Maybe it’s because their football programs are so much alike that Boise State and Oregon fans seem to loathe each other.
The two Northwest schools have developed national reputations for their universities and football programs over the past two decades, ranking among the nation’s best in wins, points and uniform combinations.
They’ve built unique programs with a coolness factor that attracts recruits from California, Texas and other distant places, despite the climate and culture shock involved in moving north.
Two of the key architects of Boise State’s success — former coaches Dirk Koetter and Chris Petersen — were groomed at Oregon by former Ducks coach Mike Bellotti.
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And the schools at times have jockeyed for position inside the top 10 of the college football rankings, particularly during Boise State’s epic 50-3 run from 2008 to 2011.
“(Boise State and Oregon) are always the teams you see on TV and they really stand out,” said Boise State redshirt freshman cornerback Avery Williams, who grew up in Southern California like many Broncos and Ducks. “You’re switching through the channels and you’re going to stop and see what they’re doing.”
Yet these programs have met only twice — in 2008 and 2009, a two-game series that stands alone in Boise State history for the passion evoked on both sides. The series ended with a punch, a classless moment that reflected poorly on both programs, but also encapsulated the contentious nature of the relationship between two of the premier programs of that decade.
They’ll meet again Saturday in the Las Vegas Bowl. The hype is subdued compared to the 2009 season opener, which was the talk of college football, but the stakes remain high.
Boise State, the Mountain West champion, is searching for its first attention-grabbing win since the Broncos beat Petersen and the Washington Huskies in the 2015 season opener.
Oregon, which is just 11-13 over the past two seasons, hopes to start the Mario Cristobal era with a win and remind recruits — four days before signing day — that the Ducks are on their way back to the Top 25.
“It’s a fun game — even the history going back in the day, it’s an awesome atmosphere and it’s a great opportunity to go play them again, and especially in a bowl game like this,” said Boise State junior linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, who is from Riggins. “You can kind of get the image that it’s going to be exciting. We’re pumped up. It’s a great opportunity for us and we’ve got to go take advantage of it.”
It’s unfortunate that these moments are so rare — particularly given the ease of travel between Boise and Eugene and the overlapping fan bases, particularly in Boise.
There was an inevitable cooling-off period after the 2008-09 games, a pair of Boise State wins that included two illegal hits by Broncos defenders in the 2008 game (one was ejected), summer trash talk emanating from Oregon leading up to the 2009 game (running back LeGarrette Blount told Sports Illustrated the Ducks owed the Broncos a “(butt)-whuppin’ ”), Boise State’s Byron Hout teasing Blount with a witty-yet-unsportsmanlike retort at the conclusion of the 19-8 win, and Blount punching Hout in front of a delirious, sold-out Bronco Stadium crowd.
Eight years later, that punch remains the first image in everyone’s minds when they think of Boise State-Oregon.
But it’s past time for the teams to try again. The Las Vegas Bowl put them together for the most intriguing pre-Christmas matchup of the 2017 bowl season.
Next up: The schools are discussing a new series for the regular season, Boise State Athletic Director Curt Apsey said this week. The Broncos’ schedule is full until 2024, but changes are possible.
“We’ve actually tried to do it. They’re willing,” Apsey said. “If it was to happen, we would probably have to move some stuff to accommodate their openings. It’s been difficult up to this point ... but we’d love to create that game again.”
There are few can’t-miss games in scheduling, but this is one.
You’ll find Boise State and Oregon on many of the same lists touting recent success, whether it’s points scored since 2000 (Boise State is first with 39.3 per game, Oregon is second with 38.0), consecutive seasons with an AP Top 25 appearance (Oregon is fifth with 20, Boise State is tied for eighth with 16) or winning percentage since 2000 (Boise State is first at 83.8, Oregon is ninth at 72.6).
Before Oregon’s rise in the mid-1990s and Boise State’s in the early 2000s, neither football program had a national profile.
Today, they’re among college football’s most recognizable brands.
“There’s been a significant investment in both programs,” Apsey said. “Obviously their investment is bigger than ours, but at the same time, both schools have made that commitment — and it shows with great coaches and brands that are really popular across the country.”
The Broncos and Ducks likely will continue to shadow each other next year, when both teams should be in the Top 25.
Hopefully we won’t have to wait eight more years for the programs to cross paths again.
Chadd Cripe is the Idaho Statesman sports editor. Contact him at ccripe@ idahostatesman.com, 208-377-6398 or @chaddcripe on Twitter.
A colorful bowl game
Boise State will wear all blue for the Las Vegas Bowl. Oregon will wear mostly green, with chrome helmets. It’s a departure from the traditional uniform setup that features a dark jersey for the home team and white jersey for the visiting team, which in this instance is Boise State.