September 12, 1998, 25 years ago today: Boise State plays only its second home game ever against a Pac-10 school, as Washington State comes into Bronco Stadium a year after waxing BSU 58-0 in Pullman. The Broncos led late into the third quarter before WSU pulled away with a 33-21 win. After the game, Cougars coach Mike Price was asked, “Did it feel like a Pac-10 game out there tonight?” Price—still very proud of the Cougs’ Rose Bowl appearance on New Year’s Day—smugly replied, “The last time I checked, Boise State played in the Big West.”
Dirk Koetter was in his first season as Boise State coach and was anxious to match wits with Price to see how far his Broncos had come since the 1997 debacle under Houston Nutt, which remains the worst loss in school history. Well, Boise State led 7-6 at halftime in this one and took an eight-point lead midway through the third quarter on a three-yard touchdown run by Eron Hurley. Washington State then scored 21 consecutive points. Still, the Broncos got within 27-21 with less than six minutes left in the game on a 29-yard Dempsy Dees fumble return. But the Cougs put it away with a 79-yard TD run by DeJuan Gilmore. The Broncos outgained WSU 307 yards to 279, but they turned the ball over six times.
Boise State would lose twice more to Washington State before finally getting their first win over the Cougars. In 2000, Koetter’s final season, the two teams went toe-to-toe in Pullman before Wazzu pulled out a 42-35 victory. The following year, Dan Hawkins coached his first home game on the Blue, with the Cougs prevailing 42-20. That was the last time the Broncos lost a home opener before falling to UCF last Saturday night, breaking a 21-year streak. Boise State and Washington State didn’t play again until 2016, when an 85-yard Tyler Horton pick-six kick-started a 31-28 Broncos win. WSU leads the series 5-1.
The question now: Will Boise State and Washington State be new conference mates with the demise of the Pac-12? It seems inevitable, but the Cougars are trying to play their way out of relegation to a lower level of football. They upset Wisconsin 31-22 Saturday in Pullman, and WSU coach Jake Dickert declared afterward, “We belong in the Power 5!” Washington State and Oregon State are trying to affirm their rights to the Pac-12’s assets with the other 10 teams having abandoned ship. And on Monday, a judge ruled in favor of the two schools in their quest to prevent the current Pac-12 meeting as a board and blowing everything up.
(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.)