For much of the past decade, Boise State and Fresno State have been the face of the Western Athletic Conference.
Both schools have earned each other's admiration by going out of the conference to prove they can compete with some of college football's powerhouses, whether it's putting a scare into Southern California or beating Oklahoma.
For all of the success the Broncos and Bulldogs have had, it's often been a mismatch when they have clashed in conference.
"Both of the teams have played very well out of conference. That's where the respect comes from," Fresno State coach Pat Hill said this week. "But when we face each other in conference, it hasn't been very close. We've only had one win. The one-on-one competition has not been good."
Fresno State (1-1) gets another shot at Boise State (2-0) on Friday night, when the Bulldogs host the 10th-ranked Broncos in the WAC opener for both teams.
Never was the disparity between the teams more evident than in last year's meeting in Boise, when the Broncos hit a tiebreaking field goal in the closing minutes of the first half and then scored all 48 points in the second half of a 61-10 victory over the Bulldogs.
That game still stings for Fresno State, which went through a painful film session this week looking back at all the mistakes they made on the blue turf in Boise a year ago.
"It's just frustrating. I feel like going into the games in previous years we were prepared and felt great. We just didn't execute," receiver Seyi Ajirotutu said. "They are a very opportunistic team. They eat at your weaknesses and they'll cut you so fast. Give them all the credit."
That wasn't the only blowout in this series. The Broncos won 67-21 at home in their second year in the WAC and 45-21 three years ago. In all, Boise State has won seven of eight meetings against Fresno State since joining the WAC in 2001 with the only loss coming in 2005.
But the games have always been closer in Fresno and the Bulldogs are healthy for a change with this game coming in the opening month of the season.
"The last couple of years when we played them later I know that they have been kind of beat up and had guys out," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. "We've never played Fresno this early and we know it certainly is not to our advantage. They are healthy and have a heck of a team. We know it will be a big challenge."
Fresno State has always prided itself on playing, and sometimes beating, teams from the major conferences. But the biggest game on this year's schedule is clearly this one.
"We have not matched up well in the last couple of years against them. Hopefully we've improved as a football team athletically," Hill said. "We get one shot Friday night. We want to see how much ground we've made up from last year. Because last year we got pounded pretty good."
Boise State has done that to plenty of teams, joining Oklahoma as the only Football Bowl Subdivision teams to win 100 games this decade. What has made the Broncos so successful is not just their ability to compete against the bigger schools, but their ability to avoid letdowns back in conference.
Boise State has a 60-4 record since joining the WAC, with two of the losses coming in 2001.
"We have a chip on our shoulder, trying to prove something while we're out there," cornerback Kyle Wilson said. "The whole attitude of the team has been tremendous the past few years. We're looking to have that same attitude this year and try to dominate."
Boise State has already made it into the top 10 in the AP poll for just the third season. Never have the Broncos been ranked this high, this early. It took until November for them to crack the top 10 in 2006 and last season.
With a season-opening win over No. 16 Oregon and a burgeoning national reputation, the Broncos have moved up quickly this season.
But with BYU already up to seventh in the poll, two other Mountain West Conference teams ranked in No. 15 TCU and No. 18 Utah, and Houston of Conference USA cracking the poll at No. 21 following a win at Oklahoma State, even going undefeated would not guarantee the Broncos another BCS bid.
"We just don't even pay attention to that," Petersen said. "We have way too many games that are going to be really hard for us. So there's no need even to pay attention to that, starting with Fresno. We have a bunch more land mines down the road."
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