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The big 2015 Boise State football guide: Ready to make a run at 14-0

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The 128-team countdown previews what's once again the best-looking non-power in the country, by far.

Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

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
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
28-Aug vs. Ole Miss 5 13-35 L 18% -21.1 0%
6-Sep Colorado State 49 37-24 W 96% 41.8 100%
13-Sep at Connecticut 119 38-21 W 75% 15.8 99%
20-Sep UL-Lafayette 72 34-9 W 96% 41.8 100%
27-Sep at Air Force 48 14-28 L 37% -7.8 11%
4-Oct at Nevada 64 51-46 W 72% 13.8 84%
17-Oct Fresno State 102 37-27 W 70% 12.1 91%
24-Oct BYU 46 55-30 W 97% 43.8 100%
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%
22-Nov at Wyoming 113 63-14 W 92% 32.5 100%
29-Nov Utah State 52 50-19 W 99% 52.2 100%
6-Dec Fresno State 102 28-14 W 87% 26.6 100%
31-Dec vs. Arizona 28 38-30 W 75% 15.6 84%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 39.3 13 23.9 38
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.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.97 15 IsoPPP+ 137.4 7
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 20.3 ACTUAL 24 +3.7
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 14 11 16 7
RUSHING 31 12 20 9
PASSING 24 11 19 10
Standard Downs 6 12 3
Passing Downs 32 40 35
Q1 Rk 13 1st Down Rk 36
Q2 Rk 13 2nd Down Rk 14
Q3 Rk 67 3rd Down Rk 28
Q4 Rk 53

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.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Grant Hedrick
294 415 3696 23 14 70.8% 26 5.9% 8.0
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.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Jay Ajayi RB
347 1823 28 5.3 5.8 36.3% 7 4
Grant Hedrick QB
129 767 8 5.9 5.1 45.7% 3 1
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
Charles Bertoli RB
9 24 0 2.7 1.9 22.2% 1 0
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

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
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
Jay Ajayi RB
56 50 535 89.3% 13.3% 57.1% 9.6 -37 9.6 76.5
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
Matt Miller WR
40 28 461 70.0% 9.5% 57.5% 11.5 128 11.5 65.9
Dallas Burroughs WR-Z
28 14 119 50.0% 6.7% 46.4% 4.3 -59 4.1 17.0
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.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 107.5 3.06 3.39 40.5% 78.8% 20.1% 131.6 3.7% 5.9%
Rank 41 50 55 50 6 76 29 39 39
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
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

Defense

Screen_Shot_2015-04-17_at_9.27.37_AM.0.png Jim Rogash, Getty

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.96 116 IsoPPP+ 108.7 47
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 25.4 ACTUAL 31.0 +5.6
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 49 30 24 47
RUSHING 36 30 11 71
PASSING 76 33 50 26
Standard Downs 42 24 68
Passing Downs 14 25 14
Q1 Rk 52 1st Down Rk 27
Q2 Rk 46 2nd Down Rk 57
Q3 Rk 6 3rd Down Rk 28
Q4 Rk 60

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 115 2.51 3.14 32.8% 58.2% 24.4% 137.1 8.1% 10.7%
Rank 19 16 47 14 18 12 12 7 17
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
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
Beau Martin DE
14 31.0 4.1% 12.0 5.5 1 2 1 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.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
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
Blake Renaud MLB
13 29.5 3.9% 6.5 2.0 0 0 0 0
Mat Boesen LB
8 11.5 1.5% 3.0 3.0 0 1 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.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
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
Corey Bell NB
14 46.5 6.1% 3 1 0 4 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
Cleshawn Page CB
11 23.0 3.0% 1 0 2 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
Jeremy Ioane S
6 7.0 0.9% 0 0 2 1 0 0
Bryan Douglas CB
9 6.0 0.8% 0 0 0 1 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.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Sean Wale 6'2, 186 Jr. 66 42.0 5 30 20 75.8%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Dan Goodale 103 63.2 65 2 63.1%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Dan Goodale 67-70 13-14 92.9% 3-7 42.9%
Tyler Rausa 5'9, 192 Jr. 1-1 0-0 N/A 0-0 N/A
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Jeremy McNichols KR 5'9, 198 So. 19 20.7 0
Dallas Burroughs KR 17 20.4 0
Shane Williams-Rhodes PR 5'6, 168 Sr. 18 8.5 0
Donte Deayon PR 5'9, 150 Sr. 9 10.2 1
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 75
Field Goal Efficiency 68
Punt Return Efficiency 71
Kick Return Efficiency 127
Punt Efficiency 31
Kickoff Efficiency 46
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 111

9. Hooray, it's an odd-numbered year!

A tidbit from last year's BSU preview:

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

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent 2014 F/+ Rk
4-Sep Washington 58
12-Sep at BYU 46
18-Sep Idaho State NR
25-Sep at Virginia 39
3-Oct Hawaii 111
10-Oct at Colorado State 49
16-Oct at Utah State 52
24-Oct Wyoming 113
31-Oct at UNLV 118
14-Nov New Mexico 94
20-Nov Air Force 48
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.