Boise State won 10 games last season, but that wasn't good enough to get a chance to play in the Mountain West Championship Game. The Broncos bring back just eight starters, but with quarterback Brett Rypien returning the offense should remain productive, although new playmakers need to emerge. The defense is just as unproven, but there are pieces to work with on each level. Even with all of the uncertainty and inexperience, head coach Bryan Harsin has enough talent for Boise State to remain a threat to win the conference and stake a claim as one of the Group of Five’s top teams.
Previewing Boise State Football’s Offense for 2017
Boise State moved the ball with relative ease in 2016, leading the Mountain West in total yardage, but the Broncos were sixth in the conference in scoring (33.8 ppg), their second-lowest output since 1998.
Junior quarterback Brett Rypien enters his third season as starter, and after an up-and-down sophomore year, he will look to improve his decision making in key situations. He loses the school’s all-time leading receiver in Thomas Sperbeck but returns senior Cedrick Wilson (56 catches, 1,129 yards, 11 TDs). The rest of the receiving corps has combined for 28 career receptions.
The Broncos lost ultra-productive running back Jeremy McNichols to the NFL Draft, though sophomore Alexander Mattison, who had 328 yards on 67 carries last season, has the makings of the next great Boise State back. Only one other running back on the roster has played in a game for the Broncos.
Three starters graduated off the offensive line, but senior tackle Archie Lewis and senior center Mason Hampton were solid last season. The Broncos allowed 19 sacks last season, 12 fewer than in 2015. Boise State’s tight end unit, which is seven deep, could be the X-factor after injuries and inexperience led to the group notching just 21 regular-season receptions.
Previewing Boise State Football’s Defense for 2017
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The Broncos created just nine turnovers — two fumble recoveries and seven interceptions — last season, the fewest in school history. It taxed both sides of the ball, yet the defense still was No. 2 in the Mountain West in points allowed. The staff has implemented more aggressive concepts in the offseason, including more blitzes.
A key part of that is trust in a deep back end with four safeties who made at least one start last season, though interception leader Chanceller James (three) graduated. Junior cornerback Tyler Horton has shown plenty of promise and is now by far that group’s most experienced member.
The linebackers lose three of their top five tacklers, in addition to Joe Martarano, who left the team in March to pursue a baseball career. Junior Leighton Vander Esch missed most of last season with injuries, but the former 8-man football high school star should be in for a big year at the weak-side spot.
Boise State led the nation with 17 sacks in the first four games but had only 12 in the final nine games, due in part to a defensive line that wore out as the season progressed. Two starters graduated, but junior David Moa (8.5 sacks) moves from an undersized nose tackle to defensive tackle, where he could be even more potent. Four first-year players who saw time in 2016 will have much larger roles this season.
Previewing Boise State Football’s Specialists for 2017
At times, the Broncos were brutally bad on special teams, but they improved late in the year, especially after Wilson (13.2-yard average) took over as the punt returner. Gone is excellent punter Sean Wale and placekicker Tyler Rausa, with both roles likely to be filled by redshirt freshman Joel Velazquez.
Bryan Harsin has won 31 games in three years as the head coach at his alma mater, but the Broncos’ performance within the conference must improve. Boise State has played in the Mountain West Championship Game once in its four years of existence and is 4–5 in the last nine games against teams from its own division.
There is, however, still plenty of talent in the program. If Rypien can take a step forward and the offense can turn yards into points, Boise State should be in position to reclaim its spot as the premier program in the league.