In the 100 days leading up to the kickoff of the college football season on Saturday, Aug. 25, HERO Sports is ranking the top 100 teams in the FBS. Each day, starting May 17 and ending Aug. 24, a new team is revealed in the HERO Sports Top 100.
No. 15 Boise State
"[E]very player, they came to Boise State for a reason. They watched all those years that we had success or undefeated seasons or played in Fiesta Bowls. They all saw it."
That was Bryan Harsin in July when asked about projections of a New Year's Six bowl for the Broncos. While he said they're focused on winning the Mountain West, they came to Boise with the expectation of playing in premier bowl games.
Anything less than a New Year's Six bowl would be disappointing.
2017 Record: 11-3 (7-1, Mountain West)
Boise State won at least 10 games for the second straight year and 15th time in their 22 FBS seasons.
They won their third Mountain West title since 2012 and 13th conference title in the last 19 seasons.
Chew on that: Boise State has won at least 10 games in nearly 70 percent of their FBS seasons and a conference title in nearly 60 percent of their FBS seasons.
Head Coach: Bryan Harsin (5th Year, 42-12)
Bryan Harsin has lost 12 games in four years and is rarely — if ever — mentioned among the best coaches in college football. That's what happens when you follow a guy who lost 12 games in eight seasons, including just eight losses in his first seven seasons.
As noted above, the next step for Harsin and the Broncos is a New Year's Six bowl. Maybe then he'll be included among the best coaches in college football.
WR Cedrick Wilson, TE Jake Roh, OT Archie Lewis, C Mason Hampton, LB Leighton Vander Esch
Bretty Rypien lost his favorite target in Cedrick Wilson, who's gone after setting the program's single-season receiving record (1,511 yards), and second-favorite target in tight end Jake Roh. They were the only two players who caught more than three touchdown passes last year.
The offensive line was hit by key two departures; four-year starter Archie Lewis and two-year starter Mason Hampton both graduated.
Defensively, it's all about Leighton Vander Esch. The former walk-on was the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year after registering 141 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and two interceptions last year.
Returning Offensive Players
QB Brett Rypien, RB Alexander Mattison, WR A.J. Richardson, WR Octavius Evans, WR Sean Modster, OT Ezra Cleveland, G John Molchon, G Eric Quevedo, K Haden Hoggarth
Quarterback Brett Rypien battled through ineffectiveness and injuries to have another strong, efficient season. He threw just one interception every 58 pass attempts, had eight games without a pick, and had a four-game midseason stretch in which he averaged 287 yards, three touchdowns and 0.25 interceptions per game.
“I think that was a turning point for me," he said after four inconsistent performances to start the season, "where I just needed to go out and not put so much pressure on myself to play up to a certain level — to play up to my last name or the standard that Kellen Moore set here, because a lot of people like to compare like that — to just play like I know I can play and do it for the guys next to me, and that made it so much simpler during that time.
He still forces too many balls and makes unbalanced throws too often but looked much better in the second half.
The senior leads an offense that scored 0.45 points per play (27th in the FBS) and converted 46 percent of third downs (12th) but was poor in the red zone (82 percent, 77th), averaged one yard less per play than in 2016 (6.7 to 5.7), often struggled to run the ball (3.8 yards per attempt, 98th) and had a sack rate of nearly six percent.
And, after being one of the best fourth-down teams for years, they ranked dead last in the FBS in fourth-down conversions (18 percent). That's been a major area of focus for the Broncos over the offseason.
“It didn’t work,” Harsin said of the fourth-down strategy, while noting that in 2016 they scored a touchdown on 87 percent of drives that included a fourth-down conversion. “We were trying to be more aggressive but we didn’t get it done. We were better off as the season went on when we would (punt and) play field position.”
Despite the losses of Wilson and Roh, the skill group is in good shape with the return of all-purpose running back Alexander Mattison (5.1 yards per carry, 10.1 yards per reception) and big-play receiver A.J. Richardson (above). The 6-foot, 212-pound Richardson (15 yards per reception) and Wilson were the only regulars to average more than 11 yards per reception last year. Richardson averaged just 24 yards in their first three games but 53 over his final eight games.
