Boise State is occupying an unfamiliar position in the shadows. Houston is making the biggest splash nationally among the Group of Five teams in September and generating College Football Playoff talk after cracking into the top 10 with a big win over Oklahoma in its season opener. The Broncos aren't quietly going away, however.
A 31-28 victory over Washington State two weeks ago gives Boise State a chance to make a run at a New Year's Six bowl should Houston falter along the way. The Broncos look to take another step forward on that path when they visit Oregon State on Saturday.
Corvallis hasn't been kind to Boise State in the past. The Broncos are 0-3 all-time at Oregon State and trail the series 3-5 overall. Then again, this isn't the same type of Beavers team as the ones that flourished under Dennis Erickson and Mike Riley. Oregon State is still trying to rebuild under second-year head coach Gary Andersen after finishing without a Pac-12 victory a year ago.
Boise State at Oregon State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 24 at 3:30 pm ET
TV Channel: FS1
Spread: Boise State -13
Three Things to Watch
1. Red zone efficiency
Oregon State's ability to make plays inside the 20 on both sides of the ball will be tested by Boise State. The Broncos are one of only six FBS teams that rank in the top 20 nationally in both red zone offense and red zone defense.
Boise State is 7-for-7 in red zone scoring opportunities through its first two games and is tied for first among FBS teams in that category. Defensively, the Broncos have allowed points in the red zone on just 4-of-6 opponent possessions — tied for 14th nationally.
This has made it easier for Boise State to jump on teams out of the gate and stay in front. The Broncos are just one of eight FBS teams that have not trailed in a game this season.
2. What will Bolden do?
If Oregon State can spring an upset, it could hinge on what Victor Bolden is able to do against Boise State's defense. Bolden is a dynamic playmaker who can be a threat to swing momentum in a hurry whenever he touches the ball.
Bolden leads the team in rushing (111), receiving (88), and all-purpose yardage (228). His biggest play of the season came on a 92-yard scoring run on a jet sweep during the third quarter of the Beavers' 37-7 win over Idaho State last week.
Bolden led Oregon State in receptions each of the last two seasons. He's also a big threat to do damage on special teams. Last year, Bolden became the first Oregon State player in school history to return both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown in the same season. Bolden scored on a 78-yard punt return against Oregon and on a 100-yard kickoff return against Washington State.
3. Can Sperbeck be stopped?
Boise State is averaging 38.0 points and 502.0 total yards per game — ranking in the top three in the Mountain West Conference in both categories. One reason the Broncos are once again so potent on that side of the ball is the play of wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck.
Two games into the season, Sperbeck is threatening to rewrite the Boise State record book. He is sixth all-time with 2,592 receiving yards and needs just 471 more yards to pass all-time career leader Titus Young. The senior also notched his 10th 100-yard receiving game after totaling 133 yards and a touchdown on seven catches against Washington State. He needs just four more 100-yard games to pass career leader Ryan Ikebe.
Currently, Sperbeck is the top target for Broncos quarterback Brett Rypien. He leads the Mountain West with 263 receiving yards. Sperbeck also led the league in that category last season, setting Boise State single-season records with 1,412 receiving yards on 88 catches.
Oregon State has shown improvement on both sides of the ball from a year ago, but the Beavers still have a long way to go before they can expect to go toe-to-toe with teams like Boise State on a consistent basis. The Broncos have won three straight against Pac-12 teams and are 9-3 against schools from the league since 2006. Given the amount of firepower Boise State has on offense and how tough it has been on defense, Oregon State faces a major challenge in springing an upset.
Prediction: Boise State 38, Oregon State 24
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.