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1. If Boise State was ever gone ...
... Boise State is back.
Even in their lowest point in eight seasons, the 8-5 season of 2013, the Broncos were still one of the eight best mid-major teams in FBS. Still, 50th is a far cry from the No. 3 and No. 4 F/+ rankings they managed in 2010 and 2011.
BSU fell, however briefly, from power to mid-major power. And when head coach Chris Petersen left to take the Washington head coaching position, you could glean that an era was ending in Boise.
Technically, Boise State wasn't an elite team in 2014, so if you look at the bar set in the Kellen Moore era, you can't really say they're already back. But with an absurdly young team, young head coach Bryan Harsin, and a mostly young coaching staff, Boise State bounced back significantly, finishing 12-2, winning the Mountain West, snaring a Fiesta Bowl bid and beating Arizona. They surged back to 21st in the F/+ rankings, second in the mid-major universe behind a No. 17 Marshall that has quite a few pieces to replace.
And now Boise State returns almost everybody: the top three wideouts, all of the tight ends, every offensive linemen (including two all-conference performers), all but one defensive lineman (plus two potential starters who missed 2014 with injury), the top four linebackers, five of the top six safeties (plus another 2014 absentee), and both starting cornerbacks. And they sign one of the best mid-major recruiting classes every year; this February saw no exception.
Yes, there are questions to answer at both quarterback and running back. Yes, Boise State is a couple of well-placed linebacker injuries away from dipping into a pool of freshmen. Yes, offensive coordinator Mike Sanford got plucked away by Notre Dame.
But no other mid-major can come close to matching Boise State's depth and potential, especially on defense.
A crazy-young team got better on both sides and returns most of the reasons. Boise State probably isn't going to be 2010-good, but I'll be surprised if the Broncos aren't a top-15 team. Either the Boise era continues, or a new one just began.
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 12-2 | Adj. Record: 11-3 | Final F/+ Rk: 21|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|28-Aug||vs. Ole Miss||5||13-35||L||18%||-21.1||0%|
|27-Sep||at Air Force||48||14-28||L||37%||-7.8||11%|
|8-Nov||at New Mexico||94||60-49||W||50%||-0.3||61%|
|15-Nov||San Diego State||76||38-29||W||71%||13.2||68%|
|Points Per Game||39.7||9||26.8||64|
2. From top-50 to top-25
The low points were low enough that, despite six performances at an 87th-percentile level or higher, Boise State only ranked 21st overall in F/+. The Broncos trailed, 7-6, after three quarters against Ole Miss before falling apart. A few weeks later against Air Force, Boise quarterbacks lost their minds, throwing five interceptions in an upset loss. And the defense had few answers for New Mexico's potent option attack, allowing 49 points and 627 yards in a win.
None of those performances were befitting of a top-25 team. The other 11 were. And with the two biggest duds coming early, the Broncos took on the look of an improving team.
- Average Percentile Performance (first 5 games): 64% (record: 3-2)
- Average Percentile Performance (next 5 games): 72% (record: 5-0)
- Average Percentile Performance (last 5 games): 88% (record: 4-0)
The offense was good but got better after September, averaging at least 5.9 yards per play in eight of the final nine games. And after allowing 9.7 yards per play to New Mexico, the Broncos allowed 4.5 per play over the final five games, 4.6 in the Fiesta Bowl. Injuries knocked the defense around, but it responded when it had to. That's one of many positive signs for 2015.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||46.8%||22||Succ. Rt. +||118.7||16|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||29.4||64||Def. FP+||102.0||44|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||5.1||9||Redzone S&P+||128.6||7|
|Q1 Rk||13||1st Down Rk||36|
|Q2 Rk||13||2nd Down Rk||14|
|Q3 Rk||67||3rd Down Rk||28|
3. From Stanford-Boise to Auburn-Boise
Mike Sanford's résumé was rather spectacular when he landed in Boise last year. After serving as a Boise State quarterback through 2004, Sanford was a graduate assistant at UNLV (under his father, now the head coach at Indiana State) and Stanford under Jim Harbaugh, then joined David Shaw's Stanford staff in 2011.
The hire of Sanford as his offensive coordinator was the clearest signal of Harsin's intentions; first, he was trying to build a Harbaugh-at-Stanford type of staff, full of young, hungry guys. Second, he was pulling in a bit of Stanford influence. Boise State brought plenty of spread elements to the table in 2014, but the Broncos were physical and balanced, riding Jay Ajayi nearly 25 times per game while mixing in both horizontal passes (usually to Shane Williams-Rhodes, with his absurd 90 percent catch rate) and vertical ones.
