Boise State will likely be the favorite to win the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference and may even steal a few pre-season first place votes from last year’s champion; San Diego State.
Nonetheless, the Broncos will have to navigate some treacherous terrain to meet its expectation of a conference championship and possibly a spot in the College Football Playoffs.
Though the Broncos’ schedule is not a brutal as it could have been, due to not having to face SDSU during the regular season and facing off against BYU and Washington State on The Blue, there are some definite areas where the perennial Group of Five powerhouse could slip. With that in mind, here is Boise State’s 2016 schedule ranked from easiest to most difficult.
Nov. 12th: Hawaii
Remember when Hawaii was an offensive juggernaut and Boise State would trade blows with them, racking up basketball game like scores? It’s been a while and it may be a while longer as the Rainbow Warriors have a new coaching staff and are returning an offense that only managed 12 touchdown passes last season.
Though Hawaii may be slightly better this year, new head coach Nick Rolovich is going to need at least one season to get the Warriors on track. Especially when they will be lined up against Boise State, one the most dynamic football teams in the country. Last year Boise beat Hawaii 55-0 at home, and though the Broncos have to travel across the Pacific to play in Honolulu, the veteran Bronco team leads me to suspect the same outcome for Hawaii this year.
Sept. 3rd: Louisiana Lafayette
This is the second half of a home and home series the Broncos started in 2014. Boise beat the Ragin’ Cajuns 34-9 with a team that eventually beat Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl that same year. Arguably, this Bronco team will be just as good as that 2014 team. However, this Louisiana-Lafayette team is not as good as their 2014 predecessors having gone 4-8 last year.
ULL may have home field advantage but last year they lost to New Mexico State, Troy, and the FCS’s newest future member Idaho, all at home. Yikes! With a new quarterback at the helm and returning a largely inept defense that allowed 400 yards in all eight of their losses year, the Broncos will likely handle business in Louisiana.
Oct. 29th: Wyoming
Since 2002 Boise State has won all ten of its games against Wyoming. Last year was arguably one of the worst seasons Wyoming has had since 2002. Interestingly, Boise State can say the same. The difference is Boise went 9-4 and crushed Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl while Wyoming finished 2-10 having only beaten Nevada and UNLV.
The Cowboys are desperately trying to find a franchise quarterback as they will have a new starting quarterback for the fourth time in four years. Granted, Josh Allen did show promise in his two starts before breaking his collarbone last year, but he is still unproven.
Wyoming will have to lean on a very good running back to score points but Boise has a very stingy rush defense, allowing 184 yards per game last year, and two of the teams Boise played essentially are rush only offenses. Wyoming will look for a bounce back from last year, but unfortunately for the Cowboys, they won’t find it against Boise State.
Nov. 18th: UNLV
No one can deny UNLV is likely going to have a better season this year than they did last year. Which isn’t really far-fetched considering they only won three games last year, one of which was against FCS bottom feeder Idaho State. But good for you Rebels in putting up 80 in that game.
Anyway, had this been a year ago UNLV may have been right next to Hawaii at the bottom, but I do think Tony Sanchez has the Rebels going in the right direction. With the experience UNLV brings back and the possibility of a visionary coach in Tony Sanchez this could be a trap game for Boise since they may be looking ahead to Air Force. That being said, it likely won’t be a trap game since the game will be played in Boise and Brian Harsin is on the other side of the field.
Oct. 15th: Colorado State
There are many unknowns with this Colorado State team. For all intents and purposes the Rams should be better on offense this year under Mike Bobo, but the loss of Rashard Higgins and Kivon Cartwright hurts the offense. The slack will be picked up by a more experienced Nick Stevens at quarterback and Dalyn Dawkins has the potential for a 1,000 yard season. With that in mind, the Ram’s defense is being rebuilt from the ground up. Something you do not want to have to do when facing the Broncos.
Losing the defensive coordinator, some of the secondary and the entire defensive line does not bode well for the Ram’s. Boise’s defense will keep the Broncos in the game and CSU will not be able to stop the Bronco offense, especially with the game being played early in the season.
Sept. 24th: Oregon State
Oregon State will needed to make some improvements during the off season because they had one of the worst offenses in college football. Scoring an average 19 points a game ranking them 115th nationally is not a place they want to be when facing the high scoring Broncos.
The quarterback play was lackluster for the Beavers last year, but may improve with Utah State transfer Darrell Garretson arriving. In his two season career at USU he amassed 2,586 yards and 18 touchdowns, but he has to contend with an OSU offensive line that lost two standout players last year.
Oregon State is nearly as bad on defense, ranking 114th nationally in scoring. A new defensive coordinator in Kevin Clune should shake things up but I doubt there will be any change as the Beavers lost many of their play makers to graduation and transfer. Though I see the Beavers doing better this season they will still not be bowl eligible and one of their losses will come from Boise in Corvallis.
Nov. 4th: San Jose State
Even though they went 5-7 last year San Jose State was invited to a bowl where they beat Georgia State. I see them carrying that momentum forward into this season as they return 8 starters on offense, most of which were the Spartan’s main offensive weapons.
