BOISE, Idaho — With the exception of 2014, when BYU’s football team was a mess offensively after the season-ending injury sustained by starting quarterback Taysom Hill and leading running back Jamaal Williams’ nagging leg injury, the Cougars’ games at Albertsons Stadium have been close, down-to-the-wire affairs.
Friday’s showdown on the blue turf in front of 1,000 or so students and family members (Boise State’s, only) who have been allowed in at the 11th hour, should be similar, seeing as how BYU is 7-0 and ranked No. 9 in both major polls and Boise State is 2-0 and No. 21 in the Associated Press Top 25.
BYU’s average margin of victory is 31 points. Boise State’s is 24, against a more difficult schedule.
But within those records, rankings and lopsided results lies the disparity that makes the 11th meeting between the relatively new rivals so difficult to handicap. Those aforementioned records are accurate: BYU has already played seven games, while Boise State has played just two.
What effect that imbalance in game experience will have at 7:45 p.m. on Fox Sports 1 is debatable, mainly because it is so rare.
“I don’t see it being (an advantage) one way or the other,” said BYU senior safety Troy Warner. “One could argue that we have more game experience, but one could argue they are fresher, because they have played two games (blowout wins over Utah State and Air Force). But at the end of the day, it has nothing to do with the outcome of this game.”
What will determine the winner?
In this series that Boise State leads 7-3 but has been oh-so-difficult to predict, the only safe bet is that it will be decided by less than a touchdown.
“When you get two teams like this that just want to play hard and play each other and go out and compete, and let the best team win, you get good games,” said BYU junior offensive lineman James Empey. “You get some really epic games and some really close finishes.”
Postseason implications are plentiful as the Cougars try to keep alive their hopes of staying in the conversation for a New Year’s Six bowl berth, perhaps even a peek at the College Football Playoff, in what is definitely the most difficult game on their watered-down schedule to date.
Meanwhile, Boise State is just starting to roll after COVID-19 concerns caused it to delay the start of its season until Oct. 24.
Will be cheering our boys on from the couch again! Boise decided to let their families come watch but not BYUs player families! https://t.co/uw57DrHi7K— Romney fam (@jrromney_jeni) November 5, 2020
“They are a difficult opponent and we respect them a lot and part of that respect is making sure we are ready to give them our best shot because we know we are going to get theirs,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake, downplaying the notion that his team could have an edge because it has played more than three times more games.
That’s just one of the interesting storylines that accompanies this meeting in which BYU players will wear all-white uniforms with royal blue trim and Boise State players will wear all-black jerseys.
Wilson did not play in BYU’s 28-25 win in Provo last year, but watched from the sidelines with his fractured right thumb in a cast as third-stringer Baylor Romney engineered the victory over BSU backup Chase Cord.
Of course, in 2018, Wilson was memorably stopped inside BSU’s 5-yard-line as time expired to allow the Broncos to escape with a 21-16 win and improve to 5-0 against the Cougars on the Blue.
“Yeah, really not reflecting on the past at all,” Wilson told the Deseret News when he was asked after the Cougars’ 41-10 win over Western Kentucky last week if that failure his freshman season will fuel him Friday. “We got a new team. They got a new team.”
Sitake said Wilson “learned a lot” from that game’s ending, but that was a long time ago and the junior has improved in all areas of his game, including decision-making.
“So, I think that is something that has been on his mind, but I don’t know if it has been on his mind recently,” Sitake said.
One of Wilson’s best friends, receiver Dax Milne, watched that play unfold from the sidelines and says Wilson has not forgotten it.
“He really took it hard,” Milne said. “I think everyone took it hard. I know that still stays in his mind, and it is probably a motivation factor going into this week. Yeah, it still stings for him.”
Boise State’s quarterback situation isn’t clear, after starting quarterback Hank Bachmeier, who directed the Broncos’ 42-13 thrashing of Utah State and didn’t appear to get injured at any time during that opener, missed the 49-30 win over Air Force for undisclosed reasons.
USC transfer Jack Sears completed 17 of 20 passes for 280 yards and three touchdowns and the BSU offense didn’t skip a beat. In a Tuesday morning press conference with reporters, BSU coach Bryan Harsin declined to provide an update on Bachmeier’s status, or say who will start against BYU.
“We’ll see,” Harsin said.
BYU should be healthier than it was against Western Kentucky. Starters such as cornerback Chris Wilcox and linebackers Kavika Fonua and Keenan Pili are due back, and receiver Gunner Romney “is fine,” Sitake said, after the junior sat out of the second half last Saturday for precautionary reasons.
Senior safety Zayne Anderson is questionable with an ankle injury.