Championships Are Won In The Summer

In the offseason, members of the 2004 Boise State football team thought they were world-beaters. They heard the hype; they saw the preseason rankings putting Boise State higher than ever before. Then it all came crashing down. Members of the 2009 Bronco team can learn an invaluable lesson from their predecessors.

Contrary to popular belief, college football games are not won in the fall.   

That's right.  Sure you can watch the scoreboard and see the final results in the paper but much of what you see and hear in the fall has been preordained.  

Summer is the time in which great teams are formed.  There's no media hype, fan frenzy, two-a-day's or anything else normally associated with the key time in college football.  And perhaps that's why it is so important.  Nope, it's just the players—by themselves and working with each other in the offseason.  The attitude and dedication of the players is just as important if not more so than the steps they are taking to get their bodies in top form.  The discipline and vigor with which they apply right now (or lack of) will show up on the scoreboard this fall.  

Nothing can be taken for granted in this most important time.  All college football teams are 0-0, they are six weeks away from their first game and certainly no one has gone undefeated.  At this point, those are all pipe dreams.  Much can happen to a team's outlook, a team's mindset, between now and opening game and it does most of the time.  A team with high expectations can fall flat and be disappointed.  Likewise, a team that is not talked about as a contender can rise up and knock off a nationally-ranked team and turn its fortunes around.  

But again those results do not just happen on a crisp fall day in stadiums across the country.  They are greatly influenced by the attitudes and interactions of team players at this very moment.  Are players satisfied with last year's results?  Are they happy lifting the same amount in the weight room each day?  How many wind sprints are they doing not once practice begins but right now to push themselves?  Those great timing patterns you see between quarterback and receiver—those do not just happen, nor do they happen as a result of fall practice.  Relentless work must be done at this very moment to get that superb timing down.  Offensive linemen who did not quite click last season must be bulking up at this time; you don't just binge at the last minute to prepare for a game or for the season.  

The physical requirements to be successful in college football are obvious; they can be seen; they are tangible.  What is not obvious is the mental part of the game, which is at least as important.  In fact, that mental aspect drives the physical; it is what pushes the player to perfection.  Only if the mind is right can the rest follow.  Laziness is never confused with greatness.  The desire to be the best must always be there in the summer for there to be success in the fall.  The mental mindset of each player and of the team collectively is impossible for fans and difficult for the media to get a sense of.  Even coaches who are not on top of it might not be aware of potential problems in attitude. 

The 2005 Boise State Broncos are a perfect example.  Had coaches been aware of the change in attitude in the Bronco team in the offseason following their undefeated 2004 regular season, the mistakes of 2005 could have been averted.  

The parallels between this group of Broncos and the mid-00's are inescapable.

In 2004,
Boise State had the youngest team in the country and went through the season undefeated.  They lost their bowl game to Louisville , another non-AQ that was ranked in the top 15.  In 2008, Boise State again had one of the youngest teams in the country and went through the season unbeaten only to lose their bowl game to TCU, another non-AQ that was ranked in the top 15.

In 2005 despite high hopes going into the season,
Boise State lost to Georgia , Oregon State , Fresno State and Boston College , a down year by Bronco standards.  In 2009, what will the Broncos do--???

In 2006,
Boise State rebounded for not only an undefeated regular season but their first perfect season since 1958.  Boise State downed Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl in The Greatest Game Ever Played.  In 2010--???

 What I kept hearing over and over about the 2005 team was "This isn't the same Bronco team as last year".  Which puzzled me.  It was a strange comment in that in was essentially exactly the same team as 2004.  I know what they meant but it sounded funny being put like that.

What was meant by that was that the team didn't have the togetherness, the cohesiveness that they did in 2004.  While they were all buds working together on a common goal with their new team, many of them starting as underclassmen, in 2004, what I gather was that success went to many of their heads.  It quit being about "Us" but rather about "Me". 

The group obviously learned their lessons for in 2006 they bounced back in a big way.

So it seems like the #1 piece of advice the 2005 team would give to the 2009 team is to stay humble.  Starting now, the 2008 season doesn't mean diddly--it's a brand new season and every team in the country starts out 0-0 with an even slate.  Ever since 1982, I've always thought Survivor's song "Eye Of The Tiger" is quite applicable.  Even if you're the heavyweight champion of the world and in fact especially if you're on top, you have to have the hunger.  If you lose the hunger, the burning desire to be the best, someone's going to knock you off.  

Clichés are often ignored by young players to their peril.  They are popular phrases for a reason—not because they sound good but because they are true.  Sure it's boring, but if you have the "Eye of the Tiger" each and every game, you have an outstanding chance to win.  That doesn't apply just to championship teams but to the lowest of teams.  The team which has it on any given Gameday is going to win.  It is boring to take them "one at a time", focusing on one piece of the puzzle instead of what the puzzle is going to look like in the end.  "Don't get too high, don't get too low" is another one, but is a tremendous piece of advice.  Let the fans and the media get caught up in that.  Which brings forth another great piece of wisdom in order to stay humble—"Don't read the papers".

