BOISE, Idaho — The cool-downs after Boise State practices this summer didn't require an ice tub. Defensive end Ryan Winterswyk and teammates simply ran out of Bronco Stadium and jumped in the Boise River.
Boise State is preseason No.1?
Yeah, we know — go jump in a river.
Why the Broncos? And why now?
The time has come to say fair's fair.
This actually has been years in the making — born of the brow sweat of thousands who dared to dream.
"There are people who came long before I got here to set this up," Winterswyk said.
Reaching the prove-it pinnacle has been a junior college, Division II, 1-AA and K-2 climb, given Boise State began in 1892 as an all-girls school, St. Margaret's Hall, was a junior college until 1968 and did not start playing major-division football until 1996.
"Texas has been playing football for a hundred years," Winterswyk said. "We're still kind of new at it."
The conspiracy that is college football never would allow this to happen — or so the politicians have argued.
The Bowl Championship Series, "rigged" in 1998 by major conference fat cats, was a monopolistic system designed to keep schools such as Boise State out of the national title game.
So where's your lawsuit if Boise State wins it?
The getting here took years of resume-building, obstacle-jumping and perfect-storm timing.
Alas, Boise State could not be denied. Not with 20-something starters returning from a 14-0 team that won the Fiesta Bowl and finished No. 4 in the rankings.
In college football, which has no playoff, where you start is directly tied to where you finish.
Of course, not everyone is on board. USA Today voting coaches have Boise State at No. 5, a peg lower than where the Broncos finished in the final 2009 coaches' poll.
"The landscape of college football continues to change," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. "For us to play in two BCS games in the last few years, I don't think many people thought that was ever going to happen eight years ago."
Boise State is No. 1 because it hammered and nailed until the bridge-to-somewhere was complete. The national christening came with its stunning 2007 Fiesta Bowl victory against Oklahoma.
Earning today's respect took the Broncos winning 112 games from 2000 through 2009, the most in a decade since Yale had 116 in the 1890s.
It took defeating Oregon, the eventual Pac-10 champion, last year on opening night and Texas Christian in the Fiesta Bowl on closing night.
Boise State is No. 1 also knowing it could be over by Monday.
Any chance of staying in title contention requires a win against top-10 Virginia Tech on Labor Day at FedEx Field in Maryland.
Big-conference schools often can overcome an early loss and stay in the BCS chase. In 2007, two-loss Louisiana State won the BCS title.
Boise State has no waggle room. This is the Broncos' one shot — maybe ever, as the school prepares a move next year to the tougher Mountain West Conference.
Boise State is used to being background scenery, not the cover boys for Sports Illustrated's college football edition.
Seeing yourself on a magazine rack can be an out-of-uniform experience.
"You don't want to be on the cover of SI and then go blow it all," Winterswyk said.
There is no cookie-cutter explanation for the Broncos' rise other than to say winning is in their blue blood. It started at the junior college level with coach Lyle Smith, who went 153-25-6 from 1947 to 1967.
Success in the big leagues is owed to a continuity of succession that started with Dirk Koetter in 1998. He went 26-19 in three years before leaving to become coach at Arizona State. Koetter handed the keys to assistant Dan Hawkins, who went 53-11 in five years and then handed it off to assistant Petersen, who has gone 49-4 in four years, with undefeated seasons in 2006 and 2009.
"We're all kind of the same guy," Petersen said of the lineage.
There is a Boise philosophy. The Broncos have a knack of identifying under-the-radar, blue-collar players and developing them into stars.
Boise State, if necessary, will use GPS to recruit. There are players from the Netherlands, South Africa, Ontario and Bakersfield, Calif.
Boise State's taste of the top could be over by Labor Day — but that's not the point.
For years, Boise was finished before it started.
No one is handing the Broncos anything this year, either, except the only thing they've ever asked for — a chance.