SEATTLE — They’ve taken different approaches, but Chris Petersen and Willie Taggart have arrived at the same destination.
Petersen made his name at Boise State. He went 92-12, recorded two undefeated seasons and pulled off one of the greatest bowl game upsets when Boise State beat Oklahoma in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl.
Taggart’s profile was constructed by taking struggling Group of Five schools and making them into respectable winners. In three years, he took Western Kentucky from 2-10 to 7-5 and a bowl game. At South Florida, the Bulls went from 2-10 in 2013 to 10-2 by the 2016 season.
Petersen became the figure who made the college football mainstream respect coaches from the non-power conferences. It’s how he landed at Washington. Taggart’s ability to build and win with fewer resources is why Oregon — a school with near limitless capital — hired him last December.
Come Saturday, they’ll meet under the lights of Husky Stadium in the backdrop of a major American market while leading two Power 5 programs loaded with immense expectations.
“I think every situation is much, much different depending upon what’s going on with the place,” Petersen said of Taggart. “I think he’s done a really, really good job obviously. Watch these guys play and obviously, the talent they have and the energy they’re playing with definitely is a new dynamic down there for sure.”
Rarely has the Oregon-Washington series been back and forth. The Huskies are ahead with a 59-45-5 record against the Ducks. There’s only been two periods when both teams have alternated wins. That was from 1969 through 1974 and again from 1998 through 2002.
Is that about to change? Will this be a one-sided series or will Oregon-Washington be more competitive going forward?
“I think it’s going to be a great, great rivalry,” Rivals national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said. “It’s going to be amazing. I think it is going to be the best rivalry in my 20 years of covering recruiting that I’ve seen between those two schools.”
Like every shift in college football, the potential for a more back-and-forth series comes down to recruiting.
Rivals rates Oregon as having the No. 5 class in the nation for 2018. Fifteen of the Ducks’ 23 commitments are four-star prospects. UW’s class is 38th and six of its 12 pledges are also four stars.
Farrell said Petersen and Taggart have different profiles when it comes to recruiting. Petersen is “old school” while Taggart is “new school.”
“If you had Petersen at Oregon, I don’t think he’s taking advantage of the uniforms, the helmets, infinity pools and spas and all the hot, flashy stuff,” Farrell said. “If you had Taggart at Washington, I don’t think you are playing to their strengths, either.”
Huskies running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Keith Bhonapha spent eight years at Boise State with Petersen before coming to Seattle.
Bhonpaha said even though they’ve gone from a Group of Five to a Power Five, the type of player they recruit has not changed.
“Some of the difference, I wouldn’t even say caliber of kid, but you feel like you are in on some kids who are probably being recruited by some other Power 5 schools,” Bhonapha said. “I think one of the big things you always want to do is make sure you’re getting a guy that is what you want football-wise, what you want character-wise and guys that really have that itch to be the best at this sport.”
Where coaches like Petersen and Taggart have succeeded is in mining for talents others may have overlooked.
Petersen’s strongest examples from Boise State would be running backs Jay Ajayi and Doug Martin, who have each made a Pro Bowl. Ajayi was a three-star recruit while Martin was two-star.
Taggart also recruited quite a few players at USF and WKU who are in the NFL, such as Indianapolis Colts rookie running back Marlon Mack.
“I think its a dealing with a different level of recruiting,” Farrell said. “They’re used to relying more on talent evaluation on finding kids under the radar and now they’re diving into the world of the highly and heavily recruited which is a different game.”
Both Bhonapha and Petersen were asked about the differences between being at a Group of Five and a Power 5 program.
Petersen said every place comes with its “unique challenges” and it could be like, “trading one set of problems for another set of problems.”
Bhonapha said aside from having more eyes on your program, the goal is to stay with a proven strategy.
“If you try to do something different and take yourself on the railroad tracks that you’re used to, you end up lost,” Bhonpaha said. “So that’s been one of our common things. It’s keeping those high standards and sticking to them.”