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After this title game, it’s clear Boise State is tops

Bill Dwyre can be reached at bill.dwyre@latimes.com. For previous columns by Dwyre, go to latimes.com/dwyre.

It all became clear here Monday night. They played the national championship game in a football stadium named after a university that doesn’t have a football team. And neither team that played should be national champion.

Got it? Make sense?

Florida sent the Big Ten back to the drawing board, where all Ohio State players will be made to write, 500 times, “We are dull and slow and in denial about both.” Tutors will be brought in to help with the spelling of the word “denial.”

When the No. 2 Gators stunned the previously unbeaten and No. 1 Buckeyes, 41-14, in the opulent new University of Phoenix Stadium, it meant at least three things:

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* That at least half of the announced crowd of 74,628 believed once-beaten Florida was now No. 1;

* That the other half, those dressed in red and gray, no longer gave a damn;

* That neither team ended the season unbeaten.

Oh, yes. There was one team in Division I, only one, that made it all the way through, 13-0 no less. No. 1 Boise State.

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Laugh if you will. Argue that there ought to be a Sacramento State Rule in college football, as in, no team that plays Sacramento State can end up No. 1. But 13-0 is 13-0, and that 13th was, after all, against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl exactly a week ago, in this same stadium designed by an architect who, apparently, had a mushroom fetish. Call it the Big ‘Room.

That victory, as you remember, was in perhaps the most exciting college football game ever played, won at the end by players and a coach willing to try hook-and-ladder and Statue-of-Liberty plays and go for the win with a two-point conversion in overtime when the football book, especially the one followed by the Big Ten, says you take no chances there.

So why not Boise State? Why not, just once, when David kicks Goliath’s butt, call it real instead of a fluke. We all know it is not going to happen, that the people who decide these things are programmed toward, and by, the big college football corporations, as are the computers.

But let’s make the arguments, just for fun. These are the reasons Boise State should be No. 1:

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* The Fun Factor. The Broncos dared to be different, to try stuff. And it wasn’t just garbage concealing the fact that they weren’t good. Ask Oklahoma.

* The Blue-Collar Factor. They did what they did with a budget that amounts to what Ohio State and Florida spill over the bar, with players that Ohio State and Florida wouldn’t even invite to the party.

* The Cinderella Factor. Their success encourages every mid-size program to now believe it actually has a chance, leading to more of them trying harder, being more innovative and making the quality of the college game that much better.

* The Fat Cats Sweaty Palm Factor. While a few of them secretly loved it, Boise State made many BCS types, whose program is designed to deliver gobs of money to schools who spend gobs, fairly nervous this season.

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* The Color Uncoordinated Factor. Why not more orange jerseys playing games on blue fields?

* And, most important, the Ian Johnson Factor. Johnson is the sophomore running back from San Dimas and LaVerne Damien, who scored the winning two-point conversion on the Statue-of-Liberty play against Oklahoma, then proposed to his girlfriend moments later on national TV. That alone ought to get your team some No. 1 votes.

But so much more about Johnson is top-ranked.

His father, Sterling, an L.A. firefighter, bought a house for him in Boise, and told him that the mortgage was his responsibility. “He told me responsibility is a value,” Johnson says. So, to make up the difference between what his scholarship pays him in a monthly housing stipend and the mortgage, Johnson took up work as a part-time plumber and also did crocheting -- that’s right, a big-time football player doing hook and needle -- that he sold. His mother, Colleen, a special education teacher at San Dimas High, taught him how to do that.

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Recently, the NCAA, for reasons unexplained and not yet officially decreed, told him the crocheting might be a violation and he has to stop. So the plumbing, which the NCAA apparently is allowing, must carry the day for the moment.

Johnson got out from under the sink long enough to gain more than 1,700 yards this season. He played more than two quarters of one game with a punctured lung that left him with only 30% lung capacity and became potentially life threatening had he gotten on the team plane afterward and tried to fly home. A doctor in San Jose diagnosed it properly and Johnson missed only one game.

He played the Fiesta Bowl with broken ribs still not fully healed and a bad right knee that will need surgery soon to fix cartilage damage and remove a cyst behind the knee. He says he will finish college, and he says he is not building his life around a possible pro career. He is a student, not a two-year temp auditioning for a pro contract.

Johnson, and Boise State, gave us a champion’s style and a winner’s heart. In the end, they were the little engine that could. And did.

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Let’s raise a foam finger to Boise State.


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