Philadelphia, PA – Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Since 2000, the Boise State Broncos can claim the nation's top winning percentage (.856), and they entered the 2014 campaign with the third-best winning percentage (.721) all-time as a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision.
However, this is not the same program that has been to 12 straight bowl games.
The school has won an astounding 86 of 90 home games (.956) since 2000, one of only two teams (Oklahoma, .942) to have won at least 89 percent of its bouts in front of the hometown crowd, but this year seems to be a turning point for a squad that used to be feared by the power conferences, if for no other reason than it had the potential to upset the BCS plan.
The only team in the nation to average better than 40 ppg since 2000, that number appears to be even more distant considering their performance in the 2014 opener last week inside Atlanta's Georgia Dome.
While second-ranked Alabama, a team which has won three national titles since 2009, clashed with West Virginia in that same facility to kick off the season, the team in question here are the Broncos.
Boise State, which captured the nation's attention with a stunning 43-42 overtime victory against No. 7 Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, leaving the Broncos as the only undefeated in the country, didn't break into Division I football until coach Dan Hawkins came along in 2001. Hawkins took a team from the Big West Conference a year before to the Western Athletic Conference and immediately met with success (8-4), eventually guiding the group to Top-25 status before bolting for the University of Colorado.
But Hawkins left the Broncos in good hands as offensive coordinator Chris Petersen assumed the reins and led the squad to an astounding 84-8 mark between 2006-12, including a pair of undefeated campaigns (2006, 2009). Petersen, who proclaimed his love for Boise State football on a number of occasions and was named the only two-time winner of the Paul "Bear" Bryant Award, ran into some issues in 2013 when the Broncos went just 8-4 during the regular season and finished second in the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference.
Perhaps Petersen saw the writing on the wall and made sure he wouldn't be going down with a sinking ship, because he decided to take over the vacant head coaching spot at Washington even before BSU landed in Honolulu for the Hawaii Bowl versus Oregon State last December.
For four years Petersen and the Broncos had the luxury of watching Kellen Moore set an NCAA record with 50 wins by a starting quarterback, but that run ended in 2011 and the past two seasons proved to be more of a struggle and not quite as enjoyable as when BSU was on top of the world, dominating on the blue turf.
Granted, the Broncos managed to finish the 2012 campaign with a mark of 11-2 overall, 7-1 in conference, and a final AP ranking of 18th, but the blowout wins that the program was accustomed to were becoming less frequent. Instead, the team was just barely hanging on with narrow wins over BYU (7-6), New Mexico (32-29), Nevada (27-21) and Washington (28-26), the latter taking place in the Las Vegas Bowl. Perhaps the most troubling of those aforementioned triumphs was the contest against the Lobos, a team which was a combined 3-33 in the three previous seasons.
Last year, the Broncos ended up with more defeats in a single campaign than in any year under Petersen, the five setbacks being the most since the program was clashing with the likes of North Texas and Weber State in the Big West back in 1998. For the second year in a row, BSU bowed in the season opener as well and this season that trend continued with an unsightly loss to No. 18 Ole Miss, 35-13. As a result, Boise State has now dropped back-to-back decisions for the first time since 2007.
New head coach Bryan Harsin, a former player and assistant with the Broncos, watched his team allow 458 yards of total offense and turn the ball over on interceptions three times in the first half, four times overall. The lone score for the Broncos through the first 30 minutes came on a field goal of 25 yards, but that was only after the team had first-and-goal at the one-yard line, running the ball three straight times and losing yards.
"We just got to have a short memory," quarterback Grant Hedrick said about the poor performance. "You're not going to win a lot of games throwing four picks. We turned the ball over four times but still kept the game close most of the time. Obviously, we'd like a better start but there were some good decisions out there."
Hedrick, who appeared in 13 games last season and became the starter after Joe Southwick went down with an injury, is now in charge of the offense, although that designation could change if the poor performances start piling up. Finishing with 69 percent accuracy and 16 touchdowns through the air, as well as being the second-leading rusher for the Broncos in 2013 with 277 yards and six TDs, Hedrick will need to get much more support from the players around him moving forward.
The signal-caller, who tossed just five interceptions all of last season in 242 attempts, finished the opener 36-of-46 for 264 yards and a score, but was also sacked three times as the offensive line bent a little too much. With Hedrick and Southwick taking the majority of the snaps last season, BSU quarterbacks were sacked a total of 26 times. The year prior, Boise State opponents combined to tally only 10 sacks.
In 2011, the final year for Moore at the helm, foes logged eight sacks, the same for 2010, while 2009's sack total for opponents topped out at a mere five.
"He wasn't perfect, but I thought he played well," Harsin said of Hedrick in the opener. "He settled in there in the second half. He made some throws, checked the ball down, had some good decisions. A couple of those throws might have been ill-advised, a couple of those throws were going for big plays. That's one thing with our quarterbacks is we want those guys to go in there and have a mindset of making that play, and there were some good plays made on the ball, too."
While Hedrick can still seek out wide receiver Matt Miller (1,140 yards, 12 TDs) down the field and turn to hand the ball to Jay Ajayi (1,425 yards, 18 TDs), opposing defenses will certainly be keying on both skill players. In the case of the latter, those aiming to take him down will also be attempting to strip the running back of the ball, something that has become all too common for the Doak Walker Award candidate during his time in Idaho.
Ajayi even fumbled the ball in the opener against Ole Miss, although the Broncos did not lose possession.
For a team that has dominated both sides of the ball for several years, the Broncos have to be concerned with the lack of experience along the offensive line coming into this season. Redshirt juniors Marcus Henry and Rees Odhiambo were the only returning starters heading back to the trenches, and that is not good news for Hedrick or Ajayi in the early going.
Obviously the meeting with a nationally-ranked team from a power conference was due to be a tough test for the Broncos, but still the squad has a long way to go before conference matchups become easy targets again, and the postseason offers a quality opportunity.
This weekend the Broncos open their conference slate at home against the Colorado State Rams, an opponent that has lost all three previous encounters in the series. That said, don't expect the visitors to go away quietly.