Fiesta shockwaves might be felt for years to come

Updated: January 2, 2007, 7:55 PM ET
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Now that the Statue of Liberty has been run and the Fiesta Bowl has been won and we've all become citizens of Boise State's Trickeration Nation, it's time for two things:

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesChris Petersen completed his first season as a head coach with an undefeated record.
1. An assessment of what we saw at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Simply and succinctly, it was the most amazing football game I've ever attended. Never seen that much nerve from a coaching staff. Never seen such nerves of steel from the players executing the razzle dazzle in do-or-die situations. Never seen both teams appear hopelessly beaten in the final minutes of regulation.

2. A look at the potential ripple effects from this dream game in the desert.

Where do the Broncos go in the aftermath of their epic upset of Oklahoma? Into the top 10 on a semipermanent basis? Into the households of better and better recruits? Onto more and more TV screens nationwide? Or do they slip back to normal life on the fringe of BCS Land?

More importantly, where does college football go?

Is this the beginning of a new day in the sport? A day when all colleges can dream the Boise State dream, and have the avenue to achieve it? A day when playoff backers gain a larger foothold in their climb up the bowl system's ivory tower? Or is it simply a brilliant blip on the radar screen, a fun story with short legs that inevitably yields to the permanence of the powerful?

Only time will tell us. Right now it's the biggest moment for the nontraditional powerhouse portion of college football since BYU won the national title in 1984 -- but it might have a greater impact.

Potentially, this could desegregate college football, allowing more upward mobility in a sport that's rigged against the little guy. It could shift the game's landscape and power balance, like Miami's 1984 Orange Bowl upset of juggernaut Nebraska did.

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty ImagesDerrell Acrey and the Broncos have a good reason to keep smiling.
At the very least, Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42 did one thing: It reinforced the certainty that there is dwindling daylight between the haves and have-nots.

"I don't even know if you can call it a gap anymore," Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson said Tuesday. "The competitive level is balancing. It's becoming apparent that other people than those six automatic-qualifier conferences can play on a national level."

The bowl games back that up. The Mountain West and Western Athletic Conference both went 3-1 in postseason play.

The MWC's slate was highlighted by league champion BYU bludgeoning Pacific-10 member Oregon 38-8. And the Western Athletic Conference got its signature win from Boise State Monday night, but also had Hawaii thump Pac-10 member Arizona State, San Jose State upset New Mexico in Albuquerque and saw Nevada lose by a single point to Miami.

From a credibility standpoint, that was huge. Especially what the Broncos did.

"It was fun," said Thompson, who was rooting openly for a team that happens to be undefeated against Mountain West schools. "It was great. I hate to use a cliché, but it was one for the ages."

This was the first year the BCS expanded to five games and opened its qualification pool to a non-big-six-conference team that finishes in the top 12 in the final BCS standings. Previously, an outsider had to finish in the top six in the BCS standings.

Just getting the opportunity was big, as WAC commissioner Karl Benson said Tuesday. Once Boise got that bid, then endured some significant doubts and hoots of derision, it came through spectacularly in the clutch.

"There was pressure on Boise State, pressure on the WAC," Benson said. "We needed to deliver and have that type of impact, to legitimize the quality of play and play a type of game that captures fans' interest."

Mission accomplished.

Now the issue will be 2007 preseason rankings, which play a significant role in a team's upward mobility toward BCS bowl eligibility. Will every voter who became a Boise believer Monday night still be a Boise believer in August? Or will they backslide into the usual default position of filling out a ballot based on laundry?

The Broncos will have some big vacancies at key positions next year, but they will return the nation's only undefeated head coach, Chris Petersen. And they could have some company in the rankings from other WAC and Mountain West teams.

The question is whether any of them can run the table. Or whether they'll need to.

So far, it has taken a perfect season for a non-BCS-league team to make a BCS bowl. Utah was undefeated in 2004, Boise in 2006. Both Benson and Thompson are confident that will change.

"Last year TCU [which was 11-1] would have been in, if the current legislation had been in place," Thompson said. "I really believe an 11-1 non-AQ-conference team will get into a BCS bowl at some time."

Benson was too busy savoring his league's success to use Boise's victory as leverage for a playoff. And Thompson wasn't going to stump for a playoff, either -- but he did champion a plus-one format that would match two teams after the bowl games are played.

"Wouldn't it be wonderful," he said, "if 13-0 Ohio State -- if they win the football game [against Florida] -- played 13-0 Boise State? Wouldn't that be fun?"

Yes, it would. But it's not going to happen -- not yet.

We won't know definitively for years whether Boise State's landmark, lightning-bolt victory becomes an agent for change. The segment of America that stayed up late watching the Fiesta Bowl had to fall in love with the Broncos. The question is whether it also fell in love with the Broncos' cause.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.

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