As conference realignment takes a momentary pause, I can’t help keep thinking about a Group of 5 school left out with a resume that rivals the Big 12’s newest members.
Cincinnati, Houston, UCF and BYU each bring something unique to the Big 12, including big media markets and strong recruiting grounds. Boise State, though, barely came up in conversation as an option.
As a Boise native, that’s a tough result to swallow.
The Broncos’ 43-42 Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma in 2007 opened the door for mid-major or Group of 5 programs like Utah, TCU, Hawaii, Cincinnati, and UCF to play in BCS bowl games and New Year’s Six Bowls.
Boise State built on that success with two more Fiesta Bowl wins (2009 v. TCU, 2014 v. Arizona), four conference titles since joining the Mountain West in 2011, and consistent appearances in the top 25, including a top-10 finish after the 2011 season.
Since the Broncos are currently on the outside looking in, they know every game matters in the age of conference realignment. Oklahoma State escaped the blue turf this weekend with a 21-20 win in an atmosphere that would fit well with a conference like the Big 12.
Attending Boise State vs. Oklahoma State
I attended the game in Boise with an Oklahoma State graduate. From the moment we arrived, it was clear Boise State football mattered to the community.
The Albertson’s Stadium parking lot was packed with blue and orange tents, smoke from tailgate grills, and televisions with the pre-game show and the afternoon games.
It felt like nothing mattered except college football.
As we migrated into the stadium, a few people ribbed my date about being a Cowboys fan, but we had fun conversations with everyone.
Boise State asked fans to wear blue for a “blue out” since Oklahoma State fans would likely wear orange. The fans did a great job pulling it off. The only non-blue section of the stadium was the visitor section near the north end zone.
The Oklahoma State fans travelled well and made their voices heard throughout the game, both during the good and bad plays. After the win, the team came over and sang the alma mater with the fans. It was a tough sight for a Boise fan, but one I can completely respect and admire.
Like many Big 12 stadiums, Boise State has live animals as part of the game day experience. A Bronco leads the team onto the field while a black Labrador retrieves the kicking tee after every kickoff.
The Broncos have other traditions, like chanting “first down” in response to the public address announcer saying, “And that’s another Bronco…”.
The hype videos reflected the tradition and success built into the Boise State program as a junior college champion, DI-AA national champion and now a FBS program.
Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” came on during a break in the second half, and whether that was a tribute to the visitors or just a coincidence, getting all 36,702 attendees singing together and agreeing on something was quite a feat.
Throughout the game, fans rocked the stadium with cheers and boos at the appropriate moment.
When Oklahoma State running back Jaylen Warren fumbled the ball during the fourth quarter and Boise State safety JL Skinner ran it back for a touchdown and the lead, the stadium felt like it moved from the cheering. The touchdown was overturned since Warren was called down on the field, but it was clear everyone knew the importance of that play.
Moments later the air let out of the stadium as Boise State kicker Jonah Dalmas’ 36-yard field goal attempt hooked left with 2:05 left.
Boise’s Future Bid for Power 5 Status
Despite the loss, the Broncos provided a game-day atmosphere that could compete with other power conference programs.
That should appeal to decision makers when (or if) realignment resumes. And it’s important to note that it was reported Oklahoma State’s President would be meeting with Boise State’s President to discuss more possible Big 12 expansion.
The Broncos, admittedly, have struggled capitalizing on “prove-it” moments this year against current and future Big 12 teams. Boise State blew a 21-point lead at UCF in the season-opener just eight days before the Big 12 expanded. However, regardless of the outcome that likely had nothing to do with the Big 12’s decision making.
But still, an October 9 road-trip to BYU is another prime opportunity to get a win over a future Big 12 program and show the Broncos travel well.
The Big 12 needed to expand and chose strong programs. Still, it seems strange to leave out the program that in many ways opened the door for Group of 5 teams to break the Power 5 ceiling, especially given their continued success on the field.
Boise State missed the power conference boat in 2011 when the Big East fell apart. Boise State escaped to the Mountain West while TCU, a fellow Big East refugee, joined the Big 12.
Perhaps the next wave of realignment will drop Boise State into a Power 5 conference. The Big 12 could be a good candidate. BSU would be a natural travel partner for BYU and is another Mountain Time zone team. And for those like myself who had a chance to take in the Oklahoma State game on Saturday, there’s no doubt this program and fan base would be a valued addition for the Big 12. Let’s see what the future holds.