Nothing beats a good rivalry.
Superman-Lex Luthor. The Capulets-Montagues. Hulk Hogan-Andre The Giant. These certainly are classic confrontations that have stood the test of time, but for fans that live in the Western United States, and follow Mountain West football know of one rivalry that used to have the ferocity and intensity of any in that conference. A battle between two schools that started in the 1970's, got even hotter in the early 2000's, and now has seemed to dip off because the two are in different divisions.
And that's a shame.
Fresno State and Boise State are no strangers to each other. Remember 2001? That was a statement by the Broncos, telling the Bulldogs, "We are the new kid on the block, deal with it." Or how about 2013, when the Bulldogs pulled off a tremendous victory in Chris Petersen's last year with BSU? It's what you want in a rivalry, and when these two meet, sparks definitely fly.
The fan bases couldn't be more different. Fresno State's loyal group of rooters will back up their team 100%, especially if one of Fresno's main rivals come to town. They love their team as much as say, Raiders fans do. They are incredibly knowledgeable and will be with their team to the end.
Former Boise State defensive tackle Alex Guerrero knows this first hand.
"My Senior year, we are losing to Fresno at halftime for the first time in a long time," Guerrero remembers. "I was walking back to the locker room passing Bulldog fans and it wasn't pleasant. But there was a young kid smiling at me. Being the person that I am, I felt this was a great opportunity to make someone's night no matter if they were losing. So I walk over and stick my hand out for a high five. As my hand got close to his hand, he swiftly flipped his high five palm to a #1 sign. But........with the middle finger."
Die-hard Fresno State fan Moss Carrasco has great memories of these two teams.
"Ah yes. The 2013 game here at Bulldog Stadium. I remember it was a good game. Back and forth or so it seemed. Crowd was restless. Lot of cheering and booing. If i wasn't cheering, we were booing. I remember being in the Student Section and saying if we win we should storm the field. Lol. And when we won, people were kinda like FINALLY we beat Boise!"
If there is one thing to be said about Fresno State football fans it's this: they are incredibly loyal to their team no matter what. And that's what being a fan should be all about.
Boise State fans can be vocal, but not in an overly aggressive way. They will yell and sometimes say the occasional four letter word, but if you diss their team, they're more oft to just politely joke around with ya. Plus they need to save all their vitriol for a college football analyst who says that the Broncos are not a playoff contender.
Can't we all just get along?
Due to the teams not playing in the same division, they won't play each other until 2017. It's one of two rivalries that has kind of gone dormant since WAC schools were invited to the Mountain West. Nevada and Boise State used to have a intense history with each other, but now that too has kind of gone by the wayside.
Tom Scott, local sports expert who hosts "The Scott Slant" on both KTVB News Channel 7 and Sports Radio the Ticket here in Boise, says when the Broncos joined the WAC in 2001, they wanted to make an impact immediately, and looked to serve notice that they could be the best in the conference.
"Boise State really wanted respect when the teams first played as conference foes in 2001," Scott said. "The Broncos wanted the Bulldogs to know they existed, and that they were peers."
2001 was a banner year for Fresno State quarterback David Carr. He put up ungodly numbers that year-4,839 yards, 46 TDS and a 165.9 QB Rating. It was like the man upstairs put a touch of sweet football magic on the youngster from Bakersfield, and said, "My son, you are going to be the chosen one."
Carr was money.
The Bulldogs were also led by Pat Hill, a coach who pretty much revitalized the Fresno State program. After Jim Sweeney retired in 1996, the school was looking for a fresh new start. Hill brought that to the table. A former Fresno State assistant who had just come from the NFL, Hill was determined to make Fresno State a big player when it came to competing against the best in the country.
He also sported the greatest fu-manchu moustache in the history of mankind.
Within four seasons, Hill had transformed Fresno State into a really good team that could beat anybody any given day. His first impact quarterback was Billy Volek. In 1999, Volek passed for over 2,500 yards, 30 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. That year, the Bulldogs made their first bowl appearance in six years, where they lost to Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl in a nail biter, 17-16.
Despite the loss, it was apparent that Hill had his team ready for the future.
About that same time, Boise State was starting to make their mark on college football. After competing in the Big Sky for decades, the Broncos moved to the Big West in 1996, and the move did not pay dividends immediately. Their beloved coach Pokey Allen, who had been battling cancer, died that year. It was a tragic loss for the school and the community.
After Allen's passing, the school brought in Houston Nutt to coach the team, but he only lasted a sole season before moving on to Arkansas. Left with finding a new head coach for the second time in two years, Boise State Athletic Director Gene Bleymeier found what he was looking for in Oregon Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter.
The move paid off immediately.
In his first year, with quarterback Bart Hendricks under center, the Broncos finished 6-5. The next year, Boise State went 10-3, won their first Big West title, and beat Louisville in the Humanitarian Bowl. In 2000, they continued to improve, going 11-2, won another Big West crown, and beat UTEP for their second straight Humanitarian Bowl title.
This team was going places. But it would be without Koetter.
In 2001, Koetter moved on to Arizona State, and Boise State offensive coordinator Dan Hawkins was promoted to head coach. To fill his spot as OC, Hawkins made fellow UC Davis alum Chris Petersen the new offensive boss. It also marked a new beginning for the school as well, as they moved to the WAC that same year.
With the move to the WAC, the Broncos would now have new rivalries, which included the Bulldogs. It was a chance to prove to the conference, and to the college football world, that a new kid on the block could take the WAC by storm.
