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Washington State Cougars vs. Boise State Broncos Preview and Prediction

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Both Washington State and Boise State began the season last weekend with their eyes on some formidable prizes. Boise State took care of business in dominating fashion on the road against Louisiana-Lafayette, showcasing some of the offensive talent we've heard about all offseason.

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Washington State, on the other hand, suffered a somewhat embarassing shootout loss to FCS power Eastern Washington. In most years, we probably wouldn't think much of a quality program like Eastern Washington beating the Cougars. But 2016 is a little different. Washington State has been a sexy dark-horse pick to make it to the Pac-12 title game this season. Last weekend's loss makes that scenario a little tougher to imagine.

The Cougars will try to get back on track this weekend on the road against one of the better Group of Five teams in the country.

Washington State at Boise State

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 10 at 10:15 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN2

Spread: Boise State -10.5

Three Things to Watch

1. The Quarterback Duel

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This will be a high-octane shootout featuring two quarterbacks who are very likely to be on NFL rosters one day. Both command offenses built to score a ton of points and both are accomplished passers. Boise State's Brett Rypien has a slight advantage over Cougar signal-caller Luke Falk thanks to the formidable Bronco defense. That said, don't blink or turn this one off early (even if it does start fairly late). Both of these teams are built to play catch-up in a hurry and the last quarterback to make a mistake with the ball is likely to cost his team the game.

2. Boise State running back Jeremy McNichols

A huge part of what makes Rypien and the Boise State offense so deadly is the versatility of McNichols. One of the most complete backs in the nation, McNichols can literally line up anywhere and create a mismatch, benefiting himself or enabling a big play for one of his teammates. He's a nightmare for defensive coordinators and he'll keep Washington State defensive coordinator Alex Grinch on his toes all night looking for a way to limit the damage. That answer might just be to key on taking McNichols out of Boise State's game plan altogether and force Rypien to win by getting the ball to his other skill players.

Related: College Football's 10 Best Position Battles to Watch in Week 2

3. Can Washington State reduce mental mistakes?

The game against Eastern Washington was sloppy on both sides from a penalty standpoint. The Cougars committed 12 penalties for 101 yards during that contest. Already a clear underdog, Washington State can not afford to hand Boise State upwards of 100 free yards if the Cougars have any hope of leaving the blue turf victorious. The Broncos are far too disciplined and dangerous on both sides of the ball. If Mike Leach's team can limit penalties and unforced errors, this game will be close.

Final Analysis

Albertsons Stadium is always a tough place to get a road win — especially when you are on the short end of the talent stick. That's the spot Washington State finds itself in Saturday night. The Cougars need to have everything clicking on offense, force a couple of turnovers on defense and play nearly flawless, penalty-free football to knock off the Broncos. The odds of all of those things going the right way for Mike Leach's team are low. Look for Brett Rypien and Co. to methodically pick apart the Washington State defense all night while Boise State pressures and disrupts Luke Falk in the pocket for four quarters. This matchup has a lot of potential, but in the end, this is just another game between a team that knows exactly what it is against a program perennially trying to gain traction.

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Prediction: Boise State 52, Washington State 24

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

(Brett Rypien photo courtesy of Boise State media relations)