The second piece of advice the 2005 team would likely give to this year's Broncos is to build your teammates up and realize that without each and every player doing their part, the team isn't going to reach the same level.  Opponents are hell bent on bringing the Broncos down and they will indeed have "the Eye Of The Tiger".  If the
Boise State players don't match that level of enthusiasm and desire, all the talent in the world isn't going to amount to much.  Sure they'll win the lion's share of their games but after an undefeated season, one loss in the coming year is a setback.  They have to remember what brought them the success.  It wasn't all the hype or the newspaper stories or the stratospheric poll rankings.  They didn't have that going into 2008--the 2007 team had their share of problems and didn't achieve what they could have or should have.  So they didn't generate major hype, major media coverage or a preseason Top 25 for the 2008 team.  Boise State began last season #34.  No, they (last year's Broncos) were hungry to improve upon the previous year and they had the focus on "team" rather than individual.

It is much tougher to stay on top than to get there, as if that weren't tough enough.   

Whereas the coaches didn't seem to be aware that 2005 Bronco quarterback Zabransky was going off the deep end in the summer leading up to the season, now Chris Peterson is head coach.  I don't in any way want to imply that the losses of 2005 were the fault of one player.  They weren't.  That "Z" admitted his faults publicly went a long way towards the success of the 2006 season.  He took it upon himself as a leader to learn from past faults and thus influenced his teammates to do the same.  We are just aware of his situation in 2005 because he stepped up and matured before our eyes.  Zabransky's attitude in the offseason leading up to 2005 was a symptom of a larger team problem and many of his teammates had the same problem.

 Petersen and his staff need to be acutely aware of the mental makeup of each player on the team.  That requires knowing them, spending time with them and talking to them regarding their attitudes and expectations.  It sounds easy but it isn't.  

Perhaps the 2005 season was all about Georgia and when it ended in a debacle, it deflated the egos.  The media is attempting to equate the 2009 season with Oregon saying that the entire season depends on the result of that game.  That kind of thinking is ludicrous.  Some of Boise State 's one-loss teams (1979, 2002 and 2003) were among its best.  If the Bronco players listen to the media, expect a similar result to ‘05.  Tune out the media and listen to the coaches.   

So I've outlined some of the lessons the 2009 team can learn from the 2005 Broncos.  I have explained some of the pitfalls.  But here's the thing--I wasn't a member of the 2005 Broncos.  What little knowledge I or any other fan can impart for the 2009 team may not be relatable to the Bronco players for there isn't that common bond that only players can share.

Because of that, I will insert into this article direct comments from one of the stars of 2003-2006, lineman Jeff Cavender.  He knows from experience--he was there.

 

Much like the 2005 season, the first game of this season is going to be huge because it will help to set the tone of the remainder of the season.  In 2005, after Georgia, our team really lacked confidence and a killer mentality which showed the week later at Oregon State and we really questioned how good we really were after that.  Our confidence was down and we weren't able to recover from that for the rest of the year. 

Trust me, Oregon is going to come to the blue more than a little upset after taking that loss last year in Eugene which they rarely experience at Autzen.  Boise State does not need to over-hype Oregon.  It is a division-1 program vs a division-1 program.  It doesn't matter where you play, it is going to come down to who wants it the most and who can play the most efficiently.  

This year's team sole focus should not be on a possible BCS run, or not even a WAC title; they need to focus on that first game and starting the year off on the right foot with another victory on the blue in front of a loud 30,000+ in Bronco Stadium.  If they can take care of each game one at a time, those other great things (WAC title, BCS bowl) will fall into place.

Many thanks to Jeff for sharing those thoughts and to OrangeDeath for his help in getting those comments.  This has to do with focus.  When you get to the level of this team, it's easy to get the ego inflated, to listen to adoring fans and fellow students.  That is always a recipe for disaster.  Humility is one of the most desired traits in humankind, but it is also more difficult to maintain the more successful one is.   

No Bronco player should feel the need to carry the team as Zabransky did vs. Georgia .  The Broncos of '05 didn't seem to have team leadership.  Already Moore and Wilson are stepping up in the offseason.  Rather than read the papers or look at statistics, the key is getting better and we know both are taking steps toward that end.  Moore is a famous resident of the film room.   

Keep the egos under control.  Bronco fans believe Peterson is a better coach and that, to quote nocoolnamejim, feel Moore is a more level-headed, smarter quarterback than Zabransky.  

We'll see.  The clock is ticking and the 2009 college football season is being decided right now.


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