GLENDALE, Ariz. -- At the scene of its greatest triumph, Boise State once again set the college football world abuzz, its transition from ultimate underdog to power player complete.
Unlike three years ago when the Broncos emptied their bag of tricks in a 43-42 overtime win against Oklahoma in their inaugural Fiesta Bowl appearance, these Broncos proved they can topple the nation's best with muscle and might and defense and, since it wouldn't be Boise State without at least one memorable trick, a touch of dashing.
While the 2010 Fiesta Bowl will long be remembered for the Broncos' perfectly executed fourth-and-9 fake punt or "Riddler," as punter-turned-quarterback Kyle Brotzman called it -- just as Circus and Statue Left and Ian Johnson's Bended Knee have defined the 2007 Fiesta Bowl -- this victory was really more about the Broncos' defense and physicality.
They went toe-to-toe with one of the nation's most physical teams -- and beat them at their own game, 17-10, on Monday night.
Many considered TCU a national title contender after the Horned Frogs steamrolled through the regular season and those foes racked up a 6-0 bowl mark.
"We showed TCU we can play with them," defensive tackle Billy Winn said.
For all of the glory that the Broncos' No. 1 scoring offense gets and the admiration for their gutsy play calling, it is the defense that has cemented the program's rise from consistent winners into top-10 power. The Broncos held powerful Oregon to eight points in the season-opener and contained a TCU attack that averaged better than 40 points per game in the regular season.
"We played a physical game, pretty straight up," nickel Winston Venable said. "(The fake punt) was the only gadget we had and it worked out for us."
In four seasons under coach Chris Petersen and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, the Broncos have developed a championship-caliber defense to go along with its all-world offense. It is a winning combination, especially here in the Arizona desert. "This is our second home in Glendale," quarterback Kellen Moore said.
Let the dreaming of a return trip to Phoenix in 2011 begin. University of Phoenix Stadium is the home of the national championship game -- and it is a sign of how successful the Broncos have been -- that talk of Boise State playing in that game is no longer far-fetched.
With 23 Fiesta Bowl starters returning, 26 wins in their last 27 games and a possible top-5 preseason poll ranking, the Broncos must be at least considered for college football's ultimate prize.
"It's got to be one of the best programs in the country. We played what arguably might have been the best team in the country tonight and, hopefully, we showed the country that we can play with anybody -- and win," athletic director Gene Bleymaier said.
With two Fiesta Bowl triumphs in four seasons, no one is disputing it.
"We can hang with anybody," Venable said. "We're a talented team. We work hard. We're not the biggest. We're not the fastest. We just got great guys on the team. We all bond together real well." And they play together well.
They are underdogs no more.
Boise State is big time.