The Boise State Broncos last took the field on Nov. 21, beating Hawaii 40-32 to improve to 4-1 overall and 4-0 in Mountain West Conference play. Despite the cancelations of previously scheduled games against San Jose State and UNLV, the Broncos are still in a position to capture a spot in the conference championship game.
Boise State can make it official this week, and though the game isn't officially a must-win, a victory in Saturday's regular-season finale against the Wyoming Cowboys would clinch it. Wyoming also had two of its games canceled earlier this season, though the Cowboys have now played back-to-back, beating UNLV 45-14 on Nov. 27 and suffering a shocking 17-16 loss to New Mexico last week. The loss to the Lobos dropped Wyoming to 2-3.
Boise State at Wyoming
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 12, at 6 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Boise State -11.5
When Boise State Has the Ball
Quarterback Hank Bachmeier started the season incredibly strong with a 20-for-28 passing performance for 268 yards and three touchdowns in the opener against Utah State, posting a season-high 9.6 yards per attempt in the 42-13 victory. Unfortunately, Bachmeier was sidelined for the Air Force and BYU games, giving way to USC transfer Jack Sears. Bachmeier returned to lead the Broncos against Colorado State with modest results (202 passing yards, TD) and set a season high with 278 passing yards against Hawaii, tossing his fifth touchdown of the season, but also his first interception. Sears was excellent against Air Force (280 passing yards, 3 TDs) but was injured early against BYU and hasn't played since. He is expected to be available against Wyoming as Bachmeier's top backup.
Like Bachmeier, fellow running back George Holani had a great game against Utah State, rushing for 100 yards and a touchdown and catching three passes for 33 yards and a score. However, Holani was hurt after recording just two carries and five yards in the game against the Falcons. Andrew Van Buren took over as the primary running back and leads the Broncos with 277 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on 75 carries. Wide receiver Khalil Shakir has chipped in with 114 rushing yards on 11 attempts, and Bachmeier (-19 rushing yards) and Sears (38) have scored once apiece on the ground.
Shakir is one of the most talented receivers in the Mountain West and leads the Broncos with 38 receptions, 529 yards and six touchdowns. CT Thomas is a solid No. 2, averaging 19.5 yards per reception and scoring twice. Tight ends John Bates (12 rec., 117 yds.) and Riley Smith (9, 87, TD) have helped in the passing attack as well, helping fill the void of veteran receiver Octavius Evans (53 yds., TD) who hasn't played since Oct. 31.
When Wyoming Has the Ball
Wyoming was unlucky in terms of game cancelations, given reports the Cowboys were healthy enough to play both games. That bad luck also has carried over to the injury report as starting quarterback Sean Chambers was lost for the season on the opening drive, and Levi Williams, who has started each of the last four games, was sidelined during the New Mexico game with an upper-body injury. It's unclear whether or not Williams, who has completed 52.8 percent of his passes for 832 yards, touchdown and three interceptions, will play against Boise State. If he can't, true freshman Gavin Beerup, who was 1-for-5 for 18 yards and a pick against the Lobos, would get his first career start.
The Cowboys also were without star running back Xazavian Valladay last week (and potentially this week as well) because of a lower-body injury. Valladay leads the Mountain West with 122.8 rushing yards per game and has scored four times while averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Fortunately, Trey Smith has really stepped up in Valladay's absence, with 164 yards and a touchdown in relief against UNLV, followed by 154 yards and another score against New Mexico. Overall, the former Louisville signee has run for 446 yards on 77 attempts.
Wyoming relies heavily on the running game and ranks second in the Mountain West and ninth nationally with 247.0 rushing yards per game. But that emphasis also sets up big-play possibilities through the air. Redshirt freshman Isaiah Neyor has caught just eight passes but leads the team with 248 yards — an eye-popping 31 yards per reception that would lead all FBS receivers if he qualified. Top target Ayden Eberhardt has caught 15 passes for 233 yards (15.3 ypr) and tight end Treyton Welch has 95 yards on five receptions. Valladay is a capable receiver as well with 76 yards on 12 catches.
Wyoming's defense has held opponents to 335.2 total yards per game, good for third in the Mountain West and in the top 25 nationally. The Cowboys are 26th at 5.09 yards allowed per play. Boise State finds itself lower on the defensive leaderboards, ranking 56th in total defense (393.8 ypg) and 46th in yards per play (5.45). However, these numbers have been trending in the right direction after holding Colorado State and Hawaii both to fewer than 400 yards and under 4.75 yards per snap. The Broncos have excelled on special teams, including blocking four kicks or punts in just five games (only Army and Florida State have blocked more this season), but the defense has forced just two turnovers — fewer than all but eight FBS teams.
Boise State has a talent advantage given its recruiting success in the Mountain West, and despite recent cancelations, the Broncos appear to be getting healthier. If George Holani returns, it would be a big addition. Of course, Wyoming getting Xazavian Valladay and/or Levi Williams back would be, too. The Cowboys are desperate to get the bad taste of last week's embarrassing loss to New Mexico out of their mouths, and Senior Night often provides an emotional boost. Nevertheless, Boise State is rightly favored, and though Laramie is a difficult environment for opponents, the Broncos should be able to use this week as a tune-up for the Mountain West Conference Football Championship Game.
Prediction: Boise State 34, Wyoming 21
Podcast: CFB Rankings, Coaching Changes and Week 15 Preview and Predictions
(Hank Bachmeier photo by John Kelly/Boise State Athletics)