Relax Boise State fans this clip isn’t directed at you! Thanks to Boise State’s complete dominance of the Group of Five over the last decade-ish and the fact that the Astrodome is essentially out of commission as a functional sports facility the blue turf in Boise is the most recognizable and distinct field surface in all of sports. Also, opposing Mountain West teams will probably be seeing and feeling blue when they play Boise State regardless of if they are playing at home or away.
Other than Grant Hedrick and Jay Ajayi, every offensive starter returns for the reigning Fiesta Bowl champions. Those are two pretty significant losses though. Hedrick was just south of 3,700 yards passing last year and threw 23 touchdown passes. Ajayi, a fifth-round pick, ran for over 1,800 yards and 28 touchdowns. If there is anything Hedrick and Ajayi left for their successors to improve upon though it was the turnover department. Hedrick threw 14 interceptions last year and Ajayi coughed the ball up seven times, losing four of them.
Ryan Finley didn’t exactly light the world on fire in mop up duty last year, but John Brantley’s and Matt Flynn’s biggest supporters will attest to the fact that backup stats aren’t necessarily the best indicator of how a quarterback will play in a starting role. He also has one of the best receiving corps and offensive lines in the conference to help him out.
All five starters return up front and every single one of them has 14 or more starts. That’s easily one of the most experienced groups in the whole country. Marcus Henry has 27 career starts at center and was a 1st team all-conference selection last year. LT Rees Odhiambo isn’t too far behind Henry. Odhiambo has 17 career starts and was a 2nd team all-conference pick.
Despite standing at only 5’6”, Shane Williams-Rhodes caught almost 90% of his targets last year. That’s pretty astounding. It doesn’t hurt that he just might be the fastest player in the conference, I still wouldn’t necessarily recommend throwing him too many red zone jump balls though. For that, you have the big tight ends Jake Roh and Holden Huff. Plus, Thomas Sperbeck, last year’s leader in receiving yards, returns on the outside. This receiver group is deep and talented.
Jay Ajayi left a massive void for Devan Demas to fill. Demas did make the most of what few rushing attempts he did have last year though going for almost 6.9 yards per carry. Behind a solid O-Line and with a very good passing game attracting most of the attention, Demas should be able to be pretty good at running back. He just might not be the bell cow that Ajayi was as a Bronco.
The Broncos are best known for their offense and trick plays at opportune moments, although it’s pretty safe to say that they’ve outgrown the latter. However, this defense may be the stronger group this year. This defense is good enough to carry the offense if there are some growing pains at quarterback and running back.
For starters, if you are flippant in the passing game against this team, then Boise State will pick you off. Donte Deayon and Darian Thompson are considered strong MWC defensive player of the year candidates, and it isn’t hard to see why. These two combined for 13 interceptions last year. 13! Plus, Thompson returned five of his seven interceptions for touchdowns #playmaker.
If you think you’ll avoid the disastrous pick six by running wild on this defense, then think again. All three starting linebackers return. Tanner Vallejo, Ben Weaver and Tyler Gray combined for 180 tackles, 24 tackles for loss, and 7 sacks last year. So yeah, run at your own risk.
Oh, by the way, if you think you’ll just sit in the pocket all day to make sure you don’t throw the ball away, keep tabs on Kamalei Correa. Correa is the best pass rusher in the conference and individually had 19 tackles for loss and 12 sacks last season. That’s more than some units.
Basically what I’m trying to say is this, there is nowhere to hide. Boise State’s defense is like Brian Mills, if your offense has any weakness, they will find it and they will exploit it.
Prediction: 13-0 MWC Champion, Group of Five New Year’s Six Bid
This may be a bit bold, but it isn’t that much of a stretch. Boise State is pretty much the only Group of Five team to show up in any preseason poll, but fewer people expect them to go undefeated probably. They have the talent to do it, and the non-conference schedule is manageable even with two Power Five teams and BYU. If Boise State can navigate Washington, BYU and Virginia in September then look out, this team will head into conference play with a full head of steam. The only question that remains is: will they get enough help and consideration to sneak into the playoff?
Credit Cover Photo to Bruce Yeung/Bruce Yeung Photography