There are few football games as equally exciting and nerve-wracking as the season opener.
What will the team look like? Who are the new stars? What might be an issue later in the year? What does it mean to get a win off the bat?
Those questions will be answered for Boise State at 1:45 p.m. Saturday when it hosts Troy at Albertsons Stadium.
But there also might be another one — “Where is everybody?”
As of Thursday afternoon, a bit more than 28,000 tickets were sold for a game pitting two 10-win teams from a season ago. Not since 2006 has a Boise State regular-season home game drawn fewer than 30,000. The guys on the field aren’t overly concerned, at least publicly.
“You start worrying about that, you’re chasing ghosts,” defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said.
The much-wanted daytime kickoff, the first since 2013, was delivered. It was No. 1 on the complaint list for why attendance has been down, Athletic Director Curt Apsey said.
But in addition to the Labor Day weekend, or ticket prices, or the heat, or the opponent, there is one other factor not always easy to admit.
With so many unknown quantities and recent struggles in the Mountain West, it’s wait-and-see for many before they decide just how much to care. No longer is it a guarantee the Broncos are going to dominate, and they find themselves in “prove it” mode.
“If we had the same personnel coming back that Troy did, and we had all this production, and we sat here saying we weren’t trying to prove something, that would be really stupid,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said.
Troy returns its senior quarterback, 98.7 percent of its receiving and rushing yards, plus players responsible for 13 interceptions on defense last season.
Though Boise State has junior quarterback Brett Rypien and senior wide receiver Cedrick Wilson returning, the Broncos’ top rusher and three of their top four receivers left, as did three starting offensive linemen. On the Broncos’ depth chart, the defense has three seniors listed, one a starter. Eight of the projected starters have started one or zero games. The kicker/punter has never played in a college game.
But with youth comes hope, which the team is not lacking.
“I think there’s something about this team that has a different energy. I think that’s exactly what we need to be successful,” senior tight end Jake Roh said. “... It’s a little bit of a challenge, but we know what those guys can do. It goes back to that 2014 (Fiesta Bowl) team. You had Jay (Ajayi) and Matt (Miller), that’s really all people knew. Out of nowhere comes a handful of guys who make a bunch of plays. I see that similarity this year.”
If it all comes together, the athletic youngsters rising up and filling the voids on both sides of the ball, it could be another team that makes a run at a big bowl game and plays for the Mountain West championship for the first time since 2014.
Build the hype machine, and they will come.
“It’s always better to start down, then come up. It’s usually harder to go the other way,” Wilson said. “I think they’ll definitely start coming out once we handle business out there. We’ve got to put on a show for them even if they’re watching at home.”
As Boise State tries to prove what it’s about to the fan base, the team also will try to show why it’s again picked to win the Mountain Division, and why it is the Group of Five team receiving the second-most votes in The Associated Press and coaches’ Top 25s.
And the team on the other sideline Saturday feels it has plenty to prove, too. That it can compete for the Group of Five’s bid into a New Year’s Six bowl game. That it wasn’t a fluke going 10-3 last year and almost beating Clemson. That it can take on the kings of the smaller conferences.
“That’s where we’d like to take this program,” said Troy coach Neal Brown, whose team will host Boise State in 2018. “I look at it as a two-game series that’s going to tell us where we’re at.
“We’re trying to build a program here. We don’t want to be a one-hit wonder. We don’t want to have one good 10-win season then fall back in the pack. We have to have a motto of consistency to do that. That’s what is so impressive about Boise, because that’s what they’ve done.”
With so much new, Saturday is a big unknown, but the day also will allow Boise State to alleviate some worries. And it could be sweet, like that box on the lap of a native of Troy’s home state, All-American kick returner Forrest Gump.
“That’s the thing about Game 1, you never know what you’re going to get,” Boise State offensive coordinator Zak Hill said.
Troy at Boise State
When: 1:45 p.m. Saturday
Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387, FieldTurf)
TV: ESPNU (Mike Couzens and John Congemi)
Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
Records: BSU 10-3 in 2016; Troy 10-3
Series: First meeting (Boise State is 6-0 all-time against Sun Belt teams)
Vegas line: BSU by 10 1/2
Kickoff weather: Mid-90s, clear and sunny
Ticket update: Boise State reported more than 28,000 tickets were out as of Thursday afternoon. To purchase tickets, stop by the Athletic Ticket Office on the west side of Albertsons Stadium or visit BroncoSports.com/tickets.
More fan information: For color scheme, parking information, alcohol policies and more, visit IdahoStatesman.com.