For only the second time in the past decade, the Broncos won less than 10 games last year. The disappointing season started off strong with Boise State opening 7-2 before November, but coach Bryan Harsin's team dropped two critical November conference games and fell short of the division title. Will they be rejuvenated in 2016? Star quarterback Brett Rypien looks to take more of a leadership role this year and lead the Broncos to another conference title.
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Previewing Boise State’s Offense
The Broncos return their offensive star power in sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien, junior tailback Jeremy McNichols and senior wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck but lack proven depth. They also will have a new voice calling the plays — the fifth change in six years. Third-year coach Bryan Harsin, who was the offensive coordinator from 2006-10, will call the plays with help from new co-offensive coordinators Zak Hill (formerly of Eastern Washington) and Scott Huff, who also coaches the line.
Rypien, first-team All-Mountain West as a true freshman, will try to build on his early success. He tossed 20 touchdown passes in 11 games and averaged 304.8 passing yards per game. He battled inconsistency, though, which contributed to a pair of home losses late in the season.
McNichols was among the nation’s most productive players, amassing 1,337 rushing yards, 460 receiving yards and 26 total touchdowns. Sperbeck — the Fiesta Bowl Offensive MVP in 2014 — chipped in with 88 catches for 1,412 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Broncos need to develop some depth around those playmakers — junior tight end Jake Roh and senior wide receiver Chaz Anderson are the only other major contributors returning — and re-assemble an offensive line that lost center Marcus Henry and left tackle Rees Odhiambo.
Previewing Boise State’s Defense
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The Broncos ended a disappointing 2015 on a historic high, holding Northern Illinois to 33 yards in a 55–7 win in the Poinsettia Bowl. The defense struggled mightily against option teams New Mexico and Air Force — teams Boise State must face every year — and has a new coordinator in linebackers coach Andy Avalos.
The No. 1 task for Avalos’ staff: Rebuild the defensive line. The Broncos return one defensive tackle with significant game experience and don’t have much more experience at end. They’ll need some newcomers to play immediately at tackle and hope that ends Jabril Frazier and Gabe Perez — who was injured last season — step up. Senior Sam McCaskill provides some needed versatility with the potential to start at end or tackle.
The strength of the defense is at linebacker, where leading tackler Ben Weaver, third-leading tackler Tanner Vallejo and Joe Martarano return. The secondary is inexperienced at cornerback — senior Jonathan Moxey will need to provide leadership — and deep at safety, led by senior Chanceller James.
Previewing Boise State’s Specialists
Placekicker Tyler Rausa and punter Sean Wale return for their senior seasons. Rausa was exceptional last year, hitting 25-of-30 field goal attempts. Three of his misses were from outside 50 yards. Wale hasn’t been able to boom his punts consistently, but he has improved his ability to pin opponents.
The Broncos will enter the season as a bit of a mystery with new play callers on both sides of the ball and massive turnover on the defensive line. They’ll find out quickly what they have, though. Boise State has a challenging September — at Louisiana-Lafayette, vs. Washington State and at Oregon State to begin the season. October features three teams that beat the Broncos last season (Utah State, New Mexico and BYU). If Boise State can get to November in good shape, the schedule softens and perhaps sets up a marquee showdown at Air Force on Thanksgiving weekend. The Falcons have beaten the Broncos in consecutive seasons, including on Senior Night last year in Boise.
The development of Rypien and the young playmakers around him will play an instrumental role in the Broncos’ ability to bounce back from the 9–4 disappointment of 2015. So, too, will defensive line coach Steve Caldwell’s ability to turn an unproven bunch of linemen into a formidable presence.