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As the Broncos continued to win and, perhaps more importantly, continued beating established programs from BCS conferences, their worthiness to those outside the program grew exponentially.

“I hadn’t heard anything about Boise State before I came here and it seems like you’d have to be blind not to hear anything now,” Boise State defensive end Ryan Winterswyk said.

Their high regard entering this season is a level of respectability and notoriety that the Broncos have fought to obtain and are now willing to accept.

Random fans may still show up at the football offices in Boise asking to see the Broncos’ blue field, but it’s just as likely they want to learn more about the program.

It’s still somewhat shocking for Petersen, who arrived in 2001 as offensive coordinator, to witness the amount of growth. Whether it’s an indoor practice facility that provides a chance to escape the elements, or talk of expanding the stadium to more than 40,000 seats, it’s all part of the rapid rise that still sets Petersen aback when he gives himself a moment to reflect.

“I don’t know if we expected all that. … It all works together, it’s not any one entity on campus that is doing it all,” he said. “There are a lot of people involved in this whole deal.”

The reason most are so high on the 2010 team is the returning talent. Boise State finished last season ranked No. 4 and returns all but one starter _ the lone departure being cornerback Kyle Wilson, taken in the first round of the NFL draft by the New York Jets.

Moore is the Broncos’ first legitimate Heisman candidate after throwing for more than 3,500 yards, 39 touchdowns and just three interceptions as a sophomore, though he’s far from a self-promoter. His targets on the outside _ Austin Pettis and Titus Young _ combined for 142 catches and 24 touchdowns last season. Running back Jeremy Avery, often overlooked with all the Broncos’ other skilled players, rushed for a quiet 1,151 yards a year ago.

The defense might finally be on par with the attention-grabbing offense, too. Winterswyk and Billy Winn anchor a line with depth, while Jeron Johnson and Brandyn Thompson _ who returned an interception for a touchdown against TCU _ hold down the secondary.

Just how good the Broncos are will be tested immediately.

Petersen calls Virginia Tech “one of those teams,” and doesn’t hesitate to say the Hokies are the biggest challenge the Broncos have ever faced. After opening the season against them in Landover, Md., Boise State heads to Wyoming and its 7,165-foot-elevation home-field advantage. Finally, the Broncos come home Sept. 25 against Pac-10 title contender Oregon State.

By the time Boise State opens its final season of WAC play on Oct. 2 at New Mexico State, its chances at playing for the national title will be largely determined.

“We have such high hopes from everyone else around the nation and getting some respect,” Pettis said. “Now it’s proving them right because we were fighting to get that respect.”