The Boise State football team will spend Thanksgiving in Hawaii this year, play at least five non-Saturday games and face three WAC road games on short rest.
The Broncos wrap up the season with a Friday showdown at Hawaii on Nov. 23. They also play Louisiana Tech and Fresno State on short weeks, and meet rival Idaho after the Vandals relax with a bye.
"That's like the NFL," said BSU coach Chris Petersen, whose team has won five straight WAC titles. "They're trying to take the top team and give them the toughest schedule. … But that's OK. We're all about challenges."
The WAC released its schedule Thursday after a month of haggling and tweaking among league members and TV partner ESPN.
Boise State expects to appear on ESPN at least four times, and possibly five, this season. Five is the maximum number of times ESPN can show any WAC team.
WAC commissioner Karl Benson expects ESPN to grab about 10 WAC games in all. That schedule could be released next week.
ESPN's wish list — combined with non-conference games scheduled for October and November by other WAC schools — led to most of the Broncos' schedule quirks. ESPN is allowed to choose games it wants to televise and place them on the schedule.The Broncos will play home games on back-to-back Sunday nights (Oct. 7 and 14) and two road games on Fridays.
"There were a number of gyrations and the conference did everything they could," BSU athletic director Gene Bleymaier said. "… Everybody's at a disadvantage somewhere along the line. Nobody is thrilled with their schedule, but I think, under the circumstances, it was probably the best they could work out."
Two pieces of the schedule in particular caught Petersen's attention:
• The Broncos will play three games in 13 days, including two on the road, from Oct. 14 to Oct. 26. That stretch begins with a Sunday home game against Nevada (Oct. 14) then continues with road games at Louisiana Tech (Saturday, Oct. 20) and Fresno State (Friday, Oct. 26).
• The WAC's most-anticipated game is Nov. 23, when Boise State visits Hawaii. The Broncos will have a short week on top of the difficulty of traveling to Hawaii, which has a 3-hour time difference.
The Broncos will leave Nov. 21 — four days after playing Idaho at Bronco Stadium — and spend Thanksgiving in Honolulu.
The game is expected to determine the WAC champion and feature Heisman Trophy candidates Ian Johnson, the Boise State tailback, and Colt Brennan, the Hawaii quarterback.
"It's a premier television window and a premier television day," Benson said. "It has the potential to be a high-profile game."
The Broncos have 12 confirmed games on the schedule. The 13th game, Sept. 29 at Bowling Green, remains in limbo and likely will be dropped from the schedule.
If that happens, the Southern Miss game at Bronco Stadium may move from Sept. 22 to Thursday, Sept. 27, for ESPN.
Bleymaier might still try to find a 13th game to replace Bowling Green, but that will be difficult this late in the year. Petersen is torn on whether he'd prefer 12 or 13 games.
The Broncos are permitted to play a 13th game this year because of an NCAA rule that allows teams that play at Hawaii to schedule an extra game.
The Broncos played 13 regular-season games in 2003.
"Thirteen is a lot," Petersen said, "but we do like to play."
The schedule's quirks will make mental toughness a key this season, Petersen said, just as it was in 2003. That year, the Broncos went 13-1 — including road wins at Idaho, Hawaii, Fresno State, Louisiana Tech, BYU and TCU.
"This will kind of go into our blue-collar mentality," Petersen said. "You have to be extremely mentally tough to win on the road anyway. With the curves they've thrown at us here, we'll be talking about that from here on out."