Tag Archives: Mountain West Football

The Mountain West’s Best Football Games of 2016

The Mountain West has taken quite the fall from grace. Just ten years ago things looked great, as it was the dominant non-BCS conference. With TCU and Boise State challenging for BCS title appearances, and Utah and BYU very solid programs as well, there were years the MWC was better than some BCS conferences.

Now, Boise State is the only of those four teams still around, and even the Broncos have fallen back to the pack with former coach Chris Petersen now at Washington. It has left a less interesting conference, albeit one that is much more competitive. San Diego State ran away with it in 2015. Will that change this fall? Here are the ten games that will shape the Mountain West in 2016.

10. Fresno State @ Nebraska (Saturday, September 3)

Fresno State wasn’t very good last year, but Nebraska hasn’t exactly been dominating since joining the Big Ten, either. It’s a long shot, but the Bulldogs would earn the Mountain West a huge amount of respect if they can knock off the Cornhuskers in Lincoln on the season’s opening weekend.

9. Utah State @ Boise State (Saturday, October 1)

The unfortunate Chuckie Keeton era is over at Utah State, but replacing him won’t be the Aggies biggest issue. Kent Myers played a good chunk of the season last year and finished with 16 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions. He’ll lead an offense with eight starters returning against Boise State in a game between two teams competing for a conference title bid.

8. Nevada @ San Jose State (Saturday, October 15)

These were the only two teams besides San Diego State to even finish .500 in their division last year. The winner of this one will later play the Aztecs with a spot in the conference championship game likely on the line.

7. San Diego State @ Northern Illinois (Saturday, September 17)

Northern Illinois has been the class of the MAC recently, and San Diego State rolled through the Mountain West last year. It may not mean much to most of the country, but this game is for bragging rights over the strength of Group of Five conferences.

6. Boise State @ Oregon State (Saturday, September 24)

Boise State, playing its second consecutive Pac-12 team, gets a bye before this one. The Broncos might be favored and will look for a win to provide the team some momentum and confidence heading into its conference slate.

5. California @ San Diego State (Saturday, September 10)

This is one of the bigger non-conference games among Mountain West teams. The Aztecs will bring in the nation’s second-longest winning streak and look to avenge last year’s 35-7 loss to Cal. It will be much easier with departed Cal quarterback Jared Goff playing on Sundays.

4. Washington State @ Boise State (Saturday, September 10)

Boise State hasn’t been the same team in the past few years that it was when Chris Petersen had them rolling, but the Broncos should improve from their four losses a year ago under third-year coach Bryan Harsin. The Broncos knocked off the Washington Huskies last year and will look to do the same against the Huskies’ rival.

3. San Diego State @ Fresno State (Saturday, October 15)

This in-state battle for San Diego State is against one of the few teams to play them close in 2015. The Bulldogs played a close-ish 21-7 game against the Aztecs and now get them at home. With SDSU’s defense not as dominant as a year ago, Fresno could pull the upset.

2. Nevada @ Hawaii (Saturday, October 1)

Hawaii was pretty dreadful last year and didn’t notch a conference win. They return 17 starters this year though so that streak should end at some point. Will it here? If a Nevada team looking to compete for a conference title game spot overlooks the Warriors, they could be in for a long trip back from the islands.

1. San Diego State @ Nevada (Saturday, November 12)

San Diego State dominated the Mountain West last year, allowing just 90 points in eight conference games. Nevada should have a good offense, but its defense will have to improve after giving up 320 yards rushing to the Aztecs in this match-up last year.

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Featured image courtesy Nathan Rupert

Colorado State and Nevada Meet Up in the Arizona Bowl

The Arizona Bowl game is in its first year of existence and bowl officials have created a bit of an oddity. The strangeness of this bowl game is not that it is going to be played in Tucson, Arizona, a sleepy college town that is home to the University of Arizona, but rather that the game is going to be played between Colorado State and Nevada, who are from the same conference.

Will this weirdness of the game create some interest? Bowl officials hope so, but in reality it probably will have a difficult time getting ratings for television. Many fans, writers, and other pundits believe that the bowl season is out of control with the number of bowls available and when you take a look at the Arizona Bowl, it’s hard to disagree with that point. However, there is a game to be played regardless of records, so let’s take a look at what these teams need to do to come out with the win.

