Boise State and BYU has become a premier game for college football fans along the intermountain west the last handful of seasons. This year it’s a different vibe however. Neither team is nationally ranked and both are struggling to grasp who they are and what they can become.
The campuses are only separated by 380 miles, yet this annual matchup didn’t get rolling until BYU became an independent and Boise State established themselves as a national brand during their days in the WAC before ultimately moving to the Mountain West. That path sounds familiar to BYU fans.
The Cougars (1-4) and the Broncos (2-2) have a lot of similarities in the fact that the last 40 years of college football have consisted of these programs in different decades pushing the power structure to try and create opportunity. Now the powers that be view these two as outsiders, and the on-field product this season for both teams would say that is a fair assessment. Both teams can ignite some sparks into their 2017 campaigns with a win on Friday night in front of a nationally televised audience.
Boise State at BYU
Kickoff: Friday, Oct. 6 at 10:15 pm ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Boise State -9
Three Things to Watch
1. Boise State seeking first win in Provo since 2003
The Broncos have come up short in their two visits to LaVell Edwards Stadium since their first trip 14 seasons ago in 2003. The previous two games in Provo have been competitive with BYU pulling away late in the fourth quarter.
Bryan Harsin’s teams have performed well when having more than a week to prepare for an opponent going 13-6 since he took over in 2014 as the Broncos’ head man.
Boise is the odds-on favorite in this one, but the Broncos understand from the previous two visits to Provo, they’ll need to play a complete 60 minutes in order to win and avoid a third non-conference loss, which would mark the first time that’s happened since 1997.
2. Will BYU QB Tanner Mangum play against the hometown Broncos?
Mangum grew up going to Boise State games as a kid living in nearby Eagle, Idaho. Now, the former Elite 11 Co-MVP hopes to get healthy to have another opportunity at the hometown Broncos.
The junior is currently recovering from an ankle injury he suffered on the last play of the game against Utah nearly a month ago. Mangum is making progress and is no longer on a scooter. If Mangum isn’t able to play the Cougars will likely to turn to Koy Detmer Jr. or they will pull the redshirt off of either Joe Critchlow or Kody Wilstead.
Mangum’s last game against Boise State was in 2015 where he became the talk of the nation leading BYU to a second Hail Mary victory in as many weeks. Without Mangum playing this Friday night, it might take another miraculous play for the home team to come away with a win.
3. Boise State offensive line vs. BYU defensive line
The Broncos’ offensive line has been under fire from the fan base for the subpar play through the first month. First-year offensive line coach Brad Bedell inherited a position group that had only one returning starter, and the results have shown as the run game has been non-existent. Boise State’s leading rusher thus far on the young season is backup quarterback Montell Cozart.
On the flip side, the Cougars’ defensive line is the deepest position on the defense yet this group has struggled to produce much of a pass rush this season. BYU did produce four sacks in its game, so maybe things are starting to come together in that department.
Expect this game to be a low scoring headed into the fourth quarter. BYU’s defense will keep this one close, but the Cougars’ knack for coughing up the football has been a problem as they rank 125th in the nation in turnover margin. That’s going to play a large role in the outcome, especially with the uncertainty quandary BYU is experiencing at quarterback right now.
Boise State hasn’t been impressive through four games and the home loss to Virginia took a lot of sails out of the Boise brand that has been built over the past 20 years, but I still expect the Broncos to pull away in the fourth quarter and notch a nice victory to set the tone for a difficult three-game stretch of Mountain West games that awaits.
Prediction: Boise State 28, BYU 13
— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is BYU Insider for ESPN 960 Sports and Publisher of Cougar Nation, part of the Rivals network. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.
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