regular season before losing a 44-40 thriller in the Liberty Bowl
to Louisville, then a member of Conference USA.

"That created and established the momentum that we're seeing
now," WAC commissioner Karl Benson said.

Two key components of the BCS have changed since Utah made its
run: There are now five BCS games instead of four; and the standard
that teams in the WAC, MWC, C-USA, Mid-American Conference and Sun
Belt must meet to gain a bid was lowered. Boise State had to break
into the top 12 to earn a bid last season.

"The top-12 model was put into place before the fifth game,"
Benson said. "It was created to protect the six guaranteed
leagues."

Benson is quick to point out if the BCS hadn't expanded after
changing the qualification standards, it would've been LSU and
Notre Dame left out of the mix last season, not Boise State.

In a system based largely on subjective opinions, teams from the
non-automatic qualifying conferences can't simply play their way
into the BCS the way the champions of the Big Ten, Big East,
Pac-10, SEC, ACC and Big 12 can. Those outsiders not only need to
be good on the field, they need to convince voters in the Harris
and coaches' polls they deserve a shot on the big stage.

Boise State undoubtedly won over some hearts and minds.

"I certainly hope so," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "It
certainly did not hurt our cause when the two BCS busters not only
got in but also won. It's just as important to show you're capable
of playing with those guys."

Utah and Boise State got into the BCS by going undefeated, and
conventional wisdom has been that a team from outside the big six
conferences had to go unbeaten to even have a shot.

TCU athletic director Danny Morrison said scheduling is key for
aspiring BCS busters whose conferences don't get much respect.

"I do think it places importance on playing a tough
nonconference schedule," he said.

The Horned Frogs play Texas in Austin the second week of this
season. If they go 11-1 with a competitive loss to the Longhorns it
could be a test case for how much things have changed in the
post-Boise Fiesta Bowl world.

Benson said he believes Boise State's success, and what it
brought, will motivate other WAC schools to improve their football
programs. The WAC received $9 million in BCS money to split among
its schools, with 70 percent going to Boise State.

"More than the money, the other WAC schools saw what it did for
Boise State and what it did for their recruiting," Benson said.
"You can measure the financial gain but the exposure value is not
measurable. It's intangible but a significant benefit."

Former Auburn coach Terry Bowden, now working as a broadcaster
and analyst for Sirius Satellite Radio and Yahoo! Sports, said it's
not just the WAC schools who'll want to be like Boise State.

"If I'm at SMU or some other non-BCS school, I'm thinking, 'If
Boise can do it, we can do it,' " he said. "We are about to the
point where, no it's not easy but it's not a pipe dream to say,
'You can go to a BCS bowl. You can attain national prominence."'

As for the Broncos themselves, well, as cool as last season was,
and as great an impact as their brilliant performance in the Fiesta
Bowl could have on the future of the BCS, they're ready to move on.

"Very much so," coach Chris Petersen said. "We loved last
year and loved everything it has done for our program. But I can't
tell you how much we're tired of talking about it."

That's a problem guys at Hawaii, TCU, Southern Miss and a host
of other schools wouldn't mind having this time next year.