One of the best college football matchups that the western United States has to offer on an annual basis renews itself on Saturday night when the 20th-ranked Boise State Broncos travel to Provo, Utah, to take on the BYU Cougars in a game that pairs two teams who defeated Power 5 programs a week ago.
Last week, Boise State quietly dominated the Pac-12’s Washington Huskies in a game that saw former Boise State head coach Chris Petersen come back to the blue turf. The final score of 16-13 in favor of the Broncos wasn’t as close as the score would suggest. The Broncos were always in control of the game as they kept the young and inexperienced Huskies in check.
A day later, BYU pulled off an upset knocking off Nebraska in Lincoln, on a last-second Hail Mary courtesy of backup quarterback Tanner Mangum, who was filling in for the injured Taysom Hill. The Cougars’ win gave Nebraska its first season-opening loss since 1985.
Both teams are riding high after solid opening wins, and both schools view this matchup as one that continues to blossom into a rivalry as the years go by.
Boise State at BYU
Kickoff: 10:15 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Boise State -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. What can we expect from Tanner Mangum?
Mangum pulled off one of the best reliever stories you’ll ever find in college football by stepping in for Taysom Hill, and in his first FBS snaps, leading BYU to a Hail Mary victory at Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium, one of the game’s most storied venues.
Now, the question becomes, what will the follow-up act be for this 22-year-old true freshman that is heading into his first collegiate start against a team in Boise State that was his hometown team growing up out of Eagle, Idaho.
The good thing for Mangum is that he has big and tall wide receivers to throw to. Mitch Mathews stands at 6-foot-6, Nick Kurtz who led BYU in all receiving yards last week with 123 yards also is 6-6, and then there’s Terenn Houk (6-5), who had five catches a week ago. Boise State’s starting cornerbacks are 5-9 and 5-10. Huge advantage for Mangum, but will Boise State’s talented front seven rattle the freshman early?
I’d expect Boise State to bring the blitzes early and often as they try to throw Mangum off of his game, especially with how one-dimensional BYU’s offense on paper appears to be. It’s a pass-heavy offense that has lost their top two rushers in Jamaal Williams (withdrew from school) and Hill (Lisfranc injury).
2. Will this be a replay of the 2012 game?
In 2012, Boise and BYU squared off on the blue turf in a game that wasn’t memorable for the offensive fireworks these programs are historically known for. Instead, it was a defensive slugfest that ended in Boise State winning 7-6. Could we see a repeat of that game on Saturday night?
Boise State’s defense held Washington in check, and BYU’s defense might thrive off the home crowd and the fact that Boise head coach Bryan Harsin still doesn’t know what he has in quarterback Ryan Finley. How much of the playbook can Harsin throw at Finley at this point? I’d expect a low-scoring affair, maybe not as low as 2012, but it’ll be a defensive battle.
The over/under right now in this one is 55, I’d go with the under.
3. If Boise State comes away with a win, does this set the stage for an undefeated season?
Over the last 10 years, Boise State has posted a record of 113-19. Plain and simple, Boise State knows how to win a lot of ball games, and the Broncos are used to the expectation of being undefeated or bust.
If the Broncos win in Provo on Saturday night, the stage would then be set for Boise State to run the table and go undefeated and maybe make a case for the College Football Playoff committee to look at their resume. At worst, the Broncos would be off to a New Year’s Six bowl for the second consecutive year if they do in fact run the table.
Just looking at Boise’s schedule, the only game after BYU that poses a possible threat is Air Force, but that’s a revenge game, and it’s in Boise.
This Boise team isn’t as talented as those Kellen Moore-Doug Martin squads, but with the schedule in front of them, there’s no reason to think these Broncos couldn’t make a run at an undefeated season if they get a win over the Cougars.
In a game that pairs strength (BYU offense) vs. strength (Boise defense) and weakness (Boise offense) vs. weakness (BYU defense), it’s a matchup that I’d always give the upper hand to the team with the better defense. BYU’s defense showed improvements from where they were a year ago, and a lot of that is credit to head coach Bronco Mendenhall, who is now calling the plays again for the Cougars, but the Broncos know how to beat BYU. Boise State is 4-1 all-time versus the Cougars.
This game will come down to turnovers and whoever has the ball last. It’ll be close for the entire 60 minutes, but Boise State will get enough production from Finley to eke out a huge win over BYU.
Prediction: Boise State 17, BYU 16
— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is the BYU reporter and insider for 1320 KFAN and co-host of "The Cougar Center" podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.