Santoro: The difference between Boise State and Pack? A sense of urgency

From 1999 through 2022, Boise State was 136-13 in games played at the university’s Albertsons Stadium.

From 1999 through 2022, Boise State was 136-13 in games played at the university’s Albertsons Stadium.
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Sports Fodder:

The differences between the Nevada Wolf Pack and Boise State Broncos football programs since 1999 have not been a mystery.

The Broncos have won 10 or more games in a season 18 times since 1999, winning five or more league games during that time in all 25 seasons.

The Broncos have also gone to 21 bowl games (including this year in which they’ve already qualified for an invite) and they’ve won 13 of those bowl games since 1999. Boise State has also been ranked in the Top 25 in 19 of the last 25 seasons.

We also don’t have to remind you that Boise State has beaten the Pack head-to-head in 17-of-19 games starting in 1999.

Nevada, by comparison, has won 10 or more games in a season since 1999 just once. It has won five or more league games in a year since then nine times. The Pack since 1999 has been to 14 bowls and has won only five.

The only time the Pack was ranked in the Top 25 since 1999 was in 2010, a year that now seems like a dream and didn’t really happen.

We don’t bring up these painful numeric reminders of how Boise State passed the Pack and has never looked back the last 25 seasons just to spoil your Thanksgiving dinner. We present all of the above numbers simply as the backstory for what happened last week in Boise.

The Broncos, you see, fired head coach Andy Avalos 10 days ago in just the third year of his contract. Avalos had a record of 22-14 overall and 17-6 in the Mountain West. He was named the conference’s coach of the year in 2022, when he went to the league championship game, losing to Fresno State.

Avalos is just 42 years old and is a beloved member of the Boise State family. He played a significant role in making the Broncos great as a linebacker from 2001-04 and in keeping them great as a Boise State assistant coach from 2012-18.

They love Andy Avalos in Boise. Avalos loves Boise. And he still got fired, despite winning 61 percent of his games.

Nevada’s Ken Wilson is 4-19 since taking over the program before the 2022 season. He’s 2-13 in Mountain West games. His teams have been eliminated from bowl contention the last two years quicker than your Halloween pumpkins started to rot.

Wilson, it seems, is not even close to getting fired. Wilson, it seems, has a Chris Ault lifetime contract at Nevada. It’s difficult to even hear any whispers up on North Virginia Street that hiring Wilson was a huge mistake.

Quite the opposite, in fact, seems to be true. Apparently, Wilson, if you listen to him talk, is building something special (despite the 19 losses in 23 games) and is on the right track.

Well, just remember next year, when Wilson goes wild and wins five or six games and gets a three-year contract extension, that Boise State fired its coach in the middle of Year 3 after having won 22-of-36 games.

Wilson, after three full years, might get to double digits in victories. If that happens, expect a parade down Virginia Street.

That Wolf Pack malaise and no sense of urgency, more than anything else, is the difference between Boise State and Nevada football. Boise State gets nervous over even the hint of not winning every game on the schedule and the Pack is content to run a summer football camp for kids where nobody is keeping score.

Don’t forget to send in your NIL money, Pack fans, so more deserving kids can go to camp next year.


Boise State, though, is at a crossroads. The years of Bronco domination, of being America’s mid-major sweetheart, are over.

The Broncos haven’t been truly great since 2019, the year before the pandemic. Yes, they were 5-2 in 2020 and got as high as No. 21 in the Associated Press rankings, but that year everyone was in a pandemic fog and simply did things (like turning in Top 25 votes) by memory.

The Broncos in 2020 struggled to find enough players to pass a COVID-19 test each week. Everything changed in Boise that year.

Head coach Bryan Harsin left in the middle of the night for Auburn after the 2020 season. Avalos, just 39 at the time, was hired as head coach. And the results have been, well, very un-Boise-like.

Avalos, full of cliches but short on experience, lost four or five games in each of his three seasons and never got the Broncos ranked in the Top 25. From 1999 through 2020, a span of 22 seasons, the Broncos only lost as many as four games four times and were ranked in the Top 25 19 times.


Avalos is now unemployed because Boise State, unlike the former Biggest Little City in the World, is simply not willing to slip back into mid-major obscurity.

Who will replace Avalos?

Well, Chris Peterson won 92-of-104 games at Boise State from 2006-13, is no longer coaching. He left Boise and won 55-of-81 games at Washington through the 2019 season.

Former Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore, who won 50-of-53 games from 2008-11 as the starter (one of those losses was in 2010), is now the offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Chargers. He had the same role for the Dallas Cowboys from 2019-22.

Moore might be available if, of course, he doesn’t get the Chargers’ top job after this season.

Rest assured, the Broncos won’t hire a bad head coach. They haven’t ever hired a bad head coach, certainly not one that lost 19 of his first 23 games.

Boise State became a four-year school in 1968 and has hired 11 head coaches (not including two interim coaches) and all 11 were quality head coaches.

Only one, Houston Nutt, had a losing record at Boise State. Nutt went 5-6 in 1997 (the Pack would sell its silver and blue soul for a 5-6 record right now) and became Arkansas’ head coach the following year. He won 75-of-123 games overall in the SEC over 10 seasons.

The Broncos don’t hire bad head coaches.


A lot of things can still happen in the Mountain West football race with just one week to play. We could, after all, have three teams with just two losses in league play after this weekend.

The top four teams all play each other on the final weekend.

UNLV is now 6-1 followed by Air Force, Boise State and San Jose State, which are all 5-2. UNLV hosts San Jose State on Saturday while Air Force plays at Boise State.

• If UNLV and Boise State each win this weekend the championship game will be set with Boise State going to Las Vegas on Dec. 2. The Rebels would be 7-1 while Boise State would be 6-2 with both Air Force and San Jose State at 5-3.

