Boise State Football

Why Chris Petersen Needs to Bolt Boise for USC or Texas While He Still Can

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistNovember 14, 2013

Did you know that for the first time in the Chris Petersen era, Boise State has been locked out of the AP Top 25 for the entire regular season?

After coming in at No. 19 in the preseason, the Broncos lost their opener to Washington 38-6 and dropped out of the rankings for good.

What’s kept them out of the mix are two additional losses, a 41-40 defeat at No. 14 Fresno State and a 37-20 turnover-fueled loss at BYU.

The three-loss record matches Petersen’s worst season at Boise, a 10-3 run in 2007 which included losses to Washington, Hawaii and East Carolina.

Since the third loss in 2007 came in the Hawaii Bowl, 2013 is the first time a Petersen-coached team has lost three regular season games.

The next question is obvious: If Petersen has aspirations to ever move beyond Boise, is it time for him to go now, before the possibility of losing more momentum? 

In other words, will he still be the hot prospect in coaching if he is “the guy who won two Fiesta Bowls, but never broke through again?”

Though it’s a compelling argument that a three-loss season might be the single-biggest sign that Petersen needs to go, consider the other reasons why the time has come for him to flee the blue turf.

 

The State of the Mountain West

Before delving into the recent changes to the Mountain West conference, it’s important to remember that Boise State didn’t join up until 2011.

The first five years of the Petersen era were spent in the WAC, an altogether easier race to win.

Boise State was a member of the WAC in both of its undefeated seasons under Petersen.
Boise State was a member of the WAC in both of its undefeated seasons under Petersen.Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Since 2011, the Mountain West has added five football members and split into two divisions. While it has lost BYU, Utah and TCU, it still represents the stiffest challenge of the non-BCS leagues.

The change with the most impact is the addition of the conference championship game this season.

In the new format, teams like Boise can’t just win the most games and capture the title, now it will have to play an additional game against a quality opponent to get to a BCS bowl (or a playoff game).

All in all, Boise’s level of schedule difficulty has increased over the Petersen era, making a clear case that it’s been progressively harder to produce similar results as time goes on.

Take a look at this:

Boise St. Strength of Schedule-Congrove Computer Rankings
SeasonConferenceStrength of ScheduleFinal Record
2006WAC9113-0
2007WAC10710-3
2008WAC9212-1
2009WAC8814-0
2010WAC7812-1
2011MWC7012-1
2012MWC8111-2
2013MWC836-3
College Football Poll

 The End of the BCS Era

In what many would argue is a reason for Petersen to stay at Boise, the end of the BCS era gives him another reason to cut and run.

Despite the talk of the advantages offered by the new playoff’s plan to include the highest-ranked champion from the “group of five” (American Athletic, C-USA, MAC, MWC and Sun Belt), in reality it offers non-BCS schools an even tougher battle to the top.

First, you’ve got a selection committee which will be sympathetic to a one-loss SEC team over an undefeated team from the MWC. Since a committee of humans will make the call, what was the relative “fairness” of the computer rankings (which didn’t consider TV income) will be gone.

Will the end of the BCS actually hurt teams like Boise State?
Will the end of the BCS actually hurt teams like Boise State?Ethan Miller/Getty Images

This puts the championship aspirations of teams like Boise at a much higher risk than say, Florida.

Next, with the two-team per conference limit gone, the flood gates are open for a strong conference like the SEC to receive multiple bids, reducing opportunities for a “group of five” team.

Again, do you select 12-1 Florida or 13-0 Boise State?

The reality is, approximately 60 teams will be duking it out for the one guaranteed “golden ticket.”

 

The Apex, It’s Been Reached

With a 90-11 record (the No. 1 in winning percentage among active FBS coaches), two BCS wins and five conference titles, does Petersen have anything left to prove at Boise?

The obvious answer is a national title, but given the changes to the format, is that realistic?

