TSS Top 50: No. 26 Boise State Broncos

Boise State Broncos
2015 Record: 9-4 overall (defeated Northern Illinois 55-7 in the Poinsetta Bowl)

1 Burning Question: How will two new coordinators fare in their first season?

High national expectations are as routine at Boise State as the fast food guy screwing up your order. Big changes, though, are a constant for non-Power 5 teams who have consistent success. Rare is it that change happens on both sides of the ball, but potential-laden Boise will break in a new offensive coordinator in Zak Hill and defensive coordinator in Andy Avalos.

First, on Hill, who was a record-setting player at Eastern Washington turned highly respected coach who’s gone through a quick ascent at the FBS level. The Broncos’ offense has potential to be hateful for other teams to defend, on levels not seen since the powerhouse Kellen Moore-led versions. Brett Rypien is one of the most talented quarterbacks in the country, and he’s got Fiesta Bowl MVP Thomas Sperbeck to toss to and running back Jeremy McNichols to … well … do anything to since McNichols can do just that.

Avalos has a significantly more difficult task ahead of him, breaking in all new starters along the defensive line and working improvement out of a young secondary. The linebacking corps is strong, but even though the defense was statistically pretty good in the conference, they all know it needs to be better. They gave up under 20 points only once the last six regular season games.

2 Key Stats to Pay Attention To

.735 – Percentage of opponent scores in the red zone, good for 11th best nationally. Often, wins and losses are decided inside the 20 on both ends. The Broncos have room for improvement on offense, netting a touchdown only 58 percent of the time in 2015, but on defense, they’ll need this number to maintain to reach their full potential. To add to this, opponents scored touchdowns 54 percent of the time they entered the BSU red zone.

25 – Total number of red zone scores allowed by the defense last year, the fourth-best total in the country.  Yes, the defense needs to get better this year. However, one area where Boise really shined last season was in the red zone. The Broncos did a great job of coming up with stops inside the 20-yard line, allowing opponents to score just 73.53% of the time, which ranked 11th nationally.

3 Key Games That Will Make or Break the Season

9/3  —  @ UL-Lafayette
9/10  —  Washington State
9/24  —  @ Oregon State
10/1  —  Utah State
10/8  —  @ New Mexico
10/15 — Colorado State
10/20  —  BYU
10/29  —  @ Wyoming
11/5  —  San Jose State
11/12  —  @ Hawaii
11/18  —  UNLV
11/26 — @ Air Force

September 24, @ Oregon State
Record in Last 5 Meetings: 3-2
Last Year’s Result: Did not play.

Why it Matters: BSU’s schedule is weird. On one hand, you have zero back-to-back road games. On the other, you play twice on short weeks, though both at home. Oregon State represents their toughest out of conference test, being on the road, and if you want to make waves nationally (which BSU expects to annually), you’ve got to impress out of conference.

October 10, @ New Mexico
Record in Last 5 Meetings: 4-1
Last Year’s Result: L, 24-31

Why it Matters: New Mexico was on the plus side of a truly shocking upset of the Broncos in Boise in 2015, and they return a metric ton of 2015 talent on defense. This early season tilt comes after a game against Utah State, in New Mexico, and an improving Lobos team could easily stick the pain stick into the Broncos’ expectations early on. And by “pain stick,” I mean, “accidentially listen to Drake’s music and ask your ears what it felt like.”

November 26, @ Air Force
Record in Last 5 Meetings: 2-2 (which doesn’t equal 5 but that’s all we’ve got)
Last Year’s Result: L, 30-37

Why it Matters: For one, it’s the last game of the season, and much could be on the line for both. For two, Air Force has been a pain in Boise’s backside the last two seasons, winning both times. There is no “for three,” because these two are enough.

4 Key Players

Jonathan Moxey, DB  —  Flatly put, the defense needs to be better. Eviscerating Northern Illinois to close the season is nice, but that stuff doesn’t carry over. Moxey is the elder statesman on an inexperienced secondary that typically is very stout in Boise. His leadership will be crucial.

Brett Rypien, QB  —  This might be the most industrial firepower BSU has brought back since their glory days under Kellen Moore and Jared Zabransky. Rypien is big, big time and could be a Heisman finalist type name come December. He’ll have to deal with massive expectations, but few quarterbacks have more talent.

Thomas Sperbeck, WR  —  The 2016 Fiesta Bowl MVP snagged footballs to the tune of over 1,400 yards on 88 catches and is easily the pivot point for a talented, but developing pass catching corps. Undoubtedly, they’ll get creative with him and make sure he’s not lost for footballs in a variety of ways.

Gabe Perez, DL  —  Well, when you’re breaking in all new starters across the defensive line, you need someone to step up, sources say. Perez sat out 2015 with an injury and redshirted, but appeared in 14 games in 2014, registering 29 tackles and 3.5 sacks. Boise will sorely need him back and at his best.

5 Bold Predictions

5. Boise State will win the Mountain West

On the Richter Scale of “bold things,” I’m not sure this even makes a Golden Retriever rattle, but after what was a considerably up and down 2015 that saw four losses, you never know what the season brings. Boise has major scheduling challenges, including solid non-conference schedule and two short weeks, but the thought here is that they get it done with flying colors.

4. BSU will again finish 1-2-1 in Mountain West scoring, rushing, and passing offense

In spite of the occasional struggles at the wrong times, BSU actually finished tops in the conference in scoring and passing offense, and second in rushing. Expect that to be the EXACT same this year, where their loaded offense returns and Air Force will still Air Force, which means top 5 nationally in rushing.

3. BSU will lose at least one coordinator to promotion, again

Success means change in the world of sports, and BSU is primed to have an awfully good season. Awfully good seasons mean people start going poaching. While turnover is part of life, it’s never easy, particularly with recruits who often come to schools based on the coach recruiting them.

2. Brett Rypien will finish top 5 in the Heisman voting

Rypien is an elite talent who can make any and all throws, and has a litany of talent around him at BSU to do so. He was thrust into a starting role last year, probably unexpectedly, and tossed for 20 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. While you have to be special in this climate to get noticed on a Heisman level at a Gang of Five school, he probably cuts mustard.

1. Boise State will be in the CFB Playoff talk

I’d love to say, “BSU will make the CFB Playoff,” but the system is inherently rigged (read in cranky Bernie Sanders’ voice) against the little guy. So BSU would basically need to go unbeaten and still fend off claims that they “didn’t do anything to get there.” Weak argument. They’ll have a good enough season to be in that talk late, but that Air Force game will be a real son of a gun to win at the end of the year when potentially much is on the line.