Boise State Coach Bryan Harsin and his program needed a convincing win like this one.
The Broncos defeated Northern Illinois 55-7 on Wednesday in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium to finish the season with a 9-4 overall record. Harsin’s team lacks the Top 25 ranking Boise enjoyed under former coach Chris Petersen, but a 9-4 record helps Harsin establish his identity over the program.
Boise State rolled up 654 total yards of offense to the Huskies’ 33. True freshman quarterback Brett Rypien, the nephew of former NFL quarterback and Super Bowl champion Mark Rypien, was 29 of 40 for 377 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Sophomore running back Jeremy McNichols scored four touchdowns. He carried 19 times for 93 yards and two touchdowns, and caught five passes for 96 yards and two more TDs.
Boise needed the one-sided victory following a late-season slump in Mountain West play that cost the Broncos the conference’s Mountain Division title. A 8-4 regular-season record followed by a loss in a bowl game might have been read as a sign the Broncos were slipping without Petersen. And that’s never happened since Boise State evolved into a national program at the turn of the century.
The Broncos’ history has seen coaches who enjoyed success at Boise but failed upon leaving the so-called “stepping-stone job” in Idaho for a Power Five school.
Dirk Koetter went 26-10 for three Boise seasons before he left for Arizona State. He was fired six years later with a 21-28 conference record in the old Pac-10 (40-34 overall). He was ranked only one season. Now he’s a nondescript assistant coach in the NFL with Tampa Bay.
Koetter was replaced by Dan Hawkins.
Hawkins kept the Broncos winning the next five years with a 92-12 record before he jumped to Colorado. He was fired five years later with a 19-39 overall record and 10-27 mark in the Big 12. Boise State was ranked in the top 15 three of his seasons in Idaho. He was never ranked while at Colorado, and has been reduced to a television analyst ever since.
Petersen took over the Broncos in 2006 and stayed eight seasons, enjoying Top 10 rankings in 2006 (No. 5), 2009 (No. 4), 2010 (No. 9) and 2011 (No. 8) as well as Top 20 rankings in 2008 and 2012. He turned down Power Five jobs nearly every season before accepting the Washington position in 2014.
And now Petersen is struggling at Washington. He went 8-6 his first season in 2014, lost the Huskies’ 2015 season opener at Boise State and is now 6-6 entering the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Saturday against Southern Miss.
Harsin, a Boise assistant from 2001 to 2010, now has a two-year record of 21-6 with the Broncos.
Boise had to fear its national profile was fading when the Broncos dropped three of five conference games to Utah State, 52-26; New Mexico, 31-24; and MW Mountain champion Air Force, 37-30. At that point the Broncos were 7-4. Was the magic gone with Peterson to Seattle?
But a 40-23 road win over San Jose State in the regular-season finale topped by a dominating performance over the Mid-American Conference West champion Huskies provided a boost entering the offseason for 2016.
In the Poinsettia Bowl, Boise State jumped out to a 31-7 halftime lead behind Rypien, who took over for injured starter Ryan Finley.
Rypien led three touchdown drives in the first quarter with two of the scores by the air. He connected with McNichols for a 29-yard touchdown pass to finish a three-play, 75-yard drive and a 4-yarder to McNichols to cap a seven-play, 67-yard drive. The third score was McNichols’ 1-yard run to finish a seven-play, 56-yard march.
Northern Illinois was slowed by its own injury problems.
Ryan Graham replaced Drew Hare, who suffered a torn Achilles’ tendon. Northern Illinois’ only score was on a 95-yard kickoff return by Aregeros Turner that trimmed the deficit to 24-7.