In what was a centuries-old tradition, the student at Cambridge University in England who received the lowest exam score but still earned his degree was awarded a wooden spoon.
It was considered a booby prize.
That seemed to be Mountain West champion Boise State’s approach to Saturday’s Las Vegas Bowl matchup against Washington of the Pac-12 — with the exception that the Broncos’ 2019 exam score was anything but low.
They lost only once during a 12-1 regular season.
They will finish the postseason 0-1.
They lost 38-7 to the Huskies and former Boise State coach Chris Petersen, who retired as Washington’s coach after Saturday’s final gun. For now anyway.
Had the Broncos come up with one more gadget play in a 28-25 loss to Brigham Young in October, they might have been playing Penn State in the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium.
Another year, another Las Vegas Bowl, wrote the bloggers. Boise coach Bryan Harsin was less diplomatic, indirectly blaming the Mountain West for another trip to the Wooden Spoon Bowl.
Barking up trees
“Our season has shown we’re very good,” Harsin said before his team left for Las Vegas and an unexpected thrashing in a game Boise had won four times, including three in a row from 2010 to ‘12. “You need to take a program like Boise State and promote it. I see other conferences doing that. I don’t necessarily think we do a good job of that.”
If the goal Saturday was self-promotion, the mistake-prone Broncos failed miserably against a Pac-12 also-ran that finished 8-5, though only one of the losses was by more than a touchdown.
“I think you guys are barking up the wrong tree with those questions and trying to create something that’s not there,” a terse Harsin said after the game about a couple of his coaching decisions, and perhaps the notion that Boise was less than enthusiastic about playing Washington in Las Vegas when it could have been Penn State in Dallas.
“Our guys played hard; they did a good job at practice. They were ready to go out there and play.”
His guys never had a chance after falling behind 17-0 at halftime. It wasn’t much closer after adjustments were made.
It was the not the finest hour for the Las Vegas Bowl, either. After 28 years, the game will be moving from Sam Boyd Stadium to spectacular 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium on the strip in 2020, where a Pac-12 team will play one from the Big Ten or Southeastern Conference.
The announced crowd was a generous 34,197, but the end zone seats where the locals usually sit and those in the pie-shaped sections at the open end of the stadium were mostly empty.
That hardly mattered to Petersen, who enjoyed an extremely fine hour (or three) after announcing he would be stepping down after six seasons at Washington for esoteric reasons related to controlling the balance and quality of his life.
The Washington coach walks away with a 147-38 record and .795 winning percentage — second only to Clemson’s Dabo Sweeney among active FBS coaches. His retirement revelation seemed to give his players more to play for than the ones on the other side of the field.
“As much as you guys have been talking about it, I thought they would play not as hard, because they’re sick of hearing about it,” Petersen, 55, said of going out a winner after guiding the Huskies to the national semifinals against Alabama just three years ago.
The architect of the Hook and Ladder and Statue of Liberty plays that sparked Boise State to a memorable 43-42 overtime victory over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl reached again into his bag of tricks to give the Las Vegas Bowl something by which to remember him.
The Huskies scored their next-to-last touchdown on a halfback option pass.
While nowhere near as audacious as the sleight-of-hand Petersen used to finesse Oklahoma in suburban Phoenix, it still made for a lovely parting gift — much more lovely than a wooden spoon after final exam scores were posted at Cambridge.
After additional questions, thoughts and chuckles at the postgame news conference, Petersen took the first step on the road to controlling the balance and quality of his life. Like his former team against his other former team on Saturday night, he did not appear to stumble.