2007 Fiesta Bowl Preview
T.O. Whenham of Doc's Sports Predictions
Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, Jan.1, 8 p.m. ET
Boise State vs. Oklahoma
Maybe it's because I'm a Michigan fan that is still disgusted by the thought of the Wolverines in the Rose Bowl, but the Fiesta Bowl is by far the New Year's Day game I am most looking forward to. Oklahoma opened as eight point favorites, but the spread has moved down to the key number of seven. People backing Oklahoma could use history to justify their decision - the Sooners are 9-3-1 against the spread. Boise State struggled to overcome the inflated expectations of bettors - the undefeated team was just 5-5-1 ATS.
The game is so full of stories that it's dizzying. You have the upstart mid-major trying to crash the BCS party against the traditional program with a ridiculous amount of history. You have the most celebrated running back in the country, Adrian Peterson, returning to action after an injury to face the most under-appreciated back out there in Ian Johnson. You have a quarterback in Jared Zabransky that has largely lived up to huge expectations as head of a potent offense against a quarterback, Paul Thompson, who wasn't expecting to make a start this year until Rhett Bomar got in trouble right before the season. You have two coaches who have done an incredible job - Chris Petersen made the BCS in his first season, while Bob Stoops did perhaps the best coaching job of his career to win the Big 12 despite all the setbacks he had to overcome. This is a sportswriter's dream.
The fact that Oklahoma is in the BCS at all is a bit of a miracle. They lost their starting QB a week before the season started. They lost their star running back to a broken collarbone. They got screwed by the officials in Oregon like few teams ever have. Despite that, the team just got better as the year went along, and they beat Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship surprisingly easily. They accomplished all that they did through a combination of surprisingly solid offense and characteristically sound defense. Linebacker Rufus Alexander is as good as they get, and C.J. Ah You not only has the best name in college football, but the defensive end heads a nasty Oklahoma pass rush.
Boise State has accomplished everything they have thanks to their offense. They are second in the country in points scored, sixth in rushing yards and 11th in total yards. They routinely score more than 35, and they only faltered twice - against Wyoming and San Jose State. Even in those games they found enough production to win. The challenge is that the Broncos have never seen a defense like Oklahoma's. They are bigger, faster and tougher than anything in the WAC. Boise State has an excellent offensive line, and they will have to be absolutely at their best to give Zabransky and Johnson a chance to get anything established. If Oklahoma can assert their dominance early then it could be a long game for the boys in blue.
Another interesting match-up will be the newly healed, and likely rusty, Adrian Peterson against the Boise State defense. With MLB Korey Hall keying the attack, the Broncos defense was the eighth best in the nation against the run. The entire front seven consistently outclassed their opponents. The Boise State pass rush pressured everyone they faced, so it will be interesting to watch if they can get at Thompson.
On the basis of pure talent and depth, you would have to say that Oklahoma has a clear edge in this game. Of course, that's the same thing you could have said in this same bowl in 2004 when Utah became the first mid-major to crack the BCS bubble. Pittsburgh was thought to be superior in every way because of their pedigree, but Utah cruised to a 35-7 win. Oklahoma is obviously a better team than Pittsburgh was. It now remains to be seen how Boise State stacks up to that Urban Meyer-led Utah squad. One thing you can definitely be sure of is that Boise State is going to be as prepared and psyched for this game as a team can be. If Oklahoma underestimates that intensity then it could be a big shock to start the year. No matter what, it should be fun to watch.
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