IAN JOHNSON, BoiseState's free-spirited running back, is a natural salesman. In high school hesold soup and candy to classmates for lunch, and he now has a thriving businesson campus, where he crochets--that's right, he crochets--hats, scarves andblankets that he sells to friends and fans. It's not surprising that Johnson, asophomore whose major is entrepreneurial management, is spearheading the salespitch that's aimed at putting 9--0 Boise State in a BCS bowl game for the firsttime in school history.
The Broncos'biggest selling point is their undefeated record, which they kept intact with a45--21 victory over Fresno State on Nov. 1. It will have to remain unblemishedthrough the final three games, against Western Athletic Conference opponentsSan Jose State, Utah State and Nevada, for Boise State to have any chance ofbecoming the second team from a non-BCS conference to be invited to a BCS bowl.(Utah, which beat Pittsburgh in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, was the first.)
Although theyrefuse to delve too deeply into the possible scenarios that could make them BCSbusters, the Broncos realized the importance of putting on an impressiveperformance for the Fiesta, Orange and Rose Bowl representatives who were inattendance at the Fresno State game. "We know there are a lot of eyes onus," says Johnson, who gained 136 yards on 24 carries against the Bulldogs."Every game is a chance to make our case a little stronger." The WACchampion isn't guaranteed a BCS berth, but Boise State, which is ranked 14th inthe BCS standings, has two ways to earn a spot. The Broncos will get anautomatic bid if they finish in the top 12, or they could be invited if theyfinish in the top 16 and are ranked higher than the champion of a BCSconference.
In the latterscenario, it will surely help Boise State's résumé to have a runner like the5'11", 200-pound Johnson, who leads the nation in scoring with 20touchdowns and ranks third nationally in rushing with 1,317 yards. The Broncoshave cranked up the Heisman Trophy campaign machinery, distributing 20,000cheer cards promoting his candidacy at the Fresno State game. The recognitioncan only help raise Boise State's national profile, but first-year coach ChrisPetersen wants to make sure it doesn't cause Johnson to lose focus. "Wewant everybody to believe the hype except him," says Petersen, who waspromoted from offensive coordinator when Dan Hawkins left to take the Coloradojob.
There have been nosigns of arrogance from the eccentric Johnson, whose quirkiness endears him tohis teammates. They nicknamed him Dog Food after he ate a four-ounce can of thestuff during a freshman talent show. The crocheting began at Damien High in SanDimas, Calif., after he asked his mother to buy him a hat and instead shetaught him how to make one for himself. He enjoyed doing it so much that hebegan making them for friends.
The Broncos havemore selling points than their unbeaten record and the touchdown machine atrunning back to recommend them to BCS bowl committees. Senior quarterback JaredZabransky runs a prolific offense that has been held below 35 points only once,and senior Korey Hall has more interceptions (six) than any other linebacker inthe country. Still, if Boise State reaches a BCS bowl while a team from ahigher-profile conference with one or even two losses is shut out, thereundoubtedly will be grumbling about the Broncos' strength of schedule.
But Boise Stateisn't interested in a debate, just in winning its remaining three games."Whatever happens with the polls and computers is out of our control,"Zabransky says. "All we can do is finish the season strong." Insalesman's parlance, it's called closing the deal.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (3)
POINT MEN Zabransky (5) and Johnson lead an offense that ranks second in the nation in scoring.