It was a wonderfully conceived offense, and it worked consistently. The balance was such that defenses had no idea what to attack on standard downs, and the Broncos ripped off all sorts of big plays. Quarterback Grant Hedrick was a bit mistake-prone on passing downs, and Boise didn't have an elite offense when falling behind schedule, but the Broncos rarely fell behind schedule.
With Sanford heading to South Bend, Harsin handed the reins to tight ends coach Eliah Drinkwitz. Drinkwitz pulls from different influences. He was an assistant coach at Springdale High School in Arkansas, Gus Malzahn's old stomping grounds, from 2006-09. He landed on Auburn's coaching staff as a graduate assistant under then-offensive coordinator Malzahn. He became Malzahn's running backs coach at Arkansas State, then stayed in Jonesboro in 2013 when Harsin replaced Malzahn.
Arkansas State's 2013 offense was similar in intent to Boise State's in 2014. The Red Wolves ran the ball even more than the Broncos (66 percent on standard downs, 39 percent on passing downs) but did a similar job of mixing between-the-tackles running with zone read, horizontal passes (with J.D. McKissic and his 80 percent catch rate playing the role of Williams-Rhodes), and the occasional deep shot. Aesthetically, it was a spread offense, but it was a damned physical one.
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Ryan Finley||6'4, 199||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8600||12||27||161||2||1||44.4%||2||6.9%||4.7|
|Thomas Stuart||5'11, 193||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7000|
|Alex Ogle||6'3, 213||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8006|
|Brett Rypien||6'2, 197||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9044|
4. Potential red flag: quarterback
[Update: Ryan Finley has been named the starter.]
The Broncos are overflowing with experience at most positions, and where they aren't, they have high-ceiling candidates. The receiving corps returns Williams-Rhodes and WR-H backup Jeremy McNichols (combined: 89 percent catch rate), deep threats Thomas Sperbeck and Chaz Anderson (combined: 18.6 yards per catch), and tight end Jake Roh, a former star recruit who broke out as a freshman. Former go-to receiver Matt Miller was lost with injury after five games, and Boise State's offense didn't even miss him much.
Meanwhile, every lineman returns from a unit that ranked 41st in Adj. Line yards, 29th in Adj. Sack Rate, and sixth in Power Success Rate. With you or I at quarterback, Boise State would still have a top-100 offense because of these pieces.
With that in mind, let's focus on a couple of potential weaknesses.
Grant Hedrick's interception rate (3.4 percent) was a little bit higher than one would prefer, even if nearly one-third came in one game (Air Force). Still, he completed 71 percent at 12.6 yards per completion, a strong combination, and not including sacks, he was good for about nine carries and 55 rushing yards per game. BSU's offense hummed with him in charge.
Last year's backup, Ryan Finley, struggled in limited action; with Hedrick losing his mind against Air Force, Finley came in and completed 12 of 25 for 161 yards and an interception of his own. Then again, he was a freshman, and he was facing an aggressive Air Force defense. With a full offseason to prepare, he might be just fine.
And if he isn't, Hedrick and Drinkwitz can call on mobile Tommy Stuart, redshirt freshman Alex Ogle, or Brett Rypien, a four-star freshman with a pedigree (he's the nephew of a Super Bowl champion).
The odds of one of these QBs turning out well are high, but you never know that one will actually play well until he actually does.
