Lost in the excitement of the 2008 Boise State football team’s 4-0 start and rise in the national rankings is its 40-year anniversary as a four-year program.
It’s hard to believe that it was four decades ago, but the Broncos began competing in intercollegiate athletics at the four-year level in the fall of 1968. Although Boise Junior College attained four-year status to become Boise College in 1965, it wasn’t until the start of the 1968-69 academic year that the athletic department was able to fulfill its commitments to the Intermountain Collegiate Athletic Conference, the junior college league to which it belonged, and begin competing as a four-year program.
The end of the Broncos’ junior college era in 1967 also marked the end of Lyle Smith’s amazing 20-year tenure as BJC’s head football coach. Beginning in 1933, BJC’s second year of existence, the Broncos played football at the junior college level for 31 seasons (the program was suspended from 1942 through ’45 because of World War II) and for the final two decades of that era, they were a juggernaut under Smith. As a two-year program, the Broncos won 76 percent of their games, compiling a 199-61-9 record. They had just six losing seasons, all before Smith took over the program in 1947.
What the venerable Smith, now 92 and still a regular at BSU home games, and his BJC players did was remarkable, and their accomplishments the 21 consecutive winning seasons, the 37-game winning streak in the late 1940s, the national JC championship in 1958, etc. rightly deserves a place of honor in Bronco football lore. The BJC Broncos set a standard of excellence that few college football programs at any level could surpass.
It’s worth noting, however, that the Broncos’ performance as a four-year program over the last 40 years approximates the achievements of their BJC brethren.
It began with Smith’s decision to hire Tony Knap as his successor. Smith has said more than once that one of the smartest things he did after stepping down as coach and assuming full-time duties as Boise College’s athletic director was to hire Knap, a former teammate at Idaho, to take over as head football coach in 1968.
Under the guidance of Knap and the head coaches who followed, the four-year program has maintained a similar winning pace as the junior college teams. Since joining college football’s four-year ranks 40 years ago under Knap, Boise State’s overall record, including this season’s four wins, is 332-142-2 a winning clip of nearly 70 percent. During the past four decades, the Broncos have suffered just five losing seasons.
Similar to the BJC Broncos’ impressive run under Smith, the Boise State Broncos of the last 10 seasons under coaches Dirk Koetter, Dan Hawkins and Chris Petersen have been on a similar tear, posting Division 1-A’s best record during the last 10 seasons (106-24, 81 percent), best winning percentage since 2000 (85 percent), best home winning percentage since 2003 (97 percent), and best conference record since 2002 (96 percent).
The point being? Just that winning often begets winning. And in the 40 years that Boise State has fielded a four-year program, those players and coaches have almost kept pace with a level of excellence established by their BJC predecessors that has been awfully hard to maintain.