SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. Boise State arrived in BCS country Tuesday. Now the Broncos are out to prove it's where they belong.
Boise State left frigid Idaho and landed in sun-soaked Arizona to begin preparations for its Fiesta Bowl matchup against Oklahoma. The Broncos were denied the traditional Fiesta airport greeting, that includes a mariachi band and a throng of yellow jacket-clad bowl volunteers, because the charter went to a different part of the airport.
Still, it was a memorable occasion for the unbeaten Western Athletic Conference team in its season-long quest to make it to a Bowl Championship Series game.
"I do think other schools and people may have doubts about Boise State - us being from the WAC, which in other people's opinions has lesser schools," linebacker David Shields said. "I really do think we have something to prove, which is why I am so glad we are playing Oklahoma, which is one of the premier programs that has been around for a very long time."
Coach Chris Petersen said about 30 players were on the charter. The other 45 or so were making their own way to Phoenix for a late-afternoon meeting followed by a team dinner. One player, offensive tackle Dan Gore, was stranded in Pasco, Wash., the coach said, and didn't expect to get to Arizona until this evening.
The Broncos begin practice today at Scottsdale Community College. Oklahoma arrived Monday night and is practicing at a north Phoenix high school.
The Jan. 1 contest between his ninth-ranked Broncos (12-0) and No. 7 Oklahoma (11-2) arguably is the biggest game in Boise State history and certainly the biggest in Petersen's six seasons at the school - five as offensive coordinator and one as head coach.
He comes with a groundswell of support from home.
"Once this game came about, it has been amazing," Petersen said. "It seems like the whole city has rallied around the team and the whole valley - the 500,000-plus that live in the Boise Valley. It seems like there are not many people from that area not coming down to the game. I have never felt so much support toward this team since I have been there."
Boise State will be playing in its fifth consecutive bowl game and seventh since 1999, but four of those were on the blue turf of its home field in the Humanitarian Bowl, which later became the MPC Computers Bowl.
This, the Broncos know, is a different level, and Petersen wants his team to get the right mix of business and pleasure.
"These guys have worked their tail off not only this year, but for five years, to get to a place like this," he said. "We definitely want them to be able to enjoy it. ... It's a fine line. We want them to have fun and enjoy their family and friends, but we are also here to play a football game."