The philosophy: "Nothing is off-limits," says Petersen. "Coach Hawkins is very aggressive in his thinking. If you're always worried that something could blow up on you, you're not going to push the envelope and not going to try new things. Some of the stuff does blow up on us, but the tradeoff is the problems we're creating for defenses when it works."
The system: With an unusual blend of numerous offensive styles, Boise State emphasizes unconventional formations (everything from three tight ends to an empty backfield), specialization (in any given game, the Broncos will employ 35-45 different personnel groupings and play as many as eight different receivers or five different running backs) and trick plays. The offense can vary greatly in its run/pass ratio from year to year (Ryan Dinwiddie, the quarterback from 2001 to '03, was a traditional drop-back passer, while current QB Jared Zabransky is a constant threat to run), and even week to week. "We call it a chameleon offense," says Petersen. "We just kind of blend in and look one way one week, a different way the next."
The results: Boise State has gone 44-6 in four seasons under Hawkins, including 26 consecutive WAC victories, and has finished in the top two nationally in scoring offense and the top 10 in total offense each of the past three seasons. Last season the Broncos averaged 48.9 points (second) and 492.7 yards per game (fourth). In 2002 they led the country in both categories, averaging 45.6 points and 501.5 yards per game.
Influences: Both Hawkins and Peterson were groomed in the Bill Walsh-style West Coast offense, as taught by their college coach, UC Davis' Jim Socher (Peterson also spent a year under Walsh disciple Paul Hackett at Pittsburgh). Hawkins spent most of his career at various lower-level schools, where unconventional schemes are more prevalent. Another major influence is Mike Bellotti's Oregon offense from the '90s, both because Peterson worked under him for six years and because Hawkins' predecessor in Boise, Dirk Koetter, was a former coordinator at UO and had already installed it with the Broncos.
Why it works: Boise State tends to attract tough-nosed, unselfish players who buy into a system where, particularly at the skill positions, they might not necessarily be on the field every down. For instance, last season's leading rusher, Lee Marks, had 189 carries for 968 yards but scored just two touchdowns because he often ceded his position to goal-line specialist John Helmandollar, who carried just 46 times but scored 14 TDs. Such specialization also helps players become particularly adept at certain aspects of the game plan, and it fosters the program's continuity because new starters are likely to have already seen significant action (the Broncos were able to increase their overall production last season despite returning just three offensive starters from the previous year).
How to stop it: The Broncos haven't faltered often the past four years, but when they do, it is usually to a major non-conference opponent (Louisville, Oregon State, Arkansas, etc.) where there's simply too much of a talent differential to overcome with schemes and trickery. In its only loss last season, a 44-40 defeat in the Liberty Bowl to sixth-ranked Louisville, Boise State gained just 284 yards and scored two touchdowns on defense. "They were at a different level physically than we'd seen," says Petersen.