PROVO — With two of the better known and historically acclaimed non-Power Five football programs in the intermountain West, it’s easy to see why BYU and Boise State might consider their series a rivalry.
But this rivalry — and yes, recent history has begun to introduce the “R” word into the respective lexicons of Cougars and Broncos alike — only has so much history in the past. In fact, with the two schools scheduled to meet 15 times in the next 16 years, the rivalry is far more focused on the future.
The 14th-ranked Broncos (6-0) are favored to upend the Cougars (2-4) by seven points in some corners of Southern Nevada. But a game that has been decided by seven or fewer points in eight of the last nine meetings deserves some respect before the 10th meeting between the two teams Saturday night (8:15 p.m. MDT, ESPN2).
“I think it’s fun. I think it’s fine because of the location, and that the fan base really enjoys being a part of this game,” said Boise State coach Brian Harsin, who is 4-1 in his career vs. BYU. “If you’re going to get that type of support from the fan base on both sides, for your players, this becomes a recruiting tool. That helps you with getting players to be excited about your program."
For many on both sides of the rivalry, this game is personal. Like Timpview High alum and Utah transfer Jackson Cravens and former Alta nose guard Sonatane Lui, who would like nothing more than to lead the Broncos to a win over their once-hometown Cougars.
For others, like BYU linebacker Chaz Ah You, the personal animosity towards Boise State didn’t begin with him. His father Jasen works for the Cougars’ football support staff, and the Timpview High grad has plenty of stories of BYU playing the Broncos from his youth.
But the one that stands out the most is his uncle, former BYU defensive lineman C.J. Ah You — from when he played two seasons at Oklahoma in 2005 and 2006.
“Uncle C.J.” totaled 86 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks and four fumbles. But the thing he most remembers — and his nephew does, as well — is the Fiesta Bowl, with the Broncos' gadget plays, the Statue of Liberty and wild 43-42 win over the Sooners in Glendale, Arizona.
“I have a lot of hard feelings towards Boise State, and that’s been ever since they beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl on one of those little trick plays,” Chaz Ah You said. “Ever since then, I’ve kind of had hard feelings for Boise State."
“It’s a deep game for us. It’s a game that we haven’t been able to win consistently in the past. And as far as this game coming up, it’s a big deal to all of us — especially with our record right now. We don’t want to go into next week at 2-5. Right now, we should be 4-2, and this game against the No. 13 or No. 14 team in the nation is a big deal, for sure.”
Add to it that BYU coach Kalani Sitake has never beat the Broncos — he's 0-3 in his fourth season with the Cougars — and the second of three "rivalry games" casts a long shadow over a coach whose contract reportedly runs through the 2020 season.
Both teams are playing coy with the quarterback situation, as well. Boise State starter Hank Bachmeier left the Broncos’ 59-37 win over Hawaii early with a hip pointer, and BYU quarterback Jaren Hall entered concussion protocol later in the Cougars’ 27-23 loss at South Florida a week ago.
Coaches: Kalani Sitake (BYU, 2000) and Brian Harsin (Boise State, 2000)
Time: 8:15 p.m. MDT
Location: LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo
TV: ESPN2 (Clay Mavick, Ryan Leaf, Taylor McGregor)
Radio: KSL 1160 AM, 102.7 FM & BYU Radio 80.1 FM (Greg Wrubell, Riley Nelson, Mitchell Juergens)
Series: Boise State leads, 7-2
If Baylor Romney starts at quarterback for BYU, he’ll be the third starting QB of the season for the Cougars. Similarly, Boise State backup Chase Cord has played in five games as a redshirt sophomore for the Broncos, including throwing for 175 yards and three touchdowns against the Rainbow Warriors.
No matter who is in at quarterback, it will be their responsibility to turn around an offense that averages just 22.3 points per game — the 105th worst mark in the 130-team Football Bowl Subdivision.
Ironically, that's a few spots better than the Cougars' porous defense, particularly against the run.
“It’s definitely the quarterbacks’ responsibility to move the ball,” Romney said. “All of that weight is on our shoulders if we don’t end up scoring on a drive.”
On paper, there’s a lot stacked against the Cougars at home Saturday night.
Paper doesn’t win or lose games, though.
“The whole season, we’ve been picked to lose,” Ah You said. “With that mindset and knowing we aren’t expected to win, it loosens us up a little bit. We have nothing to lose. We can go out there and take the shots that we need to take.”