CARSON, Calif. — Not many expected the Boise State football team to be in this spot a month ago.
The Broncos were 3-4, had just lost a third home game in a row, and were spiraling towards one of the worst seasons at the FBS level in program history.
A bye week changed everything.
Boise State stepped up the intensity and competition in practice and worked off the field to reestablish the foundation the Broncos were built on. As coach Andy Avalos put it, players needed to remember what it meant to ‘bleed blue.’
Whatever happened that week altered the course of Boise State’s season. The Broncos have won four straight games since and arrive at the final game of the regular season somehow still alive for a spot in the Mountain West title game.
Boise State plays No. 21 San Diego State at 10 a.m. MST Friday from Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California, needing a win and an Air Force loss to UNLV later Friday (the Falcons are favored by 20) to win the Mountain Division and get back to the Mountain West title game for the fifth straight year.
While maybe not likely that both the Broncos will win and Air Force will lose, it’s at least possible. And that’s more than what it looked like it would be a month ago.
“Looking back to when we were 3-4 we talked about how small the margin is and I believe we’ve continued to work day in and day out and we’re confident in ourselves and that’s showed as we’ve continued to win in the second half of the season,” senior linebacker Riley Whimpey said. “We’re super excited. We understand everything we want to accomplish is still there if the stars align.”
It figures to be a unique day for the Broncos (7-4, 5-2 MW), starting with the rare 9 a.m. local start time due to the game be televised nationally on CBS. It’s also Black Friday, and the game is being played in an MLS Stadium in Los Angeles roughly 90 minutes north of San Diego State’s campus due to ongoing construction of the Aztecs’ new stadium.
San Diego State hasn’t drawn well in Carson this season, and they figure to have an even smaller crowd due to the time and date of the game. Boise State, which has a good chunk of players from the Southern California area, conceivably could have as many or more fans than the Aztecs.
The Aztecs have plenty on the line as well. They clinch the West Division title and a spot in the championship game with a win. Should they lose, Fresno State would need to lose to San Jose State for them to still reach the title game.
“It’s a huge game for this program and it’s a huge game for them too,” defensive coordinator Spencer Danielson said. “You love these games where you both go into it as a head to head matchup with so much on the line, especially this late in the year. That’s why you play these games. Our guys are extremely excited for this game and our coaching staff is extremely excited for this game.”
Boise State has played one of the toughest schedules in the country this season. San Diego State will be the 10th bowl eligible team the Broncos will have played this season, the most of any team un the nation. It’s also the third ranked opponent Boise State is facing on the road. The Broncos are 2-0 in that spot with wins at BYU and Fresno State.
San Diego State (10-1, 6-1 MW) is ranked No. 21 in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings. They already have wins over Utah and Arizona from the Pac 12, as well as Air Force, Nevada and San Jose State in Mountain West play.
The Aztecs have an outside shot at a New Year’s Six bowl game should they beat the Broncos and win the Mountain West title game. The highest-ranked Group of 5 champion earns a spot to a New Year’s Six. All it would potentially take is an upset loss by Cincinnati in the AAC title game to put San Diego State in that spot.
A win for the Broncos might be enough to put them in next week’s CFP rankings despite the 8-4 record. It would be a third road win over a ranked team as detailed above and would give Boise State five straight wins after the 3-4 start.
It would also keep the Broncos alive in the Mountain Division race — at least for a couple more hours.
“This is the type of game you come to college football to play,” offensive coordinator Tim Plough said. “You want to play in a big game like this with things on the line against a Top 25 team on the road that a lot of people aren’t going to give you a chance to win? Let’s go do it.”
Boise State gets the chance to put the pressure on Air Force. The Broncos will just be finishing up their game in San Diego when the Rebels and Falcons kick off in Colorado at 1:30 p.m. MST, meaning Air Force will know whether they need a win to advance to the title game.
The Broncos hope to take care of business themselves and then become big fans of UNLV on their flight back to Boise.
“You have to control what you can control and we have to win this weekend first,” EDGE rusher Dylan Herberg said. “We can’t think too much about the score of the Air Force-UNLV game yet, but I mean maybe the Rebels will have an extra fan or two.”