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December 30, 2006

SCS.comA non-BCS conference team has made its way into the Bowl Championship Series for just the second time ever. After Utah was the first to make that jump back in 2004 (in the Fiesta Bowl, ironically), Boise State has matched that feat here to cap off the 2006 season. The unbeaten Bronocs, lead by first year head coach Chris Petersen, will be taking on the Oklahoma Sooners, champions of the Big XII this fall. OU is 11-2 on the campaign, and like Boise State, they are led by a fabulous tailback. The Sooners' Adrian Peterson and Broncos' Ian Johnson combined to run for over 2500 yards and 34 touchdowns this fall, and those stats would be even better if not for Peterson's injury back in October. Will the Broncos do like Utah and come away victorious, or will the Sooners win their first BCS game since 2002?

FIESTA BOWL - #8-Oklahoma vs #15-Boise State
January 1 - 7:00 PM CST FOX - Glendale, AZ

How they got here...

Quite simply, the Broncos have gotten to this point unscathed. All 12 of their games, including eight in WAC play, ended in BSU victories. One of their more impressive wins this season was a 42-14 thrashing of Oregon State on national TV the second week of the season. They followed that one up with a hard-fought, seven-point win at home against Hawaii before rounding out September with a 36-3 whooping of Utah on the road in Salt Lake City. The Broncos cruised the rest of the way, minus a close one on the road at San Jose State in November that resulted in a three-point win over the Spartans.

Oklahoma, meanwhile, got past UAB and Washington to start the season before dropping the controversial one-point decision on the road at Oregon in week three. A loss to Texas followed two weeks later, and the Sooners' BCS hopes seemed lost at that point, especially when star RB Adrian Peterson went down the next week. Instead, though, an eight game win streak followed, including consecutive road victories at Missouri and Texas A&M at the turn over November. The streak was capped off with a road win at rival Oklahoma State, and when Texas was upset by the Aggies that same week, the door was opened for OU to march into the Big XII title game where they knocked off Nebraska by two touchdowns.

The stars...

As previously mentioned, the Broncos' running attack is led by tailback Ian Johnson. Just a sophomore, Johnson dashed for more than 1600 yards and two dozen touchdowns this fall. QB Jared Zabransky, meanwhile, had another successful season, completing two-thirds of his passes for nearly 2400 yards and 20 touchdowns. Drisan James, Legedu Naanee, and Jerard Rabb were his favorite targets, as each had about 500 yards receiving and a combined 11 TD receptions. On defense, the Broncos are led by LB Korey Hall and DB Kyle Wilson. Hall is a three-time all-WAC selection who led the team with 105 tackles this season, while Wilson moved into the starting lineup as a freshman during the season and eventually earned Freshman All-America honors. Also keep an eye on Marty Tadman who had four interceptions this season.

Though he missed the second half of the season with a broken collarbone, RB Adrian Peterson is the unquestioned leader of the Sooners' attack, and he is expected to return to action when OU hits the field in Tempe. He accumulated well over 900 rushing yards in just six games this year, scoring 10 TDs in the process. QB Paul Thompson performed well under center this year after taking over in August. He completed more than 60% of his passes for 2400 yards and threw 20 TDs with just 8 picks this fall. His favorite wideout is star Malcolm Kelly, who finished just shy of 1000 yards and 10 scores this fall. On defense, the Sooners turn to the likes of Rufus Alexander and Zach Latimer to get the job done, as each had 10 tackles for loss and a combined 181 total take-downs this season.

The unsung heroes...

For Boise State, don't overlook the running ability of QB Jared Zabransky and the speed of Quinton Jones. The Broncos' signal-caller scored six rushing TDs this fall, while Jones is a threat every time he touches the ball on kick returns and any time he can get his hands on the ball on defense. For the Sooners, the unsung heroes have to be QB Paul Thompson and RB Allen Patrick. Both took over prominent roles unexpectedly this season, yet both performed very well and helped lead Oklahoma to the BCS once again.

The coaches...

State's Chris Petersen is in his first year as the head man in Boise, taking over after Dan Hawkins left for Colorado after serving as the team's offensive coordinator. He is the fourth rookie head coach all-time to lead his team to a BCS bowl in his first year. Bob Stoops, meanwhile, is a former national coach of the year who led OU to a national title in 2000. He has been the head man in Norman since 1999 and has led the Sooners to the best record of any BCS school in the country during that time.

The keys to the game...

[#1] Can the Broncos slow Adrian Peterson? Sure, he's coming off an injury, but this is the junior's last chance to show off in front of the NFL scouts in live action before April's draft, and if nothing else, he should have fresh legs. If he is indeed 100%, can Boise State keep one of the nation's best backs from dominating?

[#2] Can the Sooners slow Ian Johnson? Though not as well known and not as well-tested as Peterson, Johnson has earned the reputation as one of America's better backs, and rightly so. Though Oklahoma's defense was the Big XII's best this fall, Johnson may be perhaps the best back they've seen all year.

[#3] Will the Broncos shine in the spotlight or shy away from it? While Oklahoma has been in the national spotlight time and time again, this is arguably the biggest game in the history of Boise State football. Will the Broncos have jitters when they hit the field, or will they put that behind them and play their own game?

The x-factor...

The x-factor in this one has to be Adrian Peterson's health. While the doctors have cleared him and the star says he'll play against the Broncos, even if he does, will he be 100%? With the potency of the Broncos' offense, Oklahoma can't afford to spend a quarter or two experimenting to see if Peterson is ready to go. They have had success without him and will need to decide quickly which route to go, whether it's riding their star or going with Allen Patrick as they did the final two months of the season.

The staff says...

Ben David Eddie Ethan Gregg Jeff Jonathan Matt Matthew Reed

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