Get ready for a week of talk about the “meaningless” nature of the Boise State football team’s awkward game next Saturday at Fresno State.
The Broncos and Bulldogs will play knowing they’ll meet again seven days later for the Mountain West title — and that game likely will be in Boise even if the Broncos lose the first encounter.
That makes it easy to speculate that the teams might pull some punches in the regular-season game, maybe hold back some banged-up players, maybe use the playbook basics.
Yet for Boise State, that game means far more than it does at first glance.
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The Broncos are 7-0 in the Mountain West after their 44-19 win against Air Force on Saturday — the first time they’ve held that record in their conference since 2009 in the WAC. That also was the last time that they finished a conference season undefeated.
The Broncos built their program largely on dominating their league. They went 8-0 in the Western Athletic Conference in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2009. They lost once in 2005 and 2007.
But since joining the Mountain West in 2011, they haven’t been able to put together that kind of season. In fact, they had lost at least two conference games three of the past four seasons.
So that Fresno State game, for starters, represents a chance to make program history — and accomplish something most observers expected to be commonplace when Boise State joined this league.
“I’m proud of our guys, I’m proud of our coaches, but we still need to finish,” coach Bryan Harsin said.
Then there’s the matter of the Broncos’ national ranking. They’re No. 25 in the College Football Playoff rankings and on the verge of cracking The Associated Press and USA Today Coaches’ polls. If they want to stay there, they have to win the rest of their games. One more loss means they likely finish unranked — as they did in 2013, 2015 and 2016.
And don’t forget that the game is in California, home to many Broncos. They’ll have friends and family in the stands — and cornerback Tyler Horton will be playing in his hometown.
Plus, there’s a longstanding rivalry with Fresno State — there’s even a trophy, the Milk Can — that many of these Broncos haven’t experienced, but their coaches have.
It’s a weird situation, for sure. But don’t expect the Broncos to be anything but intensely focused on getting that eighth conference win.
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