Though the playoff system is touted as equalizing the playing field, in reality while it does offer BCS teams better odds of winning the big enchilada, for the little guy, not so much.

Petersen celebrates the win over TCU in the 2009-10 BCS Fiesta Bowl.
Petersen celebrates the win over TCU in the 2009-10 BCS Fiesta Bowl.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Think about it, now that the BCS is gone, what will teams like Boise State have to gripe about? What injustice can they claim has been done?

“Oh, we fixed all that…we’ve got a playoff now.” And, who cares if it’s all smoke and mirrors?

The other angle here is how Petersen’s success will be perceived now that’s he achieved the apex at Boise.

“So, Petersen can win 10 games every season at Boise State, so what? That’s old news.”

The natural result is that if he stays—and can’t win a national title—he fades into obscurity.

 

Is the “Chip” Mentality at Boise Gone?

One of the keys to Petersen’s wild success at Boise has been his ability to take talented kids who have been overlooked by the “big boys” and combine them into a winning product.

To do this he’s leveraged the “chip on your shoulder” mentality and transformed it into a band of undersized, overachieving kids who refuse to quit.

Here’s how he explained the approach in a 2007 interview with ESPN’s Jim Rome.

We’ve had some excellent, excellent football players here, and we want to get the same type of guys, with that same mentality, the guys who will put a chip on their shoulder and try to prove to the world that they can play with most people…

We’re looking for the blue collar type guy that loves football, that’s very tough, that’s not afraid to lay it on the line and will compete with the best of them.

It’s a hell of a plan, really.

Dec. 22, 2011; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Boise State Broncos head coach Chris Petersen is doused with gatorade by offensive lineman (55) Chuck Hayes in the closing seconds of the game against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the 2011 Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Bo
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

But, has prosperity (90 wins since 2007) cost Boise the essence of its “little guy” mindset?

Have new facilities, more media attention, higher expectations and a national wave of opinion that the Broncos do deserve a shot, come at the cost of the culture of the team?

And furthermore, can a guy like Petersen keep a train on track that is destined to go off the rails?

Can he halt the natural consequences of success? 

Or instead, is it just another reason—perhaps the biggest of all—that it’s time for him to move on?

  

Will He Go?

Though it’s clear there are a lot of good reasons for him to go, the real question is obvious: Will Petersen actually leave Boise State?

Rather than formulating our own answer to this, let’s listen to the reason Petersen gives for not going.  Here’s what he said in an interview with ESPN’s Outside the Line’s Steve Delsohn.

I’ve never been one that’s been real excited about, you know, moving and chasing. You know, it’s all fun and games when they’re talking about other jobs being open until it’s your life that they’re talking about, and moving your family. You know it’s not just the coach moving, I mean, your family’s got so much at stake in the place that they live as well.

Petersen made this statement in 2010. Almost four years later, his kids are older, nearing the end of their high school educations and closer to leaving the nest.

Have his personal reasons for not leaving Boise—perhaps what’s been driving his insistence to stay—changed enough to make his exit realistic?

Dec 3,2011;Boise,ID, USA; Boise State fans show their support for Boise State Broncos head coach Chris Petersen during the second half of action against the New Mexico Lobos at Bronco Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

For an insider’s perspective, check out what CBS’s Bruce Feldman had to say in September about Petersen’s temperature: “A source close to Petersen told me in the past month that the coach has said he’s looking for a change.”

To wrap it up, keep in mind that Petersen just turned 49.  Will he spend 15 to 20 more seasons—or his entire head coaching career—at Boise State?

Maybe it’s not so much that Petersen hasn’t accepted another offer yet, maybe the right offer—at the right time—hasn’t come down the pipe yet.

With the USC job already open and roles at Texas, Florida and Nebraska in limbo, perhaps that offer, and his move, is just around the corner.

 

Statistics courtesy of Sports Reference/College Football, College Football Data Warehouse and ESPNCosgrove Computer Rankings courtesy of College Football Poll.

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