Colorado State, like any other team, has to limit its turnovers. That’s not a groundbreaking thought when it comes to football, but the Rams have had a difficult time holding onto the ball in 2015. In 12 games this season Colorado State has 26 turnovers. The Ram quarterback, Nick Stevens, has thrown 15 interceptions as a freshman, but they have also lost 11 fumbles. By losing the ball this much it is has sunk the Rams to 113th in turnover ratio. Anybody that knows anything about football will know that Nevada is supremely aware of this statistic and will try and create as much pressure up front from their defensive line as possible. Any tackle being made by the Wolfpack will most certainly be one being made with their players trying to strip the ball from the Rams’ running backs and receivers.

Another aspect of this game to be on the lookout for is the ground game for the Nevada Wolfpack. Nevada likes to pound the rock all game and it’s become the bread and butter in their offense. The Wolfpack has a couple of 1,000 yard rushers in James Butler and Don Jackson. Butler leads the team with 1,153 and Jackson isn’t much further behind him with 1,029 yards. It will certainly be up to the Colorado State front seven to stop these runners. Obviously, if that can’t be done, the Rams are in for a very long game.

Nevada likes to run the ball, but Colorado State likes to strike through the air. Nick Stevens, as a freshman led the conference in touchdown passes with 21 while also passing for 2,369 yards. With an air attack like this Stevens has weapons on the outside. Stevens big weapon on the outside is junior Rashard Higgins, who just happens to own some school records in total receptions and touchdowns. For 2015, Higgins has battled some injuries, but still has managed to grab 66 receptions, eight touchdowns, and 933 total receiving yards. This combo of Stevens to Higgins will be one to look for during the course of the game.

This game will be a close game between the two schools. Nevada and Colorado State are teams that know each other very well, even though they did not play each other this past season and it doesn’t look like they are until 2017. The thing that both teams have to battle is the fact they are playing each other. Usually teams play teams from other conferences and that provides some spark to their preparation, but not this time. Both sides have to bring the intensity to win this game, otherwise, it’s a wasted trip to Tucson.

Plus, they have to consider themselves extremely lucky to be in a bowl game in the first place considering both of their records. When the final horn goes off, it’s going to be Colorado State who wins the game 30-24.

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Air Force vs. California

The 2015 Lockheed Armed Forces Bowl features two teams with two distinct styles of play. Out of the Mountain West, you have the Falcons of the Air Force Academy (8-5) and out of the Pac-12, the California Golden Bears (7-5).

Air Force Falcons:

The Falcons are one of very few teams that still run the option as their base offense. What they may lack in the passing game, they more than make up in the run department. This past season, the Falcons averaged 321 yards on the ground. Conversely, they only averaged a meager 130 yards through the air. But that’s ok, they get the job done. Just ask 2014’s Mountain West Champion, Boise State.

Bright Spot:

As I mentioned earlier, the 37-30 win over Boise State helped legitimize Air Force as an opponent not to be taken lightly. Defensively, the Falcons were equally as impressive. At season’s end, Air Force’s defense yielded only 336 yards per game (190 yards passing and 146 rushing). Leading the defense is All-Mountain West Conference safety, Weston Steelhammer. Yeah, the name sounds like something out of a comic book, but he played like a super hero out there, leading the team with 72 tackles and five interceptions.

Low-Light:

An intriguing stat on the Air Force Falcons I came across this season was that all five losses were suffered on the road. They were not nearly as effective in the rum game, rushing for nearly 120 yards fewer on the road than they did at home. We’ll see if the trend continues into their match with Cal.

California Golden Bears:

I covered this uber-talented, yet at times, wildly inconsistent team throughout the season. There would be moments of sheer offensive genius lead by potential first-round draft pick, Jared Goff. The record-breaking quarterback set and shattered virtually every Cal passing record, including passing yards (11,733), touchdowns (90), and completions (952). One of the factors that lead to Cal’s inconsistencies is the injuries to running back, Daniel Lasco. Last year’s break out performer in the backfield suffered multiple injuries that caused him to miss several games, disrupting the continuity on offense. