Ducks, Broncos start season with Top 25 showdown
For all the big games No. 14 Boise State has faced in its rise to prominence, Chris Petersen always preached that no one game carried increased importance.
Good luck keeping that mantra going with any validity to his players when his own school and everyone else in Boise is billing tonight's showdown with No. 16 Oregon as the biggest home game in school history.
"I think it's great for the city and great for the fans, and hopefully our team is prepared and does a great job," said Petersen, entering his fourth season as the Broncos head coach. "But when teams start buying into hype, positive and negative, it doesn't do you any good."
Still, it's hard for anyone not to acknowledge this matchup carries a different feel. Tailgating is expected to start early this morning, right up to the 8:15 p.m. MDT kickoff. Tickets are available on the Internet at upward of four figures.
The school's basketball arena, across the parking lot from Bronco Stadium, will be opened for ticketless fans looking for a gathering place to watch the game.
Students lined up overnight to get one of the precious tickets in the student section, which vanished about an hour after going on sale.
And all that says nothing about what will happen on the field, where animosity will still linger after last year's 37-32 Broncos victory at Autzen Stadium, where the Ducks remain convinced Boise State took cheap shots that affected the outcome.
First came Ellis Powers' helmet-first leveling of Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli in the first quarter — well after the pass left Masoli's hand — that eventually forced the Ducks QB from the game with a concussion. BSU safety Jeron Johnson was later ejected for a late hit on Oregon tight end Ed Dickson, yet another shot the Ducks felt was needless.
The game could also have serious implications months later. Take away the Ducks, and Boise State's schedule becomes at most pedestrian, with its usual slate of average Western Athletic Conference foes and its two toughest WAC games — Louisiana Tech and Nevada — at home. Its non-league schedule is also lackluster, with games at Bowling Green and Tulsa looking like the only possible slip-ups.
Translation: Already with the highest preseason ranking in school history, a Boise State victory could open a path to any of the BCS bowls come January.
"I don't know if it will change a season, but (a win) can open up some eyes," Boise State safety Kyle Wilson said.
Oregon, meanwhile, would like nothing more than to start Chip Kelly's tenure as the Ducks' head coach with an important victory.
It's a new era in Eugene now that Mike Bellotti has moved into the athletic director's chair. He'll be in Boise today, but only as a highly interested spectator, curious to see just how Kelly's spread offense looks on the blue backdrop.
It's the first time someone other than Bellotti will lead the Ducks on the field since 1995.
"I was surprised as heck when Mike said he was stepping down or becoming the athletic director and I was the choice as the next head coach," Kelly said. "But it was never a goal of mine."
Masoli thrived as 2008 progressed, capped by his Holiday Bowl performance when he threw for 258 yards and a touchdown, and rushed for 106 yards and three scores. Blount is a YouTube star thanks to his leaping, spinning, bullying run that sealed the Ducks' bowl win over Oklahoma State. Oregon scored a combined 107 points and rolled up 1,259 yards of offense in its final two games of '08.
For all that offensive firepower, the Ducks defense might be the concern. Oregon could be breaking in six new starters on defense, hoping that BSU quarterback Kellen Moore's sophomore season starts off with a slump.
Last year in his first road start, Moore threw for 386 yards and three touchdowns as Boise State finally got over the hump of beating a BCS team on the road.
The Ducks are the first ranked team to visit Bronco Stadium for a regular season game and set on exacting some revenge for last year.
"It would be nice to go back and beat them, but what happened last year happened and there's nothing we can do about it," Oregon center Jordan Holmes said. "They came here, they beat us and we're just looking" to go there and win.