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College Football Preview 2017-2018: 18. Boise State Broncos

18. Boise State Broncos

They aren't the powerhouse they once were, but their consistency is incredible

  • Location: Boise, Idaho
  • Conference: MWC (Mountain)
  • Schedule
  • Roster
  • Coach: Bryan Harsin (fourth year)
  • Last Years Record: 10-3 (6-2 MWC)
  • Bowl Result: Loss in Cactus Bowl


After a down 2015 in which the Broncos went 9-4 and slipped to a relatively mediocre 5-3 in the Mountain West, head coach Bryan Harsin was hoping for a resurgent 2016. A 7-0 start seemed to show Boise was in serious New Year's Six conversation, but the Broncos would eventually lose to Wyoming and then finish the regular season with a deflating loss to Air Force. A frustrating loss to Baylor in the Cactus Bowl cast a bad shadow on what overall was a pretty successful season. However, it marked the second straight year Boise was not playing in a MWC Championship, a disappointment for a program that used to collect WAC titles consistently. Though the team has significant reason to believe that 2017 will be the year they finally are able to retake the conference. With an experienced signal-caller leading a dangerous offense and an aggressive front seven, all the signs point to a big fourth season at the helm for Harsin.
Brett Rypien

Offense: Now a junior, quarterback Brett Rypien has a chance to have a truly special season. Rypien won the quarterback job back in 2015 as a true freshman, and has been a staple at the position since then. He threw for 3,646 yards and 24 touchdowns this past season, and if he can continue to improve his decision-making and deep throws, he could end up being the best player Boise has at the position since record-setting signal-caller Kellen Moore graduated. Rypien will not have his backfield mate left after running back Jeremy McNichols departed. McNichols had a huge 2016, rushing for 1,709 yards and 23 touchdowns before he was selected in the fifth round of the Draft by Tampa Bay. McNichols wasn't the power-back Jay Ajayi was before him, but was incredibly elusive and a threat to make a big play every time he touched the ball. With his absence, Boise will likely turn to sophomore Alexander Mattison to take over feature back duties. Mattison had 328 yards on 67 attempts and showed the ability to make defenders miss. He certainly isn't at McNichols' level of playmaking, but Mattison should still be able to give the Broncos consistent yardage on the ground. Senior Ryan Wolpin could also get some snaps at the position after getting 13 carries a year ago. Boise State also has to identify some new targets on the outside for Rypien to work with after the extremely reliable Thomas Sperbeck left. Sperbeck had 80 receptions for 1,272 yards in '16 and leaves Boise as the program's all-time leading receiver. Senior Cedrick Wilson will certainly be the favorite to take over Sperbeck's departed No. 1 receiver role. Wilson isn't quite as consistent or reliable as Sperbeck but is extremely fast and a little bit more dynamic with the ball in his hands. After recording 56 catches for 1,129 yards in 2016 he could have an even bigger year in '17. Beyond Wilson, Boise is extremely inexperienced in the receivers corps, but there is plenty of potential. Juniors A.J. Richardson (2 catches in 2016) and Sean Modster (8) should both see much larger roles and have shown they break open up games. There is also a good chance we could see some true freshman see significant snaps, particularly Octavius Evans and Cartrell Thomas, two of the higher-rated prospects in the 2017 recruiting class. Evans was a huge pickup, as the 6'2", 220-pound wide out seems to have all the tools to be the next great Boise State receiver. At tight end, Boise has plenty of experience, namely senior Jake Roh. Roh played in just four games a season ago due to injury but had 68 receptions over the first two seasons of his career. Senior Alec Dhaenens took over his spot last year and should also see plenty of opportunities in the
Alec Dhaenens
passing game. On the offensive line, the Broncos are hoping that they can continue the immense progress they made last year, when they decreased their sack total by 12. Three starters depart, but senior left tackle Archie Lewis and senior center Mason Hampton are two experienced anchors they can point to. Junior college transfer Isiah Moore was very highly recruited, and should fight for a starting job right away.

