The first Saturday of the 2019 college football season features plenty of interesting matchups, but Florida State’s meeting with Boise State certainly ranks near the top of must-see games. This contest was originally scheduled to take place in Jacksonville on Saturday night. However, due to Hurricane Dorian, this matchup was moved to Tallahassee at Noon on Saturday.
Florida State begins 2019 looking to rebound after a disappointing 5-7 mark in coach Willie Taggart’s first season. A porous offensive line was a significant factor in the first losing mark for the program since 1976. However, that wasn’t the only factor, as Taggart worked to improve the team’s chemistry and overall culture this offseason. The Seminoles seem to be moving in the right direction entering Week 1, but this team still has plenty of question marks to answer and begins the season with a tough matchup against Boise State.
Boise State has won 52 games in five years under Bryan Harsin, and despite a couple of personnel question marks on offense, this team should be one of the frontrunners to claim the Group of 5 spot in a New Year’s Six bowl. While it’s only Week 1, a win over an improved Florida State team could be a resume booster for the Broncos assuming they are in the mix for the top bowl spot in December. Harsin’s team was picked as the preseason favorite to win the Mountain West by Athlon Sports and brings one of the top defenses in the Group of 5 ranks to Tallahassee on Saturday.
This will be the first meeting between Boise State and Florida State on the gridiron.
Boise State at Florida State
Kickoff: Saturday, Aug. 31 at Noon ET
Spread: Florida State -6.5
When Boise State Has the Ball
Finding replacements for quarterback Brett Rypien and running back Alexander Mattison topped the offseason to-do list for coach Bryan Harsin. While both positions feature new starters in a huge matchup in Week 1, there shouldn’t be a ton of concern in Boise. After all, finding successful quarterbacks and prolific running backs has been an annual strength for the Broncos.
Quarterback Hank Bachmeier was the top recruit in Boise State’s 2019 signing class, and the four-star prospect lived up to the hype this offseason. Bachmeier edged sophomore Chase Cord for the starting job and inherits the keys to a high-powered offense. The Broncos return the top receiving corps in the Mountain West, and five starters are back in the trenches. CT Thomas, John Hightower, Khalil Shakir and Octavius Evans will test a Florida State secondary that ranked 10th in the ACC in pass efficiency defense last season.
Replacing Mattison is likely to be more of a committee approach, but Robert Mahone will get the start on Saturday. The junior ran for 128 yards as the backup to Mattison last season. Sophomore Andrew Van Buren and freshman George Holani will also see carries. Boise State’s offensive line improved as the season progressed, but rushers averaged only 4.2 yards a carry. Finding a replacement for standout pass rusher Brian Burns was a priority for coordinator Harlon Barnett this offseason. However, the strength of this group rests on the interior with All-America candidate Marvin Wilson anchoring a new 3-4 approach.
Florida State gave up 31.5 points a game last season but held teams to 5.24 yards a play. The defense was often placed in bad situations due to field position issues and a sluggish offense. This unit has simply too much talent to expect a repeat of last year’s stat sheet, and the adjustment to a 3-4 scheme should help.
Bachmeier holds the keys to a Boise State win on Saturday. How will the freshman perform in his first start? Can the Broncos consistently generate a push in the running game to alleviate some of the pressure on his shoulders? And for the Seminoles, can this group create some takeaways after generating just 15 last fall?
When Florida State Has the Ball
Change is the best way to sum up Florida State’s offense this offseason. The Seminoles averaged just 21.9 points a contest and only scored more than 30 points in three games last fall. In an effort to speed up the tempo and maximize the talent on the roster, Taggart hired Kendal Briles from Houston as the team’s new play-caller, with Randy Clements also following to coach the offensive line. Briles and Clements have worked together for 10 years, and the familiarity between the two coaches will help to ease the transition of the scheme in Tallahassee.
The other big change this offseason for Florida State’s offense came at the quarterback position. Sophomore James Blackman edged Wisconsin transfer Alex Hornibrook for the starting job and should be a good fit in Briles’ scheme. Although Blackman is only a sophomore, he has plenty of experience. He started 12 games in relief of an injured Deondre Francois in 2017 and threw for 421 yards in a start versus NC State last season. Blackman has a solid cast of receivers at his disposal, including sophomore Tamorrion Terry (21.3 ypc in 2018), D.J. Matthews (42 catches) and Keith Gavin. Boise State will counter with an experienced secondary that allowed only 17 touchdowns over 13 appearances last fall.
When Florida State takes the field, all eyes will be on the offensive line. The Seminoles struggled mightily in the trenches last season, allowing 36 sacks and clearing the way for rushers to average just 2.8 yards per carry. The addition of transfer Ryan Roberts (Northern Illinois), along with the emergence of true freshman Dontae Lucas has provided some optimism for improvement.
The good news for Florida State? The coaching staff won’t have to wait long to see if the offensive line has improved since last season. Boise State owns one of the top defensive lines in the nation, with standout edge rusher Curtis Weaver poised to contend for All-America honors in 2019. The Broncos held teams to 3.7 yards a carry and led the Mountain West by generating 37 sacks in 2018.
Florida State running back Cam Akers ranked as one of the top prospects in the 2017 signing class and seemed poised for a breakout year after rushing for 1,025 yards and seven scores as a freshman. However, the struggles up front limited Akers’ effectiveness, as he was held to 4.4 yards per rush and just 706 yards for the season. Without the ability to create yards on the ground last season, Florida State’s offense never had a chance to find any rhythm and often needed big plays on long-yardage situations to move downfield.
Week 1 always produces a healthy amount of overreactions. But make no mistake: This one is crucial for both teams. A victory by Florida State would ease some pressure on Taggart after a rough debut and show this program is back on its way to contending for a spot in the postseason top 25. On the other sideline, this is another chance for Boise State to knock off a Power 5 team. This game should tell us a lot about both teams. How will Florida State’s offense perform under Briles? Will the offensive line take a step forward? And for Boise State, can Bachmeier deliver a solid performance in his first career start? Considering the Broncos’ strength in the trenches, it’s tough to pick against Harsin’s squad. But the guess here is Florida State does just enough on offense to earn a huge win in Tallahassee.