Theres one easy way to identify rivalries in college football.
By the attitudes of the players.
Bitter fans and coaches who hold a grudge can only generate so much intensity.
But when the players feel something different, theres an emotion and physicality that flows through the game.
Thats what has happened with Boise State-Nevada rivals for four decades who have cranked up the tension in recent years with some of the most thrilling games of each season. They meet again Saturday in Reno (1:35 p.m. MST, ABC).
It brings out the best in both of us, Boise State senior tailback D.J. Harper said.
Added senior defensive tackle Darren Koontz: Its one of those games you look for as a football player because you get to go out there and play the way you want to play. The most physical team at the end of the day is going to win.
A more subtle way to know this is a rivalry its about to die.
Boise State-Nevada is expected to become another in a string of rivalries ended nationwide by conference realignment. The Broncos move to the Big East for football next year, and Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault doesnt want to play nonconference games in Boise.
It will probably be the end of the rivalry, he told the Reno Gazette-Journal. We have so many other things that wed like to do (with our nonconference schedule) and people wed like to play.
Boise State coach Chris Petersen, on the other hand, would like to retain a relationship with the Pack. The Broncos need nonconference games in the West to balance a schedule that often will force them to go east.
Im sure well see them sooner rather than later, he said.
The Broncos and Wolf Pack have played 38 times since 1971, including conference games in the Big Sky, Big West, WAC and now Mountain West. They missed each other in 1978, 1992, 1995 and 2000.
The series includes two of the Broncos most painful losses in the 1990 Division I-AA semifinals in three overtimes and in 2010 in one overtime with at least a Rose Bowl berth on the line for the Broncos and recently has been highlighted by high-scoring duels.
I can look back and every year something has been special about this game, Nevada senior tight end Zach Sudfeld told the Gazette-Journal. It would be sad if this was the last time we played them.
Here are some highlights from the Boise State-Nevada football rivalry:
1971: Boise State 17, Nevada 10 (Reno) The Broncos started the new rivalry with a win.
1973: Nevada 23, Boise State 21 (Reno) A controversial penalty on the final play of the game allowed the Wolf Pack one more snap. They scored the game-winning TD.
1979: Boise State 28, Nevada 27 (Reno) The first big crowd of Broncos fans in Reno watched as Nevadas potential game-winning field goal fell short.
1987: Boise State 36, Nevada 31 (Reno) Boise State defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, then a defensive lineman, preserved the victory with a sack. The Broncos went to each corner of the stadium to salute their fans a celebration the Wolf Pack considered a victory lap.
1990 (regular season): Boise State 30, Nevada 14 (Boise) The Pack came to Bronco Stadium with an undefeated record and No. 2 ranking in Division I-AA. The Broncos defense held them to 216 yards and Bart Hull rushed for three touchdowns.
1990 (playoffs): Nevada 59, Boise State 52, 3 OT (Reno) Kicker Mike Black missed a 37-yard field goal in the first overtime that would have sent the Broncos to the I-AA national championship game. Wide right, he said two years ago. Didnt even have a chance. Totally hit it bad. I can honestly say its one of the worst days of my life.
1999: Boise State 52, Nevada 17 (Boise) This was a turning point for the Broncos program. Coming off an embarrassing loss a week earlier at North Texas, coach Dirk Koetter opened the playbook and began a season-ending run of six straight wins. The win also began a 10-game series winning streak for the Broncos.
2002 (Reno), 2003 (Boise), 2004 (Reno), 2006 (Reno): The Broncos won those four games by a combined total of 196-38 clinching either a WAC championship or an undefeated regular season with each win. The biggest celebration was on the field at Mackay Stadium in 2006, when several Broncos wore sombreros to celebrate their bid to the Fiesta Bowl. Youd hate for that to happen on your field, tailback Ian Johnson said in 2007. We went out there and played a really good game and the next thing you know everyones celebrating, Fiesta! Fiesta! And if youre going to the Fiesta, youve got to party.
2005: Boise State 49, Nevada 14 (Boise) The Broncos lashed out at the Wolf Pack after the game over comments made in the media and to recruits. This team came in with a lot of emotion and a lot of aggression, offensive lineman Daryn Colledge said that day. We knew we had a lot to prove this week. Were not going to let a team like Nevada come in here and talk trash. Were going to punish them like a dad should and send them back home.
2007: Boise State 69, Nevada 67, 4 OT (Boise) Wolf Pack quarterback Colin Kaepernicks fantastic starting debut ended in the highest-scoring game in Football Bowl Subdivision history. The Pack generated 639 yards; the Broncos racked up 627. Boise State tailback Jeremy Avery caught a two-point pass in the fourth overtime and linebacker Tim Brady sacked Kaepernick on Nevadas two-point play to win it.
2010: Nevada 34, Boise State 31, OT (Reno) The Broncos squandered a 24-7 halftime lead and a chance to play in the Rose Bowl or BCS National Championship Game. Doug Martins 79-yard reception gave the Broncos the lead in the fourth quarter, Nevada tied it with 13 seconds left and Titus Youngs remarkable 53-yard catch gave the Broncos a chance to win on the final play. Kyle Brotzman missed the 26-yard field goal, just like Black 20 years earlier, and missed again in overtime. Nevada kicker Anthony Martinez didnt nailing a 34-yarder for the victory. Its just heartbreaking its sad that we couldnt finish, Martin said.
Sources: Idaho Statesman archives, Boise State media guides, Tom Scott, Paul J. Schneider
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat