October 6, 2001: A sobering night in Boise State’s first year in the WAC. Rice’s option attack took apart the Broncos defense to the tune of 430 rushing yards in a 45-14 rout in Houston. And the Owls did it on a record 82 carries, getting that many because of Boise State’s inability to get out of a drive. There weren’t many big plays—just a lot of plays. Boise State spotted Rice a 28-0 lead that was not going to be overcome, especially with the Broncos turning the ball over three times. All of the giveaways led to touchdowns.
Boise State was 2-3 at that point (the other losses were at South Carolina and at home to Washington State). The Broncos would stun No. 8 Fresno State 13 days later in the game generally considered to be the one that established the program as a force. And they would lose only once more during the season. But it was the loss to Rice that probably cost Boise State a bowl bid in December. That was the last time the Broncos missed the bowl season without having a choice.
The result was coach Dan Hawkins’ “Leave No Doubt” mantra in 2002. The Rice game that November had been circled since the fateful trip to Houston the year before. Boise State went into the game leading Division I-A in scoring, and Hawkins never took his foot off the pedal, as the Broncos blasted the Owls 49-7. And that created a landmark moment the following day: Boise State’s first-ever appearance in the Top 25 (No. 23 in the Coaches Poll).
Little did we know the 2001 loss to Rice would be one of only five the Broncos would experience in 10 years in the WAC. They lost again late that season at Louisiana Tech before launching a 31-game conference winning streak that would last into 2005.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)