However, similar to other Mountain West teams, San Jose has a problem on defense ranking 102nd and 119th in rushing defense over the last two seasons. Weakness in the Spartan rush defense showed as Boise running back Jeremy McNichols averaged nearly 10 yards per carry in their 40-23 romp last year.
The majority of the Bronco points were scored in the 4th quarter with the Spartan’s going into the half with the lead. So if San Jose can shore up its rush defense under its new coordinator and not run out of gas late in the game they have a small chance of upsetting Boise on The Blue.
Oct 1st: Utah State
Utah State is the first team on this list to have beaten Boise State last year and they seem to be on the cusp of a magical year nearly every year, until they aren’t. They had a shot at the MWC championship after beating Boise last year, but then proceeded to lose three conference games.
The USU game was a complete disaster for the Broncos as they coughed up seven turnovers first half. Will that happen again? No. Will this be a tough game for Boise? Yes.
Utah State returns a lot of veterans on offense including a solid quarterback (and I’m not talking about Chuckie Keeton for what seems like his 12th year). Here is where the difference is made though. Utah State lost four of the best defensive players in the conference to the NFL Draft and Boise made a lot of progress in their young offense since that implosion.
Utah State comes to the very tough Albertson’s Stadium for this early season game. They may have a chip on their shoulder as the talk in the off season has been all about the impending Boise vs SDSU in the championship game.
Oct. 7th: New Mexico
A dark horse contender for the West Division championship this year, the Lobos forced four turnovers against the Broncos and pulled out the win in spite of giving up 638 yards last year. Expect Boise to gain that many yards again on the Lobos. Like the Utah State game turnovers killed the Broncos. This gave the Lobos the opportunity to build a lead they almost lost as Boise lateraled down the field to the UNM 3 yard line on their final play.
UNM will likely use two quarterbacks again this year, but seem to be scrapping the pistol option offense in favor of the more run heavy triple option-pass. The defense should improve this year as nearly all of the play makers come back in their 3-3-5 scheme.
The Lobos played an uncharacteristically perfect game against Boise, which is what it will take this year for New Mexico to win. UNM is better equipped this year but with a new offensive scheme and a Bronco team out for revenge the upset will be difficult.
Oct. 20th: BYU
The Bronco Mendenhall era came to a close last year at BYU and the Cougars hired former player Kalani Sitake. Sitake was the defensive coordinator at Oregon State which, as you saw before, isn’t saying much. Though this is an extremely veteran team I am unsure of Sitake’s ability to lead.
BYU may also be a bit beat up by the time the arrive in Boise after having to play six good Power 5 teams. There is a good chance BYU will be 1-6 when they play Boise and those losses will wear on the confidence level of the team, fans, and coaches.
BYU is switching to man-to-man coverage on defense which bodes well for Boise as the Broncos have a solid receiving corps. The Cougar O-line has also taken a step back so protection for the myriad of Hail-Mary's that won BYU games last year will be less frequent.
The Cougars do have a pair of reliable quarterbacks in Tanner Mangum and Taysum Hill (both Idaho prospects) who will anchor the team and still make them a formidable foe. BYU has never won in Boise and with Boise’s potential rebound this year, that statistic may still hold true at on October 21st.
Sep. 10th: Washington State
Most likely the best team Boise State will face in the regular season, the Bronco’s will be tested early in the season when the Cougars come to Boise. However, Georgia, Washington, Virginia Tech, and Oregon can all attest to Boise’s ability to prepare for big games early in the season.
This game promises to have a lot of offensive fireworks as both Brian Harsin and Mike Leach bring very dynamic offenses coupled with a lot of fire power. Washington State quarterback Luke Falk threw for over 4,500 yards with 38 touchdowns and only eight interceptions last year. This year he may contend for the Heisman. Washington State’s passing attack is so strong that they may get by as a one dimensional offense.
The Cougar defense has also improved over the past few years but there are some question marks in the linebacker positions and on the defensive line. Playing at home gives Boise an advantage, as well as the Broncos‘ reputation for preparing against the PAC-12. Will the Cougars be the latest P5 team to die on the Blue? The last Power 5 team to beat Boise at home was Boston College in 2005 (TCU was in the MWC when they beat Boise at home).
Nov. 25th: Air Force
Oh Air Force, Air Force, Air Force. You are not at the top of this list because you are the best team on Boise State’s schedule. You are here because for some reason you have had Boise’s number over the past two years.
The triple option seems to be a mystery to the Bronco’s even though they have a solid running defense. Of all of the games on this list I think the BSU vs AF game in Colorado Springs has the highest potential for a BSU loss. The Falcons bring back 8 of 11 starters on defense as well as their two offensive stars Jalen Robinette and Jacobi Owens.
Air Force will look to pass more to Robinette this year while opposing defenses get caught up in the triple option. However, Boise is better this year and according to Harsin they have put a special emphasis on preparing for the triple option. The Falcons’ problem is Boise will exploit Air Force’s weaker defense with every tool they have, which are many.
Nonetheless, if Air Force can slow down Boise’s potent quick strike offense, force turnovers and control the clock, they will win. They have shown that ability in the past.
So what do you think? Does Boise have the potential to go undefeated in the regular season to face what will likely be SDSU in the MWC championship game?