No. 14 Boise State is the latest nationally ranked team to visit Provo, but the stakes are higher for BYU this time

BYU running back Brayden El-Bakri (35) is spun to the ground after being hit by Boise State cornerback Avery Williams (26) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in Boise, Idaho. (AP Photo/Steve Conner)

Provo • For the fourth time this season, a ranked opponent will come into LaVell Edwards Stadium when No. 14 Boise State visits Saturday night in the Cougars’ homecoming game.

Earlier this season, BYU hosted then-No. 15 Utah, then-No. 24 USC and then-No. 21 Washington, beating the Trojans and falling to the Utes and Huskies. All were big games for the Cougars, but none may be more critical than this one.

The Broncos, who are 6-0 and ranked 14th in the latest AP poll, appear to have their best team in years. The Cougars, 2-4, have dropped three straight and their season may be on the brink.

“It’s a big deal to all of us,” BYU linebacker Chaz Ah You said. “Especially with our record right now, we don’t want to go in to next week 2-5. Right now we should be 4-2 with the teams we have been playing. For this game, to play against the No.13-14 team in the nation — it’s a big deal for sure.”

The Cougars’ three-game slide — the last two losses coming on the road to Group of 5 foes Toledo and South Florida — has muddied their postseason picture. BYU needs to win four of its last six games to become bowl eligible. That can still happen, but the Cougars’ margin is growing thinner.

Following Saturday’s meeting with the Broncos, BYU has an open week, then goes to Logan for a rivalry game against Utah State on Nov. 2. The Aggies have won the last two meetings.

Then there is BYU coach Kalani Sitake’s job status. His current contract ends at the end of next season. He has yet to be offered an extension. At least one national report this past week has put him squarely on the hot seat.

Having a nationally-ranked foe back in their building has put some spring back in the Cougars’ step this week, to be sure.

“To be able to go against four ranked teams at home, that’s really fun to me, personally,” Ah You said. “Just the competition and the atmosphere that it brings to the stadium, to the fans, to the players. It definitely changes our mojo throughout the week.”

But the Cougars continue to be a beat-up team. Starters missing Saturday will included quarterback Zach Wilson, running back Ty’Son Williams and linebacker Zayne Anderson — all integral pieces to the BYU puzzle.

Backup QB Jaren Hall, who replaced Wilson at South Florida, left the game with concussion symptoms. He was no cleared to play as of Wednesday. Baylor Romney, who replaced Hall at USF, is the likely starter if Hall can’t go.

On top of all of that, BYU’s defense continues to struggle against the run. After losing at USF, Sitake said he and his staff would have to reevaluate everything. Boise State averages 166.5 rushing yards per game.

Last year, the Cougars fell a couple yards short of a comeback against the Broncos, losing 21-16 in Albertsons Stadium.

And they haven’t forgotten about that stinging loss.

“Just thinking about last year – that was a tough one to walk away from, to know that we were literally inches from winning that game,” running back Lopini Katoa said. “To me, that gives me confidence to know that if we perform well, we can win the game, for sure. But also there’s that feeling from last year. I don’t want to walk off the field with that same feeling we had last year.”

Beyond Utah and USU, Boise is the biggest rival BYU has, thanks to a series that has been played yearly since 2012. The series will continue until 2023 and will pick up again in 2025 for a new 10-game series.

“They’re a really good team and have a lot of great results and they’ve got great tradition the last couple of decades,” Sitake said. “I think it’s a good matchup for us and brings out the best in our team.”

Thanks to the Broncos’ fast start and BYU’s skid, the Cougars are touchdown underdogs Saturday — but they say they’ll try to use that to their advantage.

“It kind of lets us loosen up a little bit and know that we have nothing to lose,” Ah You said. "We can go out there and take the shots that we need to take, take the risks that we need to take and just try to go out and make plays. And try to come out on top.”


At LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo, Utah

Kickoff » Saturday, 8:15 p.m. MT


Radio » 1160 AM, 102.7 FM; Sirius XM 143

Records » BYU 2-4; Boise State 6-0 (3-0 Mountain West)

All-time series » Boise State leads 7-2

Last meeting » Boise State 21, BYU 16 (Nov. 3, 2018)

About BYU » The Cougars haven’t won in nearly a month, dropping their last three games. … Coach Kalani Sitake says he won’t name a starting quarterback until Saturday. Jaren Hall was injured (concussion symptoms) last week in the USF game and was not cleared as of Wednesday. Baylor Romney could be the starter if Hall can’t go. Joe Critchlow is also available. … The Cougars last beat Boise State in 2015.

About BSU » Only one team has hung close with the Broncos during their 6-0 start. Marshall threw a scare into Boise at Albertsons Stadium before falling 14-7 in Week 2. ... The Broncos also have quarterback issues. QB Hank Bachmeier was injured in last week’s win over Hawaii. He’s questionable Saturday. ... Boise’s No. 13 ranking (coaches poll) is its highest since checking in at No. 13 Oct. 23, 2016.