This is the best bowl game being played in Glendale this year. This is only true because the other game that’ll be played at the stadium is the “BCS National Championship Game” which isn’t a bowl. Nonetheless, there are plenty of storylines that should draw mild interest after the real climax of the day in the Rose Bowl three hours earlier. The biggest storyline has to be whether Adrian Peterson will be effective in his first game back from a broken collarbone. But the most fun story is whether Boise is this year’s Utah or not. Can they beat a major conference champion?
(9) Boise State (12-0, 8-0 WAC)
In the past under ex-coach Dan Hawkins, Boise earned a reputation as a dangerous passing team and offensive juggernaut. Under new coach Chris Peterson, things haven’t changed all that much. The Broncos are still a juggernaut, but now it’s through a balanced offense featuring a senior quarterback (Jared Zabransky) and a stud running back, Ian Johnson). Johnson is the nation’s leader in touchdowns (24) and points (144). He’s also fourth in the nation in rushing yards with 1, 613. Zabransky has been efficient all year, completing 66.4% of his passes and throwing only 7 interceptions compared to 20 touchdowns.
The question is this: can Boise’s offense handle the Sooners‘ defense? OU is easily the best team Boise has played all year. Sorry Sacramento State, we know you wanted that title really badly. WAC teams also have somewhat of a history of playing well against much more talented major-conference opponents by simply running efficient, balanced offense and praying for a play or two on defense (see: Fresno State 42 USC 50 in 2005). Utah also destroyed Pitt 35-7 in this very same bowl in 2004. What does all this mean? Probably nothing. But let’s face it, it’s fun to root for small conference teams in these games. If you root for Boise, you’re really rooting against the BCS, and what kind of person roots FOR the BCS?
(7) Oklahoma (11-2, 7-1 Big 12)
To disagree somewhat with ourselves, OU is no 2004 Pitt and this ain’t no ball, Cinderella. The Sooners have been playing well nearly all season, despite losing Adrian Peterson, having a terrible quarterback, and having a defense with very few well-known players. Peterson is back for this game, which only makes the Oklahoma running game that much more dangerous to the Broncos’ defense. This also takes the load even further away from the shoulders of Paul “At Least I’m Not Reggie Ball” Thompson. That’s not to say Bob Stoops will be able to sleep tonight with images of Thompson trying to run a two-minute drill in his head, but it may help a little. The scary thing is that Thompson’s stats are very similar to his Boise counterpart Jared Zabransky. He’s thrown for 2, 434 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions.
Adrian Peterson has been dying to play in this game since he broke his collarbone. It’s also very possible that this is his last game in a Sooners‘ uniform. Naturally, he’ll be looking to make a statement against the Boise defense. Like we said before, OU is no Pitt. They are not a weak conference champion who is waiting to get taken down by a plucky non-BCS conference champ. OU has been playing with pride all season despite losing starters and national respect. They’ve earned it back, week by week, game by game. They’re on an eight-game winning streak which includes wins over three top-25 teams with two of those wins on the road and the other in the Big 12 Championship Game in Kansas City. Be afraid, Boise.
The match-up here is Boise and OU’s defenses. Both are ranked in the top 20 in total defense and both do a good job stopping the run. However, Boise hasn’t played anyone worth mentioning all year. Their biggest win came in a blowout of Oregon State in their second game. They also beat Hawaii, but a team like Oklahoma that can power through them instead of spread it out is a much bigger problem. Boise State’s defense will have to be as fast and physical as they have ever been in their whole lives because Oklahoma is going to try to overpower them.
Oklahoma, on the other hand, has been relying on their defense all year to keep them in games against teams that score a ton of points. Their wins against Missouri, Nebraska, and Texas Tech happened because they shut down high-scoring offenses which allowed the offense to keep running the ball. OU also has a huge edge in strategy because Boise coach Chris Peterson is in his first year and is matching wits with Bob Stoops, who has been to this dance once or twice.
It’s close early and Boise gives its fans something to cheer about. But the Sooners‘ physical play ends up wearing the Broncos down and Oklahoma pulls away 31-20.