After the big win comes the big (BCS) pressure for Boise State football

By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 7, 2010; 7:35 PM

Though Boise State's coach and players have grown accustomed to winning contests with high stakes, something about the postgame setting at FedEx Field seemed awkward Monday night.

Maybe it was the way the Broncos had to stand on the dais with their hands on their hips and their thigh pads rubbing against the folding table holding microphones several feet beneath them. There were no chairs for the victors to sit in, no respite even after defeating a top 10 opponent in the season opener and solidifying their unlikely role as national title contenders.

With a 33-30 win over then-No. 10 Virginia Tech under its belt, No. 3 Boise State's path to the Bowl Championship Series national championship game somehow simultaneously grew easier and more difficult. While it's true that the Broncos now own a signature victory, they know it's also true that the pressure to remain unbeaten - and thus, eligible to earn that sought-after BCS title game berth - will grow exponentially as each week passes.

Given that Boise State does not hail from one of the six conferences that automatically earn BCS bowl berths, the Broncos possess no margin for error in their quest. For Boise State - a member of the Western Athletic Conference - loss No. 1 is the only one that matters, which is why Monday's high-profile affair widely was considered the Broncos' one-game season.

"The next game we play will also be another one-game season," Boise State senior cornerback Brandyn Thompson said. "Once you win the first one, now you've got to win the rest of them."

Next up, the Broncos play Wyoming at home. The following week, they host Oregon State. Many observers believe that if Boise State can escape its first three games unscathed, winning the remainder of its games will be more a matter of preventing self-destruction than allowing an equal or superior opponent to prevail.

Even if the Broncos manage to finish their third consecutive regular season undefeated, there is no guarantee the BCS doors will open and allow them to play for its grandest prize. Boise State has won two BCS bowls in the past four years, and yet, its cache when it comes to BCS rankings is limited. Just as Coach Chris Petersen's squad has no margin for error, it also will receive no benefit of the doubt.

"We can't afford any slip-ups, especially after setting ourselves up like this," said senior wide receiver Austin Pettis, whose 13-yard touchdown reception with just more than a minute left sealed Monday night's win for the Broncos. "That's what everyone expected and wanted, and we got the job done. Every game is definitely the biggest game for what we want to do at the end of the season."

The first BCS rankings won't be released until mid-October, but as it stands right now, Boise State needs either Alabama or Ohio State - or to really bolster their chances, both - to lose at least one game in the next three months.

For good measure, the Broncos also could stand to see No. 5 Texas, No. 6 Nebraska and No. 8 Florida register a mark in the 'L' column. The No. 4 team in the latest Associated Press poll - Texas Christian - resides in the Mountain West Conference and, thus, is in a predicament similar to Boise State: Win 'em all, or bust.

Just be sure not to talk along those lines around Petersen.

"We're not talking about running the table," Petersen said. "We're talking about winning the next game. That's really what it is. You set your goals in spring football or fall camp and then you move forward, and really that's the nice thing is the way our goals are set, it's all about the process and it's all about the next game. There's just too many hurdles that we have to get through before talking about running the table and those type of things."

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