With his program in a lull and the landscape of college football changing, now may be the right time for Boise State head coach Chris Petersen to pursue a new challenge.
Petersen has an 89-11 record, five conference championships three perfect regular seasons and two BCS bowl victories in his eight seasons at Boise State.
The achievement eluding Petersen is a national championship—a milestone that the impending College Football Playoff renders all the more difficult for a program outside the sphere of influence.
Some of college football's most prestigious jobs could be open this offseason: Nebraska’s fan base has frustrations with Bo Pelini, Mack Brown is nearing retirement at Texas and Lane Kiffin's firing from USC last month left the West's most storied program in need of a new leader.
Petersen’s name already surfaced in rumors around the USC vacancy.
There’s no doubt he’ll be mentioned frequently in this year’s coaching-search season. But what else is new?
The Pac-12 already beckoned once, when UCLA offered a reported $4 million. And like he has every other head coaching vacancy, Petersen declined.
CBSSports.com reporter Bruce Feldman writes "probably not," in reference to a Petersen-to-USC move, but adds a "source close to Petersen [said]...[Petersen] is looking for a change."
Like Mark Few with Gonzaga basketball, Petersen didn't lay the groundwork for his program's success, but he has built on the foundation to erect something that’s nationally-recognized.
Like Few, Petersen has remained committed to building in an era when coaches chase the next big payday or the more prominent spotlight.
Petersen has also seen predecessors leave for greener pastures than Boise State’s Smurf Turf, only to discover it isn’t so rosy elsewhere.
Dan Hawkins lasted five tumultuous seasons at Colorado, and he’s now out of coaching. Dirk Koetter had limited success at Arizona State and now works as an assistant for the Atlanta Falcons.
Expectations at Boise State are different than at Pac-12 programs and so is competition. But then, so is the potential.
Boise State is in the same pursuit as college football’s top tier programs and is trying to bridge the gap. It recently invested in its future with $22 million in facility upgrades to try keeping pace in the football arms race.
“That thing has so many bells and whistles…it’s really going to change the game at Boise State,” quarterback Joe Southwick said at Mountain West media day this summer. “Recruits will come in and ooh and aah.”
The Broncos need that element because recruiting success has not been commensurate with on-field victories. No Boise State signing class under Petersen has been ranked higher than No. 53, according to Rivals.com.
While recruits collectively ranked between 50 and 80 climbing into the Top 25 routinely isn’t too great of a leap, consistently breaking into the Top 10 is.
Petersen has routinely done more with less, but the law of averages is beginning to catch up with Boise State.
Chris Petersen on outside perception that Boise State has reached it's peak: "I don’t even kind of react to that. That means nothing to me."— B.J. Rains (@BJRains) October 28, 2013
Friday’s 37-20 loss to Brigham Young dropped the Broncos to 5-3, matching the most losses for a Petersen-coached team in a single season.
Last year, Boise State also dropped a home game for the second time in as many campaigns en route to splitting the Mountain West championship three ways.
Recruiting to Boise State will always prove challenging without the allure of high-profile matchups or national championship, the latter of which will become increasingly difficult.
Unfortunately for the Broncos, where Few’s Gonzaga teams can play for the title in the NCAA tournament, the College Football Playoff threatens to further ostracize programs like Boise State from title contention.
When the Broncos agreed to join the Mountain West in June 2010, they were coming to a conference with Fiesta Bowl-participant TCU, which won the following season's Rose Bowl, Utah, a perennial Top 25 program and BYU.
Utah and TCU were both lured away with offers from automatic-qualifier conferences, and BYU went independent in pursuit of greater exposure. Petersen's program was left in a league that looked very much like the Western Athletic Conference it left.
Meanwhile, rumors of the so-called Group of Five eliminating all pretenses and forging its own Div. IV circulate. Such a schism would end any hope for Petersen to win the top college football championship at Boise State.
The outset of the Playoff is the perfect time for Petersen to embark on a new challenge. Pac-12 Country just might provide the perfect landing spot for him.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer for B/R. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.