• If Air Force and UNLV both win, the two title teams will also be set with Air Force and UNLV meeting in Las Vegas because UNLV would be 7-1, Air Force would be 6-2, while San Jose State and Boise would both be 5-3.

• But if UNLV loses to San Jose State, it will get complicated and the former BCS computer rankings will get involved. Air Force, UNLV and San Jose State were all 1-1 against each other and Boise State did not play UNLV, so head-to-head records could not straighten out a three-way tie.

Yes, Boise State still has a chance of winning a Mountain West championship this year in the very same year it fired its coach.

That’s how they do things up in Boise.


Nevada, though, is now a basketball school, so who really cares about football anymore, right?

The men’s basketball team went to the NCAA Tournament last year, the university got busy after the season to build a new arena for the team and, well, here we are with a 4-0 men’s basketball team and a football team that has won four games over its last 24 games (dating back to December 2021).

Yes, it’s a basketball school right now, Pack fans.

It actually has been a basketball school since Trent Johnson and Mark Fox combined to go to four NCAA Tournaments in a row from 2004-07. Yes, there was a little football party break in 2010 but that lasted about as long as it took for all those front-running, Johnny-come-lately Pack fans to get home from the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

Basketball has been king up on North Virginia Street for the better part of the last three decades or ever since Chris Ault started hiring or handpicking head football coaches.

How did that happen? The Pack basketball team, like the Boise State football team, has hired good-to-great coaches during that time while the football team treated its top job like it was a bull’s eye on the wall.

There were times when the Pack football team hit the center of the bull’s eye, like with Chris Ault and Jay Norvell. But most of the time the dart it threw (apparently with its eyes closed) gouged out a huge chunk of the wall or hit a passing dog or cat in the behind (see Jeff Tisdel, Chris Tormey, Brian Polian and, so far, Ken Wilson).

The Pack hoops program really hasn’t had a bad coaching hire since Jack Spencer (13 years) and Jim Padgett (four years) went a combined 166-260 from 1959 to 1976. Since then, the eight Pack basketball head coaches all produced a winning career record at Nevada. Five of them (Sonny Allen, Trent Johnson, Mark Fox, Eric Musselman and Steve Alford) all took a team to a NCAA Tournament.


Another Mountain West school that will be looking for a new head football coach this off-season is San Diego State. The Aztecs’ Brady Hoke officially announced his retirement last week, but he likely would have been booted out of town anyway after the year.

Hoke, who was a mediocre 13-12 as the Aztecs head coach in 2009 and 2010 before somehow getting the Michigan job from 2011-14, returned to San Diego in 2020.

He’s gone 4-4, 12-2, 7-6 and is now 3-8 since over the last four years. He even lost to Nevada, 6-0, at home this year for one of the most embarrassing losses in the history of San Diego sports.

And, yes, that includes the 1969 San Diego Padres.

Who will get the Aztecs’ top job? Who wouldn’t want to coach in San Diego, especially in a new stadium that was built a year ago?

Jay Norvell probably wishes he waited two years to go to the Aztecs (or Boise State, come to think of it) instead of jumping to Fort Collins, Colo., in the middle of the night in late November,-early December 2021. Can you imagine the Air Raid in a perfect environment with tons of Southern California recruits at wide receiver and quarterback?

It won’t be long before the Aztecs are winning Mountain West titles again.


Is this 4-0 Wolf Pack men’s basketball start real or is it a mirage? Oh, it’s real. It’s very real.

The Pack is playing perfect basketball right now, sharing the ball, the minutes and the spotlight with everyone on the roster. This isn’t a typical Alford Nevada team, with one or two stars doing everything.

Everybody on the roster does everything this year. Well, at least a little bit of everything.

We’ll learn a lot more about this team over its next 10 non-conference games before Mountain West games start the first week of January (the Pack is at Fresno State on Jan. 6).

The Pack could very well be 12-2 or better heading into league play. A game against Drake, which was 27-8 last year and is 3-1 this year, might be a good test down in Henderson on Dec. 9.

Another tough test might be four games in Hawaii from Dec. 17-24 against Hawaii, Temple and two games against either Old Dominion, TCU, Massachusetts, Georgia Tech or Portland. Yes, the same Portland the Pack beat at home last week by 25.

The rest of the Pack schedule between now and Jan. 6 has Montana, Loyola Marymount, UC Davis, Weber State and Fresno Pacific.

The only thing Alford knows more about than coaching (and piling up a ton of easy wins at a Mountain West school) is building a friendly non-league schedule. His former coach at Indiana (Bobby Knight) taught him well.


Don’t be fooled by the Wyoming Cowboys’ 0-4 record on the road and think the Pack will have some sort of advantage this Saturday at Mackay Stadium.

A lot of teams in the nation, let alone the Mountain West, would be 0-4 on the road if those four road games were at Texas (101,777 fans), Air Force (when the Falcons were healthy in October), Boise State (the blue turf still has magic) and UNLV (Allegiant Stadium is now a tough place to play for the opposition).

Wyoming is 7-4 and, well, the last time the Pack won seven games in a season it had an offense (2021).

Cowboys quarterback Andrew Peasley is also one of the more underrated players in the conference. And we all know how the Pack fares against productive quarterbacks.

Peasley, who used to play for Utah State, is tough, talented, competitive and skilled, sort of a poor man’s Josh Allen. If you stop one thing he does, he’ll beat you with something else.

A Wolf Pack victory would be just what Wilson needs to build some momentum going into yet another long off-season. But call it a victory and give the program some momentum and good thoughts even if the Pack stays within two touchdowns.


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