The Boise State football team hasn’t taken the field for a game since Nov. 21 in a 40-32 win at Hawaii, but Broncos coach Bryan Harsin is confident that will change this week.
Boise State is scheduled to wrap up the regular season on Saturday at Wyoming (4 p.m., CBS SN), and after what he called a “really good Sunday practice,” Harsin said things are looking good for this weekend’s game at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie, Wyoming.
“Our guys are excited to play this week and we’ve been preparing for a while now,” Harsin told reporters during his weekly press conference on Monday. “We know they’re a tough team, and we have history with Wyoming.”
The Broncos (4-1, 4-0 MW) are 13-1 all-time against Wyoming (2-3, 2-3), and they’ve won three in a row in the series, but Saturday’s game is a big one in terms of deciding which teams will play in the Mountain West championship game on Dec. 19.
Win and the Broncos are in, especially with title contenders San Jose State (5-0, 5-0) and Nevada (6-1, 6-1) scheduled to face each other on Friday in Las Vegas.
If San Jose State wins and Boise State loses, the Broncos will still likely host the championship game because of a ban on contact sports in Santa Clara County, which runs through Dec. 21. But Harsin wants his team to go into Saturday’s game with a championship mindset.
“That’s the focus, and I don’t think it should be any other way,” Harsin said. “I think you’ve got to prepare yourself to win, and if anybody’s thinking differently, then we have a problem. You control your destiny when you win games.”
Harsin didn’t elaborate on why last week’s game at UNLV was canceled, saying only that the team has moved on to its next opponent — just like it did two weeks ago when its home game against San Jose State was called off less than five hours before kickoff.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got to look at not just the bodies that you have on the team, but where the bodies are,” he said, eluding to the Broncos’ struggles to field enough interior defensive linemen to meet the Mountain West’s limit of four.
Harsin said the Broncos got a couple of injured players back in practice last week, and his coordinators backed him up. Defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding said last Tuesday that he expected linebacker Ezekiel Noa to be back on the field after he left the Hawaii game with an apparent leg injury.
Offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau followed that on Wednesday with news that quarterback Jack Sears was expected to return to action after he hasn’t played since suffering an apparent head injury during the Broncos’ first series against BYU on Nov. 6.
There has been no definitive answer about when running back George Holani will return after suffering an apparent knee injury in the first half of the Broncos’ game at Air Force on Oct. 31.
Getting some injured players back has been a silver lining to Boise State’s unexpected two weeks off, though, Harsin said. Having extra time to prepare for Wyoming is a bonus, too.
Last season, Boise State had to hang on for a 20-17 win in overtime with quarterback Chase Cord stepping in for an injured Hank Bachmeier. This fall, the Cowboys have lost two of their past three games, including a 17-16 setback on Saturday at New Mexico.
Wyoming lost 34-24 at Colorado State on Nov. 5 before its next two games — home contests against Air Force and Utah State — were canceled. The Cowboys’ only victory in their past three games was against UNLV (0-5, 0-5) in a 45-14 romp on Nov. 27 in Las Vegas.
The Cowboys had a scare late on Saturday when quarterback Levi Williams left the game in the fourth quarter with an injury. But Wyoming football coach Craig Bohl said during his weekly press conference on Monday that Williams returned to practice and is expected to play.
With Williams out, Wyoming turned to true freshman quarterback Calvin Berrup, who finished the game 1-for-5 for 18 yards and an interception.
Bohl also said running back Xazavian Valladay is expected to be available on Saturday, but he wasn’t sure how much one of the conference’s top runners will play. The 6-foot, 196-pound junior suffered an apparent leg injury during the UNLV game and did not play against New Mexico.
Valladay averages 122.8 rushing yards a game, which leads the Mountain West, and he ranks No. 3 in the conference with 491 yards. Last season, he led the conference with 1,265 rushing yards.
“He’s probably the top Mountain West running back right now,” Harsin said. “He’s one of the best running backs that we’ve seen in a couple years.”
Louisville transfer Trey Smith carried the load for Wyoming against New Mexico and finished with 154 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.
LA BOWL CANCELED
The Mountain West is looking for a new postseason destination for its champion after the LA Bowl was canceled on Monday.
The bowl organizers released a statement Monday morning, saying they were looking forward to hosting the game in 2021.
“While the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented us from having the game this year, we look forward to hosting teams from the Mountain West and Pac-12 at SoFi Stadium next December,” the statement read.
Replacing the Las Vegas Bowl as the Mountain West’s top destination for teams that don’t earn a bid to a New Year’s Six game, the LA Bowl was supposed to feature the top team from the Mountain West and the No. 5 team from the Pac-12.
The 2020 Las Vegas Bowl — which was scheduled to include teams from the Pac-12 and SEC — was canceled last Wednesday.
Discussions are ongoing about where the Mountain West champion will land this fall, but a conference spokesperson confirmed Monday that it will likely be the Arizona Bowl because of the timing of the game.
The conference championship game is scheduled for Dec. 19. The Arizona Bowl is scheduled for Dec. 31 at Arizona Stadium in Tuscon.
The Mountain West only has two other guaranteed bowl bids remaining: The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl at Albertsons Stadium on Dec. 22, and the New Mexico Bowl, which is scheduled for Dec. 24 and has been moved to Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
The Hawaii bowl has been canceled, and the conference was supposed to take part in an ESPN-operated bowl game in Texas, but that isn’t happening now, a Mountain West spokesperson said Monday. It’s unclear if the game was canceled or if that bid will go to another conference.
The Mountain West could also have a team in the Cheez-It Bowl on Dec. 29 in Orlando, Florida, if the ACC and Big-12 can’t fill both slots.
The bowl-game experience won’t be the same this year, Harsin said on Monday. Teams will likely travel the day before the game — like most regular-season games — instead of spending the week, practicing, filling media obligations and taking in the sights.
But whether his team stays home for the Potato Bowl or hits the road, Harsin said there’s value in experiencing a bowl game, especially at a time when everyone just needs a little normalcy.
“I hope the bowl game situation gets better, and we’re able to be in one and get to travel and experience that,” Harsin said. “If we ended up playing in a bowl game here, we’re still playing a bowl game. That means things for everybody are somewhat going well if the bowl games still exist at the end of the season.”
BOISE STATE AT WYOMING
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: War Memorial Stadium, Laramie, Wyoming
Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
Records: Boise State 4-1, 4-0 Mountain West; Wyoming 2-3, 2-3.
Series: Boise State leads 13-1 (last meeting: Boise State won 20-17 in overtime last season in Boise).
Vegas line: Boise State by 11.5
Weather: High of 28 degrees, 13% chance of precipitation, 16 mph winds.