For the third time in the past eight years Boise State has made it to the Fiesta Bowl, and while making a major bowl game is an incredible accomplishment for any team, it seems extra special for this team. And it feels different from the previous two for me as a fan.
Anyone with a keyboard and a blog has written about the ups and downs, transformations and ultimately the success of the 2014 Broncos. We are all amazed at where this team has come, and what they have gone through to get there. Maybe that is why this time it feels different from the other two.
The off-season of 2006 began much the same way as 2014. The previous year was disappointing by Boise State standards, and our beloved head coach had left for non-blue pastures. Many of us were not quite sure what to expect, but were excited with the young coach taking the reigns.
2006, of course, began with a win. Followed by another. And another. The hype built up with every dominating performance and with each one brought upward movement in the rankings. Before we knew it we were in Reno, playing for a shot in the Fiesta Bowl – Boise State’s first ever BCS appearance.
An early season loss to Washington in 2007 brought Bronco Nation back down to earth, as we all knew we had to go undefeated to have a chance at a BCS Bowl. That team went on a run and got back into the top 25, but lost its last game at Hawaii eliminating any hope.
The Kellen Moore era began in 2008, and after beating Oregon in the third game of the year and starting 3-0, it felt like we might be on another run. Unfortunately, undefeated and a #9 ranking was not good enough that year as Boise State had to settle for the Poinsettia Bowl vs. TCU. Despite a loss in that game, a final ranking of #11 and the return of an emerging star at QB had us set up for big run. Not just for the next season, but perhaps for quite a long time.
But the expectation had been set. Boise State could not just get into a BCS game with a perfect record – they had to play perfect games.
In 2009, Boise State’s recent success did indeed help, as a big opening game win against Oregon and another undefeated season led to the Broncos 2nd Fiesta Bowl, where they defeated TCU 17-10. Boise State finished at #4 in the final rankings that year, and now the talk was not just of a BCS game that year, but perhaps even a National Championship.
It was during that 20009 season that things started to change for me as a fan. Rather than feel the excitement of a team on the verge of great things like I did in 2006, I started to feel pressure – the pressure of perfection. The previous years showed us that the blueprint for a BCS game was big wins out of conference and an undefeated season – an even that might not be enough.
The games became stressful, Bronco Nation seemed on edge, and when the seasons and the dream of a BCS game crumbled after losses in both 2010 and 2011, the losses hurt more than ever.
It was starting to not be fun anymore.
An opening loss to Michigan State in 2012 immediately took the wind out of the BCS sails, but there was still some hope that our “résumé” might still get us considered. Unfortunately a late loss to San Diego State on the Blue (the second home loss in two years) ended all hope and it appeared our magical run was over.
As we all know things got worse in 2013. After a blowout loss to Washington the expectations were no longer there. But even with the pressure lifted, it was still not fun. We dumped our unique offense, lost our starting QB, and were being led by a coach that was burnt out. Perhaps the pressure of perfection got to him too.
And then came change.
On December 6th 2013, Chris Petersen took the job at Washington, and Bronco Nation was crushed.
But on December 11th Bryan Harsin was hired, and from his first press conference, we knew things were going to be better.
The expectations coming into this season were not as high. After the letdown of 2013 most of us just wanted “Bronco Football” back. We just wanted to have fun again. And without all the expectations of perfection, it was.
Although the losses to Ole Miss and Air Force were not fun, they did not hurt as much. And even though this team was not always perfect, they sure were fun to watch. As the season grew to a close, the fact that we had a chance for a major bowl brought a feeling of accomplishment rather than a feeling of relief that we made it.
I think the losses in 2010 and 2011, as well as the “down years” of 2012 and 2013 helped me enjoy Bronco football more.
As we prepare for the game against Arizona on December 31st, rather than feeling nervous or anxious, I am excited and happy. The future is bright for Boise State, and this year has shown us that under the new system, we no longer have to be perfect to accomplish our goals.
This Fiesta Bowl feels different, and I like it.