I was walking through Wal-Mart the other day and happened to see the newest copy of EA Sports’ NCAA 08 football video game.
I stopped for a moment to look, trying to figure out which lucky football player made the cover this year.
It took a moment, but I realized it was Jared Zabransky.
I realize that some of you are probably asking yourself, &uot;Jared who?&uot;.
These games normally feature players like Reggie Bush, Ricky Williams and Shaun Alexander on the cover.
But Jared Zabransky?
The reason the name isn’t that familiar is because he hasn’t been a marquee player on a powerhouse team in the SEC or other major conference.
I’ll admit that I didn’t know his name until last December.
Zabransky was the quarterback for Boise State, who helped pull off one of the greatest upsets in one of the greatest games in college football history.
The fact that someone from Boise State made it onto the cover of a video game is a major step forward for &uot;mid-major&uot; conferences.
Unless you’re in the SEC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-10, Big East or ACC, you generally don’t get much respect.
This isn’t to say that teams from other conferences aren’t good, but if you watch ESPN on Saturday mornings, teams outside those six conferences rarely get more than a passing mention.
That’s a shame, because there is some quality football being played at smaller schools.
These are schools that are going out there and playing the big boys with the hope of getting better, making it into a power conference and then being in the hunt for prized recruits every season.
For all of us who couldn’t wait for a &uot;mid-major&uot; to upset one of the traditional powerhouses, Boise State is our answer.
This is a team that moved from Division I-AA in 1996.
The team won Big West conference titles, then WAC conference titles, went undefeated in the 2004 regular season, and ultimately took down Oklahoma in this year’s Fiesta Bowl.
I’d say those are pretty good accomplishments for the last 11 years.
Although Boise State is the culmination of what &uot;mid-majors&uot; want to be, it’s happening all over the country.
Marshall University in West Virginia was one of the winningest programs of the 1990s.
They also produced some top-tier talent like Chad Pennington, Randy Moss and Byron Leftwich.
Look at TCU.
The Horned Frogs weren’t doing so well until about 1998, when (forgive me Alabama fans) Dennis Franchione started TCU on a winning trend.
The team won a Conference-USA title during their brief stay there, and they have won a couple of Mountain West titles, too.
Not to mention the fact that LaDainian Tomlinson, arguably the greatest running in the NFL right now, is a TCU grad.
But let’s come a little closer to home with these examples.
Look at Southern Miss.
The Golden Eagles are one of the few schools that can claim at least 13 consecutive winning seasons.
They’ve also been in nine bowl games in the last 10 years.
Oh yeah, Brett Favre graduated from there, too.
They also play Alabama and other larger schools almost every year.
To me, they’re the embodiment of the &uot;Anyone, anywhere, any time&uot; attitude.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention my alma mater, Troy University.
The Trojans have had it rough at times since moving to Division-IA in 2001.
However, they have knocked off Mississippi State, Marshall and Missouri.
They were also two minutes away from taking down Florida State at Doak-Campbell Stadium last year.
It seems that all of these other emerging &uot;mid-majors&uot; have a notable alumnus that has grabbed attention for the school by going on to play in the NFL.
The one that comes to mind for me is Demarcus Ware, who is having a promising young career with the Cowboys.
It looks like Troy is going to keep the &uot;that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger&uot; mentality and playing bigger schools from major conferences in the hopes of upsetting one and starting the long climb to prominence.
For every fan of a &uot;mid-major&uot; school, looking at a school like Boise State gives us hope.
We hope that someday, our school can be nationally recognized as a great football team.
We hope that we can perennially play with teams from a major conference and earn a big bowl bid, just like Boise State was the first team from a non-BCS conference to win a BCS bowl game.
It’s a long way from obscurity, but it can be done, and Boise State proves it.
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