BOISE — Boise State defensive coordinator Spencer Danielson had a little extra tape to watch ahead of Friday’s home opener against UTEP.
After a year with limited fans and no atmosphere inside Albertsons Stadium, Danielson and the Broncos are preparing to welcome a near-capacity crowd back to The Blue.
“It’s been a few years so I have to watch some YouTube videos just to remind myself what it feels like,” Danielson said.
Boise State had no fans for last year’s home opener against Utah State and around 1,000 fans for home games against BYU and Colorado State. In a stadium that seats more than 36,000 fans, it did little to create the typical game day atmosphere.
There was no pregame Bronco Walk. There were no tailgaters out. No band or cheerleaders. And most important, no fans to cheer the Broncos on as they ran out of the tunnel or needed a big third-down stop.
That changes Friday when the Broncos will push close to a sellout — and one of the biggest crowds for a home opener in program history — when they host UTEP (2-0) at 7:30 p.m. in a nationally televised game on FOX Sports 1.
“It’s going to be awesome,” captain Khalil Shakir said. “You’ve got guys that have been here for one or two years that have never experienced it because of COVID. To be in that atmosphere and that environment, I’ve been telling guys it’s probably the best thing you’ll be a part of.
“From the Bronco Walk all the way to the game and all the way until the fourth quarter, our fans are special and we love them and we appreciate them and we’re just excited to get out there and ball out for them. We know they want to see a good game so that’s what we’re going to give them.”
Boise State has made playing on The Blue one of the best advantages in all of college football the past two decades. In fact, it is the best.
The Broncos have the best home winning percentage in the country since 2000 at 92.4%. The Broncos are a staggering 122-10 at home during that span, which sits ahead of Oklahoma, Ohio State, LSU and Georgia.
In the past 21 seasons, the Broncos have lost just 10 times at home — and the crowd is a big reason why.
“There’s not an experience like it in college football,” defensive tackle Scott Matlock said. “I know there’s a lot of great venues out there, but it’s something special on The Blue with how passionate the fans are and how much help they are, especially on defense when they get going.”
Matlock called the atmosphere for a game on The Blue “electric,” but similar to Danielson, “I kind of forgot what it’s like in a way. We got to experience a little bit of it at UCF, but I’m very excited to get Bronco Nation in here cheering us on.”
Boise State is planning to implement some changes to the game day experience inside Albertsons Stadium under first-year athletic director Jeramiah Dickey. One small change that could prove to be big is shortening some of the in-game promotions and contests to allow for more hype videos and music to play during timeouts to keep the energy up.
The Broncos plan to implement new traditions prior to the opening kickoff and during the time between the third and fourth quarter.
“There are going to be some new elements to the atmosphere,” coach Andy Avalos said. “Jeramiah and his staff and the plan we’ve created to eliminate some of the advertisements throughout the game and fill some of the dead time with entertainment to keep the stadium going and not have too many lulls — I’m excited to see that too and see what that looks like.”
Of course Avalos said playing giving the fans something to cheer about is the biggest way to help the atmosphere inside the stadium.
“That’s going to create the excitement within the stands and within the atmosphere,” Avalos said.
Another big change? Alcohol is also being sold for the first time in the general seating area. A variety of adult beverages including Bud Light, Miller Light, Coors Light, Michelob Ultra, Bud Light Seltzer and 10 Barrel Pub Beer will be sold throughout the stadium for $8.
Alcohol will also be sold outside as part of an “enhanced pregame tailgating experience on DeChevrieux Field,” starting at 4:30 p.m.
The Bronco Walk returns after a year off, but will be a “socially-distanced, Corral-assisted version this year,” according to Boise State. It starts at 5 p.m. and will take the same path as in previous years, going through DeChevrieux Field and along the South and East sides of the stadium.
“It’s going to feel more like a college game for sure,” Boise State safety JL Skinner said. “It’s going to be fun. We came here to take it in and have that experience and we missed it last year, but we’re forever grateful for it now because we saw last year what it’s like with no fans. We’re really excited.”
Masks will be required for fans at all times inside the stadium. Boise State is offering a full refund for fans that wish not to attend due to the mask mandate.
During the two years prior to the pandemic, Boise State opponents were called for 44 false starts — an average of 3.14 per game. That total was the highest in the country for any stadium during the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
The fans make a difference — and the Broncos are glad to finally have them back.
“They make a great impact,” Skinner said. “The false starts, you guys see it all the time. Teams come in here and haven’t really practiced with that kind of noise. The Blue gets really loud especially when you are down there, it’s hard to hear. They make a really big impact, especially for us on defense.
“It gets the juices flowing and gets you excited. We’ve missed the fans a lot and haven’t been able to see them for a very long time. To have The Blue rocking, it’s really exciting.”