Its turf is blue and its playbook is packed with trickery—these things about Boise State remain unchanged. But what no longer applies to the Broncos is their fairy-tale footwear.
The glass slippers have been replaced with big-boy cleats, the same worn by the teams Boise keeps defeating on the big stage.
Following a third Fiesta Bowl victory in the past seven years, Boise State should no longer be considered a Cinderella. This is a program that can (and will continue to) play with the power schools, and as long as the current bowl format is in place, the Broncos figure to be penciled in for that "Group of Five" at-large bid annually.
A 12-game winner for the fifth time in the past seven seasons, Boise held on for a 38-30 win over Arizona on Wednesday at the University of Phoenix Stadium in a game that signaled its transition from outsider to part of the club.
Instead of having to make a rally against an established power, the Broncos jumped out to a 21-0 lead—even paying homage to their past Fiesta Bowl triumphs with a Statue of Liberty play for a touchdown—and then had to hold off the Wildcats as they attempted to make one of their own patented comebacks.
It was a bend-but-don't-break finish for Boise, capping a season that didn't begin with high hopes after program elevator Chris Petersen for Washington. Former Broncos quarterback Bryan Harsin, who was part of the team during its early years of FBS play, returned to his alma mater and made it as if no transition was ever needed.
Much like the mid-major powers in college basketball, Boise tries in vain to get games against notable opponents. Other than nearby Pac-12 schools, though, it's been hard to get teams to come play on the blue turf. The Broncos managed to convince Florida State and Michigan State to come to Albertsons Stadium, but those games aren't until 2020 and 2022, respectively.
This year, like many before it, Boise needed to hit the road to get a showcase. It played Ole Miss in Atlanta to start the season, giving up 28 fourth-quarter points to lose 35-13. It opened the 2012 season with a four-point loss at Michigan State and in 2011 began a 12-1 campaign by handily beating Georgia in Atlanta.
The Broncos haven't lost since Sept. 27, when senior quarterback Grant Hedrick threw four interceptions at Air Force. Ole Miss picked him off four times as well, yet he ended the season completing 70.8 percent of his passes for 3,696 yards and 23 touchdowns with 14 interceptions.
Hedrick began Wednesday's win by completing his first 14 passes, tying the record for consecutive completions to open a bowl game. He finished with 309 yards on 24-of-34 passing.
After starting 3-2, Boise ran off nine straight wins. It scored at least 28 points every game during that stretch, topping 50 on five occasions (including against three bowl-bound opponents), yet it wasn't until fellow Group of Five school Marshall lost for the first time that the Broncos even began to return to the national radar.
With this win over Arizona, they should remain in the spotlight, even though there will be major holes to fill in 2015.
Besides Hedrick's graduation, junior running back Jay Ajayi has already announced that he will enter the NFL draft. Bleacher Report NFL draft expert Matt Miller has Ajayi—who went for 134 yards and three first-half touchdowns against Arizona to finish the season with 1,823 yards and 28 rushing touchdowns—as either a second- or third-round pick.
Those two, along with injured receiver Matt Miller, should add to the 10 draft picks that Boise has produced in the past three seasons. Those are power-conference numbers, not Mountain West ones.
Hedrick was the successor to Kellen Moore, while Ajayi got his shot once Doug Martin went to the NFL. It's been like that for more than a decade, and there's no indication this is going to stop anytime soon.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.