|Devan Demas||RB||5'8, 179||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8556||25||173||2||6.9||11.6||32.0%||2||1|
|Jeremy McNichols||WR-H||5'9, 198||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7859||17||159||1||9.4||5.6||76.5%||0||0|
|Shane Williams-Rhodes||WR-H||5'6, 168||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8457||15||179||0||11.9||10.3||73.3%||1||1|
|Jack Fields||RB||5'9, 201||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8491||11||31||0||2.8||2.4||27.3%||1||1|
|Ryan Finley||QB||6'4, 199||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8600||5||57||0||11.4||15.3||60.0%||0||0|
|Cory Young||RB||5'10, 194||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8492|
|Kelsey Young (Stanford)||RB||5'10, 190||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9236||66||331||0||5.02|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Shane Williams-Rhodes||WR-H||5'6, 168||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8457||76||68||585||89.5%||18.1%||63.2%||7.7||-193||7.6||83.7|
|Thomas Sperbeck||WR-X||6'0, 176||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8135||70||51||883||72.9%||16.7%||55.7%||12.6||280||12.7||126.3|
|Jake Roh||TE||6'3, 219||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8435||51||35||408||68.6%||12.1%||62.7%||8.0||-10||8.2||58.4|
|Chaz Anderson||WR-Z||5'10, 181||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8714||45||21||456||46.7%||10.7%||62.2%||10.1||184||9.9||65.2|
|Jeremy McNichols||WR-H||5'9, 198||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7859||17||15||149||88.2%||4.0%||64.7%||8.8||-23||8.6||21.3|
|Troy Ware||WR-X||6'2, 191||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8282||14||12||150||85.7%||3.3%||71.4%||10.7||12||9.6||21.4|
|Holden Huff||TE||6'6, 222||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7667||14||11||139||78.6%||3.3%||71.4%||9.9||11||9.7||19.9|
|D.J. Dean||WR||6'1, 195||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7900|
|Chase Blakley||TE||6'4, 234||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.7811|
|A.J. Richardson||WR||6'0, 209||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8407|
|Sean Modster||WR||5'11, 186||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7967|
|David Lucero||TE||6'5, 227||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8358|
|Akilian Butler||WR||5'10, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8544|
|Matt Pistone||TE||6'4, 230||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8504|
|Bryan Jefferson||WR||6'1, 190||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8254|
5. Potential red flag: running back
The line will block well for any runner, but we don't know that any running back will do well until he proves it.
But wow, the potential. Devan Demas was a lightning-bolt backup for Ajayi; he wasn't particularly efficient, but he was unstoppable in the open field. Like Ajayi, he had some fumble issues -- he fumbled twice in 25 carries in 2014, and his spring fumbleitis prevented him from winning the starting job. Now, Stanford transfer Kelsey Young comes in to provide help.
If Demas doesn't seize control in fall camp, then the job might go to McNichols, a career backup like Jack Fields (who has averaged just 3 yards per carry) or a youngster like redshirt freshman Cory Young
or freshman Raymond Sheard [Sheard was arrested and won't join the team]. Both have great recruiting profiles, but they haven't carried in a real game yet.
Blocking will assure BSU of a decent running game, but there could still be a stark drop-off if none of these becomes reliable.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Marcus Henry||C||6'3, 296||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8392||27||2014 1st All-MWC|
|Rees Odhiambo||LT||6'4, 303||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8067||17||2014 2nd All-MWC|
|Travis Averill||LG||6'3, 302||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8722||17|
|Mario Yakoo||RG||6'4, 327||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8148||14|
|Steven Baggett||RT||6'3, 295||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8227||14|
|Archie Lewis||RG||6'3, 281||So.||NR||NR||5|
|Eli McCullough||LT||6'5, 292||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8292||1|
|Jerhen Ertel||RT||6'6, 282||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8048||0|
|Kellen Buhr||LG||6'1, 295||Jr.||NR||NR||0|
|Andrew Tercek||LG||6'1, 277||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8435||0|
|Mason Hampton||C||6'3, 284||So.||NR||NR||0|
|Troy Bacon||OL||6'3, 272||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8476|
|Tennessee Su'esu'e||OL||6'1, 307||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8189|
|Eric Quevedo||OL||6'5, 280||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8200|
|John Molchon||OL||6'6, 275||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8180|
|Garrett Larson||OL||6'5, 275||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8081|
Jim Rogash, Getty
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||34.8%||8||Succ. Rt. +||119.6||15|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||30.2||68||Off. FP+||105.1||18|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.3||55||Redzone S&P+||118.5||19|
|Q1 Rk||52||1st Down Rk||27|
|Q2 Rk||46||2nd Down Rk||57|
|Q3 Rk||6||3rd Down Rk||28|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Kamalei Correa||STUD||6'3, 244||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8442||14||49.5||6.5%||19.0||12.0||0||2||2||0|
|Tyler Horn (2013)||DE||6'5, 272||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8000||12||29.5||3.6%||5.5||1.0||0||2||0||0|
|Armand Nance||NT||6'0, 311||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8115||14||27.5||3.6%||6.0||2.5||0||0||1||0|
|Gabe Perez||STUD||6'4, 235||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8445||14||24.5||3.2%||7.5||3.5||0||2||0||0|
|Sam McCaskill||DT||6'3, 255||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7000||14||19.5||2.6%||4.0||2.5||0||1||0||0|
|Justin Taimatuia (2013)||NT||6'0, 297||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8314||13||19.0||2.3%||2.5||1.0||0||2||0||0|
|Elliot Hoyte||DT||6'4, 271||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7583||14||12.0||1.6%||4.0||3.5||0||0||0||0|
|Antoine Turner||DT||6'1, 274||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8200||13||10.0||1.3%||1.5||0.0||0||2||0||0|
|Robert Ash||NT||6'3, 278||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8478||12||4.5||0.6%||2.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Rondell McNair||DE||6'2, 244||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8307||8||4.0||0.5%||2.5||1.5||0||0||0||0|
|Tutulupeatau Mataele||DT||6'3, 303||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8133|
|Jabril Frazier||STUD||6'4, 240||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8414|
|Kaleb Hill||DE||6'1, 222||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8116|
|David Moa||DE||6'3, 266||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8091|
|Matt Locher||DE||6'3, 250||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8222|
|Sam Whitney||DE||6'3, 235||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8081|
6. Don't waste your time running
Opponents figured it out quickly: unless you're New Mexico, leaning on the run isn't going to do much against Boise State.
