BOISE, Idaho (AP) In the week leading up to Boise State's annual tussle with Fresno State, Chris Petersen becomes downright effusive about the level of respect he and his players have for the Bulldogs.
With a serious face and sincere tone, Petersen makes his case by pointing to the tight, physical battles of the past. He recounts how former Bulldogs coach Pat Hill set the competitive bar to new heights when Boise State joined the Western Athletic Conference in 2001.
Forget the fact the No. 24 Broncos (4-1, 1-0 Mountain West) have won six straight battles for the Milk Can, the last two by a combined 101 points, Petersen knows his team should be ready for a slugfest Saturday in Bronco Stadium in what could be the last meeting for quite some time between the two rivals.
"We've always had so much respect for Pat, what he did for that program and putting those guys on the map," Petersen said of Hill, who was fired last year after 15 seasons and is now coaching on the Atlanta Falcons staff. "Those guys were the standard when we came into the WAC way back when. I think our kids have always respected and liked to play against them."
The feeling - and historical appreciation for what Boise State has achieved - is mutual for first-year Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter, whose Bulldogs (4-2, 2-0) are coming off two straight blowouts over conference foes and are sitting atop the conference with Nevada.
"They've done a great job of not just taking care of this league, but going outside the conference and beating people outside our conference," DeRuyter said. "You've got to tip your hat to them. But this is a new year."
It may also be the last time the two schools meet for a while.
Boise State is leaving the Mountain West at season's end and in 2013 will begin playing in the Big East. Fresno State will remain in the Mountain West, but the schools have not scheduled any meetings beyond this season.
The Broncos have dominated the series, winning 10 of the last 11 games. The last Fresno State victory came in Bulldog Stadium in 2005 and the Bulldogs have won only once in Boise, a 37-21 victory in 1984.
Junior Bulldog linebacker [db]Patrick Su'a[/db] knows his team would like nothing more than getting a last laugh Saturday and bring an end to the Broncos' dominance.
"I'm tired of that you know, I personally am," he said of Boise State's streak. "They've got a great program going over there, no doubt. But we're the 2012 Bulldogs here. We've got a new strategy ... some new plays, new players. For me I'm tired of it. I want it done."
For Boise State, nearly everything about the Bulldogs is different from the team the Broncos crushed 57-7 a year ago.
The offense, led by quarterback [db]Derek Carr, has embraced the up-tempo, spread passing attack, while the defense has switched over to a three-man front. So far, the transition has produced results on both sides of the ball.
Carr is completing 68.5 percent of his passes, averaging 302.7 yards per game and has thrown 18 touchdowns and just three picks. As an offense, the Bulldogs are rolling up more than 493 yards per game, averaging 39.5 points per game, second in the conference.
The Bulldogs haven't given up on the run, either. Senior running back Robbie Rouse, who with 3,868 career yards is the leading rusher in school history, is having another productive year. He's averaging 118.5 yards per game, 18th in the country, but this year he's also forced defenses to account for him coming out of the backfield on passing plays.
Last week he caught a career-high nine passes for 50 yards and his 33 receptions are second on the team.
"We'll just have to be prepared for a lot this week," said Broncos defensive lineman Darren Koontz. "It's impressive how well they've been able to click ... and adapt so well to the changes this year."
The Broncos have won their last four games and are coming off an impressive 40-14 victory at Southern Miss. But the mantra for the offense this week has been ball security.
The Bulldogs are the best in college football in creating turnovers. Fresno State leads the nation with 20 turnovers, and nobody has been better in that department than senior safety Phillip Thomas, who has six of the team's 12 interceptions. The defense got some bad news this week with the loss of starting defensive end Anthony Williams, who injured a foot in last week's win at Colorado State.
"The plan is still try to hang on to the ball the best you can," Petersen said. "This is one of the better defenses I've seen, clearly that we've studied this year without question."