End of an era: Boise State is giant-killer no more
ATLANTA (AP) Boise State came into SEC country with its new coach and sharp new orange and sliver helmets looking to make a statement: Even though the BCS is gone, the Broncos can still bust the big boys.
Instead, the Bryan Harsin era started at Boise State much the same way Chris Petersen's tenure ended - with a loss to one of those power conference teams the Broncos so routinely used to beat.
You could say that decisive loss to Oregon State at the Hawaii Bowl last December, just weeks after Petersen had left to take the Washington job, marked the end of an era for Boise State.
If there were any doubts, the Broncos' 35-13 loss to No. 18 Mississippi on Thursday night most certainly wiped them away.
Not so long ago, the Broncos came to the Georgia Dome and pounded a team that would end up playing for the Southeastern Conference championship.
This trip to the Georgia Dome, the Broncos could only hang around for about three quarters against an SEC team that committed three turnovers and 14 penalties and didn't look like much of a threat to Alabama and Auburn in the West.
''You turn the ball over four times and we're right in it. We had opportunities we just didn't capitalize on some plays. That's what stings,'' said quarterback Grant Hedrick, trying to look on the bright side.
Boise State couldn't match the Rebels' speed, athleticism or power.
Ole Miss pulled away with three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Rebels receivers Laquon Treadwell, Quincy Adeboyejo and Cody Core each broke big plays that Boise State looked helpless to stop.
Boise State had hung around for a while, but in the end it was not much better than last season's 38-6 loss at Washington to open the season. That one was 10-6 early in the third quarter.
Boise State's offense against Ole Miss was mostly dink and dunk passes by Hedrick (264 yards passing and four interceptions).
There was not enough power in two trips inside the Ole Miss 5 to punch the ball across the goal line. There wasn't enough precision to be efficient. And no amount of Boise State gadgetry could make up for the Broncos' deficiencies.
''Disappointed because we didn't win,'' Harsin said. ''That's what we came here to do. We came here to win. Bottom line. We're not going to sit here and make excuses for not going out there and not winning the ball game. We'll find ways to get better.''
It was right here in the Georgia Dome where Boise State pulled off one of its most impressive takedowns back in 2011. Kellen Moore and the Broncos slammed Georgia 35-21. Those Bulldogs went on to win the SEC East, but they were just another pelt for the big-game hunting Broncos.
Toss Georgia onto the pile with Oklahoma, Oregon and Virginia Tech.
Boise State never did get a chance to play for the national title during its remarkable run with Peterson and Moore (50-3 from 2008-11). In fact, in some of the Broncos' best seasons they couldn't even get a Bowl Championship Series bid.
The Broncos became a national brand and a divisive force in college football. You either embraced Boise State and its cool blue turf and rooted for the Broncos to disrupt a system that seemed to be stacked against them or you despised the upstarts from who knows where, with their soft conference schedule and silly blue turf. Many of the latter type of fans came from SEC country.
Last season, things changed. The Broncos finished 8-5.
The BCS era ended with Boise State not even a mention in the BCS conversation.
Now the College Football Playoff is here, and for the likes of Boise State, Central Florida, Northern Illinois and Fresno State, the chances of competing with the teams at the top of college football's food chain are dwindling.
''We can't afford to let the competitive gap get too disparate,'' Mountain West Conference Commissioner Craig Thompson said before Thursday night's game.
So where does Boise State go from here?
''In our mind nothing has changed,'' Boise State Athletic Director Mark Coyle said before watching the Broncos lose a season opener for the third straight season. ''There's always been a difference between Boise State with a $39 million budget, and the people we're competing against are three times that budget. What we need to do is take care of ourselves. Focus on us and win our games. If we win our games we feel very confident we can be part of the conversation at the end of the year and have those special moments.''
Those special moments seem more like distant memories than realistic expectations for Boise State these days.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP