PROVO — The sheer numbers speak for themselves.
No. 24 Boise State owns a 78-9 record when ranked in the top 25. In his six-plus seasons at the helm, coach Chris Petersen has compiled a 74-7 record (.914), making him the winningest active coach in the FBS. The Broncos are 59-10 when playing on national television. And they have the best home winning percentage (.962) in the country since the start of the 2000 season with a record of 75-3.
Add it all up, and Boise State is difficult to beat — particularly at home, on its trademark Blue Turf. It hasn't lost a September home game since 2001.
BYU, which is coming off a heartbreaking loss at arch-rival Utah, will attempt to buck that trend against the Broncos on Thursday (7 p.m. MT, ESPN).
"If you think just about playing there, it's hard to go in there and win," said Cougar coach Bronco Mendenhall. "Fan support, culture probably similar to the environment we were just in (at Utah). But then they're coached really, really, really well. The systems on both sides are very, very good. There's mastery at what they do. Guys are raised in the system, so their execution is at such a high level. They have some players they're replacing, like the rest of us. I think they're very confident on their home field."
Petersen is quick to point out that "this is a different team than we've had the past few years. It's a lot younger than we've been."
He added that there's plenty of room for improvement, and he still has some questions about his team.
The Broncos lost 17 starters from last year's team, including Kellen Moore, one of the most prolific quarterbacks in college football history (Moore is now a backup QB with the NFL's Detroit Lions). Nine of 11 defensive starters are gone from last season, and seven of those signed with NFL teams. Through two games, 21 different players have made their debut at Boise State, including five true freshmen.
The Broncos opened the season with a 17-13 loss at Michigan State, then had a bye before picking up their first victory last Saturday at home against Miami (Ohio), 39-12.
So what did Petersen learn about his team last week?
"I'm not sure. I think we did improve somewhat," he said. "Again, we're going to be tested this week much differently than we were last week. BYU is as good as anybody in the country on defense, and I think their offense is difficult to deal with. They have a lot of variety and the quarterback is athletic. Those things always give you problems. The whole team plays hard. We'll see this week if we're really improving or not."
Junior quarterback Joe Southwick, who replaced Moore, completed 24-of-31 passes for 304 yards and two touchdowns last week. Petersen is looking for improved play from Southwick on Thursday.
"Our first game was a tough environment against a really tough defense. He played OK. We need our quarterback to play better than OK," Petersen said. "That's just how our whole offense is set up. This last week he did take a step in the right direction … If we can eliminate some of the errors that he made last game, we'll definitely be heading in the right direction. Again, the margin for error wasn't quite as tight as it was the first week. So now we're kind of back into that first-week mode, where BYU really makes you earn everything. The margin for error will be slim."
Last week, Boise State senior running back D.J. Harper rushed for a career-high 162 yards and three touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Bronco defense limited Miami (Ohio) to just 227 yards of total offense.
BYU quarterback Riley Nelson is impressed with Boise State.
"They're very disciplined and they're also athletic," he said. "They kind of get the same rap as us, being from Idaho. They don't get a lot of five-star guys, that they're just 'play hard guys.' But it's not true. They're very talented, very athletic and very disciplined. They are similar to Utah as far as tenacity and things like that."
"They're a great team. Great coaches, great athletes, great scheme," said Cougar linebacker Spencer Hadley. "They have a lot of great things going for them. They can hurt you in a lot of ways. That makes them a pretty dangerous team as far as I'm concerned."
And especially dangerous at home.
Cougars on the air
BYU (2-1) at Boise State (1-1)
Thursday, 7 p.m. MT
Bronco Stadium, Boise
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM