The Broncos are undefeated and ranked in the top 15 for the first time since the 2011 season. The Cougars enter Boise riding a three-game winning streak and are looking for their first-ever victory on the blue turf.
This game appears on paper to be the toughest challenge remaining on the Broncos’ schedule. Win this game and the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six bid to the Cotton Bow is within reach.
For BYU, the Cougars have never won at Boise State. They had a heartbreaking loss on a last-second field goal in 2004 and their most recent visit in ‘14 wasn’t as close as the 55-30 drubbing showed on the scoreboard. Like Boise State, BYU has a great opportunity to run the table the remainder of the season, but only if the Cougars pull off an upset victory on the famous blue turf.
BYU at Boise State
Kickoff: Thursday, Oct. 20 at 10:15 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Boise State -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Boise State’s passing attack vs. the BYU secondary
Ever since Ryan Dinwiddie was slinging the rock and pulling off big wins on ESPN for the Broncos, Boise State has always had a good quarterback and sophomore Brett Rypien is the next in line.
Rypien has thrown for 1,622 yards and 14 touchdowns with just three interceptions. Rypien is a star and this is the first time BYU has faced him.
Rypien’s favorite target to throw to is slot receiver Thomas Sperbeck, who has 701 yards receiving on the year and six touchdowns.
BYU’s secondary, albeit improved from previous years, is still the 114th-ranked pass defense in the country. Part of that is the new aggressive man coverage the Cougars are incorporating this year, but it’s also youth and being vulnerable to giving up the big play. Expect Rypien and Boise to have success through the air.
2. How effective will BYU LB Butch Pau’u be in this game?
Pau’u earned the starting role at mike linebacker as a sophomore this season after new after BYU head coach Kalani Sitake switched senior Harvey Langi to defensive end. Pau’u became a household name among BYU fans, racking up impressive tackling numbers and laying vicious hits on the opposition.
In week four against West Virginia, Pau’u suffered a knee injury that kept him sidelined the following two weeks. Pau’u returned a week ago against Mississippi State and clearly wasn’t his normal self. Pau’u was unable to finish last week’s game.
Going into a hostile environment like Boise State, BYU needs its star players to be on the field and performing at a high level. Pau’u makes everyone in BYU’s front seven better with him as the quarterback of the defense. He’s a game-time decision right now, and it’s unknown if and how much he will play against the Broncos.
3. Measuring stick game for Boise State
There are a handful of really good teams in the Group of Five this season. Houston still stands out as probably the best right now, but Boise State is next in the line. The Broncos were fortunate to play Washington State early in the season after the Pac-12’s Cougars dropped a game to FCS Eastern Washington. Playing BYU is the toughest game on the Broncos’ schedule, and it’s the game Boise State fans look forward to every season.
Boise State has become a national brand in college football because of these weeknight nationally televised games over the years. If the Broncos come away with a dominating performance in this game against a battle-tested BYU team, the Broncos will come away as the favorite to earn the automatic Group of Five spot to the Cotton Bowl this season.
The natural assumption for this game is likely offensive fireworks, but don’t expect that to happen. Both of these teams have physical defenses that limit their opponent from getting into the end zone.
Expect a low-scoring battle that’ll go down to the final minutes of the fourth quarter to be decided.
The game will ultimately be decided in favor of the home team in a close one. Boise State hasn’t lost a regular season, non-conference game on the blue turf since 2001! That’s 15 years ago. Now, I know streaks are meant to be broken, but I have to question how much BYU has left in the tank in this one. Short week and the Cougars played six Power Five teams in their first seven weeks, and now arguably face their toughest opponent to date. It’s a tall order for BYU, and that’s why I’ll go with the Broncos to squeak a hard-fought victory over their budding rival.
Prediction: Boise State 20, BYU 16
— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is publisher of Rivals' BYU site, CougarNation.com, and also is the BYU reporter and insider for 1320 KFAN and co-host of "The Cougar Center" podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.