Boise State undoes years of hard work

Boise State was supposed to prove it belonged with the big boys. But a dismal showing at Georgia may have proved just the opposite.

Updated: September 4, 2005, 4:27 PM ET
By Bruce Feldman | ESPN The Magazine

ATHENS, Ga. -- A wise man once said quarterbacks get too much credit when their teams win and too much blame when they lose. I'm curious what that person would've said if he watched the Boise State-Georgia game.

Boise State's Jared Zabransky had, and there's really no way around this, a brutal first half. The Broncos standout junior started out miserably, firing a pass right to Georgia's Tony Taylor on his first play, and things only got worse from there. He was intercepted four times and the Bulldogs dropped two other easy interceptions. Zabransky also fumbled twice before coach Dan Hawkins yanked him just before the end of the first half.

Aside from his struggles, Boise State held up fairly respectably early on. On most of Zabransky's errant throws, he had time. "We didn't play bad," tackle Daryn Colledge said. "We just made a couple of turnovers."

Watching the game unfold, you had to feel for Zabransky. He is a playmaker and competitor, but the more he pressed, the worse things got. Hawkins conceded his star's struggles might have been due in part to the "anxiety curve." Then Hawkins shook his head and softly said, "a lot of pressure."

The coach didn't have a lot of answers. He said Zabransky was suffering from "a little bit of everything." Did that mean he was yanked because he was injured? "What do you consider injured?" Hawkins replied, adding that his quarterback was wrapped in towels and needed an IV.

Blame the Georgia humidity, as well as the hard-hitting Dawgs defense, but no doubt about it, a lot of this was due to the pressure of the spot. The showdown in Athens was supposed to jumpstart the Boise State program. It was to be more than a barometer. It was going to be a statement game. Boise was going to smash its way into the big time, taking down a full-fledged heavyweight in its own back yard.

Hawkins and his team didn't orchestrate the hype. Instead, there was a growing school of thought that Boise State would literally outscheme higher profile and more athletic teams. That theory took a big hit.

Worse still, Boise State undid in a little more in an hour what had taken six years to build. This was a chance to show that the gap between the supposed mid-majors and the BCS boys didn't exist. But now, no matter how many W's the Broncos pile up, they just won't be taken seriously, certainly not by the pollsters. And no matter what you think, that is relevant.

Hawkins kept talking about flushing it and moving on, but he knows it won't be that easy. A lot of that, he said, would be because of the media.

"I'm sure you guys will keep bringing it up," he said. "You guys won't flush it, so I'm going to have to deal with it."

As the Broncos filed off the field, some Bulldog fans serenaded the Boise players with the "O-ver-RA-ted" chant. Another Georgia fan screamed down, "Guess you wish you played Nevada every Saturday, don't you?"

None of the BSU players bothered to raise their heads. Awaiting them was a four-hour flight and not much more time to regroup. Next Saturday, they play Oregon State in Corvallis.

"The good news," linebacker Korey Hall, "is there's nowhere to go but up."

Bruce Feldman is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.

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