The Fiesta Bowl on January 1 between the Boise State Broncos (12-0) and the Oklahoma Sooners (11-2) is the biggest game of the year, the decade, or, for some fans, the biggest game to date for Boise State. Even so, just like every other football game, there are four possible outcomes.
"Wait just a minute," you might be saying, "Four outcomes? I thought there were just two: win or lose." Before overtime was instituted in college football in 1996, ending in a tie was also an option, but even though that's no longer the case, there are still four possible endings to this showdown. They are: 1) win big, 2) lose big, 3) lose close or 4) win close. In a game like this--with a lot of attention (both local and national)--it does make a difference how Boise State wins or loses.
A big Boise State win will not only be newsworthy locally, it will also be a significant national story. The Fiesta Bowl is being billed as "David vs. Goliath," as small, relatively unknown Boise State faces Oklahoma, a well-known powerhouse from a prominent conference. However, it's really more of a "Goliath vs. Goliath" story. Oklahoma and Boise State are the two winningest NCAA football programs so far this decade; both schools have won over 85 percent of their games.
The Fiesta Bowl has seen a few big wins over the years. Utah and Oregon State are two recent examples. Utah beat Pittsburgh 25-7 in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl while Oregon State beat Notre Dame 41-9 in 2001.
Oregon State's thumping of Notre Dame in 2001 may be the game with the closest parallel with the upcoming Boise State-Oklahoma game. Like Boise State, Oregon is a northwestern school. And like Oklahoma, Notre Dame has a long and storied football history. In the end, though, it wasn't really much of a game. Notre Dame's history was no match for Oregon State's abilities. The Beavers dominated the game on offense, defense and with special teams.
A big loss is always an option in a big game. And, it's an option that Boise State has experienced before. While not a bowl game, the season opener in 2005--where the Broncos went up against University of Georgia and lost 48-13--was also arguably one of the biggest games they'd played to date.
The Georgia loss was a real blow to Boise State and its fans. It sure started the season off on the wrong foot. Some might argue that it was the beginning of the end of Dan Hawkins' tenure as head coach. Whether that's the case or not, it did take a while for Boise State to recover from that loss. Another loss like that would pose a real self-esteem problem for Bronco fans ... and the entire Western Athletic Conference, for that matter. That lopsided score is just what some people might expect to see at the end of the Fiesta Bowl.
Boise State has experienced close losses in a bowl games too. Just last year, Boise State's season ended with a 27-21 loss to Boston College in the MPC Computers Bowl. That was also the case the season before, when Boise State lost to Louisville 44-40 in the Liberty Bowl.
Some fans say that close losses are the toughest to take. That always brings out the could've, should've, would've post-game debate., which comes along with second-guessing about many aspects of the team, the game, and the coaching. Oklahoma fans can also point to another aspect of the game to second-guess in a close loss--the officiating. Oklahoma experienced that in one of their two losses this year to the University of Oregon on September 17. Without an officiating mix-up that pinned an unwarranted close loss on the Sooners, they would have been that much closer to a perfect season.
The fourth and final option is the close win. This was the outcome in the 2003 Ft. Worth Bowl when Boise State prevailed over Texas Christian by a score of 34-31. If close losses are the hardest for fans to swallow, close wins--especially when they come from behind--are the most enjoyable.
A close win is a great confidence booster for players and fans alike. Wins like that also become the stuff of legend and Boise State has had their share of close wins over recent years.
There is, however, one exception: if that outcome is determined by a bad call from the officiating crew. Then the victory doesn't give anyone much joy. The so-called victory by Oregon over Oklahoma was the high point for Oregon's season; it all went downhill shortly after. Oklahoma got the loss, but Oregon ended up with a black eye out of the mess and ended their regular season with three straight losses.
However, I'm not sure that's satisfied all of the Oklahoma fans. It's likely that some of them would feel vindicated if a similar officiating snafu worked in their favor in the Fiesta Bowl.
No matter the outcome of the Fiesta Bowl, it's a big game on the national stage. The one prediction I can make with a lot of confidence is that after the Fiesta Bowl is over, we'll all be talking about the game for years to come.