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LOGAN, Utah — Losing two of the first three games of the season certainly wasn’t the plan for the Boise State football team.

And while frustrated and disappointed with a 1-2 start for the first time since 2005, the Broncos are rallying around one key point this week — all three were nonconference games.

Boise State gets a clean slate when Mountain West play opens Saturday at Utah State with a 10 a.m. kickoff on CBS.

“The beautiful thing is our goal is always about the conference and that’s what is right in front of us now,” Boise State coach Andy Avalos said. “It’s time to lock in on that.”

Sure getting to a New Year’s Six bowl or going undefeated and sneaking into the College Football Playoff remain the ultimate goals and dreams. But for the Broncos, it says neither on the wall inside their team meeting room.

The stated goal seen every day says to “win the Mountain West Conference and a bowl game with class, integrity and academic excellence.”

The two losses to UCF and Oklahoma State had no impact on any of that.

“We need to start climbing that mountain now,” senior linebacker Riley Whimpey said. “The benefit of our first three games being out of conference is we’ve learned a lot of lessons and we’re in the process of trying to apply those now.

“Going into this fourth game now against Utah State we have a great opportunity ahead of us to be more consistent and apply the things we’ve learned the first three games.”

Boise State has won 21 consecutive conference openers dating back to a 17-10 loss to North Texas in 1999 while a member of the Big West. Put another way: the Broncos haven’t been 0-1 in league play in 22 years.

The Broncos have won four Mountain West championships in their 11 years in the league, which is the most by any current member and tied with BYU, TCU and Utah for the most all-time.

Since 2000 the Broncos are 144-17 in regular season play spanning multiple conferences. The .894 winning percentage is the best in the country.

The main takeaway? Boise State has fared pretty darn well once conference play comes around. The Broncos plan to continue the trend starting Saturday.

“Sure the first two losses definitely sting and definitely leave that sour taste in your mouth, but our goal is still in front of us and still attainable,” offensive lineman Garrett Curren said.

The Mountain West implemented a two-division format and a championship game in 2013. The Broncos have played in the game in five of the eight years and have won it three times.

Boise State has won the Mountain Division and appeared in the title game in each of the last four years. They beat Fresno State in 2017 and Hawaii in 2019, but lost to Fresno State in 2018 and San Jose State in 2020.

Much of Boise State’s success has come from its domination of the Mountain Division. The Broncos have won 19 straight games against the other five teams in the division dating back to 2016. That streak will be on the line against the Aggies on Saturday.

Sure every team has a goal of winning a conference championship. But at Boise State? It’s an expectation.

“It’s extremely important,” senior wide receiver Octavius Evans said. “When I first came in as a freshman Brett (Rypien) said it to all of us. They all did a great job making sure we know we don’t lose and we’re always striving to win the Mountain West championship and a bowl game.

“It’s something that is instilled in you when you first get here. So for the young guys that’s something we try to emphasize to them. Winning the Mountain West is important. It’s something we must do.”

The Broncos have issues on both sides of the ball and far from a perfect football team. They’ve had well-documented struggles running the football and stopping the run. Their performance in the third quarter has been poor as well.

Utah State, meanwhile, enters with a perfect 3-0 record including notable wins at Washington State and at Air Force. The Aggies are moving the ball and scoring points on offense — they rank No. 3 nationally in total offense. That includes a top-30 rushing attack at more than 200 yards per game.

The Aggies also have done something the Broncos haven’t — dominate in the second half.

Boise State enters as a 9-point road favorite, but the recent play of the two teams and the oddity of a rare 10 a.m. kickoff make this anything but a sure thing. The Broncos have a legitimate challenge on their hands in front of what is expected to be a raucous, near-sellout crowd.

The Broncos are trying to avoid a 1-3 start for the first time since 1997.

“I’ve lost enough games in my life to know that it’s not a feeling that I like or anybody likes obviously,” Avalos said.

There aren’t many sure-win games left on the schedule. Boise State has tough home games left with Nevada and Air Force and still must make road trips to Fresno State and San Diego State. Throw in a tough road nonconference game at BYU, and the Broncos have their work cut out for them this fall.

The first year of the Avalos era has gotten off to an unwanted start. One way to salvage it? Win the Mountain West. And that goal begins now.

“Every game from here on out to win the conference (is important) and especially within the division and going on the road and playing on the Mountain side,” Avalos said. “There are some teams that have shown how competitive they are in this conference by who they’ve played and how they’ve done.

“This is a really good conference and it’s hard to go on the road and play, but that’s part of college football. We have a humongous challenge in front of us.”

The goal is to go 1-0 each week. First up: Utah State.

This article originally ran on idahopress.com.

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