Boise State has plenty of experience when it comes to winning. But when it comes to losing? Not so much.
So a true test of its mettle will come Saturday in its regular-season finale against Utah State, a week after its BCS national championships dreams died in a 34-31 overtime loss to Nevada. Since then, kicker Kyle Brotzman has been the target of death threats and hate mail, and the Broncos have had to come to terms with a sobering reality: They were national championship contenders one week, Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl contenders the next.
How does a team respond when it rarely has been asked to respond?
“We’ll find out,” coach Chris Petersen said this week. “We haven’t lost in a long time, let alone in this tough fashion, so we’ll see what kind of toughness and resiliency we have.”
No. 11 Boise State (10-1) had won 24 straight before last week’s heartbreaking loss to the Wolf Pack. The Broncos' last loss came to TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl in 2008. But go even further back than that to find the last time Boise State had to play a game immediately following a regular-season loss.
It happened over three years ago -- in September 2007. Kellen Moore was redshirting. Titus Young and Austin Pettis were freshmen. Ian Johnson was the star of the team. Boise State lost its second game of the season, 24-10 at Washington, ending a 14-game winning streak.
The Broncos faced Wyoming at home the following week, and though they managed just 107 yards of offense and one touchdown in the first half, they won 24-14. Still, only a handful of players on the team this year played in that game, putting them in an unfamiliar spot come Saturday.
“You’ve got to move on,” said safety George Iloka, a junior who has only lost twice in his career at Boise State. “You have to get past it because Coach made a good reference. You don’t want to have Nevada beat you twice. You can’t be stuck on this loss and have them beat you mentally.”
“It’s a good test to see how I handle this as a player, character-wise how can you come back after a loss. I’ve never had to come back and play a game after a loss. It’s going to be interesting to see how we play -- do we play better or do we play worse?”
Boise State is on the outside looking in when it comes to getting an at-large berth in the BCS. No one-loss non-AQ team has ever gotten an at-large berth, and the chances seem remote this season, especially if Stanford stays at No. 4 in the BCS standings. The Cardinal would get an automatic bid for finishing that high.
Though there is a perception that there is nothing left to play for this season, the Broncos do have several goals within reach. The first is to win a share of the WAC. Yes, Boise State wanted to be the sole champion but there is still a chance at being co-champs with Hawaii and Nevada, should the Wolf Pack also win on Saturday.
They also have a chance to end WAC play with a 40-0 home record. Plus, they have an opportunity to send their seniors out on the right note.
Despite the disappointment, this senior class has been incredibly accomplished: a 46-5 record, a Fiesta Bowl win, two undefeated regular seasons, and an all-time high No. 2 ranking in the AP and coaches polls this season. Ten seniors will be making their final home start on the blue turf.
“We’re strong minded, have strong hearts and we don’t accept anything other than greatness, so the senior class going out will be fine,” senior safety Winston Venable said in a phone interview. “We’ve done something special here. We set a standard and put a mark on this program.”