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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, December 5, 2003

Boise St. proves worth to WAC

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Boise State at Hawai'i

When: Saturday

Kickoff: 6:35 p.m.

Where: Aloha Stadium
When a team joins a conference, there are two possible consequences.

In the first, the new member improves the league, in the way Miami's membership will upgrade the Atlantic Coast Conference. In the second, the league boosts the new member, much like when the nerd is invited to sit at the cool table.

Boise State, which plays Hawai'i tomorrow at Aloha Stadium, was view-ed with skepticism when it joined the Western Athletic Conference in 2001. The Broncos had ascended to Division I-A in 1996, and there were concerns if their success in the Big West Conference would transfer to the WAC.

But today the revenge of the nerds is complete, and the Broncos are carrying the league's banner. Last week, they clinched their second consecutive WAC title. They have won 17 consecutive league games, dating to 2001, and are 21-2 against WAC opponents during their three-year membership.

BSU, No. 17 in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll, is the WAC's only nationally ranked team.

"When we came in, we knew we could play in this league, and we were excited," senior receiver Tim Gilligan said. "We didn't do as well as we expected (in 2001, going 8-4 overall and 6-2 in the WAC), but the last couple of years we've learned from these teams and learned what kind of level we need to play on to play in this league."

The WAC is guaranteed berths in three postseason games — Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl, Silicon Valley Football Classic and Humanitarian Bowl. But using Boise State as a bargaining chip, WAC commissioner Karl Benson engineered a tradeoff that allowed a fourth WAC team — Fresno State — to earn a bowl berth. The deals started with BSU agreeing to forgo a berth in its hometown Humanitarian Bowl to play in the Forth Worth Bowl.

"Yeah, we helped get another one in," coach Dan Hawkins said.

The Broncos have overpowered opponents, scoring at least 50 points five times this season. In the past five games, their average winning margin is 39.6 points.

"Being in the WAC, you always get overlooked by other colleges and conferences," quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie said. "We want to be up there with the best. We feel we can play with anybody."

The Broncos are benefitting from offseason workouts. Although Boise State does not offer scholarships for summer school to football players, about 80 players trained in Boise last summer, strength coach Andy Bennett said.

"A lot of them took out student loans or worked eight-hour jobs just so they could come in and lift at night," Bennett said. "We don't have the biggest and fastest players. We have blue-collar kids who work their butts off."

Gilligan said: "Sometimes we would be out throwing and it looked like a real practice."

Dinwiddie said the Broncos were motivated after being picked second, behind UH, in the preseason media poll.

"It got a fire going," Dinwiddie said. "It made some guys work harder. That's why we made 'prove it' our slogan. If we wanted to be a championship team, we were going to have to play like one."

Health report: UH slotback Chad Owens suited up for practice yesterday, but won't start tomorrow and it has yet to be determined if he will be available because of a sprained big toe.

UH coach June Jones said running back West Keli'ikipi, who has missed the past two games after suffering a torn meniscus, is not expected to play. Strong safety Hyrum Peters, who missed the previous two practices because of neck stiffness, competed in contact drills yesterday.

• Looking ahead: Quarterback Inoke Funaki, who led Kahuku High to consecutive state championships, is scheduled to return from a two-year church mission next summer. Funaki, who signed a letter of intent with UH in February 2002, should be available to compete during the 2004 season.

NCAA teams may offer 25 new scholarships each year and a maximum of 85 overall. UH has about 14 new scholarships available. Slotback Jason Ferguson, who committed last February and will enroll at UH in January, can count against this season's new scholarships.

"I'm so excited," Ferguson said. "All I could do was watch you guys on TV. The Alabama game was huge. I was loving it."

Chris Cole, a former linebacker from Mission Viejo (Calif.) High, and former Kahuku High defensive back George Perry and defensive lineman Quinn Ah You are completing work to become eligible to play for the Warriors next season.

Reach Stephen Tsai at stsai@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8051.