Boise St Florida St Football

Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin during an NCAA football game against Florida State on Aug. 31, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla.

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Diving into a new football season, I already feel like a winner.

You should, too.

Boise State coaches and players — and the all-mighty COVID police — still must plow through the motions, play the games, compete at their finest like all teams do, but the Broncos are already winners, too.

A Boise State season that wasn’t supposed to happen kicks off Saturday — 322 agonizing days since the last home game and 308 since the agonizing bowl loss to Washington.

Right now, after months of mysteries and mayhem and the most turbulent year of our lifetimes, the thought of watching one simple Boise State football game seems like pure joy.

Children-jumping-in-the-mud kind of joy.

Cashing-a-lottery-check kind of joy.

New-puppy joy.

Once toe meets leather, and the clock starts ticking, and 22 players start running around on the blue, how much really matters after that?

Yes, Boise State football, over the years, has created high expectations and standards. Watching that history repeat itself would be inspiring. But in 2020, where just about everything seems to go wrong, COVID has created low expectations.

We’ve been robbed of most joys, and we need distractions.

We need football.

And it all starts Saturday with the joy of one simple game.

We’ve been through so much in 2020 that a few annoying nuisances inside a game won’t make the insanity any worse. A loss at any point over the next eight to 10 weekends will almost be easy to handle — outside the immediate Boise State football family.

At least that’s how it feels now.

It could change.

I have my doubts.

Especially if there are no fans inside Albertsons Stadium for the entire season. Boise has always been an event town — and Boise State football without fans hardly seems like an event.

It suddenly seems more like a TV show.

And everyone knows that TV ratings are plummeting.

If Boise State goes through an undefeated regular season, plus a potential Mountain West title game, and a bowl game that fans won’t travel to, will it compare to the undefeated seasons of 2006 and 2009?

No.

Boise State hasn’t had a losing season since 1997. If it happens this year, will fans and media run coach Bryan Harsin out of town?

No.

Looking at the extreme, Boise State hasn’t had a winless season since coach Max Eiden’s dreaded 0-6-1 campaign of 1937. OK, we might care if the Broncos can’t beat BYU next month. Or San Jose State. Beyond that, do wins and losses really matter in a year that we’d all love to forget?

To the team, yes.

To the rest of us, well, that’s an individual decision.

But I already feel like a winner.

And you should, too.

For the first time in forever, there’s no reason to sweat a Boise State season that will always carry an asterisk. The student-athletes are getting a free year of eligibility, courtesy of the NCAA.

For the rest of us, it’s the same — a free year of football, courtesy of a stupid virus. At least it gave us something.

For entertainment purposes, there will be football storylines and team subplots, starting with ...

Will COVID win the season?

Can the Mountain West complete a season with a limited testing budget? Already, the New Mexico-Colorado State opener is in jeopardy, and more games are destined for the do-not-play list.

Will fans ever be allowed inside Albertsons Stadium? Or are we stuck with happy-fan cutouts all season as Ada County continues to struggle in its fight against COVID?

On the field, can quarterback Hank Bachmeier do a better job of protecting his fragile body? At what point will USC transfer Jack Sears and his intentions — to play football — enter the scene and create a quarterback controversy?

If Bachmeier plays like former Boise State recruit and current BYU quarterback Zach Wilson, that intrigue will certainly suck in fans and create attention.

All typical football storylines and subplots.

But, in this atypical year, strong community emotions that come to life every Boise State football season have been reduced to simple conversations. How much do we really care? How much are we really focused on football? Right now? This year?

I hope I’m wrong. Again. As a necessary good-riddance to 2020, I hope Boise State catches fire, wins blowouts and creates community buzz. I hope the Broncos do things on a football field that can’t escape our attention. The nation’s attention.

And if it happens, despite the darkness of 2020, there’s hope that we’ll come together like we do every fall for Boise State football.

United. One common goal. Doing things together. With passion. And positivity.

Now that would be pure joy.

A true win-win for all.

Mike Prater is the Idaho Press sports columnist and co-hosts Idaho Sports Talk on KTIK 93.1 FM every Monday-Friday from 3-6 p.m. and Bronco Game Night after every Boise State football game on KTIK and KBOI 670 AM. He can be found on Twitter @MikeFPrater and can be reached at mikefprater@gmail.com.

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