Chris Petersen isn’t looking forward to it, but Boise State has had its season opener circled on the calendar for reasons beyond a reunion with its former coach.
Petersen’s return to Boise will be the focal point when his Washington team meets the 23rd-ranked Broncos on Friday night to resume a growing rivalry he’s previously spent entirely on the opposite side.
After taking Boise State to unprecedented heights during a wildly successful eight-year run, Petersen accepted the Huskies’ job made vacant by Steve Sarkisian’s departure to USC in December 2013. The Broncos were a stellar 92-12 with four top-10 finishes under Petersen, highlighted by undefeated campaigns capped by Fiesta Bowl wins in 2006 and 2009.
“When we first found out that he was leaving, it kind of blew everyone’s mind,” Broncos senior center Marcus Henry said. “It was almost like somebody died, I guess – quiet, somber. It’s a different kind of feeling.”
Though Petersen is expected to receive a warm ovation, he admits facing a number of his former players will create an uncomfortable situation.
“The only thing that’s awkward is because you know so many of those kids that we’ve recruited and I really haven’t had any contact with those guys because we are playing them, so that’s made it more awkward,” he said. “Take all that out, it’s great for college football.”
Those trepidations may be heightened by the Broncos’ continued success under Petersen’s successor and one-time prot??g??. Boise State hardly skipped a beat in Bryan Harsin’s debut season, capturing another Mountain West title and besting Pac-12 member Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl for a 12-2 finish.
The Broncos are favored to win the Mountain West again due to the return of nine starters to an offense that averaged nearly 500 yards and 40 points per game, though current Miami Dolphin Jay Ajayi’s 1,823 rushing yards and 32 total touchdowns won’t be easy to replace.
Boise State will be breaking in a new quarterback as well, with sophomore Ryan Finley taking over for the steady Grant Hedrick.
Petersen has declined to reveal who will be under center for the opener, instead listing junior Jeff Lindquist, freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels and blue-chip recruit Jake Browning as co-starters on the pregame depth chart.
Lindquist started last year’s opener at Hawaii, but went just 10 of 26 for 162 yards as the Huskies squeaked out a 17-16 win.
Quarterback is one of several positions of uncertainty for Petersen, as seven of the 10 players earning All-Pac-12 honors during last year’s 8-6 campaign are gone. That includes a pair of first-round picks in nose tackle Danny Shelton and linebacker Shaq Thompson as well as a second-rounder in linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha.
Browning is one of 11 true freshman on the current depth chart as the Huskies prepare to enter one of college football’s most challenging venues. The Broncos have won 14 straight at Albertsons Stadium and are 92-4 on their trademark blue turf since 2000, the nation’s best home winning percentage.
Boise State is 7-3 against Pac-12 schools since 2006, though it was dealt a 38-6 loss by the Huskies in Seattle during Petersen’s final season in 2013. It was the program’s most lopsided loss since a 48-13 defeat at Georgia in the 2005 opener.
“Still have a bad taste in our mouth from that game,” Broncos defensive end Sam McCaskill said. “That still is sitting with us.”
Petersen did guide the Broncos to a 28-26 triumph over Washington in the 2012 Las Vegas Bowl, Boise State’s lone win in three meetings.