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2006 Boise State vs. 2006 Ohio State: WhatIfSports Week


The Broncos and Buckeyes finished the 2006 college football season as the only two undefeated teams, not that that sort of thing gets you a bowl game against each other. The Broncos went on to beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, and the Buckeyes went on to lay an egg in the title game. What would have happened if BSU and OSU had met in the postseason?

Thanks to the computer magic of WhatIfSports, we have an answer. After the jump, find out how Jared Zabransky and company might have fared against Troy Smith and the Buckeyes. Plus, is Ian Johnson circa 2006 the greatest computer simulation running back of all time? Let's find out.

Why 2006 Boise State versus 2006 Ohio State is such a big deal

Boise State's 2006 season is often remembered as Boise State's 2007 Fiesta Bowl - a single, glorious year encapsulated in a thrilling, historic victory against Oklahoma. Many Bronco fans think it may have been BSU's best team ever. There was a defense led by Korey Hall and Marty Tadman. There was good Ian Johnson taking handoffs from mostly-good Jared Zabransky. The Broncos finished 13-0 and at No. 5 nationally.

Ohio State completed a perfect regular season and earned the first ever perfect 1.000 from the BCS computers, a fact that would later lose a lot meaning because everyone knows BCS computers are janky. The Buckeyes had  a Heisman-Trophy winning QB in Troy Smith, a future NFL draft bust WR in Ted Ginn, and a defense led by James Laurinitis. By most all measures, they were the best college football team in the land to the extent that a Big Ten team can be considered the best. The Buckeyes lost in the BCS national championship game to Florida, and thus the Tim Tebow era began.

Want a good laugh? Jump in your Way Back Machine and take a look at the 2006 regular season BCS standings, before any bowl games were played.

Rank Team Record
1 Ohio State 12-0
2 Florida 12-1
3 Michigan 11-1
4 LSU 10-2
5 USC 10-2
6 Louisville 11-1
7 Wisconsin 11-1
8 Boise State 12-0
9 Auburn 10-2
10 Oklahoma 11-2

Man, and we think the BCS has problems now. Is that really Louisville ahead of Boise State? A two-loss LSU?

How the simulation works

The WhatIfSports computers ran through 1,001 simulations of 2006 Boise State versus 2006 Ohio State at a neutral-site field with full, healthy rosters. Computer Kirk Herbstreit picked the Buckeyes to win all 1,001 times.

Final average score

Boise State 28, Ohio State 21

The Broncos won 69 percent of the games played against the Buckeyes.



An average Boise State - Ohio State game

I am so nostalgic for Ian Johnson right now. In the majority of simulations for this game, Johnson was an absolute terror. In this particular sim, he had 227 yards and two touchdowns on 31 attempts. Just try keeping Chris Myers away from him during the postgame.

A scoreless first quarter led to a 7-7 halftime score, and then the Broncos really broke things open with 13 unanswered points in the third quarter and a Johnson insurance touchdown in the fourth. Somehow, Ohio State managed 188 yards rushing from Antonio Pittman and 19-for-28 passing from Troy Smith and still failed to do a whole lot of anything on offense.

Jared Zabransky's final numbers: 12-for-21, 124 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Well done, history.

(Note: Just out of curiosity, I ran the simulation for the Broncos against the 2006 Gators and Boise State won, 23-21. Ian Johnson had 215 yards, natch.)


Click to enlarge.

What can computer simulation teach us that Rollercoaster Tycoon has not already taught

Well, for starters, the 2006 Boise State team was very, very good. A lot of debate has happened recently about what Bronco team of the past five years is the best one, and while computer simulation is not exactly the smoking gun of credibility, this result certainly deserves some second looks.

Compare Boise State's 2006 dominance of Ohio State with Alabama's 2009 dominance of Boise State, and a couple things stand out.

  1. Maybe Ohio State wasn't really that good at all.
  2. Maybe Alabama was a greater team than anyone realized.
  3. Maybe Ian Johnson is to WhatIfSports as Bo Jackson was to Tecmo Bowl

Of course, there's only one way to really tell: Stick 2006 Boise State in a simulation against 2009 Alabama. Done. Alabama won 36-7.

On a slightly unrelated note is this: Would you have wanted the 2006 Broncos to play another game after the Fiesta Bowl? At the time, many people were calling for the Broncos to face the national championship winner since, you know, Boise State was the only undefeated team in college football and whatnot.

But history remembers 2006 Boise State as the excitable David to college football's Goliath, and I doubt the team would have been remembered that way if their season didn't end with the fantastic Fiesta Bowl. If the Broncos would have gone on to lose to eventual champion Florida, it would have been a bummer. If the Broncos would have won their next game, the Fiesta Bowl win would have lost a little meaning. I'm not saying I wouldn't trade a Fiesta Bowl victory for a national championship, but considering how things worked out for the Broncos, I can't really complain.

What would you have preferred?

A word from the simulator

WhatIfSports was very generous to let me use their supercomputer for the week, so the least I could do is give them 100 words to upsell. is  an online simulation and gaming website owned by FoxSports. Using our FREE SimMatchup, see for yourself how Boise State would fare against the more recognizable teams throughout college football. Simulate Boise State vs. whomever today!

Plus, try our Gridiron Dynasty game that allows you to run your own college football program. Recruit, run practice, set game plans, and much more. First season only $4.95!

Re-live the Ian Johnson wonder years. Simulate this game yourself.

You can perform your own Boise State versus Ohio State imaginary game over at WhatIfSports. If Ian Johnson rushes for less than 100 yards, you're doing it wrong.

Next up

What If Sports Week continues tomorrow with 2004 Boise State versus 2004 USC. It is sure to be the most recognition Matt Leinart has received in years.