For the first time since 2014, the Boise State Broncos were able to claim the Mountain West title last year. It had been a period of soul searching for the program that came to embody what it meant to be successful as a member of the Group of Five. In 2015, the Broncos picked up three conference losses, something of a rarity considering their recent dominance in the MWC. Two years ago, they improved slightly with two conference losses, but they lost out on a spot in the MWC Championship Game after a three-way tie with Wyoming and Air Force.
Last year, order was restored in the minds of Boise State fans with the Broncos only dropping one MWC game in the regular season before knocking off Fresno State for the MWC Championship. The Broncos are heavy favorites to repeat as MWC champions in 2018, with a favorable schedule and a boatload of key players returning.
Expectations are once again high for Boise State coming into 2018. Boise State is currently -240 to win the Mountain West Conference at 5Dimes, and its win total is 10 at both 5Dimes and BookMaker. If you’re feeling a little frisky, you can also bet them at 300-1 to win the College Football Playoff at 5Dimes. Keep in mind that these win total odds do not include conference championship games or bowl games.
|9/15||@ OKLAHOMA STATE||PK|
|10/6||SAN DIEGO STATE||-8|
|10/19 (F)||COLORADO STATE||-25.5|
|10/27||@ AIR FORCE||-13|
|11/9 (F)||FRESNO STATE||-10.5|
|11/16 (F)||@ NEW MEXICO||-22.5|
Boise State’s success last year was made all the more impressive because the offense wasn’t great through the first half of the season. The offense ended up averaging 32.5 PPG, its lowest total this decade, and it sputtered through the first seven games. Brett Rypien didn’t perform well during that stretch, and the passing game woes meant that the running game was stifled too. The Broncos averaged just 3.8 yards per carry in 2017, but those numbers went up significantly over the last half of the season when Rypien shined. Rypien averaged nearly 15 yards per completion and considerably cut down his interception ratio over the last seven games of the season.
The offense has the potential to go off in 2018. Rypien is back for his senior season, and he is likely to be the top quarterback in the conference. He is the FBS leader in career passing yards among active players, and he is likely to go over 10,000 passing yards in the opener against Troy. The running game should be much better too. Alexander Mattison came on strong at the end of the year and finished with 1,370 rushing and receiving yards. The offensive line is improved too, with three returning starters and much more experience than the unit had coming into last year.
The only real question is the wide receiving corps. Cedrick Wilson had over 1,000 yards more than any other receiver in 2017, while tight end Jake Roh was Boise State’s go-to guy in the red zone with nine touchdown receptions. Guys like A.J. Richardson and Sean Modster will need to step up as new options for Rypien, while a new red zone threat needs to emerge too. The other tight ends on the roster combined to catch just four passes in 2017.
The Andy Avalos experiment seems to be working. Avalos was one of Boise State’s original stars in the 2000s, and the defense has experienced a resurgence under his watch. He had little coaching experience when he was hired to be the team’s defensive coordinator three years ago, but the defense put up solid numbers in 2016 and 2017.
This should be Avalos’ best defense by a long shot and it has the potential to be one of the best defenses Boise State has ever fielded. Although the Broncos lose MWC Defensive Player of the Year Leighton Vander Esch, they return their other 10 starters from 2017.
The defensive backs are the strength of the defense with a pair of 1st Team All-MWC cornerbacks in Tyler Horton and Avery Williams. Horton has the potential to be a first-round draft pick and quarterbacks will be hesitant to test him.
Boise State boasts one of the best run defenses in the country too. The Broncos allowed just 3.4 yards per carry last year, and there is a lot of beef along the defensive line.
The Broncos have a chance to run the table if they can win their two non-conference road games. Boise State must take two long road trips within the first three weeks of the season, taking on Troy and Oklahoma State. While both are formidable foes, each team is undergoing a lot of roster overhaul and getting them early is important.
A lot of Boise State’s success last year was based on an opportunistic defense. The Broncos finished at +13 in terms of turnover differential, but that’s unlikely to happen again despite the defense being loaded with talent.
