Boise State poised for fall


It’s not as if the crystal stemware has shattered into a thousand pieces. But there is a small chip or two, flaws only discernible to those who watched firsthand Boise State’s rise to college football prominence.

There is opportunity for others in the Mountain West now.

There is a crack in the window.

The Broncos arrived this week for the league’s preseason football media gathering at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas with a new coach for the first time since 2006, when Chris Petersen began one of the most successful tenures in college history. He went 92-12 in eight seasons, more popular in Boise than the first snowfall at Bogus Basin each November.

But the lure of a Pac-12 program at Washington and the prestige and money and direct line to potentially playing for a national championship that comes with coaching in a power conference eventually wore Petersen down, and he bolted one picturesque spot for another.

He traded Lucky Peak for Pike Place.

Bryan Harsin is now in charge of Boise State’s program, a former Broncos player and later offensive coordinator under Petersen whose fanfare coming home might not have created the buzz of LeBron James returning to Cleveland but was no less followed by those in the most populous city of Idaho.

Coaches and their ultimate influence are often an overrated lot, but there are exceptions. Petersen went 13-0 his first season at Boise State, 14-0 three years later and only lost more than two games in a season twice. He was the exception.

Which begs a question: Is it inevitable the Broncos will struggle at first without him, allowing other Mountain West teams to forge ahead of Boise State as Harsin attempts to sustain a level of excellence in the next several years?

We saw a major glimpse of such power shifting last season, when Boise State finished a pedestrian 8-4 by its standards and didn’t qualify for the league championship game.

When for the second straight season it lost to a good but not great San Diego State side, when it was drilled by an average Brigham Young team and bounced by 15 against Oregon State in the Hawaii Bowl.

“Any time there is a (coaching) change, it’s not inherent that the success keeps going,” New Mexico coach Bob Davie said. “There is always a little bit of, ‘What’s going to happen?’ A little bit of the unknown. Boise State is still Boise State. When they walk into a high school to recruit and New Mexico walks in, it’s still Boise State and New Mexico until we get more credibility and maybe they somehow lose a little credibility.

“There are still four really good recruiting classes left on Boise State’s campus. We’re all looking forward to the day when it’s my guys against their guys and not my guys against their guys and someone else’s guys. A day where we are coaching only those guys we all brought in.”

Boise State fans have for years now disregarded the notion that if you expect nothing from anybody, you’re never disappointed. They expect everything from their program, to the foolish level that some were reportedly beginning to question Petersen’s worth as the Broncos lost more games in the past two years than the previous four combined.

It’s the scarlet letter of presumption Harsin now wears.

Presumption being, Boise State should always win at an extremely high level.

The Broncos were picked to do so again this season, emerging as the preseason favorite in the Mountain Division. It’s true that none of the other five division foes — Utah State, Colorado State, Wyoming, New Mexico and Air Force — have beaten Boise State in 17 years. That’s also a misleading stat, given only Utah State has played the Broncos more than eight times during that span.

“There is a standard that has been set, but we can’t sit here and rely on it and say we’re going to do the same thing just because it happened before,” Harsin said. “We have to embrace it and go establish ourselves as a new program with new coaches and guys I didn’t recruit. I’d much rather come into this situation than trying to rebuild, but it’s now about this particular staff and team moving forward. What’s our record going to look like in five, six years? What are we going to establish at Boise State?”

They are asking the same types of questions in Fargo, N.D., where the three-time Football Championship Subdivision champions are also under the watch of a new coach.

The man who led North Dakota State to a 43-2 record since the start of the 2011 season now directs Wyoming’s program.

“Boise State is bigger than any one coach or individual,” Cowboys coach Craig Bohl said. “Teams like that just reload. Next group in. Often, head coach roles are overstated. You have to look at the broad-based program, and Boise State has had tremendous national success and exposure.

“How do you kill the elephant? One bite at a time.”

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.