The Boise State football program is accustomed to high-stakes November football — and yet this could be one of the most dramatic in school history.
The Broncos (6-2) have four games left, and two of them likely will be against ranked teams still in the hunt for a New Year’s Six bowl bid. If the Broncos win those games, they’ll become the favorites to win the Mountain West for a second straight year and sneak into the New Year’s Six conversation themselves.
If they lose to anyone except Saturday’s opponent, BYU, they likely will miss the conference championship game for the third time in four years.
Coach Bryan Harsin called November the “opportunity phase” of the season and compared late-season college football to the high school playoffs, with many teams still in the championship hunt.
“Are you going to be able to go out there and finish?” Harsin said Thursday in a meeting with reporters. “And that’s what it comes down to.”
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This sets up as a November unlike any other for the Broncos.
BYU (4-4), AP No. 20 Fresno State (7-1) and AP No. 18 Utah State (7-1) represent the first trio of opponents to play at Albertsons Stadium in November with non-losing records since 1986.
The Broncos also could face two Top 25 teams on the Blue in the same season for the first time in school history. They’ve only played five ranked teams at home, just one in the past six seasons.
The only remaining road game is at woeful New Mexico on Nov. 16, between the Fresno State (Nov. 9) and Utah State (Nov. 24) games.
And the fun starts with BYU, a rivalry game that promises to be a physical test.
“The month of November, it’s a tough one, but it’s the most fun,” sophomore wide receiver CT Thomas told reporters Wednesday. “This is where you get the most competition. It’s where you’ve got to step up and play ball.”
It’s also the month when weird things happen. Boise State knows all about that, whether you remember the missed field goals in 2010 at Nevada or the fumble while trying to run out the clock in 2011 against TCU or the special-teams fiasco against San Diego State in 2012 or the inexplicable, back-to-back home losses in 2015.
And it’s the month when you can secure your place in program lore. The Broncos blocked a field goal in 2004 at San Jose State to protect an undefeated regular season, drove for a winning field goal in 2006 at San Jose State to preserve the Fiesta Bowl dream, won 12 straight November games from 2008 to 2010 and went 4-0 in 2014 to help land their third Fiesta Bowl berth.
Something historic will happen this November — good or bad for Boise State.
The Broncos never have lost at home to BYU, and their last home losses to Fresno State (1984) and Utah State (1996) were in a different era. On the other hand, they’re 0-4 in November games against ranked opponents — losing at Fresno State in 2005, at Hawaii in 2007, at Nevada in 2010 and at home against TCU in 2011.
It all sets up a fascinating month of edge-of-your-seat football at Albertsons Stadium.
“We’re defending our blue turf that everyone wants to come and beat us on,” junior tailback Alexander Mattison told reporters Wednesday. “... It’s just a challenge, and we’re going to make sure we attack it.”
That challenge extends beyond the field. November is when school intensifies — “Hopefully you haven’t procrastinated too much,” Harsin said of his players — and when bodies need frequent maintenance.
How focused is this Boise State team? How mentally tough? How determined?
By the end of Thanksgiving weekend, you’ll have your answers.
“November is a lock-in month,” Thomas said.
Chadd Cripe is the Idaho Statesman’s sports columnist. Contact him at email@example.com and follow @chaddcripe on Twitter.