The Boise State football team lost multiple games to Mountain Division opponents and missed out on a chance to play for a Mountain West championship.
That was last season, and players called it “disappointing” and “humbling” and “not up to our standard.”
After that regular season came one of the most dominant bowl performances in college football history, a 55-7 win over Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl.
So how is 2016 different?
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There weren’t any home losses this season, but the Broncos did lose twice in the Mountain Division and failed to reach the league championship game for the third time in four years.
“I think it’s kind of a mixed bag, really,” senior defensive tackle Elliot Hoyte said. “We didn’t achieve our main goal, but along the way we’ve achieved a lot, I think as a team, together, kind of cohesively, not just football, but relationship-wise as well.
“On the field, it was a bit of a disappointment, so I think this bowl game is a chance for us to go out and redeem ourselves for that regular season.”
The Broncos (10-2) can keep some impressive streaks going with a win over Baylor (6-6) in the Cactus Bowl on Tuesday (8:15 p.m., ESPN). It would give them 11 11-win seasons since 2002 — tied for the most in the nation with Ohio State — and keep active a run of 15 straight senior classes to notch 40 wins.
So, with wins and losses being paramount to some, posting another double-digit-win season is plenty good enough.
“There’s nothing disappointing about 10-2,” sophomore linebacker Leighton Vander Esch said.
But there is still an air of what could have been.
In the 30-28 loss at Wyoming (Oct. 29), a safety with 1:25 to play was the difference.
In the 27-20 loss at Air Force (Nov. 25), the Broncos had first-and-goal at the 5-yard line in the final minutes but failed to score.
“We’re nine points away from potentially being one of the best teams in Boise State history,” senior offensive tackle Mario Yakoo said.
Sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien said over the last month, “It’s going back and looking at every little thing that cost us those nine points.” And that shortfall has provided plenty of motivation for the Broncos.
“You take all that rage and disappointment from some of the stuff that happened throughout the season, and you carry that into preparation for the bowl game,” senior defensive end Sam McCaskill said.
On the other side of the field, what sort of response Boise State will see in Baylor is unclear. The Bears have lost six in a row after winning their first six, with acting head coach Jim Grobe on his way out in favor of former Temple coach Matt Rhule.
It had been debated if Baylor would even accept a bowl invitation, but the team cited its senior class in accepting a spot in the Cactus Bowl. But many are playing to catch Rhule’s eye.
“You definitely want to have a good first impression,” freshman quarterback Zach Smith said.
Two programs meet in very different circumstances at Chase Field, that is for sure. Boise State, trying to maintain excellence, Baylor trying to get back to the elite of college football but knowing it might take some time.
There’s a reason players come to Boise State, for what Rypien said is a standard of excellence set 10 or 15 years ago. Only in places like Boise, Columbus, Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge is a potential 10-win season a bit of a down year.
“The fan base and the players and the coaches have a very high expectation for the program and a program that expects to win 11 games per year, and if you don’t, it’s a disappointing season,” Rypien said.
What Boise State mostly has the chance to do is go into the offseason on a strong note, just as it has the past two years.
“We still have that dirty taste in our mouths, and there’s nothing better to cure that dirty taste than to go out there Dec. 27 and just dominate, get that ‘W,’ ” Yakoo said.
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Idaho Statesman reporters Dave Southorn and Michael Katz will answer your Boise State-Baylor- Cactus Bowl questions, or anything about college football, at 2 p.m. IdahoStatesman.com