Last year at this time, there was a lot of uncertainty around the Boise State program. People around the country were wondering if Boise’s best days were behind them with Chris Petersen bolting for Washington and the Broncos coming off an 8-5 season. My, how much a year can change narratives. Boise State is as strong as ever establishing themselves again as the best program in the “Group of 5” with a Mountain West title and a Fiesta Bowl win last year over Arizona in year one under Bryan Harsin.
This season, the Broncos enter 2015 ranked No. 25 in Athlon Sports’ preseason Top 25, and are a consensus favorite to be the automatic Group of 5 bid in a New Year’s Six game again.
What does the schedule look like for this year’s Boise State squad? Is it a schedule that would give them an opportunity to be in the College Football Playoff conversation if the Broncos were to run the table? The committee will be the judge of that. Right now, let’s break down the Broncos’ 2015 schedule from the easiest game all the way to the toughest.
12. Sept. 18 (Friday) vs. Idaho State
It’s tough to get quality opponents to come up to the blue turf. Few teams want to take on the high risk of suffering a loss against the Broncos in Boise. Going 92-4 at home since 2000 will put fear into programs, so the Broncos had to turn to an FCS program. At least for the Broncos, it’s a regional team in Idaho State that brings some local in-state flavor.
11. Oct. 3 vs. Hawaii
The Rainbow Warriors under Norm Chow have been a mess. It’s easy to forget that within the past decade, the Warriors were battling with Boise State to be one of the top non-BCS/Group of 5 teams when they went undefeated in 2007 and played in the Sugar Bowl before eventually losing to Georgia. This year the Warriors are hoping USC transfer QB Max Wittek can inject life into an offense that only averaged 21 points per game a year ago. If Wittek can’t turn the offense around, it could be the end of the Chow era on the islands.
10. Oct. 24 vs. Wyoming
Since Boise State joined the Mountain West in 2011, the Broncos have defeated Wyoming by an average of 35 points per game. The Pokes have never defeated Boise and are 0-9 all-time against BSU. Don’t expect much of that to change, as Wyoming returns only 10 starters this season.
9. Oct. 31 at UNLV
Halloween in Las Vegas will probably bring out some scary sights, but none of those scares or frights will strike the Broncos in Sam Boyd Stadium. I'd expect the Broncos to enjoy a lot of "treats" against UNLV. The Rebels begin year one of the Tony Sanchez era, as he makes the difficult jump from high school head coach to FBS headman. Can he make the leap? The Rebels have always had the potential to be a player in the Mountain West but they can’t seem to string it together on a yearly basis. Boise State will cruise to another easy win against a cross-division foe.
8. Nov. 14 vs. New Mexico
New Mexico gave the Broncos a scare last year in Albuquerque, as the Lobos were up by eight points entering the fourth quarter. Boise scored 19 unanswered to come away with a double-digit win, but the Lobos, entering the fourth year of the Bob Davie era, have established an identity as a team that will pound it away on the ground. The past two years the Lobos have averaged over 300 yards per game rushing the ball, and they return their top three rushers from last season.
7. Nov. 27 (Friday) at San Jose State
Ask Fresno State back in 2013 how tough it can be to go to San Jose to end a season. Derek Carr and the Bulldogs were undefeated and on track to go to a BCS bowl game until the Spartans pulled off an upset. Could the Broncos be undefeated heading into the regular season finale, and will history repeat itself? The Spartans return 10 starters on offense, and will have one of the most explosive offenses in the Mountain West this season.
6. Oct. 10 at Colorado State
Last year, the Rams had their best season since Sonny Lubick was roaming the sidelines in the Choice City. The Rams went 10-3 and were making a case to get the New Year’s Six spot until they lost to Air Force in the regular season finale. The Rams fell to the Broncos in week two on the blue turf, and will be looking to get revenge in Fort Collins this year. All-American WR Rashard Higgins returns, but will he have the same level of production now that Garrett Grayson is in the NFL? Nick Stevens was named the starting quarterback last week, and will have a chance to prove himself.
5. Sept. 25 (Friday) at Virginia
Cavaliers head coach Mike London enters his sixth season in Charlottesville, and his seat is as hot as ever after a third consecutive losing campaign. When London and the Cavs take on Boise State it’ll be the fourth game in a difficult September schedule that boasts a road trip to UCLA and a home game against Notre Dame. What will the Wahoos have left when Boise rolls into town?
4. Sept. 4 (Friday) vs. Washington
The return of Washington head coach Chris Petersen to the blue turf makes U-Dub-Boise State one of the more anticipated games on the week one slate. The emotions will be high for this one, but if Boise can get over those emotions early it has a great opportunity to make a statement on Coach Pete and his Huskies. The Broncos are currently an 11-point favorite on the Huskies, who return only nine starters from last season.
3. Nov. 20 (Friday) vs. Air Force
One of Boise’s two losses last season came against Air Force, who has been a tough out for the Broncos since joining the Mountain West Conference in 2011. Last year, Troy Calhoun’s program won 10 games which was an eight-win improvement from the previous year, and that was the biggest turnaround in college football last season.
The Falcons return five of their top six rushers from 2014 and are projected to be one of the top teams in the Mountain division.
2. Oct. 16 (Friday) at Utah State
The Aggies claimed the Mountain Division title in their inaugural season in the MWC in 2013, and last season were looking to have a second championship game appearance in as many years until they ran into a buzz saw against the Broncos in the regular season finale. Boise State had a dominating 50-19 win over the Aggies, which still leaves a bad memory for the Utah State veterans.
Utah State senior quarterback Chuckie Keeton returns after receiving a medical redshirt due to a season-ending injury he suffered against Arkansas State last year. If healthy, Keeton is one of the better quarterbacks out west. Keeton has yet to face the Broncos since the Aggies became members of the MWC. This will be the game that determines the champion of the Mountain Division.
1. Sept. 12 at BYU
This will be the fourth year of a 12-year series between the Broncos and BYU. The conference realignment craze has phased out a lot of traditional rivalries, but it has also formed great matchups like this one. The Broncos have a 4-1 lead all-time on the Cougars, but the last time Boise played in Provo, Utah, in 2013, the Cougars came away with a dominating two-touchdown win that propelled the Broncos to an uncharacteristic five-loss season that year.
BYU quarterback Taysom Hill is one of the most versatile signal-callers in the land. If the Broncos keep him in check they will have a great chance to come away with a big win in Provo, and the stage will then be set for them to possibly run the table in 2015.
— 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.