Cincinnati has support from NCAA ‘little guys’ of the past

Jared Zabransky sent out a challenge: Anyone, anywhere, any time.

Boise State had just upset Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl in dramatic fashion, winning on a two-point conversion in overtime with the Statue of Liberty play to put an exclamation point on an undefeated season and top-five national ranking.

“We deserve a chance at a national title,” Zabransky, the Boise State quarterback, said moments after the memorable finish.

Boise State didn’t get it that season or in its undefeated 2009 campaign. Neither did unbeaten non-Power Five schools such as Utah (2004, 2008), TCU (2010) or Central Florida (2017). But Friday, Cincinnati will get that chance in the Cotton Bowl against Alabama, the rare occasion that Cinderella is invited to College Football’s big party.

“It’s about time a team like that really got a shot,” Zabransky told The Post. “I really hope Cincinnati plays well, because that will validate it even more.”

Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky
Joe Jaszewski/WireImage.com

The most glaring, and controversial omission, came in 2017 when undefeated Central Florida was left out of the College Football Playoff. The Knights finished the year ranked sixth by the Associated Press and 12th by the playoff committee. They held a “national championship” parade to honor their season.

“When you’re at a Group of Five school, it feels like you need to win more consistently over a longer period of time,” said Jovan Dewitt, the associate head coach on that UCF team who is now the special teams coordinator for North Carolina. “It’s not just one season of success. You really have to string back-to-back, and maybe back-to-back-to-back, strong seasons to have that opportunity.”

Dewitt is thrilled for Cincinnati. He was still at UCF when coach Luke Fickell was taking over the Bearcats, and saw the early makings of what Cincinnati has now become.

“I’ll absolutely be watching, no question about it, and I’ll be rooting for them,” Dewitt said. “Who doesn’t like that story?”

The country will be watching Cincinnati intently. How the Bearcats perform could determine the fate of future non-power conference programs. A strong performance could help similar schools. A blowout may lead to other teams like them getting passed over.

“What you really want to be able to do is you want to have a seat at the table,” Dewitt said, “and you want to hold your own when you get a chance to sit at the table.”

To this day, Zabransky still thinks about that magical season. His Broncos were the only undefeated team in the country. Florida, the winner of the Bowl Championship Series title game, had fallen to two-loss Auburn during the regular season. But back then in the days of the BCS there was even less of a chance for the smaller-conference schools to contend for a championship. In that 2006 season, Boise State showed it belonged, not only knocking off Oklahoma, but also blowing out Oregon State — which ended the year ranked No. 21 — and averaging the second-most points in the country at 39.6.

“You think about what could’ve happened for sure,” said Zabransky, who now works in sales of oil and gas. “I think everybody’s probably has had that thought of what would’ve happened if we played Florida. Then that thought [returns] when you’re watching a school like Cincinnati playing in the playoff for a national title chance.”