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From Replacement Game To Rivalry: History Of BYU-Boise State Football Series

BYU-Boise State football rivalry has become an annual fixture since 2012. (Claire Gentry/BYU Photo)

PROVO, Utah – The future of the BYU/Boise State rivalry, like many things in college athletics these days, is up in the air. With BYU moving to the Big 12 Conference in 2023, one of the Intermountain West’s best annual games could take a pause soon.

That would be a shame and another hit to annual college football matchups that we all love. But, twenty years ago, no one would have ever imagined these two programs separated by 381 miles would ever play a game. Let alone become rivals.

When Gary Crowton took over as BYU’s head coach in 2001, replacing the legendary LaVell Edwards, Crowton stepped into future non-conference schedules loaded with BCS teams. Remember, this wasn’t the Independence era. BYU was in the Mountain West Conference at the time. So the strategy of playing as many BCS (Power 5) teams as possible probably wasn’t the best move as a Non-BCS program.

BYU/Boise State began as a replacement game

Games against Georgia Tech, LSU, Stanford, and USC, were on the future schedules for Crowton to try and navigate. He wanted to ease the schedule just a tad, so BYU pulled out of a home-and-home with LSU to play Boise State as a replacement for the Bayou Bengals.

Well, if the replacement thought was to ease up the schedule, that move backfired. The rise of Boise State football was going into overdrive.

By the time BYU faced Boise State for the first time in 2003, the Broncos immediately established themselves as the top program in BYU’s old conference, the WAC. They proved were they quickly becoming the big fish in the small pond out west by thumping BYU 50-12.

Knowing how it all ended for Crowton, it probably would have been best to enjoy the allure of Death Valley at night against a Nick Saban-coached LSU team instead of getting thumped by the whacky Blue-turf crew in Boise.

But it all happens for a reason.

Formed relationships

BYU and Boise State completed their two-game series in 2004 after Matt Payne missed a last-second field goal to give the Broncos another win in the series. After that, it wasn’t clear when the two teams would meet again.

Despite the losses, there were positives for BYU from the meetings with the rising Broncos. ESPN loved putting the series on their networks in weeknight slots. Plus, Boise State proved to be a willing and flexible partner with BYU.

Originally the 2003 game was supposed to be played as the season opener in replace of LSU. But ESPN wanted BYU-Georgia Tech in that Thursday opening night slot instead. So Boise, willing to do anything to play BYU, allowed the Mountain West to place the game on a cold, snowy night in late October for the chance to get a crack at the Cougars finally.

BYU has always been about relationships. That flexibility and respect for BYU from Boise laid the foundation for a strong relationship if the two wanted to meet again.

As we all know, not too far after the 2004 meeting, BYU had a lot of open dates that they needed to fill on their future football schedules.

BYU announced its Independent status in 2010. Two years before going Independent, BYU and Boise State agreed to a four-game series annually from 2012-15. Then in the middle of their first season as an Independent, BYU struck an extension with Boise, now a member of the Mountain West Conference, for an additional eight games. Thus, bringing the matchup annually to fans over the next dozen years.

Each year since 2012, both programs have been facing off against one another. It’s been a game that has produced memorable moments and has become an annual rivalry.

One of BYU’s goals each year set by head coach Kalani Sitake is to win rivalry games. The three rivalry games listed in the goals include Boise State, Utah, and Utah State.

Games against Boise during Independence

Since BYU and Boise State began their current 12-game series, Boise State holds the lead 5-4, but BYU has won the last two meetings. Including a blowout 51-17 win in Boise. The loss was Boise’s biggest defeat at home in 24 years. A game that the Broncos didn’t have to play due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Mountain West opting to play a conference-only schedule.

College Football Playoff committee members weren’t impressed with the victory as the Broncos were down to a third-string QB in Cade Fennegan, who now is playing for BYU. Kalani Sitake’s response to the Playoff Committee, “Last I checked, I didn’t know the QB for Boise State played defense.”

In 2019, BYU took down an undefeated and nationally-ranked Boise State team with third-string signal-caller Baylor Romney. The Cougars even pulled out some old Boise State tricks in the upset win.

In 2012, ESPN brought out their top crew for Thursday night football led by Rece Davis to call a 7-6 defensive slugfest in favor of the Broncos. Tanner Mangum pulled off a second consecutive miracle in as many weeks to lift BYU over Boise in 2015.

During Kalani Sitake’s first year as head coach, Boise State jumped out to a quick 14-0 led before BYU got back into the game on a pair of pick-sixes from Dayan Lake and Fred Warner. BYU had a chance to win it on a hail mary from Taysom Hill, but that last-second effort came up short as Boise pulled out another 28-27 win on the Blue, the same score as the 2004 contest.

During the 2018 game is where ESPN’s Andre Ware fell in love with freshman Zach Wilson. Wilson came up short on the goal line as time expired in regulation, giving Boise another home win, but it was there where you saw the fight and resiliency from a young signal-caller finding his stride.

The future of BYU/Boise State

When BYU and Boise State announced a new 10-year agreement of games through the 2034 season, eight of the ten meetings are scheduled for the month of September. Typically the month when non-conference games are taking place.

The scheduling agreement does allow an out for BYU if they go into a Power Conference without penalty, as is the case for all of BYU’s contracted games. BYU AD Tom Holmoe hasn’t tipped his hand as to the priorities in non-conference scheduling in the future, but the top priority will be the Big 12 Conference.

Whatever the Big 12 wants from its members, I would expect BYU to participate in that. Would anyone complain about a bi-annual rotation of Utah and Boise State in the non-conference schedule?

Two decades ago, everyone from BYU would have complained about the idea of the Broncos on the schedule annually. Now, it’s a game worth trying to maintain, even in the upcoming Big 12 era.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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