Familiarity breeds respect
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- For Boise State and TCU, imitation is the greatest form of flattery.
After playing each other in the Poinsettia Bowl last season, Boise State coach Chris Petersen called TCU coach Gary Patterson and asked if the Broncos' staff could come to TCU and learn a little about the Horned Frogs' defense. Patterson obliged, and the two coaches swapped secrets about each other's schemes, and, in turn, both teams looked remarkably similar at various times throughout the year.
"I believe that you share in this profession," Patterson said. "I don't know how much they took out of it, but we talked to each other about what each other has done and that's kind of what we did."
It was clear TCU took something out of it. During TCU's 38-7 win over BYU on Oct. 24, Patterson acknowledged that the reverse, wide-receiver pass play his team used for a 44-yard gain was a Boise State play.
"It took us three weeks to figure out how to defend it," Patterson said of the play and why he decided to use it.
But when these two teams meet in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 4, originality will be rewarded. While each coach knows the base of the other's scheme, success will largely depend on what the other has hiding up his sleeve.
However, there's no denying that the players on these teams have a greater familiarity with each other this season, especially since each team has been on television several times.
The TCU coaching staff has watched several Boise State games on Friday nights. Similarly, Boise State coaches have seen TCU play on Saturday. They were keeping a keen eye on each other while they jockeyed for position in the BCS standings and ultimately for a BCS bowl berth.
Both coaches have said several times in recent weeks that while some parts of their respective teams are the same, the personnel and another year of experience have made a difference.
"TCU still does what they do, they just do it a lot better," Petersen said. "I think that's the whole key with teams that are playing at a high level. You've been running your system for a while and just continue to upgrade players and get a little bit better as you tweak things here and there. They've done that, we've done that, but overall, schematically, I think both teams are probably pretty similar."
Petersen said that looking at the film from last year's Poinsettia Bowl, which TCU won 17-16, made it easy to identify plays that were successful and ones that didn't work. So as the Broncos prepare for this year's matchup, they know exactly what needs to be emphasized and what needs to change.
"We kind of know some things that they're very, very good at," Petersen said. "I don't think you get to one of these games without being good at everything. In some ways [watching last year's film] could probably help you with, 'That's not a good idea with those guys.' And then we've got to come up with new ideas on ways to try and attack on both sides of the ball."
And coming up with new ideas to keep the opponent off guard will be the fun part.
When Boise State played Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl in 2007, the Broncos used a Statue of Liberty play in overtime to score the game-winning two-point conversion. Since then, the Broncos have become known for running trick or quirky plays to keep their opponents off balance. A couple of times this season, they tried two-point conversions just for the heck of it.
TCU, on the other hand, isn't gimmicky. It doesn't employ a lot of trick plays and usually just does what it does well. Throwing in some gimmicks could be the Horned Frogs' version of originality.
But no matter how many changes each team makes on either side of the ball to differentiate from its '08 version, the one constant will be the execution.
"It still comes down to players and what they do and how they do it," Patterson said. "Most everybody generally does a lot of the same things. It's how you call the game and how your kids play it. It still comes down to the blocking and the tackling and I don't think this one will be any different."
Graham Watson covers non-BCS college football for ESPN.com.