Pick: Over 10 (+105, 5Dimes)
Ten wins seems about right to me, but if I had to pick over or under, I’d put my faith in the Broncos. Boise State hosts its two toughest conference opponents in San Diego State and Fresno State, and the conference road slate is not too difficult. The Broncos have a decent shot at running the table and grabbing the Group of Five’s New Year Six slot.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
The Boise State Broncos have been living with some very high expectations since the Statue of Liberty Play that won the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day in 2007. That game put Boise State on the national landscape and the Broncos haven’t missed the postseason since. That was Chris Petersen’s first year and the Broncos went 13-0 in the WAC and finished sixth in the AP Poll. They have won 110 games over the last 10 seasons against just 22 losses. The Mountain West Conference, which Boise State joined in 2011, has provided more resistance than the WAC did from 2007-10, but the Broncos are still one of the country’s premier Group of Five conference programs.
Last season, something interesting happened. The Broncos went 10-3, which wasn’t noteworthy, but the Smurf Turf wasn’t as kind to Boise State. Sure, Boise State won all six of its home games, but failed to cover the spread in all of them. From a sports betting standpoint, that stands out. Gamblers won’t remember the 10-3 record. They won’t remember the ugly bowl performance against Baylor. They’ll remember 0-6. That gives the perception of a struggling team.
That may have influenced the season win total a little bit for Boise State. The Broncos have a season win total of 8 at 5Dimes Sportsbook, with the over at -150. Keep in mind that the win total odds are only for the regular season and do not include conference championships or the postseason.
|Date||Opponent||Projected Line||Expected Wins|
|9/9||@ Washington State||+10.5||0.21|
|9/14 (Th)||New Mexico||-14||0.85|
|10/14||@ San Diego State||+2||0.47|
|10/28||@ Utah State||-9.5||0.75|
|11/11||@ Colorado State||+1.5||0.48|
|11/25||@ Fresno State||-20||1|
Total Expected Wins: 8.02
Some significant losses on both sides of the ball have dragged down Boise State’s projections for this season. One guy that did not leave the program is starting quarterback Brett Rypien. Rypien took the job as a true freshman and hasn’t looked back, throwing for over 7,000 yards in his first two seasons with a 44/16 TD/INT ratio. Rypien has been the Mountain West first team selection each of his two years at the helm. The pressure on Rypien takes a step up this season, with just five returning starters on offense and the loss of a star running back and a star wide receiver.
That running back is Jeremy McNichols, who ran for 1,709 yards and 23 touchdowns last season. That wide receiver is Thomas Sperbeck, who caught 80 passes. Years of success have led to a rich recruiting pipeline, though, so there are some pretty good players ready to step in. Alexander Mattison had 4.9 yards per carry as a true freshman last season. JUCO transfer Cedrick Wilson caught 56 passes last season and had over 20 yards per catch. One overlooked thing with a program like Boise State is that they are still going to have a lot of experience. Players moving up the depth chart have simply been blocked by older, more proven options. Boise State will be quite young on the offensive line, so that is a legitimate concern.
Returning starters can sometimes be misleading. In Boise State’s case, it isn’t. The Broncos only return four starters, with their top four tacklers all on to something different. They also lost their top cover corner. This is the second straight season in which the Broncos are replacing a lot of lost talent, especially in the front seven. They lost all four defensive line starters heading into 2016 and lost two more this season. All three starters from the linebacker corps are gone, with one of them going to the NFL.
Add it all up and second-year defensive coordinator Andy Avalos is down six of his top seven tacklers, his top cover corner, and the offense also lost some key pieces, so there could be some regression there. As it is, the Broncos gave up more yards per last season than they had since 2013. They also allowed more than four yards per carry for the first time in seemingly forever. They allowed the most rushing yards per game since 1996.
The schedule isn’t very kind for Boise State, which is the root cause of the season win total. Perception plays a role, but these lines are mostly about math. The Broncos have to go to Washington State, BYU, San Diego State, and Colorado State. Those are the four hardest games on the schedule and every one of them is on the road. Last year, Boise State was favored in every single game. That will not be the case this season.
Win Total Pick: Over 8
The glass certainly looks more empty than it does full, but it is very hard to count out a team that has had sustained success for as long as Boise State has. They have fewer than nine wins in just one season dating back to 2001. Head coach Bryan Harsin isn’t on Chris Petersen’s level and Petersen’s last recruiting class is mostly out of the picture, so we’ll have to see where things go from here. Still, there’s a lot of talent left in Boise and a starting quarterback capable of carrying the offense until it gels. Given my numbers, though, this is a complete no play.