Defense: While the Broncos' offense has gotten plenty of attention for it's impressive play over the years, the defense has long been underrated. That was, for the most part, once again the case last season, as Boise had the Mountain West's No. 2 scoring defense, and 29th nationally. They were rock-solid in the front seven for much of last season, and they return a difference-maker in junior David Moa. Playing at not-glamorous position like defensive tackle, Moa doesn't get the national respect he should but he had 8.5 sacks last season and can really get after the opposing quarterback. The Broncos will have to find out who will join him on the D-Line, where starters depart at both end and the other tackle spot. Junior Durant Miles really impressed in the spring and he has the speed off the edge to really have a breakout year at the end spot. The linebacker corps will also undergo somewhat of a transition as they break in plenty of fresh faces. Junior Jabril Frazier is the lone returning starter, as he is back to man the "Stud" position, an aggressive pass rushing spot off the edge, where he had four sacks in '16. The middle linebacker spot is up for grabs, with sophomore Tyson Maeva competing with redshirt freshman Benton Wickersham. Maeva has to be the favorite, but the position could be a question mark Boise State must address going forward. At the outside linebacker slots, Boise State has some veteran presences, namely senior Gabe Perez and Leighton Vander Esch. Perez had 7.5 tackles for loss in 2014, but has missed significant time over the past two seasons with injuries, as has Vander Esch. Perez will have to still fight for a starting spot, while Vander Esch's impressive spring could indicate he is on track for a breakout campaign. The clear-cut strength of the defense will be in the back, where Boise brings back plenty of talent. Junior Tyler Horton and senior Cameron Hartsfield are the two real stars of the unit. Horton is very experienced and fundamentally sound, which should help him lock down the No. 1 cornerback spot. Hartsfield is the Broncos' leading returning tackler, with 65, and has proven his worth as a fabulous run defender. The rest of the unit is less experienced, but upside is no question. Junior cornerback Michael Young is expected to lock down a starting role opposite of Horton, while the crazy athletic DeAndre Pierce is fighting for a safety job. Overall, the defense will undergo some adjustments as new starters are breaking in but there is no shortage of talent and plenty of playmakers. That should be important, considering the fact the Broncos' D managed just nine total turnovers a year ago, the fewest in school history.

Special Teams: Much like other parts of this roster, special teams will have some new faces, at both punter and kicker. Placekicker Tyler Rausa is gone after going 9/13 on field goals last season, while fabulous punter Sean Wale also departs. Both duties are expected to be taken over by big-legged redshirt freshman Joel Velasquez. The Broncos should be very dangerous in the return game, where Cedrick Wilson is expected to handle both punt and kick return duties.

After winning the Fiesta Bowl in his first season taking over for former head coach Chris Petersen, Bryan Harsin has yet to have a very complete encore, although 19 wins over the past two seasons isn't exactly terrible either. Talent should be no question, as the Broncos add another strong recruiting class to a roster that has impressive depth and a good dose of experience. Add in a quarterback only getting better, a solid offensive line and some breakout candidates on defense, and Boise State has the pieces they need to get back to the MWC Championship Game, after a two-year absence. Also working in the Broncos favor: one of the easier schedules they've had in years. Outside of a road trip to Washington State, there is a good chance Boise will be favored in every single game they play. It seems like a long time since we've been able to see Boise showcase their magical style of play on the national stage. If everything goes as planned, a return to a New Year's Six Bowl, where they'll have a chance to topple another college football power, should be able to change that.

Player to Watch
Alexander Mattison, RB
Not only is Mattison the replacement to the dynamic Jeremy McNichols, the sophomore is the next in a long line of great Boise running backs, which includes McNichols, Jay Ajayi and Doug Martin. Despite the fact he was behind McNichols in the depth chart, Mattison certainly showed enough that Broncos fans should feel very confident he can honor that impressive lineage. With his speed and shiftiness, a 1,000 yard season should be well within reach.

Five-Year Trend
2012: 11-2 (7-1 MWC)*
2013: 8-5 (6-2 MWC)*
2014: 12-2 (7-1 MWC)*
2015: 9-4 (5-3 MWC)*
2016: 10-3 (6-2 MWC)*

*= Bowl appearance

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