There are heartbreaking ways to lose. Then there are the ways Boise State has lost the past two years.
Crushing. Agonizing. Dream shattering.
Missed field goals, missed opportunities, blown leads. These are generally not the things Boise State does. But in two losses to Nevada and TCU, the Broncos could not hold on when they needed to most. That means BCS hopes are dashed, and the debate about the worthiness of the Broncos will not be put to rest.
It may be cruel, but those two losses may end up defining a group of seniors who have won an incredible 46 games -- and counting. Because so much more was expected of a group led by quarterback Kellen Moore, future NFL running back Doug Martin and what was supposed to be one of the top defensive lines in the nation.
The Broncos have beaten teams like Virginia Tech, Georgia and Oregon. But who remembers that when you lose to teams from non-AQ conferences. These are the must-win games, the ones you are expected to dominate.
Injuries played a major role Saturday against TCU. Martin and running back D.J. Harper were hurt. The top three cornerbacks were hurt. The starting center was hurt. But everybody has injuries this time of year. Boise State did not have enough to respond.
So here the Broncos sit for a second year in a row, trying to come to terms with a season that will end away from the national spotlight.
"We're definitely bummed about it," senior safety George Iloka said in a phone interview. "We're not used to losing, but I feel the mood is a little different this year. Last year, the depression was a lot longer. It was a full-out depression. But now guys know what we have to do to bounce back. We have a lot more seniors this year, so as veterans if we have our heads down, there is no way the younger guys are going to have their heads up. We have to lead by example. It's about the next game and getting better and proving we are better."
This a group that has lost three total games by a combined five points. Crushing to be sure. But the Broncos still have a chance to set the school record for wins by a senior class. They need to win out to make that happen. They have been to and won a BCS game, in 2009. They have had a player in Moore become the first Heisman finalist in school history. They beat a team from the SEC for the first time in history.
Iloka has been trying to emphasize those positives as the Broncos prepare to move forward at San Diego State on Saturday.
"This loss doesn't define us," he said. "The loss from last year doesn't define us nor does any win define us. It's a body of work. That's why we keep our heads held high. We've only lost three games. We can't be down in the dumps, and we've got to get better to prepare for San Diego State. They're a good team. We definitely can't be hungover from last Saturday."
Coach Chris Petersen expects Martin and Harper back for the game, but said the Broncos will be without their top three cornerbacks -- Jerrell Gavins, Jamar Taylor and Ebo Makinde. True freshman Lee Hightower and sophomore Quaylon Ewing-Burton will start.
Boise State has three games left in the regular season before going to either the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl or the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. Not the way the Broncos envisioned closing the season.
“All the losses are crushing,” Petersen said during his news conference Monday. “People don’t understand how tough these losses are to the coaches, to the kids. You put your heart and soul into it year-round, and when you don’t get it done, it’s hard.”