Bronco Blitz: Boise State walking a fragile line of highs, lows

Plenty of perennial powerhouses, including BSU, are experiencing both sides of the sport.

ccripe@idahostatesman.comSeptember 28, 2013 

Boise State defensive lineman Beau Martin looks on during the closing moments of the Broncos’ 2013 season opener — a 38-6 loss to the Huskies in Seattle. BSU has as many losses this September as it did all last season.

JOE JASZEWSKI — Statesman file

  • Broncos find ‘inclusive’ method to filling seats

    One of the first goals Boise State Athletic Director Mark Coyle set for his department was to foster an “inclusive” approach.

    The unusual glut of unsold football tickets gave him a chance to do just that.

    Boise State last week announced that it would sell tickets in certain sections for $10 or $25 for the three non-marquee home games remaining on the schedule.

    That’s a 75 percent savings on the $10 tickets in the north end zone, and 57 percent drop on the $25 tickets in upper-deck sections 101, 111 and 130.

    Fans have responded by purchasing about 7,000 discounted tickets. The $10 tickets for this week’s game against Southern Miss and the Nov. 16 game against Wyoming are sold out. The other included game is Nov. 30 against New Mexico.

    The sale was made possible in part by a 1,693-seat dip in season-ticket sales. Escalating prices have played a role in that drop-off.

    “When I was hired, we talked about trying to run an inclusive program, and we talked about trying to expose new people to Bronco football,” Coyle said. “Obviously our fans have responded well and are buying those tickets, which is great. It gets new people exposed to our program.”

    He has heard from a “handful” of season-ticket holders but said they understood the reasoning behind the discount program.

    “We need to do more creative things to reward our season-ticket holders in the future,” Coyle said.

    — Chadd Cripe

  • MW power poll

    1. Fresno State: Next opponent with a winning record — Wyoming on Nov. 9 in Laramie.

    2. Boise State: CBS must be hoping for a rematch of last week’s thriller in the MW championship game.

    3. Utah State: Aggies are five points vs. Utah and four vs. USC from a top-15 ranking.

    4. Wyoming: The impressive Cowboys might not be tested again until their daunting November schedule.

    5. Nevada: Air Force gutted the Wolf Pack last year. That shouldn’t happen this year.

    6. San Jose State: Spartans have one of the nation’s top QBs and are 1-3. Not a good sign for their future.

    7. Colorado State: Rams have shown fight this season. Now they need to finish.

    8. New Mexico: A home underdog to UNLV? The Lobos should be insulted.

    9. UNLV: Rebels have made huge strides in the last six quarters. But that was at home. Can they compete on the road?

    10. Air Force: It sure looks like a rare bowl-less season for the Falcons.

    11. San Diego State: Quarterback change seems to have stabilized sinking Aztecs, who should have upset Oregon State.

    12. Hawaii: Warriors have scored 36 points this season — 20 fewer than any other MW team.

    — Chadd Cripe

— 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 haven’t 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.

“That’s the beauty of college football,” Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. “Unless, I guess, if you’re one of those teams that’s used to being right there, then it’s not the beauty.

“But that’s the reality.”

Petersen’s 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 year’s 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 don’t know, they don’t know — they don’t 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, we’re working that by the end of this process, this season, we feel good about ourselves, we’ve got a heck of a team. But we’re certainly not there.”

The Broncos are 2-2 in 2013 — far from disaster.

They’re also in a position that is foreign to every player on the roster. The Broncos hadn’t lost two games before November since 2005, when they opened 0-2.

“We’re not used to losing around here,” junior defensive tackle Tyler Horn said. “It’s something no one likes. When you do lose, it’s kind of a shock, but it’s something we can’t let define our season. It’s two losses at the beginning of our season, and we’re going to come back and we’re going to be good.”

That resiliency is what separates programs like Alabama’s — 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 haven’t 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.

“You’re just going to have ebb and flow,” Petersen said. “We’ve 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 we’ve played and we have probably the least amount of experience we’ve had in a long time, that means something. It’s a dogfight.”

Said junior wide receiver Matt Miller: “That’s something the guys in that locker room understand. A lot of the fans don’t. There’s 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.

“It’s 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, that’s 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, you’ve 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 didn’t 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.

It’s a long season. There’s a lot of work to do. They have to fight.

“Are we where we need to be?” Petersen said. “No, we’re 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.

“We’re all just motivated to get better,” junior linebacker Corey Bell said, “and we don’t want to have any more showings like we had in those losses.”

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

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