October 27, 1973, 50 years ago today: Boise State clinches its first-ever Big Sky Conference football championship before November even arrives, beating Montana 55-7 in Bronco Stadium. For the Broncos, it was something completely different. Coach Tony Knap was ahead of his time offensively, employing a then-unique passing attack. For example, Boise State led the nation in Division II passing in 1974, throwing for 334.5 yards per game. Quarterback Jim McMillan, a senior that year, still holds the school record with six touchdown passes in a single game.
McMillan was a junior in 1973, but Knap also used senior Ron Autele, who was a dual threat. Against Montana, who had rightfully prepared for a passing onslaught, Boise State ambushed the Grizzlies by rolling up an astounding 531 yards on the ground, still a school record. (The Broncos had pulled the same thing on Nevada the year before in a 56-19 win, piling up 516 rushing yards, a number that remains No. 2 in the record book.) Autele rushed for 123 yards on just 11 carries—his 11.2 yards per attempt is still eighth-best in Broncos history.
Boise State also had halfback John Smith, then a sophomore, who did almost as much damage as a receiver during his career as he did at running back. But versus Montana, it was almost all on the ground, as Smith led the Broncos in rushing with 135 yards. He still holds the school career record with 6.2 yards per carry. But Smith, an eventual third-round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys, is also fourth in career yards per reception at 18.1.
Knap called the 1973 squad his “team of destiny,” and it had that look when it routed South Dakota 53-10 in its first-ever Division II playoff game that December. But the Broncos were edged 38-34 in the semifinals by eventual national champion Louisiana Tech. Boise State would win the next two Big Sky titles as well, going 17-0-1 in conference play over that three-year stretch. The Broncos have now won 20 league championships all-time in this, their 56th season as a four-year program.
(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.)