There has been no shortage of memorable games in Boise State’s rivalry with Fresno State.
In 2001, the Broncos went on the road and knocked off the then-No. 8 Bulldogs 35-30. A 41-40 loss at Valley Children’s Stadium in Fresno in 2013 is also etched in the minds of former Boise State players.
Boise State and Fresno State have played 25 times since 1977, with the Broncos holding a 17-8 edge in the series. The programs have met in the Mountain West championship game four times since 2014, all at Albertsons Stadium, with each side winning twice. They played for the title last year in a game the Bulldogs won 28-16.
The Fresno State game is one the Broncos always circle, Boise State defensive coordinator Spencer Danielson said Monday.
“Those are the games you look forward to going into a season,” he said. “Every time we play these guys, there’s so much on the line. There’s a lot of respect between both programs, but it is a big rivalry for us.”
It’s always a big game, but there is an added dimension when the game is in Fresno.
Valley Children’s Stadium seats 40,727 fans, and Boise State players and coaches alike say it’s one of the most hostile environments they see.
That’s probably why the Broncos haven’t had as much success on the Bulldogs’ turf. Boise State is 11-3 at home in the series and just 6-5 on the road. The Broncos won there the last time they visited, in 2021, but lost two straight prior to that.
“It’s one of those places where you know there aren’t going to be too many friendly faces,” said former Boise State kicker Tyler Rausa, now a special teams assistant for the Broncos. “You’re going to hear it from the fans, and you know you have to be locked in every minute of the game.”
Boise State will venture into that enemy territory Saturday (8 p.m. MT, CBSSN). The winning team will stay squarely in the hunt for the Mountain West title.
“There are games where you have to double-check that your chin strap is tight,” said Boise State coach Andy Avalos, who was a linebacker for the Broncos from 2000-04, when they actually won four straight in the series. “You know you’re in for a fight anytime you go to Fresno. That’s the way it’s always been.”
Even making it to the field unscathed can be a challenge.
It’s a little more than 950 feet from the visiting locker room, and the path is lined on each side by rowdy Fresno State fans who aren’t shy about letting the opposition know exactly how they feel. Small, portable barriers are the only thing separating players from those fans, which has left more than one Bronco feeling queasy.
“I remember those days of going down that hill and never really knowing who’s a security guard and who isn’t,” said Boise State offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan, a quarterback from 2005-08. “It’s one of those places where coaches say, ‘Hey, be smart and make sure you’ve got guys with you if you go somewhere.’”
Danielson never got to play a game at Valley Children’s Stadium, but he’s been there enough during his coaching career to know what’s in store.
“When you walk from the locker room down to the field, those fans are going to make you feel like you don’t belong there,” Danielson said. “But that’s college football at its finest, and that’s the way it should be when you’re going to an opponent’s house.”
Entering the stadium used to be a bit treacherous as well. The tunnel leading to the field was in Fresno State’s student section, and those students took the opportunity to hurl insults and sometimes whatever else they could get their hands on at the visitors.
The tunnel is now covered and the students don’t have the same access to players, but the environment still breeds hostility — even friendly fire. When Boise State played there in 2021, a fight that began in the stands between Fresno State fans actually spilled onto the field.
“It’s one of those things where you have 40,000 passionate Fresno State fans, and they’re going to be loud,” said Boise State wide receivers coach Matt Miller, who caught passes as a Bronco from 2011-14. “Those fans are ruthless, but it’s an awesome opportunity for our guys to go play in an environment like that.”
— Ron Counts (@Ron_BroncoBeat) October 31, 2023
Saturday’s game is sold out, according to Fresno State, so the Broncos can expect plenty of noise and vitriol. Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford isn’t satisfied with the noise level, though. He made a plea for fans to be even louder during his weekly press conference on Monday.
“We get loud in our stadium typically on third down or when they’re giving out pizza or the hot dog race,” he said. “We need it loud every single down. When we go play in really tough environments, it’s loud all the time.”
The Broncos have their work cut out for them if they’re going to win the Milk Can trophy for the 12th time since 2006 on Saturday. The trophy changes hands only when the teams play in the regular season.
Boise State (4-4, 3-1 Mountain West) has to contend with an offense led by former UCF quarterback Mikey Keene, who transferred to Fresno State this year. He’s competing 68% of his passes and has thrown for 1,948 yards and 19 touchdowns, despite missing time to injury. He has the Bulldogs (7-1, 3-1 MW) averaging 33.6 points and 402.8 yards a game.
The Broncos also have to figure out how to move the ball against a defense led by one of the most athletic linebackers in the Mountain West. Lavelle Bailey, a player who is on plenty of NFL Draft boards, leads Fresno State with 50 tackles, and also has 2.5 sacks and three interceptions to his credit.
Most of all, Boise State is going to have to figure out how to get over its struggles on the road. The Broncos are 1-3 in away games.
“That’s obviously not the standard here and we’ve got to find a way to fix it,” Avalos said. “Great teams are defined by winning big games and winning in hostile environments.”
BOISE STATE AT FRESNO STATE
When: 8 p.m. Mountain time Saturday
Where: Valley Children’s Stadium (40,727)
TV: CBS Sports Network (Jordan Kent, Donte Whitner, Brandon Baylor)
Radio: KBOI 670 AM/93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
Records: Boise State 4-4, 3-1 MW; Fresno State 7-1, 3-1 MW
Series: Boise State leads the series 17-8. The Broncos lost to Fresno State, 28-16, in the Mountain West championship game last year in Boise.
Vegas line: Fresno State by 3 points.
Weather: High of 77, 1% chance of rain, 5 mph wind