Boise State relishes underdog role

BOISE, Idaho -- The expectations are higher. The spotlight is bigger. The media attention is greater.

They really are underdogs no more.

Yet given all the talk about Boise State going into the 2010 season, players insist they are keeping the under-the-radar mentality that has shaped this program.

“There’s definitely a chip,” linebacker Derrell Acrey said. “Rankings don’t mean anything to us. How can they tell how far we are, we haven’t played a game yet.”

How does the team maintain that mentality? As coach Chris Petersen has said, Boise State still has something to prove. In the past, the Broncos had to prove they belonged in the national conversation. Now, they have to prove worthy of all the praise and expectations.

Indeed, Boise State is one of the biggest storylines going into the season. The Broncos are ranked No. 5 in the preseason coaches’ poll, their highest ranking to start the year. That puts them in position to potentially be the first non-AQ team to play for a BCS national championship.

They were featured on one of the regional covers for the Sports Illustrated college football preview. All 10,000 copies in Idaho have sold out, and the magazine plans to ship another 30,000 to Boise later this week.

“I don’t think much has changed except you’re hearing it a little more,” safety Winston Venable said. “We haven’t gone about business any differently. We attack practices the same way. We look at our opponents the same way. Maybe we have a bigger target on our chest but we like that. We probably wouldn’t want it any other way.”

The first team to have a shot at that target is Virginia Tech on Sept. 6 at FedEx Field. That one game could determine whether the Broncos stay in the conversation for a national championship. So much so, that many observers believe the Broncos essentially have a one-game season on their hands.

Win and stay in the title hunt. Lose, and those hopes are dashed. After all, no undefeated non-AQ team has ever gotten a spot in the national title game, much less a non-AQ team with one loss. Getting into a BCS game would be tougher, too.

Boise State scoffs at that notion.

“I’ve never known of any school having a one-game season when it’s the first game of the year against a Top 6 opponent,” athletic director Gene Bleymaier said. “That’s never knocked Florida or Ohio State or Alabama or ‘SC or Texas out of the national championship picture.

“It’s a big game and there’s a lot riding on it, but we can win that game we still have 11 more we’ve got to play. There’s a huge target on our chest and we’ve got a lot of tough games in there. It’s going to be a long four months for anybody. It’s not going to be the end of our season. Coach Pete has been excellent saying look one game either way is not going to make … you have to play all 12 games and then see what happens. We can’t let one game determine our season.”

Boise State is no Florida or Ohio State, and despite all the equity the Broncos have built up with their previous success, they won’t get the benefit of the doubt if they lose a game at some point this season when it comes to the national championship. Naysayers may even start shouting, “Told ya so!”

The critics are out there, but so are the supporters. For Boise State, it is a matter of staying focused despite the increasing hype.

“Maybe the media’s more involved but we don’t get caught up in the media anyway,” Venable said. “We’ve got one game at a time and that’s the way we look at it.”