In Boise fantasy, Cinderella meets the Statue of Liberty

The Ohio State Buckeyes and Florida Gators have a fairly important game to play next week at University of Phoenix Stadium, but I don't see any way they're going to top what happened on that same field late Monday night in the Fiesta Bowl.

What does it feel like to take the stage after Sinatra, or replace Unitas in the huddle, or be the guy who had to long-jump right after Bob Beamon in the 1968 Olympics?


The game between Boise State and Oklahoma had no national championship implications, in spite of the presence of one of the nation's two undefeated Division I-A teams. It was - until it started - just the game that came on after Southern California played Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

It turned into something much more. It turned into one of the most exciting college football games ever played, and it evolved from an intriguing New Year's Day matchup between a traditional college power and an upstart mid-major into a compelling philosophical argument about the future of college football.


That's nothing new, of course. There seems to be a game every year that argues in favor of some kind of postseason playoff system to determine the national champion. The Bowl Championship Series format was supposed to quiet the "Who's really No. 1?" debate that was a regular byproduct of the old bowl system, but it has often done the opposite.

LSU won the BCS title three years ago, but USC claimed a share of the national championship by ending up at the top of the Associated Press poll. The system worked last year when the undefeated Trojans were matched up against the undefeated Texas Longhorns, but the presence of the under-recognized, undefeated Broncos in the BCS mix this year rekindled the argument for a more equitable way of determining who gets to play for college football's biggest prize.

The Sooners could have trampled that notion by disposing of Boise State the way the oddsmakers said they would. All they had to do was whack around the WAC team for 60 minutes and everybody would have said all the right patronizing things about Boise State's great performance this year and the status quo would have been safe until next January.

Instead, the Broncos took an early 14-point lead to get everyone's attention and then turned an evening sponsored by the world's largest snack company (Frito-Lay) into a salty and delicious passion play that could not be contained by the time clock or any orthodox approach to football strategy.

Let's review: The Broncos would take advantage of several Oklahoma turnovers to build a 28-10 lead before a mistake of their own would help the Sooners claw their way back into the game in the final minutes of regulation.

Let's review a little more: Boise State was in field-goal range with an eight-point lead and a chance to ice the game with about four minutes to go, but an Oklahoma defender pried the ball away from Boise running back Ian Johnson and gave the Sooners the opportunity to march down the field and tie the game.

To make a long story a little bit longer, Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky had more than a minute left to drive for a potential game-winning field-goal attempt, if only he didn't throw an interception for a touchdown on the first play. The Sooners had scored 25 consecutive points and somebody on the sideline was giving Cinderella CPR, but the Broncos apparently didn't get the memo that they were out of their league in a big-time New Year's Day bowl game.

There were still 56 seconds to go, and Boise coach Chris Petersen hadn't even opened up his bag of trick plays yet. Zabransky kept his cool through a handful of last-chance situations and combined with receivers Drisan James and Jerard Rabb on a nifty hook-and-lateral play for the game-tying touchdown.


So what happens? The Sooners get the ball first in overtime and score a touchdown on the first play. Boise State employs a little more razzle-dazzle to match the score, then Petersen decides to go with the all-or-nothing two-point conversion rather than try to outlast a bigger, more physically talented team. His modernized version of the old Statue of Liberty fake pass and handoff worked so well that the Sooners are still trying to figure out where the ball went.

It was such a fantastic finish that post-game analysts Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer couldn't find the words to describe it. It was such a storybook tale that Ian Johnson, the star running back for the Broncos, fell to his knees during a post-game television interview and proposed marriage to his girlfriend, who just happens to be Boise State's head cheerleader. Nobody even writes this kind of stuff anymore.

And now the powers that be in college football can continue trying to figure out what to do with future teams like the inspiring Broncos, who have every right to argue that no one has proved on the field that they are not the best college football team in the land.

It still would be hard to make the case that Boise State is in the same class as Ohio State and Florida, but it's even harder to justify a system that all but excludes an undefeated mid-major from national championship consideration.

The Peter Schmuck Show airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.