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October 30, 2009(AP) Boise State is back home - at last.
It's been nearly a month since the No. 6 Broncos last played on their trademark blue turf in front of their adoring blue-and-orange clad fans. The last home game for Boise State? A sleepy 34-16 victory over UC Davis on Oct. 3.
Since then, the Broncos (7-0, 2-0 WAC) have been on the road, with visits to Tulsa and Hawaii and 10 days off between both games. Throw in the fact Boise State played back-to-back road games before UC Davis - at Fresno State and Bowling Green - and it's easy to understand why players and fans are eager to get reacquainted when the Broncos take on San Jose State on Saturday.
"It's awesome to be back here finally," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. "It's a strange feeling going on the road from what we encounter when we're here, that energy. Sometimes there is no energy and sometimes it's very negative energy going against us. And so it'll be good to be back."
For San Jose State (1-5, 0-2), Saturday's matchup at Bronco Stadium offers yet another chance to do something they've never done - beat Boise State, anywhere. The Spartans have lost all nine games, with many of those ending in lopsided fashion.
Since their first meeting in 1978, Boise State has outscored the Spartans 400-156. The closest the Spartans have come to toppling their conference rivals was in 2004 when the Broncos won 56-49 in double overtime.
Two years later, Boise State escaped San Jose with a 23-20 victory, preserving an undefeated season that ended with the school's only BCS appearance.
But the Spartans will have some big hurdles to clear if they intend to spoil Boise State's current run for a BCS bid.
The Broncos are coming off perhaps their best game of the season, a 54-9 win at Hawaii. Broncos quarterback Kellen Moore threw five TDs last week and his 21 TDs on the season are best in the nation. He also leads the NCAA in passing efficiency (172.15) and has thrown just two interceptions.
Then there is the Bronco running game and a Spartan defense giving up rushing yards in chunks. With Jeremy Avery and Doug Martin sharing carries, Boise State is rolling up 190 yards per game, while the Spartan defense, once among the WAC's best, is allowing nearly 260 rushing yards and 33 1/2 points per game, the worst in the conference in both categories. Martin missed most of the Hawaii game with a pulled muscle but should be ready Saturday, Petersen said.
On offense, the Spartans will have some key absences to fill on the front line. Center Ronnie Castillo is out with a high ankle sprain and guard Ailao Eliapo is nursing an injured knee. Robbie Reed, a starter last year, steps in for Castillo, while Andy Vargas will make his first collegiate start at right guard.
"We're a struggling football team, but that's not necessarily a bad thing if you understand you are struggling," said Dick Tomey, whose team has lost two straight. "You can work your way out of it. Our focus has to be on getting better today."
Despite the streak and statistical edges, Petersen knows his team must focus on the Spartans and ignore the distractions that build with even the slightest shift in the BCS landscape.
There was plenty of hand-wringing in Idaho this week after the latest BCS rankings dropped the Broncos three spots to seventh and TCU, the only other undefeated team from a non-BCS conference, jumped two spots to sixth. TCU is a big favorite this week against UNLV, loser of the last four against the Horned Frogs.
"I just think it's time to talk about that in about five more weeks if there's even a discussion for Boise State to be in it," Petersen said. "If we get there, we'll talk about it then."
To help keep his team focused, Petersen said he will emphasize the Spartans' excellence in one critical game-changing category: Turnovers. San Jose State has 15 takeaways this season and enters the game with a turnover margin of .83, second only to Boise State's 1.29.
"San Jose has always been very good in the turnover department. That's one thing that coach Tomey's teams have been known for," said Petersen. "Those guys always play hard. They are always athletic and we always have hard-fought games with them."