Wednesday, July 27, 2011 | 2:05 a.m.
When the question was posed to two University of New Mexico football players Tuesday during Mountain West Conference media day, the answer seemed obvious to everyone in the room.
Asked what stadium they were looking forward to playing in this fall, New Mexico’s Carmen Messina and Lucas Reed quickly answered: Boise State’s. After all, Boise State’s blue turf has become as recognizable as the Bowl Championship Series-busting Broncos.
“With that blue turf, I’m excited to go play them,” Messina said.
Welcome to the Mountain West, Boise State, and your blue-turf field, too.
The school, which joins the league this fall from the Western Athletic Conference, isn’t shy about promoting its unique playing surface. A small piece of replica turf was even included in the media packet at Tuesday’s meet-and-greet.
The turf — and an always-packed Lyle Smith Field — creates a distinct home-field advantage that has helped propel Boise State to one of the nation’s elite programs.
“Boise is a special place. I love it. It is a football town,” Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore said.
Since capping its undefeated season in 2006 with a thrilling 43-42 overtime victory against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl — remember the Statue of Liberty play executed perfectly on national television? — Boise State has been a regular in the top 10 of the national rankings.
Boise State has lost two games in the last four years — only dropping two league games since 2002 — and has twice played in lucrative BCS games.
Fittingly, Boise State is predicted to continue its domination in the Mountain West Conference. In a poll of 31 media members released Tuesday, the Broncos received 28 first-place votes to be ranked as the preseason No. 1 team. TCU, last year’s league champ and another mid-major that has become respected nationally, was picked second.
Additionally, Boise State had a league-best seven players named to the all-league preseason team, highlighted by Moore as the preseason offensive player of the year. Moore, a senior, is 38-2 as a starter and was a 2010 Heisman Trophy finalist.
Yes, the new team is the clear-cut favorite. In addition to being picked to win a league it hasn’t played a game in, Boise State is ranked in the top 10 of several national polls.
“I don’t think it says anything of the team we have, because that is to be developed as we start in the next week,” said Chris Petersen, Boise’s State’s head coach, who is entering his sixth season with a 61-5 record.
Petersen, however, is quick to point out that Boise’s State first go-round in the Mountain West won’t be as easy as the experts predict. Playing teams for the first time will be a challenge. Everything from learning to defend unfamiliar schemes to adjusting to traveling to new cities puts Boise State at a disadvantage.
“Hopefully we’ve learned our lesson to pay close attention to every detail of the team we play that week. We take nothing for granted and leave no stones unturned in our preparation,” Petersen said.
Two of the league’s marquee games will include Boise State — it’s rubber-match with TCU and a showdown with San Diego State, because Moore and the Aztec’s Ryan Lindley are both top professional prospects.
TCU edged the Broncos in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl 17-16, then Boise returned the favor with a 17-10 win the following year in the Fiesta Bowl.
“They have tons of talent,” Moore said. “We are excited about it. It’s the third time. We’ll see who wins it all.”
The showdown against Lindley and San Diego State will also bring the league national attention, but Lindley isn’t buying into the hype. “It’s not a matchup between me and Kellen,” he said. “I know that is what it will be hyped to be, but we won’t be on the field at the same time.”
That kind of hype is what follows Boise State every week. It’s a spotlight the Mountain West’s new team is happy to accept.
“Certainly we expect the best out of every opponent we face,” Moore said. “They always bring their A-game.”
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