Sun Devil History: ASU Football in the 1970’s was the Boise State of Today
By Pat Gammill,
July 15, 2015 3:17 PM

Between 1958 and 1971, ASU had racked up 100 victories to just 27 losses

There is a strange correlation between Arizona State Football and Boise State Football. When you take a close look, there are striking similarities between the two programs.

I started considering the similarities back in the 2011 Maaco Las Vegas Bowl, when our Devils were handled by a less talented Boise State team. The Broncos were reminiscent of the Sun Devil teams in the 1970’s.

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 3.09.49 PMIn the late 1960’s, the Sun Devils had proven to be very talented. However, as part of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), they were hard-pressed to earn a bowl bid. Back then, there were only thirteen or fourteen bowl games in college football, not 35 like we have today.

Finally in 1970, the folks in Tempe convinced the Peach Bowl to take a chance on their 10-0 team. ASU guaranteed the Peach Bowl committee that they would sellout their 10,000 ticket allotment, which they did and would go on to deliver a spectacular performance for the people in Atlanta, Georgia.


The Devils trailed North Carolina 21-26 at halftime. We can assume Coach Kush lit his team up during the break because ASU came out and absolutely dominated the rest of the game. In a Peach Bowl snow storm, they crushed the Tar Heels, 48-26. Despite being a member of the WAC, ASU was beginning to make noise on the national stage, and for the first time, the AP included the Sun Devil in their national rankings. ASU finished the 1970 season ranked #6.

The Fiesta Bowl in Sun Devil Stadium, which began began in 1971, was created with the goal of further showcasing Frank Kush’s Sun Devils on the national stage. After all, between 1958 when Kush took over as head coach and 1971, ASU had racked up 100 victories to just 27 losses.

The Fiesta Bowl made the Western Athletic Conference Champion an automatic qualifier, and ASU had been the dominant team in the WAC for several years. So after the Devils repeated with a 10-0 performance in 1971, they played host in the inaugural Fiesta Bowl.

ASU would go on to finish #1 in the WAC in ’72, ’73, ’75, and ’77.  As a result, they went to five of the first seven Fiesta Bowl games. In that inaugural game in 1971, they took down Florida State, 45-38. In ’72, the Devils beat Missouri, 49-35.  In ’73 Pitt fell to ASU, 28-7. Then in the 1975 Fiesta Bowl, Arizona State was catapulted into the national spotlight when they shocked a dominant Nebraska team, 17-14. They finished #2 in both national polls (AP & UPI), and the Sporting News named ASU the national champions of college football.



That 1975 Fiesta Bowl played a pivotal role in expanding the Pac-8 Conference to the Pac-10 when they added both ASU and UofA in 1978.

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Boise State also made a national name for themselves while in the Western Athletic Conference. The Broncos started to rise as a football power in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s under Coaches Dirk Koetter (who later took over in Tempe) and Dan Hawkins.

Like ASU in the late 1960’s, Boise State, despite their success, was mostly ignored by Bowl committees. That was until 2006 when the same Fiesta Bowl which was essentially created for ASU in 1971 extended a bid to an undefeated Boise State team. The Broncos would get their opportunity to take on one of the “big boys” of college football, the Oklahoma Sooners. 

The Big 12 Champion Sooners featured a great running back in Adrian Peterson. However come game time, the Broncos limited Peterson to just 75 yards on twenty carries. It became a classic Fiesta Bowl.


Boise State led the whole game, lost the lead late, then rallied with an unbelievable 4th & 18 conversion that led to a late touchdown to tie the game and force overtime. Then in overtime, the Broncos executed a hook & ladder play that ended in a 60+ yard touchdown which they followed with another trick play on a two point conversion to beat Oklahoma 43-42.

Many people felt that the undefeated Broncos of the WAC were snubbed at a chance to play for the national championship. They finished #3 in the country.


Boise State has continued to have great seasons. They returned to the Fiesta Bowl after another undefeated season in 2009 and upset a very good TCU team, 17-10. The Broncos defeated Utah 26-3 in the 2010 Maaco Las Vegas Bowl. Of course, ASU fans remember the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl in 2011 when they were dropped by a less talented Broncos team, 56-24. And finally, we got to enjoy Boise State’s 38-30 victory over Arizona in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl. 

All this time, people have held it against Boise State that they play in a less prestigious conference. Sound familiar to you long-time Sun Devil fans?

The rise of Sun Devil football in the 1970’s is eerily similar to the rise of the Boise State Broncos in the 2000’s. Both programs rose to prominence out of the WAC, and both made a national name for themselves in the Fiesta Bowl.


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