While almost all Husky fans have greeted the hiring of Chris Petersen with great enthusiasm, I have seen some small pockets of skepticism out there. That's natural - every coaching situation is unique, and what works at one program might not work so well at another. And whenever you have a coach moving up in the pecking order of college football, it's natural to wonder if that success will carry over.
Boise State was already the preeminent program in the WAC when Petersen ascended to the Head Coaching position following Dan Hawkins' departure to Colorado, having won the conference 4-straight times from 2002-05. Petersen continued that domination, winning the WAC in 2006 and again from 2008-10 before moving up to the MWC. In all, the Broncos went 38-2 (.950) in the WAC under Petersen, winning it outright 3 times, tying for the championship a 4th, and finishing 2nd the one season they didn't win the conference. When they moved up to the Mountain West Conference, they took a small step back, going 19-4 (.826), tying for the conference title once and finishing 2nd twice, but still registering as the premier program in the MWC.
But what about the games against AQ conference teams, and what about bowl games? It was often said during the Don James era that his stellar record in bowl games (10-5) was a good reflection of his coaching ability - give DJ extra time to prepare for an opponent, and chances are he was going to win the game. I think that view has merit - during the regular season when a team is playing nearly every week, there's less time for gameplanning, and the overall talent and depth of a team becomes more important. Petersen's BSU teams were nearly always more talented than his conference opponents, but that wasn't typically the case in the out of conference matchups with AQ teams or in bowl games.
Most probably remember that Petersen's first Boise State team defeated Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, and many remember that he handed Chip Kelly a loss in his debut as the head coach of the Ducks. A closer look reveals those weren't aberrations - when matched up against AQ teams or in bowl games, Petersen did quite well despite often having a less talented team. Let's take a look at each of these games (for the purposes of this article, I'm counting BYU as an AQ team for 2012 & 2013 despite being an Independent):
- W 42-14 vs. Oregon State - This was a 10-4 OSU team ranked #35 by F/+ measures. While this wasn't the opener for Boise State, their first game was a tune-up against FCS team Sacramento State. A dominant win for the Broncos in the home end of a home-and-home series with the Beavers.
- W 43-42 vs. Oklahoma (Fiesta Bowl) - This was the game that really got Boise State on the national radar. Considered a cute story by some observers that hadn't been paying attention to the rise of Bronco football - the little non-AQ team that was undefeated and crashed the BCS bowl party - they shocked everybody by not just playing well vs. the 11-2 Sooners (favored by 7.5), but beating them in OT. Of course the way they did it, with three trick plays in the last 18 seconds of regulation plus OT to win the game - all on do or die downs - both boosted the notoriety of the win for BSU, while also diminishing it in a way to some observers ("oh, they only won because of trick plays"). The win allowed Boise State to complete their first undefeated season at 13-0 and they finished #5 in the final AP poll.
- L 10-24 at Washington - Arguably the most embarrassing loss of Petersen's career, the Broncos visited Husky Stadium and were beat decisively by a Husky team that would finish the season just 4-9 in Ty Willingham's 3rd year. This was a week 2 game for Boise State after a tune-up game in week 1 vs. FCS team Weber State.
- L 38-41 vs. East Carolina (Hawai'i Bowl) - A tough, last-minute loss for the Broncos to an East Carolina team coached by Skip Holtz and led by future NFL star RB Chris Johnson.
- W 37-32 at Oregon - This was a big win for Boise as it marked the first time in 14 tries they notched a road win vs. an AQ conference team since they moved up to D1A/FBS status in 1996. The Broncos held leads of 24-6 at the half an 37-13 into the 4th quarter before the Ducks scored 19 unanswered points to make the game close. This was Mike Bellotti's last Oregon team, a 10-3 squad with Chip Kelly in his 2nd year as OC.
- L 16-17 vs. TCU (Poinsettia Bowl) - A tough loss for the previously undefeated Broncos, denied a BCS bowl and paired up with another high level non-AQ team in Texas Christian coached by Gary Patterson, ranked by F/+ as the #6 team in the country that year.
- W 19-8 vs. Oregon - Probably the 2nd most famous game of Petersen's tenure, this is also known as the "LeGarrette Blount game" after the Duck RB lost his cool in the immediate aftermath of the game, punching a BSU player and then trying to go after Bronco fans in the stands as he left the field. Blount had been quoted in papers earlier in the week saying of BSU "We owe that team an ass-whuppin". Instead, Oregon's high flying offense led by Chip Kellly in his first game as head coach of the Ducks was completely shut down by Boise State and young DC Justin Wilcox. This was the season-opener for both teams; Oregon would go on to finish 10-3 on the year.
