One cannot dodge the fact that it has been a trying year for the Boise State Broncos football team.
The team currently sits at 7-3 overall and leads the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference by way of a tiebreaker with Utah State, whom the Broncos beat 34-23 in October.
Despite the Broncos’ down year being a perfect excuse for those arguing Petersen should test the waters elsewhere, no one has really taken a look at the other side of the coin.
Perhaps this is just the type of season that invigorates Petersen and keeps him in Boise if he even was entertaining the idea of leaving.
This is the first time that a Petersen-coached Broncos team has lost more than two games during the regular season. Some of the struggles can be attributed to injuries, such as the one that has sidelined senior quarterback Joe Southwick since the Nevada game. Other issues would have been present regardless, such as the youth in the defensive secondary contributing to a porous pass defense.
Either way, it points out what hadn’t really been evident until now: Petersen isn’t capable of turning water into wine.
Thanks to his 84-8 record at Boise State heading into the 2013 campaign, two Fiesta Bowl victories and five seasons with at least a share of a conference championship, it's almost gotten to the point where people simply expected Petersen to win.
This season has changed that thinking.
Winning games in the Mountain West Conference isn’t “easy.” It may be easier than winning games in the SEC, on average, but since Petersen took over the program at the end of 2005, Boise State has ranked no better than No. 53 in recruiting, according to Rivals.com.
According to those numbers, the Broncos don’t rank all that much higher than the next closest MWC school on a year-to-year basis. Boise State has simply managed to rank far more consistently than its conference foes.
So when you lose your starting quarterback, a running back that was arguably your No. 1 recruit from the Class of 2013 and must replace both cornerbacks in the defensive secondary, you’re going to have a difficult year, especially when the competition you play has roughly the same caliber athletes as you do.
Boise State isn’t immune from the cycles that bigger programs go through, sometimes suffering through “growing pains” and “rebuilding years."
It’s just that Petersen and his staff have done an exceptional job at weathering the storms that have rolled in.
Finally, one of those storms was a little too strong, but what is the result of the damage to date?
A 7-3 record with a chance to spoil a potential BCS buster’s season in the inaugural Mountain West Conference title game.
Larger programs would love to say that they still had a good chance at playing in their conference title game during an “off year,” and that’s why Petersen is such a hot commodity when the coaching carousel begins moving.
On the other hand, though, this season is proof that Petersen can’t simply put on a headset and turn a team into a 12-game winner.
If the thought of a playoff actually increasing Petersen’s chances to play for the national title that has eluded him isn’t enough to get him to stay in Boise, perhaps the notion that only the right situation for a particular coach breeds success will.
Petersen takes 2- and 3-star recruits and turns them into all-conference athletes. He operates in an environment where only the willing—the ones with a chip on their shoulder—will join him in a quest to shock the big boys.
Boise State has the new facilities. It is on national television on a weekly basis, but it still isn’t moving up the recruiting rankings at record pace, and it likely never will.
The Broncos have essentially picked themselves up by the bootstraps and elevated themselves from “underdog” status to a team that consistently has the goal of making it to a major postseason destination.
The attitude of an underdog still works for the Broncos, though. It works for Coach Petersen.
It isn’t something that would work at USC or Texas or anywhere else that can offer Petersen the big contract and heralded recruits, though.
Petersen probably knows this, and, as with any job, cultural fit is as important as yearly pay, benefits or any other factor.
Boise State is a unique place, and it fits Petersen well. The 2013 season is a reminder that everything he’s done there hasn’t been easy.
No, now isn’t the time to leave. In fact, there hasn’t been a clearer sign to stay.