Entering the final month of the regular season, Boise State stands alone as the only Mountain West team without a conference loss.
That means the goal of winning a conference championship is well within the Broncos’ sights, and it is all within their control — no scoreboard watching, no hoping certain teams win or lose.
Just win, plain and simple.
“It’s go time,” Boise State sophomore safety Kekoa Nawahine said. “What’s helped us to this point is going 1-0 each week and focusing on the opponent and the challenge we have in front of us, not getting in front of that.”
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An October that initially appeared to be the toughest stretch of the season was handled deftly, as the Broncos went 4-0 with wins at BYU, Utah State and San Diego State, plus a home victory over Wyoming. They outscored opponents 120-49.
But suddenly, November will present some challenges that perhaps were unexpected when the season began.
First is Saturday’s matchup with old rival Nevada (1-7), a far better team in its past three games than in its first five. Then, it’s at Colorado State (which has one Mountain West loss) and the home finale against improving Air Force (which has beaten Boise State three years in a row). The closing game is at surprising West Division leader Fresno State.
“I think it’s good. When you want to be the best, you want to play the best. We want all these teams to be good,” Nawahine said.
Boise State has not played in the Mountain West championship game since 2014, and should the Broncos take care of business, they’re well in line to host that game on Dec. 2. The host is determined by either the top-ranked team in the College Football Playoff rankings or by an average of four computer polls.
The Broncos’ average ranking in those is 30.5 and Fresno State’s is 64.8. San Diego State, which needs the Bulldogs to lose twice more if the Aztecs win out, is much closer at 32.8.
It might be a little early for the “what ifs,” but Boise State could have the Mountain Division locked up by the time it faces Fresno State, or even before that depending on combinations of Wyoming, Colorado State and Air Force losses.
“If you start looking ahead, if teams start thinking about other games, you will get beat. That I can guarantee you.,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “You can’t make that up on a Saturday at 5:30 when you realize, ‘Oh, crap, we’re not really that prepared.’
“We talk about that more than anything, our focus.”
So, first, Nevada.
After a 0-5 start, the Wolf Pack are 1-2 in their past three games, but the losses to Colorado State and Air Force were by a combined five points, and Nevada scored 42 points in each loss.
“We feel like this could be one of those games that could be a trap game, looking at records, how they’ve been doing this season, how we’ve been playing the last couple weeks,” Boise State quarterback Montell Cozart said. “It could be one of those games at the end where we’d be like, ‘What just happened?’ We’re not trying to have that feeling. We have an ultimate goal here and we’re not trying to let anything slip.”
Nevada at Boise State
When: 5 p.m. Saturday
Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387, FieldTurf); fans are asked to wear orange in sections 5, 7, 9, 11, 24, 26, 28, 30, 32, 34, 102, 104, 106, 108, 110, 125, 127, 129, 131, 133, 135 and North End Zone; blue in all other sections
TV: ESPNU (Clay Matvick and Kirk Morrison)
Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
Records: BSU 6-2, 4-0 (beat Utah State 41-14 last week); Nevada 1-7, 1-3 (lost to Air Force 45-42 on Oct. 20)
Series: Boise State leads 28-13 (Boise State won 51-46 in Reno on Oct. 4, 2014, in last meeting)
Vegas line: Boise State by 22
Kickoff weather: Mid-40s, light rain
Nevada at a glance
Nickname: Wolf Pack
Location: Reno, Nev.
Head coach: Jay Norvell (1-7, first season)
This year: 1-7 overall, 1-3 Mountain West; lost 45-42 to Air Force on Oct. 20
Norvell, a former Arizona State and Oklahoma assistant, wanted to install an Air Raid offense. Though the pass-heavy scheme has shown up, the Wolf Pack have some balance. The team has passed 297 times and rushed 242. In the past three games, Nevada has 1,073 passing yards and 473 rushing yards. The top two receivers (McLane Mannix and Wyatt Demps) have combined for 86 catches, 1,169 yards and 14 TDs. Running back Kelton Moore has 346 yards in the past three games.
Nevada’s defense is based on a 3-3-5 look similar to what San Diego State runs, but it has used multiple formations this season. The Wolf Pack have 14 sacks, but that’s about the only positive number. They’re 125th in total defense (507.1 yards per game), 112th in scoring defense (36.8 points per game) and 125th in pass efficiency defense (166.62).
PLAYER TO WATCH
Ty Gangi, QB: The 6-foot-2 junior started out as a walk-on at Colorado and spent a year at junior college, and then played his way into a starting role late last season. He started the first two games of 2017 before losing the job, only to get it back two games later. Gangi has been stellar since, completing 96 of 153 passes for 1,198 yards and 12 TDs with four INTs. He has added 82 rushing yards and two more scores on the ground.
“(Gangi) has played really well. I think he’s a big difference-maker,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “... They’ve been putting points on the board and throwing the ball well. I think a lot of that has to do with their quarterback.”