Since joining the Mountain West in 2011, Boise State has pretty much owned it. They’ve won three conference championships, been to a bowl game every season, and finished ranked four times. Dating back even further, the Boise boys have played in a bowl game every season since 2002. Prior to joining the MWC, they won eight WAC championships, two Big West championships, and six Big Sky titles. They just keep moving on up.
Boise State used to be a junior college for crying out loud. They seriously once offered certificates in truck driving. They’re now a nationally recognized university thanks in no small part to a successful football team.
Their 2006 team put the school and the city on the map for good. Boise is rapidly growing, and apparently, looks like a real city now. That probably happens regardless, but let’s not forget that a bunch of unpaid kids taught us all about the capital of Idaho.
Here’s the pixelated, poorly-edited, faux-inspirational, mid-aughts good stuff:
Also, they play on ridiculous blue turf. You’ve heard the jokes for 20 years now, “Do not adjust your television sets” blah, blah, blah. Whatever. It’s gimmicky. It’s stupid. It tricks innocent birds. But they’re not changing it. Why would they? They’re known for that more than anything. Other schools have since copied the concept and confirmed that we are, in fact, living in a post-modern hell.
Last season, Boise State ran roughshod over the MWC with the exception of a season-ending exhibition game against Fresno State. The Broncos won a rematch the following week in the conference championship game and pirouetted all over Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl to finish 11-3. But for two losses to Power-Five teams early in the season, both of which illustrated the deep divide between P5 and G5 programs, and UCF’s historic undefeated season, Boise State fell short of making a strong case to represent the Group-of-Five in the Peach Bowl.
To get into the New Year’s Six discussion this year, Boise State will lean heavily on their fourth-year starter at quarterback, Brett Rypien. Rypien has been shaky at times in his career, but when he’s on, he can sling it as well any quarterback at the FBS level. He lost his top two targets from a year ago, but Boise State always seems to find undervalued skill position players. They’re like the Oakland A’s of college football, except they actually win.
Somewhat significantly gone is last season’s backup QB, Montell Cozart. He filled in often last season, and while he lacked Rypien’s talent, he provided a steady veteran hand when Rypien was at his most erratic. Without Cozart, Rypien must show he can be consistent and take what the defense gives him. With an outstanding running game and defense, he can afford to make the safe play rather than taking risks, which was often his downfall in 2017.
Alexander Mattison, pictured at the top of the post, looks like the next Boise running back to come out of nowhere and star for the Broncos, following in the footsteps of the NFL’s Jay Ajayi and Doug Martin.
The offensive line is also deep and experienced and should make life a little easier for Rypien and Mattison. Boise averaged 32 points per game last season and should be even better this year.
The most significant loss for Boise State is on defense. Leighton Vander Esch, 2017 MWC player of the year and first-round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys, is gone. Vander Esch represents exactly why Boise State has been so successful the last fifteen years. No one outside of Idaho had ever heard of the small-town kid who played eight-man football in high school with a funny name, and now he’s a millionaire.
The good news for Boise, however, is that everyone else comes back for a defense that forced a whopping 26 turnovers last year. The secondary and defensive line are deep, experienced, and littered with potential all-conference selections. Meanwhile, the linebackers, even without Vander Esch, could be even better with the addition of Tony Lashley, who hilariously transferred from Boise’s former in-state rival, Idaho.
Bryan Harsin bleeds blue. Not literally like a horseshoe crab, but figuratively. He was born in Boise, played his high school ball in town, and played Quarterback at BSU from 1995-99. After a one-year stint at Eastern Oregon, Harsin returned as an assistant coach in 2001, eventually working his way up to Offensive Coordinator in 2006. He held that position until 2010 before being offered the fabled “coach-in-waiting” position at Texas under Mack Brown. When Brown stubbornly refused to retire, Harsin bailed to take the head coaching job at Arkansas State. After just one season there, his hometown and alma mater came calling.
Since taking the job in 2014, he’s amassed a 42-12 record, two conference titles, and three bowl wins, including a Fiesta Bowl victory over Arizona in his first year. Some might say that he’s only capitalizing on the momentum that former coach Chris Petersen built, and there’s some truth to that, but maintaining success is its own challenge.
In addition to Harsin, the coaching staff has a combined 100 years of experience playing and/or coaching in Boise. That experience – in addition to the litany of upper-class-man starters on both sides of the ball – will be the key to Boise repeating as MWC champs and beyond.
The Schedule (with milquetoast predictions!)
September 1 – @Troy – W
The Broncos open the season against the same opponent as they did a year ago. In that game, a shaky Brett Rypien looked lost for much of the action, but the defense held serve for a 24-13 victory, eventually giving way to Cozart. Rypien remembers that game and does not want a repeat performance on the road. Troy is a decent mid-major team in their own right – they went 11-2 last season with a bowl victory – but they lost some players and won’t quite be at the same level as a year ago. Look for Boise to make a statement.
