PROVO — BYU and Boise State have met only twice on the football field, with the most recent meeting taking place in 2004.
But in the coming years, the two teams will be seeing plenty of each other, as they are laying the groundwork for an intriguing partnership and a budding rivalry.
The two schools, separated by about 380 miles, have a lot in common besides the fact the Cougars are led by a coach named Bronco and BSU's nickname is the Broncos.
In late September, BYU and Boise State announced that they have added eight games to their previously scheduled four-game series. That means they are set to play a total of 12 games, starting next season, through 2023.
"Boise State has established itself as one of the premier football programs in the country," BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said at the time. "Playing the Broncos regularly makes a lot of sense for two regional opponents with great football traditions. We are excited about the series."
According to an Aug. 30 email obtained by the Idaho Statesman, former Boise State athletic director Gene Bleymaier wrote BSU President Bob Kustra about BYU: "This will be the most popular home-and-home series ever entered into by Boise State."
The question is, will those showdowns be marquee nonconference games, or Big East contests?
The Big East is looking at stabilizing and rebuilding after Syracuse, Pittsburgh, TCU and West Virginia announced they are defecting to other leagues. The Big East is looking West for new members.
Boise State would like to join the Big East, but Kustra has told the Statesman he wants a Western partner. BYU, which is in its first year of independence, has a national following, and an eight-year broadcasting deal with ESPN.
Bronco coach Chris Petersen told the Statesman that when it comes to potential Western partners, there are "a few good candidates and BYU is one of those."
BYU has been invited to the Big East, and is considering dropping independent status in football. On his KSL radio show recently, Mendenhall pointed out that BYU and Boise State are both looking for automatic access to the BCS and a new rival.
"Boise State finds themselves in a similar situation," he said. "It would make a lot of sense to me, if anyone wanted a partnership and wanted a natural rivalry, to take us and Boise and put us in the league … you'd have two excellent football teams, and I think people would be surprised at what would happen."
The importance of being an automatic BCS qualifier was underscored last weekend, when Boise State's Dan Goodale missed a 39-yard field goal as time expired in the Broncos' 36-35 loss to TCU. That defeat ruined BSU's perfect season and No. 5 ranking. It also cost the Broncos $18 million in potential BCS bowl money. The same thing happened last year, after missing a field goal as time expired against Nevada. Boise State ended up playing Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl.
If the Broncos were members of the Big East right now, they could lose one or two games but still earn a trip to a BCS bowl by winning the conference championship. Last year's Big East champion, unranked Connecticut, entered the Fiesta Bowl with an 8-4 record. The Huskies were drubbed by Oklahoma, 48-20.
Besides the BCS benefits, BYU and Boise State could cultivate a captivating regional rivalry. Now that Utah is a member of the Pac-12 and will not play the Cougars in November anymore, an annual showdown with the Broncos could help fill that void.
The story of Boise State's meteoric rise to prominence is nothing short of remarkable. Until 1968, the school was a junior college, then moved up to NAIA status, then to NCAA status as part of the Big Sky Conference in 1970. The Broncos began competing as a Division II program in 1970 and were elevated to Division I-AA status (now Football Championship Subdivision) in 1978. It wasn't until 1996 that Boise State jumped into the Big West Conference and joined Division I-A status (now Football Bowl Subdivision).
In 2001, the Broncos, and their signature blue turf, became a member of the Western Athletic Conference and immediately started dominating that league, much in the same way BYU dominated the WAC in the late 1970s and '80s. Since 2006, Boise State has posted a 59-3 record, with two undefeated seasons and a pair of BCS appearances, including its memorable overtime victory over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.
When the Broncos decided to leave the WAC for the Mountain West Conference in the summer of 2010, it appeared they would start up a rivalry with BYU — until the Cougars opted to go independent.
BYU and ESPN formed an unofficial partnership in the 1980s and '90s, when the Cougars played memorable games on the network that delivered good television ratings. When the MWC formed its own network, BYU rarely appeared on ESPN, and Boise State essentially replaced BYU as an ESPN darling, as the Broncos appeared frequently on ESPN. But Boise State's departure from the WAC to the MWC opened the door for BYU to go independent and fill ESPN's programming needs.
It figures that ESPN loves the fact the Cougars and Broncos will be playing for the next 12 seasons.
And in a turbulent college football world, a BYU-Boise State partnership could be mutually beneficial, whether they are members of the same conference or not.
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