The Broncos had a bit of a big-play issue -- while they allowed only 52 rushes of 10-plus yards (25th in the country), 10 of those went for 40-plus (119th) -- but for most opponents, aiming for a big play on the ground wasn't worth it when a vast majority of carries went three or fewer yards. Opponents threw more frequently than the national average on both standard and passing downs, and that wasn't just because they were behind on the scoreboard.
That BSU was efficient against the run is impressive considering the Broncos were missing both Tyler Horn and Justin Taimatuia. Each was a key member of the defensive rotation, but both missed 2014 with injuries.
Both Horn and Taimatuia are back, as is every lineman not named Beau Martin. Kamalei Correa was a (forgive me) stud at the STUD (hybrid DE/OLB) position, and with Horn manning the end position Martin left open, this should be one of the toughest, most experienced fronts in college football. The line was an underrated reason for the Broncos' success in the 2009-11 window, and this might be as good as any BSU has had.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Tanner Vallejo||MLB||6'1, 226||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8594||14||81.0||10.7%||15.5||3.0||1||4||0||1|
|Ben Weaver||WLB||6'0, 231||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8681||13||51.5||6.8%||3.0||2.0||0||1||0||0|
|Tyler Gray||SLB||6'4, 229||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.7000||14||47.5||6.3%||5.5||2.0||2||7||3||0|
|Joe Martarano||MLB||6'3, 229||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8463||14||32.0||4.2%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Darren Lee||LB||6'1, 234||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7667||14||11.5||1.5%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Leighton Vander Esch||LB||6'4, 222||RSFr.||NR||NR|
|Drew Berger||LB||6'1, 220||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8548|
|Marquis Hendrix||LB||6'1, 225||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8115|
|Riley Whimpey||LB||6'2, 205||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8033|
7. Potential red flag: linebackers
The return of last year's top four 'backers probably means BSU will be just fine. Tanner Vallejo is one of the best run-defending LBs in FBS, and Tyler Gray is strong against the pass. Ben Weaver battled injury and still managed a few disruptve plays, and former star recruit Joe Martarano is just waiting his turn.
The second string is going to be awfully green. As high as the staff is on redshirt freshman/baby giraffe Leighton Vander Esch, and as impressive as the trio of incoming three-star linebackers might be, a top-10 team rarely gets away with playing freshmen at linebacker. Two linebacker injuries could undo a lot of a great defensive line's work.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Darian Thompson||S||6'2, 210||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8256||13||60.5||8.0%||5||0||7||1||0||0|
|Donte Deayon||CB||5'9, 150||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8600||12||39.5||5.2%||2||1||6||9||1||0|
|Mercy Maston (2013)||NB||5'11, 203||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8549||13||36.0||4.3%||1||0||0||3||0||0|
|Chanceller James||S||6'2, 214||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8453||10||30.5||4.0%||2||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jonathan Moxey||CB||5'10, 187||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7959||14||29.5||3.9%||0||0||1||7||1||0|
|Dylan Sumner-Gardner||S||6'1, 193||So.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9607||13||14.0||1.8%||1||0||0||2||0||0|
|Dillon Lukehart||S||6'1, 208||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7876||9||10.0||1.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Cameron Hartsfield||NB||5'10, 186||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7678||14||7.0||0.9%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Raymond Ford||CB||5'10, 171||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8000|
|Kameron Miles||NB||6'1, 208||So.||NR||0.8561|
|Evan Tyler||S||6'2, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8451|
|Ladarryl Blair||CB||5'11, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8432|
|Damion Wright||S||6'1, 185||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8417|
|Donzale Roddie||CB||5'11, 175||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8404|
|Tyler Horton||CB||6'1, 175||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8289|
|Darreon Jackson||S||6'1, 185||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8184|
8. Beyond loaded
There's one more potential red flag here: pass efficiency. Boise State's pass rush was awesome, and the secondary did a nice job of preventing big plays (fourth quarter against Ole Miss aside), but BSU's success rates weren't fantastic.
