Six years ago, Boise State football coach Chris Petersen brought a team from the small Western Athletic Conference and burst onto the national scene with an overtime victory over Oklahoma in the Fiesta bowl.
Now, after joining the Mountain West last season, Petersen and the Broncos will play their final two games in the conference before becoming a part of the Big East next year.
The successes that Petersen has had with a team from a small conference raised eyebrows around the country, and provides a prototype for how to get a team from a small conference, like the Mountain West, onto the national stage.
“It’s unbelievable what they’ve done,” CSU coach Jim McElwain said. “I’ve seen it, maybe, up close and personal, growing up when they were in the Big Sky Conference and seeing them as just another program, to see how fast they became who they are.
“But the most important thing is the consistency at which they have done it, I mean, it is year-in and year-out, and that speaks volumes for the leadership there, and obviously for (Petersen).”
In over six seasons that Petersen has been the head coach at Boise State, the Broncos have focused on being consistent, while accumulating a 81-8 record.
When McElwain took over as the coach of CSU last December, he was faced with a similar challenge that Petersen took on: taking a program from a small conference and trying to turn it into a winner.
“We’re all trying to model ourselves and pick up the good things that other programs do,” Petersen said. “We’re no different than anyone else in our conference, I mean, we’re trying to figure out how to do it better ourselves, and I think you’re always looking for people that are doing some things that you’d like to continue to do.”
According to McElwain, in order for CSU to move forward as a football program, the Rams need to focus on the fundamentals and consistent play, something he has preached repeatedly to his players.
Despite posting a 3-7 record so far this year, the Rams have maintained the optimism that McElwain has embodied, particularly when they speak of the future of the program.
“I have full faith that this is going to be a very successful program here in the future,” senior offensive tackle Joe Caprioglio said. “Obviously, at this point in time in the season we’re disappointed with the record, but we’re gonna keep trying to win, and I think in the next few years you’re gonna be seeing this team frequent bowls.”
The acceptance by the players of what McElwain is trying to do at CSU will be a key component of whether or not the program ultimately is successful.
Petersen managed to get his players to believe in his system early on, and the results on the field have spoken for themselves.
“It’s the base foundation and fundamentals of the process, which they have accepted and they have excelled at,” McElwain said. “Which simply means attention to detail at a high level in everything you do, and that’s how they play the game.”
Football Beat Reporter Andrew Schaller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.