It is the game every Boise State football fan has awaited, and try as they might not to, the Broncos’ coaches and players admit the same.
The Sept. 4 season opener against Washington and former coach Chris Petersen was a hot topic at Mountain West media days Wednesday in Las Vegas.
Yes, if the Broncos want to win, they’ll treat it like a typical game day at Albertsons Stadium, not overwhelm themselves by what it all means. No, everything around it will not be the same.
“I don’t think it’s just another game,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “If you said that, you’d just be talking. ... It is different.”
From the return of Petersen, who spent 13 seasons on the Boise State staff and won 92 games as head coach from 2006 to 2013, to the fact it is the Broncos’ first season opener at home since 2009, a rare visit from a “power five” school, and another year rife with potential for another big bowl game, the storylines are endless.
“It’s probably impossible not to think about the other factors that are going into it,” senior safety Darian Thompson said. “There’s definitely more at stake in this game.”
Thompson said he has maintained contact with Washington running backs coach Keith Bhonapha, who was Thompson’s primary recruiter at Boise State, but he admits “as it gets closer, it gets more awkward.”
In interviews this spring and summer, the Broncos have often tried to downplay the opener, or give a benign response when asked, seemingly a leftover attitude when players were asked similar questions during the Petersen era. They noted there was no countdown clock to the Washington game in the locker room or anything of that sort.
Senior receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes said every time he spoke to fans, the Washington game would come up.
“Figured I’d start giving them the same answer, ‘I’m just trying to treat it like any other game,’ ” Williams-Rhodes said. “‘Are we gonna beat coach Pete?’ ‘We’re going to try our best.’ ”
Some have tried to keep it in perspective, noting there are still 11 regular-season games after playing Washington. There would be little solace in beating the Huskies if the Broncos lose a few games in the weeks afterward.
“Even if we won that one game, it won’t mean winning the Mountain West or getting us in a bowl game,” senior offensive tackle Rees Odhiambo said. “As we go into fall camp, we’re trying to prepare for a whole year, not one game.”
There also will be a bit of a revenge factor at play, too, dating back to when Petersen was in his final season with the Broncos. Washington routed Boise State 38-6 in Seattle to open the 2013 season, and there are plenty of players on both rosters who took part in that game.
“It didn’t go right at all,” Odhiambo said.
Once pads are put on and the teams line up, the external forces tend to die out, though “they know all the things behind it,” Harsin said. All eyes watching on TV, the fans at Albertsons Stadium and perhaps even the guys on the sideline, they will be the ones with those things in the backs of their minds.
“We’re all on the outside looking in, coaches included,” Harsin said. “They’re playing. I’m going against you. There’s no storyline there. For the next 75 plays, we’re going to battle, you and me. That’s where their mind has to be.
“They don’t have time for ‘hey, look we’re playing and look where we’re at.’”
Petersen said earlier this week the situation is a little awkward, that “you don’t want to play the kids that you recruited, because you want them to do well.” But those players he and many coaches on his staff brought to Boise State can’t wait for the opportunity.
“It’s here and I think I’m more excited for this game than any other one,” Thompson said.