Pardon me, though, if I can't worry. The return of nickel back Mercy Maston, who also missed 2013 with injury, gives the Broncos three likely senior starters, and the backups have as much upside as any mid-major backups in the country.
Four-star safety Dylan Sumner-Gardner barely saw the field last year because of the guys ahead of him, and he'll be battling for playing time with high-upside JUCO transfers Raymond Ford and Kameron Miles and any of six incoming three-star freshmen. With ballhawk Darian Thompson and scrappy corners Donte Deayon and Jonathan Moxey leading the way and a host of hungry youngsters backing them up, this unit will likely make plenty of plays.
|Sean Wale||6'2, 186||Jr.||66||42.0||5||30||20||75.8%|
|Tyler Rausa||5'9, 192||Jr.||1-1||0-0||N/A||0-0||N/A|
|Jeremy McNichols||KR||5'9, 198||So.||19||20.7||0|
|Shane Williams-Rhodes||PR||5'6, 168||Sr.||18||8.5||0|
|Donte Deayon||PR||5'9, 150||Sr.||9||10.2||1|
|Special Teams F/+||75|
|Field Goal Efficiency||68|
|Punt Return Efficiency||71|
|Kick Return Efficiency||127|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||111|
9. Hooray, it's an odd-numbered year!
We know all about the key kicks the Broncos missed in the 2010-12 window, but beyond that, they ranked first in Special Teams F/+ in 2011, third in 2013, and 10th in 2009 ... and 52nd in 2012 and 56th in 2010. Even-numbered years apparently aren't kind to this unit.
Sure enough, despite decent experience, BSU's special teams regressed to 75th, mostly because of non-existent kick returns, inconsistent punt returns, and only decent place-kicking. The loss of kicker Dan Goodale (strong on kickoffs) and the lack of guaranteed improvement in the return game mean there aren't any guarantees that BSU special teams will improve this fall ... but it is an odd-numbered year, so ...
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||2014 F/+ Rk|
|10-Oct||at Colorado State||49|
|16-Oct||at Utah State||52|
|27-Nov||at San Jose State||116|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||35.4% (11)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||62 / 69|
|2014 TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||7 / 5.1|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||+0.7|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||16 (8, 9)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||11.0 (1.0)|
10. Survive the games in Utah
Brian Losness, USA Today
The five best mid-major receiving corps, offensive lines, defensive lines, linebacking corps, and secondaries might each include Boise State's. The Broncos might have the No. 1 in at least two of the five.
This is a loaded team, and I can't wait to see it in action. Quarterback and running back are obvious concerns, but between the depth of candidates and the ace coaching staff, I can't make myself worry. Ryan Finley will likely be fine at QB, and whichever running back can hold onto the ball will see big holes thanks to the line (and a defense distracted by the receivers).
Boise State has every right to start as a top-15 team in the preseason polls. From a stat perspective, the Broncos are far and away the safest mid-major bet.
The question isn't whether they'll be good, it's whether they'll be undefeated. With a slate that features six teams that ranked 58th or better, BSU won't get penalized for strength of schedule* by the Playoff committee, which also chooses which non-power team goes to a New Year's Six bowl.
But BSU's chances of going undefeated will likely come down to two trips to Utah. They visit BYU in a Week 2 matchup I can't wait to see, then they face Utah State. Lose that one, and it's possible the Broncos don't even win the MWC Mountain at 11-1. USU is strong enough to do the deed, but BSU will still be a solid favorite, as it will be in every game this year.
* I'm talking about being penalized when it comes to the mid-major bowl slot. A 13-0 Boise State team will absolutely be penalized by the committee and its know-it-when-you-see-it approach to strength of schedule. Even if Boise State is a top-five team on paper, the committee isn't going to give it the time of day as a Playoff contender. And yes, it makes me sad to type that.
This is going to be the best Boise State team in a few years, and thanks in part to CBS Sports and a loaded slate of SIX Friday night games, you'll get to watch a lot of it.