BOISE — As much as last week’s triple overtime loss to No. 20 Washington State still stings, it had zero impact on Boise State’s primary goal for 2017: A Mountain West championship.
Tonight’s game against New Mexico is a different story.
Boise State, which is looking to get back to the Mountain West title game for the first time since 2014, opens conference play at 6 p.m. tonight with a game against the Lobos on ESPN.
“It’s a big deal,” Boise State safety Kekoa Nawahine said. “It’s a huge deal. That’s always our goal, to be able to win our conference, and you do that by winning one game at a time and this week that’s our focus, New Mexico, and being 1-0 this week.”
Boise State can look no further than divisional play as the reason they’ve missed out on the Mountain West title game the past two seasons. They are just 5-5 against the five other teams in their division the past two years.
They’ve lost to four of the five teams within the division during that span, including a stunning loss to New Mexico at home as 30-point favorites in 2015.
And that’s why Boise State’s goal of winning the Mountain West has been modified for 2017. While that’s the ultimate goal, the first focus is winning the Mountain Division, something they haven’t been able to do the past two years.
“You absolutely focus on your division,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “That’s what puts you in position to play for that championship.”
The Lobos handed Boise State one of its most surprising losses in recent memory in 2015 when they won as four-touchdown underdogs on the blue turf. Boise State had been 59-2 in the previous nine-plus seasons at home prior to the loss.
After the game New Mexico coach Bob Davie had his team come back onto the field to take a team photo to commemorate the victory, showing just how memorable and rare it is for teams to come to Boise and get a win.
Boise State nearly lost to New Mexico in 2014 in Albuquerque before falling in 2015. They rebounded with an impressive 49-21 victory over the Lobos last season, but the loss in Boise serves as a reminder of the problems New Mexico can pose.
“We know what’s happened here before,” Harsin said. “We know what they are capable of doing.”
Boise State has struggled with the triple option in recent years. They are 2-4 against the two Mountain Division teams that run the triple option — New Mexico and Air Force — since 2014.
Asked what stands out to him about New Mexico’s offense earlier this week, Nawahine joked, “They like to run the ball.”
The Lobos are coming off a surprising 30-28 loss to in-state rival New Mexico State last Saturday. New Mexico trailed 30-5 before a furious fourth-quarter rally fueled by backup quarterback Tevaka Tuioti came up just short.
Boise State, meanwhile, led No. 20 Washington State 31-10 in the fourth quarter before an ill-advised shovel pass from Montell Cozart was intercepted and returned for a touchdown as part of a crazy Cougars comeback.
The Broncos eventually lost in triple overtime and didn’t arrive back in Boise until nearly 5 a.m. on Sunday morning, with another game looming just five days later.
“It’s definitely a quick turnaround,” Nawahine said. “You don’t have much time to let your body be sore. You have to just get out there, watch film and be prepared.
“They have a quick turnaround as well, so everybody is dealing with it. It is what it is. We just have to be ready to play.”
Boise State has tough conference games on the road at San Diego State and Colorado State looming later this season, meaning they can’t afford to slip up at home.
The Broncos will be underdogs at San Diego State but could afford to lose the game if they go 5-0 against the teams in their division. That would give Boise State a tiebreaker over each of the five teams in their division if they were to go 7-1.
And that puts extra emphasis on games like tonight.
“It’s very big for us,” Boise State linebacker Gabe Perez said. “We want to go 1-0 every week, and this week is our first game.”