Sophomore Ezra Cleveland — the best No. 76 in college football — is back at left tackle and is one of five players with starting experience for an offensive line that probably underachieved last year.
Returning Defensive Players
DE Curtis Weaver, DE Jabril Frazier, DE Durrant Miles, NT Sonatane Lui, LB Tyson Maeva, NB Kekaula Kaniho, CB Tyler Horton, CB Avery Williams, S Kekoa Nawahine, S DeAndre Pierce
Defensive coordinator Andy Avalos lost one of the best defenders in school history in Leighton Vander Esch but he still might field one of the best defenses in school history. Eleven of the top 12 tacklers return from a unit that allowed just 4.7 yards per play last year (13th in the FBS), 3.4 yards per rush (14th), forced nearly two turnovers per game (28th) and had a decent sack rate of 6.5 percent (52nd).
They were not, however, good in the red zone, allowing opponents to score on more than 89 percent of their possessions for the second straight season. Avalos' offseason work in creating new packages to get their best playmakers on the field more might tighten the unit inside the 20.
The secondary will be darn good — maybe one of the best in the country. Junior safeties Kekoa Nawahine and DeAndre Pierce are sideline-to-sideline players who combined for nearly 200 tackles last year, while corner (and elite return man) Avery Williams is back. The headliner is senior corner Tyler Horton (below), who led the team in pass breakups (11) and was effective as a tackler at the line of scrimmage (three tackles for loss). Harsin admitted Horton had some consistency issues but he's still one of the best in the conference.
The defensive line returns all three starters and "Stud" end/linebackers Curtis Weaver and Jabril Frazier. Weaver was often dominant as his redshirt freshman, leading the team in both sacks (11) and tackles for loss (13). Safety DeAndre Pierce said it's a "scary sight" when Frazier and Weaver are on the field together.
Boise State won't replace Leighton Vander Esch's production with one guy, although junior middle linebacker Tyson Maeva is in line for a big season. He quadrupled his tackles from 2016 and should lead the team in tackles this year.
QB Chase Cord, LB Tony Lashley, CB Jermani Brown, S Tyreque Jones
Chase Cord is the heir apparent to Brett Rypien. The 6-foot-2, 206-pound redshirt freshman posted silly numbers in high school (137 touchdowns and nearly 10,000 passing yards) and looked good in the spring game.
“He’s throwing the ball really effectively, and he’s got mobility,” Harsin said of Cord in April. “When things break down, that’s the one thing about Chase, Chase can move. He moves really well, not just getting out and running, strictly being an athlete, but when he has to move in the pocket, he moves well. When he goes, he’s got some juice behind him.”
In the secondary, two redshirt freshmen, corner Jermani Brown and safety Tyreque Jones, were listed on the second team in Boise State's pre-camp depth chart. Brown was a four-star prospect in the 2017 class and one of the program's highest-ranked signees in the recruiting era. Jones is a 6-foot-2, 197-pounder who will eventually take over DeAndre Pierce's safety spot.
Also, keep an eye on Tony Lashley, a grad transfer who led Idaho in tackles last year.
Boise State's trip to Troy in Week 1 is one of the most underrated games of the entire college football season. They nearly lost to the Trojans in Boise last year and will get another strong test in the opener.
The Broncos visit Oklahoma State in Week 3, have an early bye (Week 4), and host Fresno State on Friday, Nov. 9.
If they go undefeated, is the schedule meaty enough to make the playoff?
|Saturday, Sept. 1||at Troy|
|Saturday, Sept. 8||vs. UConn|
|Saturday, Sept. 15||at Oklahoma State|
|Saturday, Sept. 29||at Wyoming|
|Saturday, Oct. 6||vs. San Diego State|
|Saturday, Oct. 13||at Nevada|
|Friday, Oct. 19||vs. Colorado State|
|Saturday, Oct. 27||at Air Force|
|Saturday, Nov. 3||vs. BYU|
|Friday, Nov. 9||vs. Fresno State|
|Friday, Nov. 16||at New Mexico|
|Saturday, Nov. 24||vs. Utah State|