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Boise State Broncos vs. Virginia Cavaliers Preview and Prediction

Mike London

Mike London

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In the first-ever meeting between these schools, Boise State and Virginia square off under the Friday night lights in front of a nationally televised audience.

Both teams are coming off victories against FCS schools, and both schools are entering the final game of their respective non-conference slates.  Both of which have been some of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country.

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Virginia is 1-2 and is looking to get a signature win to maybe cool down the hot seat conversation for head coach Mike London.  The Cavaliers nearly pulled off a huge upset against Notre Dame, but came up short when Irish backup quarterback DeShone Kizer stepped in for the injured Malik Zaire to lead some late-game heroics.

Boise State, who is 2-1, is making one of the longest trips in college football this season by travelling 1,999 miles to Charlottesville.  This is the Broncos’ second game against a program from what the Broncos call the “Resource 5” in non-conference play.   The other was against Washington in the season opener where the Broncos held the Huskies to only 13 points in a game they won by a field goal.

Boise State at Virginia

Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Friday)

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Boise State -2.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Will the two-quarterback system work for Boise State?

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Ryan Finley, who started the first three games of this season for Boise State, suffered a broken broke in his right ankle in the win against Idaho State.  In relief of Finley were two quarterbacks who had never played a collegiate snap prior to last week - sophomore Tommy Stuart and true freshman Brett Rypien.

Head coach Bryan Harsin hasn’t tipped his hat as to who will get the start, but all indications point to the Broncos giving reps to both quarterbacks on Friday night.

Rypien is the more heralded quarterback, as he was a four-star recruit in the class of 2015 this past February, and the lineage is there.  Rypien’s uncle is former Washington Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien.

With Finley out for eight weeks, Harsin is eventually going to turn to Rypien or Stuart as the every-down starter, and I’d hedge my bets that Rypien is the guy that eventually gets the nod.  Finley did nothing in his three starts to suggest he would have a hold on the starting job when he is healthy from his injury.

Virginia’s defense has given up big yards to true freshman quarterbacks already this season when they let UCLA’s Josh Rosen throw for 351 yards in his collegiate debut.

2. Follow the “Smoke” trail from Virginia tailback Taquan Mizzell

Mizzell a.k.a. “Smoke,” was one of the nation’s top recruits in the class of 2013, and in his first season as the feature back out of the backfield for the Cavaliers, Mizzell is establishing himself as one of the most versatile running backs in the country.

Mizzell has already amassed 484 all-purpose yards this season, and 233 of those yards have come in the receiving game.  Mizzell is Virginia quarterback Matt Johns’ top target in the passing game.  With a national audience, this could be the game where Mizzell establishes himself as a household name nationally.

3. What can we expect from Virginia’s defense?

The Cavaliers have faced the toughest Power 5 schedule in the country to this point, and it shows with some of the yards they are giving up.

Virginia made UCLA quarterback Rosen the week 1 pick to win the Heisman, and they let Notre Dame rally with a new quarterback to win in Charlottesville.  The Hoos have been giving up 444 yards per game, with 184 coming on the ground.  First-year starter at linebacker Micah Kiser has been a bright spot as a tackling machine of the front seven, but this defense has yet to force a takeaway this season.  With inexperienced quarterbacks lining up against them, they have to rattle those two and force takeaways if they want to pull off the upset.

Final Analysis

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Both teams have been battle tested, and both teams are ready for a national spotlight game.  The Broncos have been in this setting before where the nation’s eyes are watching, Virginia not as much.  I’d expect Boise State’s front seven on defense to be the difference in this game, as the Broncos get another victory over a “Resource 5” program, in a game that will be a back-and-forth defensive battle.

Prediction: Boise State 21, Virginia 17

— 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.