Boise State is consistently good because it has a culture where players seek to prove themselves. They arrive with a chip on their shoulders and look for chances to make believers of doubters.
This perfectly fits the No. 21-ranked Broncos’ mantra with No. 9 BYU’s visit on Friday, a matchup where the home team is a slight underdog at home for the first time in 20 years.
B.J. Rains has covered the Broncos for the Idaho Press since moving there in 2013 from St. Louis, where he worked for Fox Sports Midwest and covered the Cardinals, Blues and other pro teams out of college.
“It just doesn’t happen for a team to come in as the favorite on Boise State’s home field. I think that’s going to be the motivation,” said Rains. “They will have a chip on their shoulders with some people not giving them a chance in this game, thinking that BYU is going to win. So I think this is gonna be a great game and we’re really looking forward to it.”
Boise State hasn’t been the underdog on its own field since 2001.
The Broncos are a whopping 121-9 on their home field since 2000. Teams just don’t come in and win on the Smurf Turf very often, but Rains underscores that BYU has come in and pushed that record right to the wire three times: The first, a missed game-winning field goal in 2004; then in a 7-6 loss in 2012 with Taysom Hill in position to put it away near pay dirt; and more recently a 21-16 loss while threatening to score with freshman Zach Wilson at the helm near the goal line in 2018.
Rains said Boise State fans are “optimistic” about this matchup because they, like many, believe BYU’s schedule hasn’t been very tough and the numbers posted by the Cougars are debatable.
“I think this is going to be a big test for Boise State, but on the BYU side, I think some of the numbers may be inflated, especially on the defensive side compared with the other top 10. Boise State fans will tell you that’s because they haven’t played anybody, now they’re going to play a real authentic opponent.”
The Broncos are expected to be the first credible measuring stick for the streaking 7-0 Cougars.
If Boise State were allowed to have fans attend the game, Rains said it would be a record-breaking sellout, just like the last two BYU games in Albertsons Stadium.
Because BYU has been on national television for two months, Rains got a good peek at Kalani Sitake’s team.
Rains, a three-time NSMA Idaho Sportswriter of the Year, is impressed with what BYU has done so far.
“Very impressive, and obviously in the Navy game and in some of the other games they looked great. They beat Houston, but then you see what Houston did after that game and you think, ‘Who have they played?’”
Rains said Zach Wilson has been incredible. “He’s potentially a first-round pick for a reason, and obviously people here know all about him since he committed here before. They know how good he is.”
Asked why Boise State has been so consistent over the years as one of the winningest programs in the nation, Rains said, in his opinion, it is the culture. Boise State recruits players who were disrespected, maybe a little short or a little undersized when it came to being recruited by Power Five schools.
Head coach Bryan Harsin is a huge part of that as a former player who has been around the program the past 20 years. He knows the ins and outs and how to continue building on the culture with recruits who are hungry.
“He’s from Boise. He was an assistant coach for a long time here,” said Rains “They just have a blue collar attitude in the program. They literally have a tag inside of their jerseys that says ‘Blue Collar.’ They want to remember that’s where they’ve come from.”
Rains said Broncos players are a lot of two- and three-star recruits who Boise State develops into NFL players. “I think the program’s been based on that mindset, of having something to prove, made up of guys who believe they should have been given more respect in recruiting.”
Generally, the Broncos can light up the scoreboard with a complex offense that utilizes shifts and motion on almost every single play to keep defenses guessing. This year they’ve used tight ends and receivers on fly sweeps out of different formations.
“It’s not an easy offense to learn and that’s why the job quarterback Jack Sears did against Air Force replacing starter Hank Bachmeier was so impressive. Sears, a USC transfer, came to Boise in the summer and has had limited experience with the program, yet threw just a trio of incomplete passes (17 for 20, three TDs) against the Falcons, and two of those were throwaways,” said Rains.