Billy Bowens got in the middle of Boise State’s ‘hype circle’ to start practice earlier this week with a message for his teammates.
The fifth-year senior wide receiver has experienced the highs of winning a Mountain West Championship and the lows of losing the title game at home. And knows which feeling he’d rather have on Saturday.
“It’s here – it’s time,” Bowens recalled saying o his teammates. “No regrets. Don’t have any regrets. … At the end of this game you won’t get it back.”
Bowens was a freshman in 2018 when Fresno State won the title game on The Blue with a walk-off touchdown in overtime. He also was part of the 2019 team that celebrated a title with a win over Hawaii, and the 2020 team that lost the title game in Las Vegas to San Jose State.
Boise State, known as the cream of the crop in the Mountain West Conference, has won the league title just two times in the past seven years. More than half the roster arrived after 2019 and doesn’t have a ring.
The goal is to change that on Saturday when Boise State hosts Fresno State at 2 p.m. on FOX.
“It’s a feeling you can’t know unless you go through it,” Bowens said. “I’ve been on both ends of being in the championship and winning and being in the championship and losing. I told them that feeling of winning is way better and I tell those young guys I want them to have that feeling because they deserve it. … I want to give them that feeling, along with the seniors.”
Asked what it’s like to celebrate a Mountain West Championship on The Blue with confetti falling and fans on the field around them like he did in 2019, Bowens said simply, “It’s indescribable.”
Boise State and Fresno State are meeting for the fourth time in the Mountain West Championship game in the past nine years. All four have been in Boise, with the Broncos winning in 2014 and 2017 and Fresno State winning in 2018.
The Broncos already topped the Bulldogs, 40-20, back on Oct. 8. But Fresno State was without starting quarterback Jake Haener and safety Evan Williams, and the Broncos were in just the second game with Taylen Green as the starting quarterback and Dirk Koetter as offensive coordinator.
Saturday will mark 370 days – more than a year – since Boise State made appearing in this game the goal. After losing at San Diego State to finish the 2021 season at 7-5, the Broncos immediately started preparing to get back to the title game this season.
And after all the winter conditioning workouts, spring practices, summer player-run-practices, fall game and a grueling 12-game schedule, the Broncos find themselves exactly where they want to be.
One win from winning the title.
“It’s a big moment for us,” Boise State defensive back Seyi Oladipo said. “We’re preparing to be our best and go out there and finish the mission. … It means everything. We have our goals in the team room and it’s to get here. This is where we’ve been working all summer long and since last season. Now it’s time to finish the job.”
Said fifth-year senior Riley Smith, who could be playing his final home game on The Blue Saturday, “This has been our goal for the whole year. It started in January – really it started after our last game last year. We’re giving it all we got. We;’re going to leave it on the field. No regrets. Play as hard as we can.”
Asked how the Broncos even got to this point after starting 2-2 and losing at UTEP, Smith explained, “We’re relentless. We never give up. We’re never out of the gift and we’re going to keep throwing punches and keep going along with our mission until we get it done.”
Some players like Smith and Bowens have rings sitting around at home. Others including junior college transfer Deven Wright do not – which only adds to their motivation.
Wright came to the Broncos after two years at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College not knowing how much he’d play or what he was getting into. Due to injuries he’s likely to have a big role rushing the passer Saturday in a game in which he could win his first ring.
“It would mean everything,” Wright said. “We work so hard, day in and day out to accomplish this goal. Just to be able to do this for everybody in this community as well. I think it would a big thing to let everybody know, ‘hey, Boise is back. Boise is back’.”
It’s been a long climb up the Mountain – 370 days to be exact. The Browns are ready to reach the top.
“I can’t even describe it,” Bowens said. “We do this year round and you are committed – waking up when others are sleeping, staying in, putting in overtime – all the sacrifices everyone makes in this building, it’s time to go out there and get what we earned.”