BOISE, Idaho (AP) -Weeks after Boise State's stunning Fiesta Bowl upset over Oklahoma, Broncos coach Chris Petersen stepped to a podium at a coaches clinic in New Jersey. Immediately, something seemed strange.
The room was packed.
Quite a difference from the past. Petersen, the Broncos' longtime offensive coordinator before being promoted when Dan Hawkins left for Colorado, typically shared the nuances of X's and O's with just a handful of purists, nerds and junkies.
``That's what you get with the Fiesta Bowl,'' said Petersen, whose slight build makes him look more like a track coach or pro golfer than the latest offensive mastermind and fast rising college coach.
Yes, what a year it was for Boise State in 2006.
The Broncos' stunning 43-42 upset over the Sooners on the Fiesta Bowl's national stage capped a perfect 13-0 season, earned a No. 5 ranking in the final Associated Press poll and transformed Boise State from a persistent BCS wannabe with the funky blue turf to a national darling.
In Boise, the third-largest city in the Pacific Northwest, Bronco mania shows no signs of recession. The nuptials of star running back Ian Johnson, who proposed to former cheerleader Chrissy Popadics on the field immediately after scoring the 2-point conversion that clinched the Fiesta Bowl, was one of the summer's top stories.
Petersen was awarded the key to the city this spring. And last season has been glorified in a new book and television documentary.
The challenge now: What to do for an encore?
``The expectations are no different than they've always been,'' Petersen said of his No. 24 Broncos. ``This place has always been a good football place. The standards and expectations are always very high.''
They may just be a little harder to live up to this year, however.
First, the Broncos are replacing 11 starters, many of whom are now competing for jobs in NFL camps. One of them is Jared Zabransky, a three-year starter who compiled a 33-5 record and led the second-highest scoring offense in the nation last season.
Then there's the schedule. An early road trip to Washington. A home game against Southern Mississippi, the favorite in Conference USA. And the finale at Hawaii, the preseason favorite to end Boise's string of five straight Western Athletic Conference titles.
Senior Taylor Tharp, who saw limited action in a mop-up role last year, on Friday was named the starting quarterback for Thursday's season opener against Weber State. He beat out junior Bush Hamdan and sophomore Nick Lomax to get the job.
``It's going to be the guy who makes the least amount of mistakes,'' Petersen said before Tharp was announced as the starter. ``We've got some good tools around the offense, so we don't need a guy to win the game all on his own. We need someone who can play smart, fundamental football.''
There are also new faces at each wide receiver spot - Vinny Perretta and Jeremy Childs - and at tight end, where a four-year starter left.
Even though the nation loved the trick plays and the passing game in the Fiesta Bowl, those aren't even the Broncos' primary weapons.
Johnson rushed for 1,713 yards and a nation-best 25 TDs last season and will be the first test for opposing defenses. He is an early contender for the Heisman Trophy. Johnson will be running behind a veteran line anchored by all-conference tackle Ryan Clady.
Like so many of his teammates, Johnson insists the team is keeping its 2006 success in perspective.
``You let what's happened be what it was,'' said Johnson, who has been kept out of both fall scrimmages to guard against injury. ``There's a lot of expectation from people that don't or can't control what you do. We don't think about that. We're going to go out and work ... and be the same blue-collar team we've been for the last several years.''
On defense, the secondary may be asked to carry the load in the early going. Two starting cornerbacks and senior safety Marty Tadman, who had 67 tackles and six interceptions last year, anchor a defense that appears to be stronger on the edges than inside.
Tadman says the defense is prepared for the challenge.
``We expect teams to try to run on us up the middle,'' Tadman said. ``But we're strong at the ends and I like what we're seeing out of the tackles.''

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