- W 17-10 vs. TCU (Fiesta Bowl) - The circumstances of this game probably overshadowed the game itself - for the first time ever, two non-AQ conference teams earned invites to BCS bowls. And despite both teams being undefeated and highly ranked (BSU #6, TCU #3), neither teams got the chance to take on an AQ team in the bowls - instead, they were matched up with each other (assuring no embarrassment for an AQ team as happened the last time Boise State played in the Fiesta Bowl) and providing a rematch for the previous season's Poinsettia Bowl. This time the Broncos prevailed, again assisted by a trick play (a fake punt) to lead to their game-winning TD. With the win, Boise State completed their 2nd undefeated season and finished #4 in the polls, earning Petersen his 2nd Bear Bryant Coach of the Year award (he also won following the 2006 season).
- W 33-30 vs. Virginia Tech ("neutral" field) - Invited to the AllState "Kickoff in the Capitol" game game in FedEx Field to take on nearby Virginia Tech in the season opener for both teams, Boise State started fast, traded leads and scored a late, go-ahead TD to win the game over a Hokie team that would finish the season 11-3.
- W 37-24 vs. Oregon State - Boise State hosted their first ever appearance by the ESPN GameDay crew prior to this game, and notched a solid win over an Oregon State team that would finish 5-7. This was Boise State's third game of the season, played the week after they throttled Wyoming 51-6 on the road.
- W 26-3 vs. Utah (Las Vegas Bowl) - After a heartbreaking loss to Nevada which dashed Boise State's hopes to crash the BCS Championship Game, they were relegated to the Las Vegas Bowl to once-again face another non-AQ darling in Utah. The Utes entered the game 10-2 and ranked #19, but they were no match for the Broncos; after a 1st quarter FG, they surrendered 26 unanswered points to the Broncos as they finished 12-1 and #7 in the AP poll.
- W 35-21 at Georgia - Once again selected for a major season kick-off game, Boise State visited Georgia to play a game in the Georgia Dome in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game. The Bulldogs scored the first TD of the game, but Boise State responded and at one point held a 28-7 lead over the storied SEC team before finishing with a comfortable 35-21 win. Georgia would go on to finish the season 10-4 and ranked #18.
- W 56-24 vs. Arizona State (Las Vegas Bowl) - For the 2nd straight season the Broncos suffered a close, heart-breaking loss in-conference - this time in the MWC to TCU - to prevent them from earning a BCS bowl bid, and once again they found themselves in the Las Vegas Bowl, matched up against a 6-6 Arizona State team playing their final game under Dennis Erickson. Boise State got off to a quick lead and never looked back, routing the Sun Devils despite three turnovers, and setting a Las Vegas Bowl record with 56 points scored.
- L 13-17 at Michigan State - The Broncos again kicked off their season on the road vs. an AQ-conference team, this time traveling to East Lansing to take on Michigan State in their first game following the graduation of record-setting QB Kellen Moore. In a tough defensive standoff, the Spartans scored the go-ahead TD in the 4th quarter and then held Boise State on a subsequent 4th down conversion attempt to hold on for the win. Michigan State would go on to finish 7-6, but with five of their losses by a total of just 13 points (they were ranked #15 by F/+ for the season).
- W 7-6 vs. BYU - The first of a long home-and-home series with newly independent Brigham Young was a fierce defensive struggle as Boise State scored first in the 3rd quarter, then hung on as they prevented the Cougars from converting a 2-point attempt on their lone TD. This was the 3rd game of the season for Boise State and followed a 39-12 win over Miami (OH) the previous week. BYU would go on to finish 8-5 and were ranked #23 by F/+.
- W 28-26 vs. Washington (Las Vegas Bowl) - For the third straight year the Broncos found themselves in the Las Vegas Bowl, matched-up against a Washington team they were scheduled to play again to open the 2013 season. They got off to an 18-3 lead but saw the Huskies fight back to lead 26-25 late in the 4th quarter, but a poor kickoff following the score gave BSU great field position and they were able to kick the go-ahead FG to make it 28-26, and then hung on when they intercepted Keith Price in Bronco territory with 14 seconds remaining. Washington would finish a disappointing 7-6 on the season.
- L 6-38 at Washington - Facing a motivated Husky team breaking in a freshly rebuilt Husky Stadium, the Broncos suffered the worst defeat - by far - of the Chris Peterson era as they had no answer for Washington's new HUNH offense. It was the season opener for both teams.
- L 20-37 at BYU - The Broncos traveled to Provo, UT and had a rough go of it as BYU got off to a quick start and notched a comfortable win to gain revenge for their loss in Boise in 2012.
Record in Bowl Games: 5-2
Record in Season Openers vs. AQ teams (plus BYU): 2-2
Record in all regular season games vs. AQ teams (plus BYU): 6-4
That's a pretty good record for Petersen in games with extra time to prepare, finishing his Boise State run 7-4 in bowls and seasons openers vs. AQ conference teams. And his overall record is 11-6 in bowls and others games vs. AQ conference teams (plus BYU). The wins over Oklahoma, Oregon (x2), Virginia Tech and Georgia stand out in particular given the presumed gulf in talent.