September 8 – vs. UConn – W
UConn is scary bad. After a 3-win season that was somehow even less impressive than the win-total indicates, they look to be even worse this year. If not for a friendly with Rhode Island on their schedule, they might not win a game. This game will be a chance for Harsin to get a look at his younger players. It’s going to be ugly.
September 15 – @Oklahoma State – L
Last season, Boise lost a pair of September games to Washington State and Virginia. In the Wazzou game, they blew a big lead and lost in triple-overtime. Virginia, on the other hand, dominated them on their own blue turf. Virginia is in the ACC, but they don’t strike fear in the hearts of their opponents the way Clemson does. They’re a perfectly average team, the kind that Boise used to routinely whoop, especially in their own house. I’ve gushed about Boise’s talent, experience, and depth in this post, and they are a top G5 program, but the days of them going on the road to beat ACC and SEC teams and knocking off big-name opponents in bowl games are all but over.
The divide between the top and bottom halves of the FBS division has always been stark. It’s the reason Boise captured our hearts back in 2006. America loves an underdog. But with participation in football down, the talent pool is only going to shrink, and it’s already started. There simply are not enough good players to go around. So when Boise State, despite their success, goes up against a P5 team, especially a serious Big 12 championship contender like Oklahoma State, the odds are stacked even further against them.
Even in that WSU game last season, when Boise took a 21-point lead midway through the fourth (without Brett Rypien mind you), the capability of Washington State to come back was always there. It was a brutal loss, but not a wholly unexpected one either.
OSU takes this one going away.
September 29 – @Wyoming – W
Conference play starts with a trip to Laramie, where, in 2016, the Pokes pulled off a shocking upset en route to an appearance in the conference title game. That won’t happen this year. Josh Allen – who sweats Gatorade – is gone, and the defense, while still solid, doesn’t appear to measure up to the 2016 version. Last year, Boise gutted out a 24-14 win with an up-and-down game from Rypien who ceded a large number of snaps to Cozart. This game will serve as a major test of where the Broncos are. If they win going away, that means they’re clicking and the rest of the league is in trouble. If they struggle, it opens the door a crack for other teams.
October 6 – vs. San Diego State – W
Last season, Boise absolutely shut down SDSU’s vaunted running attack in a 31-14 win. With gaping holes to fill in the backfield, SDSU doesn’t figure to be the same caliber of offense they have been the last three years. Again, this game functions as a test. SDSU is always good on defense, so if Rypien and Mattison can get it going against them, it bodes well for the rest of the year.
October 13 – @Nevada – W
Boise wrecked Nevada 41-14 last season. This game is in Reno, and Nevada should be improved, but they’re not in Boise’s class. Colin Kaepernick ain’t walking through that door.
October 19 – vs. Colorado State – W
CSU was the one MWC opponent – besides Fresno State – to give the Broncos trouble last year, but it was a deeply bizarre game. Boise came out on top 59-52 in overtime, and needed some late magic from Rypien to do it. CSU built a 35-10 lead in the second quarter, and while Boise woke up in the second half, Rypien’s lone interception over the final eight games of 2017 nearly cost them the win. Colorado State is on the way down, however, so don’t expect a repeat performance.
November 3 – vs. BYU – W
BYU is the worst. They send their players on “missions” who then come back to Provo in their mid-twenties all hulked out. They nut-punch. And they don’t even sell beer at their stadium. What is the point?
Boise smothered a comically slow Cougar team last season 24-7, and while BYU might be a little better this season, Boise is still miles ahead of them athletically.
November 9 – vs. Fresno State – W
Fresno gave Boise all they could handle in the conference championship game last season, and this is definitely the most interesting game on the Broncos’ schedule. More on Fresno later this summer, but they’re in prime position to run the West Division for the foreseeable future. I think Boise takes this one, but expect a slobber-knocker of a football game and a rematch the first Saturday in December.
November 16 – @New Mexico – W
Boise beat UNM last season 28-14 in an early season Thursday night game played just five days after their gut-wrenching loss to Washington State. With fewer mitigating factors, expect the score to be more like 58-14 this year. It might be a little closer if the Fresno game is extremely physical, but I’m not sure the Bulldogs are at that level yet, and there’s too much experience in Boise to let an opponent linger.
November 24 – vs. Utah State – W
USU should be improved this season, but as with so many improved MWC teams, they simply are not in Boise’s class. It might be a little closer than last year’s 41-14 beat-down, but the Broncos finish off an undefeated conference run on Senior Night with the conference championship, New Year’s Six, and top 25 all in their sights.
Total: 11-1 (8-0)
Last Word: Boise State ‘N Da Hood Still Hard
Like the song says, Boise State knows nothing in life but to be legit. They’ve been trampling opponents for the better part of two decades now, and that surely won’t stop this season. The smurf turf reigns supreme.
Colorado State! The shine is off their brand new stadium, and they’re looking to build upon a 7-6 season in 2017.