Travel, weather, crowd to pose big challenges for Boise State in Thursday’s opener at UCF | National

BOISE — A cross-country trip, the Florida heat and humidity and a likely near-capacity crowd of 45,000 fans will make for a challenging season opener for the Boise State football team Thursday.

And that’s not even factoring in the quality of opponent in UCF.

While the Broncos will play one of the toughest teams on their schedule right out of the gate, a number of other factors will combine to make it maybe their most difficult task of the season.

“One of the main things we’re focused on is shredding the environment,” Boise State tight end Riley Smith said. “Knowing we’re going into a humid environment and a big crowd with great fans, it’s going to make the game very interesting.

“It’s going to be very difficult from last year, but it’s a big focus for us. It’s going to be awesome to play in front of a big crowd and get that environment back.”

For starters, the weather will be a big storyline. It’s expected to be hot and muggy in Orlando on Thursday with much more humidity than the Broncos are used to.

Compare the two forecasts for Thursday according to Weather.com. In Boise, the high will be 84 degrees with 25 percent humidity. In Orlando? How about 86 degrees with 77 percent humidity.

The Broncos did all they could to prepare for the conditions. They held multiple ‘inferno’ practices inside the Caven-Williams Sports Complex during fall camp in which they turned up the heat, watered the field and hosed off the players to create hot, steamy, muggy conditions.

“It’s not only preparing for an opponent, personnel, X’s and O’s and those things,” Boise State coach Andy Avalos said. “You have to prepare for a climate and a situation like this when it’s different than the one we’re in.

“We have to rely and trust in our training and our prep and obviously we have to do an unbelievable job with our hydration plan.”

Boise State held similar practices prior to recent season-opening road games in the South at Louisiana-Lafayette (2016), Troy (2018) and Florida State (2019). The Broncos won all three games.

The Broncos traveled to Orlando on Tuesday, a day earlier than for a typical road game. But with the five-hour flight, two-hour time difference and the change in climate, the extra day allows for the Broncos to adjust and acclimate themselves prior to Thursday’s kick off.

Maybe the biggest adjustment and challenge facing them will come inside the Bounce House — the fans. Boise State hasn’t played a road game in front of fans since 2019 and last year only had about 1,000 fans for two home games due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Boise State pumps in fake crowd noise during practice, but it’s not close to what they will experience on Thursday. UCF is expecting a near-capacity crowd of 45,000 fans.

“Obviously it’s always an impact on the game,” Broncos wide receiver Khalil Shakir said of the crowd. “A packed stadium for the first game and last year with all the COVID stuff and not really having any fans, it’s going to be a lot different. For the young guys it’s always a culture shock and something you are not used to.

“We’ve been preparing at practice for the noise and stuff. … Obviously we can’t do exactly what it’s going to be like in the game, that’s kind of hard with the crowd and noise and all that type of stuff.”

A packed house for the first time in two years is not exactly an ideal scenario for the Broncos to debut a new offense. But after playing with no atmosphere in empty stadiums last year, Boise State offensive coordinator Tim Plough is hoping his players enjoy the noise — even if it makes it a bit tougher to operate.

“Anytime you go on the road as an offense that’s something you have to overcome,” Plough said. “That’s something we’ve been practicing for a long time for those situations so our guys will be ready for it. But I think they should think of it more as a positive. Let’s enjoy the fact that we will have that many people watching us. Whether they are booing for us or cheering for us, it’s still going to be fun.”

UCF is 23-2 the last four years inside the Bounce House, which is known for having one of the loudest and biggest student sections in the country. The Knights allocate 12,000 tickets for students compared to 5,000 student tickets at Albertsons Stadium.

“I think that’s going to be one of the best things about it,” Plough said. “The environment we’re about to play in is going to be super cool. You’re talking about a place, and I’ve never been there, but I’ve heard from coaches that have coached there how loud it can get and how impressive their support is.

“That’s fun. That’s awesome. … It will be a great atmosphere.”

Boise State has done all it can to prepare for the crowd, the weather and the travel. But there’s only so much you can do. Throw in having to face a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback in Dillon Gabriel and a top-25 caliber team like UCF, and the odds certainly appear stacked against the Broncos.

But that’s how it should be, right?

“Ultimately it’s why you call it a home-field advantage,” Avalos said.

Kick off is set for 5 p.m. and the game will be televised nationally on ESPN.

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