Boise State and Fresno State met on October 19th, 2001 at Bulldog Stadium in Fresno. Not only did it live up to the hype, it exceeded it. 859 total offensive yards. 642 passing yards. 65 total points. Non-stop drama.
It had it all.
With less than eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, with both teams knotted up at 28, Broncos quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie threw a 54 yard pass to wide receiver Jay Swillie for the touchdown. It was an incredible play that left the Fresno State faithful speechless.
A new gunslinger had come into town.
Dinwiddie was sacked in the end zone by Fresno State defensive lineman Nick Burley for a safety, but it wasn't enough. Boise State had proven their point. They had beaten a very tough WAC opponent on their home field, 35-30. It was a bitter pill for most Fresno State fans to swallow, but the reality was clear: they had to share the spotlight with the Boys From the Blue Turf.
Scott says that game was a turning point for Boise.
"That 2001 game was incredible. Fresno State was the #8 ranked team in the nation. The Broncos absolutely shocked the Bulldogs in Fresno. A lot changed that night."
That year, Fresno State finished with an 11-3 record. Carr became the conference version of Dan Marino, John Elway and Steve Young all rolled up into one, putting up obscenely scary numbers and making NFL scouts salivate with excitement. They would play in the Silicon Valley Bowl, where they would lose in an incredibly close game to Michigan State, 44-35.
The next year, 2002, was even a bigger year for Boise State. Ryan Dinwiddie proved he was 'El Hefe' for the Broncos, despite the fact he was out for six weeks with a broken ankle. BSU backup BJ Rhode proved to be serviceable in Dinwiddie's absence, passing for 11 TD's and 5 interceptions. When Dinwiddie came back for the Fresno State game on October 18th, many wondered if he would be able to lead the Broncos to another big victory over Fresno, and would the Bulldogs be able to stop him.
Dinwiddie picked apart the Bulldogs with a perfect game. He went 19 for 22 with over 400 yards passing, 5 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. Brock Forsey ran for 132 yards and had 2 touchdowns. The Broncos had not only beat the Bulldogs. They embarassed them.
From that point on, Boise State knew if they were ever able to compete for a BCS Bowl Game, they would have to play with ruthless aggression. This team would have to put up as many points as possible, and if that meant embarrassing their opponent, so be it. The WAC was not guaranteed an automatic BCS bid, so the Broncos had to blow out each team, and not think twice about it.
For the next two seasons, the Bulldogs tried their hardest to defeat their new bitter rival, but no such luck. In 2003 and 2004, the Broncos beat their competition en route to more big wins for the program.
The next time these two met in 2005, the Bulldogs were having a stellar season. They were 7-1 going into their matchup with the Broncos, with most of the wins being blowouts. They knew if they had any chance of being a BCS buster, they had to beat Boise State to do it.
In that game, the Bulldogs looked more like the Broncos than Boise State did. Paul Pinegar threw for over 300 yards and 2 touchdowns in that game, while Wendell Mathis ran for 121 yards. Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky got picked off twice and was sacked three times as Fresno State ran away with a 27-7 victory. Things were looking really well for the Red and Blue.
However, it wasn't to be.
The next week against USC, the Bulldogs stood toe to toe with Trojans in a true classic. The Bulldogs lost 50-42, and would not win another game that season. Boise State and Nevada ended up winning the WAC that year with identical 7-1 conference records.
2005 was also the year that a new challenge trophy was created to help bring this rivalry to a new level. Since farming is really big business in both Idaho and Central California, two farmers, Roger Fleugel of Meridian and Dan Va Grouw of Visalia, California, came up with the idea of a prize that represented the agricultural heritage of both states. The choice for the name was simple.
The Milk Can.
The Milk Can looks kinda like the Stanley Cup in the NHL, but the top is round with a flat surface. Some say it's cool. Others think it's not so much. But you got to understand the farming similarities between Southwest Idaho and Central California to understand the true importance of this trophy.
By 2006, Boise State was on to being a true contender for a BCS bowl game, while the Bulldogs continued to have some up and down years. In just 5 short years, Boise State had become what Pat Hill had always wanted Fresno State to be: a national powerhouse.
That's not to say Fresno State wasn't good. They had some pretty amazing players, like the superbly talented Derek Carr, David's younger brother. The numbers he put up while in Fresno rank among some of the best in WAC/Mountain West history. In 2012, Carr passed for over 4,100 yards and 37 touchdowns. In 2013, he got one up on his brother as he threw for over 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns. This led Carr to earning two consecutive Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year awards in 2012 and 2013.
Other players like Ryan Mathews, Robbie Rouse and Jalen Saunders made the Bulldogs scary to play on a Friday or Saturday night. And kudos to Pat Hill, for turning around this program, winning some major football games, and having Central California believing that the Bulldogs could put the hurt on bigger opponents. He certainly should be neck and neck with Jim Sweeney as the best coach in Fresno State history.
He did an amazing job.
From 2006-2012, the Broncos dominated the Milk Can game, sometimes putting up over 60 points on the Bulldogs. Fresno State finally got revenge in 2013, when they beat Boise in a fantastic game 41-40. It was a message to say, "yes, you beat us in the past, but we still can beat you anytime." Since that time, Boise State has won two straight games over the Bulldogs.
Since the two schools went to Mountain West, they only play each other once every 2-3 years. The possibility still exists that they could play each other every year in the Mountain West title game, but they won't play each other in the regular season until 2017.
Scott believes the rivalry has definitely become lukewarm.
"The rivalry has certainly quieted during these two years that it’s been on hiatus. Also a factor has been Fresno State’s sudden decline since Derek Carr left. But I’m looking forward to 2017."
And that is very disappointing.