As he left the Boise State field in defeat back on a cold October night, a frustrated Derron Smith looked back one last time at the infamous blue turf before heading into the locker room.
Inside, the Fresno State senior safety made a promise to a few teammates: We’ll be back.
“Hopefully we do get another shot (at Boise State),” Smith said immediately the 37-27 defeat Oct. 17. “I told certain players that’s our plan. We’re going to see them again.
“Whether it’s here or somehow if we get the championship game at our house, I told them that we’ll be back here on the blue turf and see them in the championship game.”
Seven weeks later, Fresno State — fresh off three straight victories to end the regular season — will again play Boise State on the turf and this time it’s for the Mountain West championship. The Bulldogs (6-6, 5-3), who won the conference’s West Division, are seeking a third straight conference championship, and will face a Broncos team (10-2, 7-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday that’s captured the Mountain Division, won seven straight and is ranked No. 22 in the Associated Press Top 25.
“This is what I figured would happen and this is what I wanted to happen: We get another chance at them,” Smith said after practice Monday. “We played them well. But at the same time, we left some plays on the field that I feel like if we would’ve capitalized on those plays, it could’ve been a different outcome. We’ve just got to get to work again.”
The matchup will mark the first time Fresno State will play the same opponent twice in the same season since 1945 when it was done against two opponents (Fresno State tied and defeated Cal Poly, and swept Pacific). The Broncos have played the same opponent twice in the same season just one other time, in 1990 (Boise State beat then lost to Nevada).
In the previous meeting against the Broncos, the Bulldogs played perhaps their best game on blue turf in the past two decades with the score 27-27 going into the final quarter. But the Bulldogs struggled mightily in the fourth, generating just 4 total yards and failing to convert a single first down.
“It is a little different,” Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter said. “Obviously, you learn from that first game and yet you can’t go to the exact same game plan. The fact that we went to Boise and competed for three quarters and were in position to win that game gave our guys some confidence. We’ll just have to see.”
Added Broncos coach Bryan Harsin: “Both teams, from when we played to where we are now, are two different teams.”
Fresno State and Boise State will each receive a money boost for reaching the championship. As the visiting team, Fresno State will receive 5% of all revenue from the game while Boise State as host will earn 10%. Both teams also receive 1/12 of the 85% of the championship revenue that’s distributed among all the Mountain West schools. Fresno State made roughly $181,000 for being the championship host last season.
But there’s bigger money at stake Saturday.
Boise State with a win can secure a spot in one of the six College Football Playoff bowls and a potential landing spot could be the Fiesta Bowl, which pays out roughly $18 million to each participating team. To get there, Boise State must remain the highest ranked team among the Group of Five (AAC, C-USA, MAC, MWC and Sun Belt), which receives a guaranteed bid to a “New Year’s Six” bowl. Boise currently tops the group at No. 23 in the College Football Playoff Rankings.
The Bulldogs will need to solve their Boise blues to ruin the Broncos’ big bowl hopes.
Fresno State is 1-7 all-time against the Broncos in Boise with the win occurring in 1984, two years before Boise State installed its blue turf. Boise State is 91-4 overall at home since 2000. Fresno State has won twice in Boise in bowls against Virginia in 2004 and Georgia Tech in 2007.
The Bulldogs believe their experience on the Smurf Turf earlier this season will help them during their second go-round. The 27 points, for one, were the most the Bulldogs have scored against the Broncos in Boise since Fresno State’s 37-21 win at Boise State 30 years ago.
“I always believe it’s hard to beat a good team twice,” Bulldogs quarterback Brian Burrell said. “I consider ourselves a good team. So I think Boise is going to have a challenge with that. That being said, Boise is a really good team, too. They’re at home, where they’re comfortable. We’ll have a tough game ahead of us.
“I’m definitely excited for the chance to play Boise again. Not many teams get a chance to redeem a loss. We have the opportunity.”