BOISE — They were among the hottest programs in college football in 2010 Boise State, TCU and Utah. All have retained their head coaches but none are ranked today.
They are among the most storied programs in the country USC, Texas and Nebraska. None are ranked today.
They collected 18 consecutive winning seasons, capped by a 12-2 record, Conference USA championship and No. 20 ranking in 2011 the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. They havent won a game since, carrying a 15-game losing streak into Bronco Stadium on Saturday night.
Winning in college football often takes on an inevitable feel Alabama and Oregon are among those still expected to win, and win big, every time they play.
But the above examples illustrate how fragile that success can be. Coaching changes, NCAA sanctions, recruiting mistakes, off-the-field transgressions, on-field gaffes and graduation can derail anyone.
Thats the beauty of college football, Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. Unless, I guess, if youre one of those teams thats used to being right there, then its not the beauty.
But thats the reality.
Petersens team failed to receive a vote in the two major polls this week for the first time since Oct. 16, 2005 two months before he was hired as head coach.
Last week, the Broncos lost 41-40 at Fresno State, the fifth time in their past 33 games they have lost by four points or fewer. They also were blown out in this years opener at Washington.
Those losses have agitated a fan base accustomed to 11-win seasons (five in a row), Top 25 appearances (five straight year-end rankings), lopsided victories and clutch plays.
The one thing I do know is people who dont know, they dont know they dont know how hard this is and how fragile it is, Petersen said. And you just take it for granted around here from years and years of Boise State (having success). And hey, were working that by the end of this process, this season, we feel good about ourselves, weve got a heck of a team. But were certainly not there.
The Broncos are 2-2 in 2013 far from disaster.
Theyre also in a position that is foreign to every player on the roster. The Broncos hadnt lost two games before November since 2005, when they opened 0-2.
Were not used to losing around here, junior defensive tackle Tyler Horn said. Its something no one likes. When you do lose, its kind of a shock, but its something we cant let define our season. Its two losses at the beginning of our season, and were going to come back and were going to be good.
That resiliency is what separates programs like Alabamas the Tide lost three games in 2010, between national titles from Texas. The Longhorns, who played the Tide for the title at the end of the 2009 season, went 5-7 in 2010 and havent recovered.
Boise State has dealt with many of the factors that can damage a winning program. It has lost three coordinators since 2009, taken a nine-scholarship hit from the NCAA (three per year from 2011 to 2013), dismissed a string of players because of off-field issues and graduated an unprecedented collection of talent that pushed the program into the Top 5 for parts of 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Youre just going to have ebb and flow, Petersen said. Weve been very lucky around here to not have too many of those (dips). The parity is there.
When I keep saying this is the hardest schedule weve played and we have probably the least amount of experience weve had in a long time, that means something. Its a dogfight.
Said junior wide receiver Matt Miller: Thats something the guys in that locker room understand. A lot of the fans dont. Theres such a fine line between winning and losing the small little details make the difference.
Just ask the Golden Eagles (0-3), whose fall was so sudden that coach Ellis Johnson was fired after one season. New coach Todd Monken, the former offensive coordinator at high-scoring Oklahoma State, has produced 31 points in his first three games.
Its hard to explain why, senior linebacker Alan Howze said, but it can change quickly. Our new coaches put it in perspective. Whether you thought you were better than 0-12, thats what you deserved.
The Broncos and Golden Eagles were struggling when they met last year, on Oct. 6 in Hattiesburg, Miss. Boise State won 40-14 Southern Miss helped with five turnovers and rode that momentum to an 11-2 record, Mountain West co-championship and MAACO Bowl victory.
The Broncos could use a similar spark this year. They have a bye next week before a grueling four-week run that includes three road games.
That likely is the stretch that will determine whether a disappointing month becomes a disappointing season.
At any level, to be successful year in and year out, youve got to go back to the drawing board every single week, win or lose, said Boise State defensive line coach Andy Avalos, who played linebacker for the Broncos from 2000 to 2004. You have to improve what you were good at and fix what didnt go right work your butt off every single week.
I know when I played here, we had a couple years where we started not exactly how we wanted, but we fought back and wound up right about where we wanted.
That message came from players and coaches across the program this week.
Its a long season. Theres a lot of work to do. They have to fight.
Are we where we need to be? Petersen said. No, were not. We see it. We know it. Our guys know it.
But can they change it?
The answer to that question, more than two early losses, will define this team.
Were all just motivated to get better, junior linebacker Corey Bell said, and we dont want to have any more showings like we had in those losses.
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat