The clichés about Texas and football are true. The two are so inseparable that football has long held the unofficial distinction as the state's second largest religion.
Football is a part of Texas life because as one fan told me, it represents all that Texans believe they stand for. And while arguably many other parts of the country could make the same claims, Texans do seem to back-it-up with a passion for the sport at all levels. Dozens of high schools have stadiums that would be considered better than many colleges including certainly the Kibby Dome. Countless movies and books have documented the legendary players, coaches and programs that have helped define the football mystique. Fans at every level are passionate about their teams and believe that if this state is not the birthplace of football, its' gridirons are certainly the cradle of development.
From the wind-blown campuses of north Texas to the humid St. Augustine fields of east Texas, college football is ingrained in Texas life. So in a state where football is king and rivalries are mythical, two questions come to mind: Has a relatively young program from the Northwest made it into the public consciousness? And what do Texans think about the Boise State Broncos?
The relationship between Boise State and Texas has to-date been defined by 4 primary periods that parallel the development of the program. During at least two of those four periods, our introduction to Texas fans has been less than stellar.
First there was the D1-AA period—a period of about 14 years when BSU won a national championship (played in another) and appeared 4 more times in the play-offs. Ask a fan of North Texas or Sam Houston about BSU from that period and they will likely recall the program as a contender in the mix with other strong programs (Weber, Nevada, Idaho) from the Big Sky. I asked a Sam Houston University (now State University) alumni, what he recalled about the Broncos and his response was, "We were thrilled when you went to the Big West. That whole Big Sky was a hotbed of football talent. Even then BSU seemed wide-open in their style."
The second period was the move to D1A and the Big West. For Texans from the Dallas area, the move united North Texas and BSU in a new conference and at a higher level. The team opened with a tough loss in '96 but the fortunes changed in subsequent years as BSU began its rapid assent towards conference championships.
In 2000 the team was introduced to Texas fans from the southwestern part of the state when they met UTEP in the Humanitarian Bowl. The game was highly anticipated throughout the state. BSU was gaining a reputation as a powerhouse from the Big West, and the showdown pitted two high-octane offenses and standout quarterbacks (Bart Hendricks and Rocky Perez) against each other. For many local sports fans the decisive victory over the Miners, a member of the WAC for over 35 years, was considered a significant upset. The WAC had a long tradition of football excellence and few felt the upstarts from the Big West could compete. With the victory, BSU was suddenly on the college football scene for many in Texas.
The rise in national attention for the program also meant an increase in local Texas awareness. The move from the Big West to the WAC in 2001 added further to local exposure. The Broncos would good head-to-head with Texas teams SMU, Rice and UTEP. Inclusion in the WAC brought significantly more exposure for the Broncos. Local sportscasters around the state were quick to point out the "Smurf-turf" and the high-scoring offensive style of the team.
The Broncos would meet two of the three Texas teams that first year, easily handling the Miners in a rematch against the team they had met in the Humanitarian Bowl the previous year. For some locals, the early autumn BSU victory was more of a reflection on the struggling state of the UTEP program than on the rise of BSU. The match up against Rice was considered by Texans to be more of a test. Little did the critics know that a single test would not be indicative of the Bronco's future WAC success.
The Broncos arrived in Houston without their A-game. They lost decisively in the venerable old Rice Stadium while a few local fans chanted "Welcome to the WAC." However the loss seemed to possibly mark a turning point for the team. The WAC was more challenging than the Big West and previous championships meant nothing. The team had to step-up and play at a new level. They did, as we know and in the subsequent years BSU would dominate teams from Texas, including the '03 victory over TCU in the Fort Worth Bowl. Every game and victory increased the level of respect for the program among Texas college fans.
The coverage surrounding TCUs departure from C-USA to the MWC and the departure of the Texas teams from the WAC to C-USA created a short-term burst of BSU awareness within the state. Speculation about re-alignment and the impact on the conferences inevitably included BSU in the mix.
Unfortunately the WAC, sans Texas teams, did lose in-state media coverage. Fortunately BSU's reputation had been established and the team's continued progress (and occasional set-backs), televised games and national poll rankings have kept it on the sports pages and in the minds of many local fans. The preseason build-up for Georgia had many pulling for the team as an underdog. A TCU fan told me recently that he'd love to see the Broncos in the MWC as in his mind we were logical rivals (He gave grudging respect to Utah but felt BSU was a true team on the rise).
And that brings us to the fourth period--the post Hawkins BSU Broncos. With the influence the Big 12 holds over sports in Texas, BSU has received a significant amount of mention around Coach Hawkins arrival at Colorado. While the coverage has been limited, in a state full of Longhorns, Aggies, Red Raiders and Bears, everyone who hasn't been in a coma has been made aware of BSU as the school with the high-powered offense that plays on the blue turf. The comments often have an edge (i.e. Can Hawkins produce the same results in the "big-time college atmosphere of the Big 12?) but they never fail to give BSU credit for an outstanding program.
The season will be telling as Hawkins assumes the helm in Boulder and Coach Pete takes over the Broncos. If BSU has the winning season it is capable of producing, the awareness in Texas will only grow. Rankings, a favorable television schedule and national press will keep the team in the spotlight. In time Hawk's name will not be mentioned in connection with BSU any more than his predecessors' are at Arkansas or ASU. BSU will stand on its own merits. In a football-crazed state the only thing that could maybe make the awareness jump even faster would be a Fiesta Bowl featuring last year's national champions, the Texas Longhorns and the Boise State Broncos. Go Broncs!