SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) – Mention Boise, Idaho, around the country and, chances are, most people would think of a backwater stop in the middle of nowhere.

In truth, it’s the center of the vibrant, fast-growing Treasure Valley.

The population of Boise and the surrounding area has reached about 500,000.

Boise State’s football program is on the fast track, too, and its ambitions go beyond this season’s Fiesta Bowl berth against Oklahoma.

“The reason I am excited about this is not necessarily the game,” said coach Chris Petersen, whose Broncos are 12-0 entering next Monday’s contest. “I am so excited because I want this momentum and fan support to grow and change our program. They are getting it done in Norman, Okla., and Lincoln, Neb. Boise, Idaho, is a pretty special town, too.”

With an enrollment around 19,000, Boise State is by far the largest university in Idaho, but its beginnings were humble, to say the least. The school was a junior college from 1933-67 and didn’t step up to NCAA Division I until joining the Big West Conference in 1996.

If anything was known nationally about the Broncos then, it was probably that bright blue “Smurf Turf” they played on.

Boise State won the Division I-AA championship in 1980 and made it to the title game under coach Pokey Allen in 1994. Max Corbet, assistant athletic director for media relations, has been at the school for 20 years. He said Allen brought an infusion of energy by the sheer force of his personality.

Allen saw the program move to Division I, but he was diagnosed with cancer and was able to coach only the final two games of that 2-10 season in 1996.

Houston Nutt made a one-year appearance as coach in 1997, directing the Broncos to a 5-6 record. They haven’t had a losing season since under a succession of young coaches – Dirk Koetter, Dan Hawkins and Petersen.

The Broncos are 57-7 with five bowl appearances over the past five seasons. Boise’s growing economy and success on the field have brought more money from boosters, too.

“They’ve done a great job of evaluating players and getting players in there, then they started winning,” said new Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson, who was at Idaho last season and has his roots in the Pacific Northwest.

“That town has grown, and there’s so much money in that town, that now they’re started building new facilities,” Erickson said. “Now they’re tough to deal with.”

The program has a new $9.6 million indoor practice facility and is embarking on a $36 million project at its stadium that includes suites and a new press box.

Linebacker Korey Hall, a four-year starter and Western Athletic Conference defensive player of the year, grew up in tiny Glenn Falls, Idaho, and has noted a big change in the city, university and program in his four seasons at Boise State.

“It was kind of on the up when I got there and it seems like every year since then the program’s just been getting bigger and bigger,” Hall said. “Every year, the stuff that goes on and how much bigger the program gets, it’s just kind of unbelievable.”

Still, playing in the WAC against the likes of Fresno State, San Jose State, Nevada and Hawaii doesn’t garner the kind of attention that the BCS conferences receive. The addition of a separate national championship game created two new BCS bowl berths. Under the new rules, Boise State automatically qualified by finishing eighth in the final BCS rankings.

Petersen was offensive coordinator at Boise State for five years before moving up this season to replace Hawkins, who took the Colorado job a year ago.

While the Fiesta Bowl is the biggest football game in school history, Petersen doesn’t think this team is a one-year wonder.

“I think the next five, eight or 10 years will be tremendous at Boise State,” Petersen said. “I think we will continue to grow. Like I have been saying all along, I think we are the best kept secret in the West.”

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