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Boise, Idaho • The numbers alone suggest that the odds of the BYU Cougars toppling No. 24-ranked Boise State here on the famed blue turf of Bronco Stadium Thursday night in a nationally televised game on ESPN are about as favorable as BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham breaking bread together after a rivalry game.
Boise State simply does not lose college football games to teams directly south of the Idaho border, and rarely loses games at home.
The Broncos have won 19 straight games against Utah opponents (see related column) and have gone 75-3 at home since 2000, the best home winning percentage in the country.
And BYU (2-1) is at a decided disadvantage for the 7 p.m. kickoff in front of an expected sellout crowd of 37,000, seeing as how the Cougars are coming off Saturday's emotion-sapping 24-21 loss to Utah, didn't practice on Sunday, spent a good chunk of Wednesday traveling and have a banged-up quarterback, despite senior Riley Nelson's protestations that his back isn't hurting.
"We will keep battling. Not all is lost. Twelve-and-one is a pretty darn good record, and so we still have a chance at that, and that is what we are striving for," Nelson said.
This is college football, Nelson reminds detractors, where anything can happen and usually does, and the Cougars begin this scheduled 12-game series with Boise State believing they just might be catching the Broncos at the right time.
Splendid quarterback Kellen Moore and 16 other starters are gone, and Boise State might be a tad more vulnerable than, say, in 2003 when it whipped BYU 50-12 or in 2004 when it escaped with a 28-27 victory thanks to Matt Payne's field-goal attempt going awry in the final minute.
"I don't care how many wins they have on their field or who did or didn't beat them last. It doesn't really matter to me," said BYU linebacker Spencer Hadley. "For us, it is just, 'We have a game against Boise State on Thursday, and we are going to do our best to win it.' "
If nothing else, opportunity knocks again for the Cougars to bolster their national reputation and win a game they are not supposed to win, occurrences that have been few and far between in Mendenhall's eight-year regime. They haven't been this big of underdogs (Boise State is favored by 7.5 points), since they were predicted to lose by 10 points at Florida State on Sept. 18, 2010.
"It is so hard to go in there and win," Mendenhall said. "The fan support, the culture, etc., is probably similar to the environment we were just in. They they are coached really, really, really well."
False-starting on offense to comedic proportions and shooting themselves in the foot several other times, the Cougars weren't prepared well enough for Utah's raucous atmosphere, Mendenhall acknowledged. How they handle a similar setting five days later could set a defining tone for the rest of the season.
"Boise State fans are very good fans. They are devout. It will be loud there. But like I said, we are used to it now, and we will be ready," said BYU backup quarterback Taysom Hill, the only Idahoan on the Cougars' roster.
It is no secret that independent BYU wants nationally prominent and geographically close Boise State as a rival. Mendenhall said the first step in getting the Broncos' attention is by being competitive on the blue rug.
"It depends on how the teams play against one another," he said, regarding the potential for a rivalry. "The regional part is helpful. And if you could ever get it to maybe the end of the year, that would add to it. But there are a lot of intriguing things about it, as long as both sides can play at a level that makes it competitive."
BYU at No. 24 Boise State
P Kickoff • 7 p.m. TV • ESPN. Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Series history • Boise State leads, 2-0
Last meeting • Boise State 28, BYU 27 (Sept. 24, 2004)
About the Broncos • Coach Chris Petersen has a 74-7 career record and is the winningest coach in the FBS.
About the Cougars • They have held nine consecutive opponents to less than 300 total yards. ... Linebacker Brandon Ogletree had a career-high 12 tackles against Utah.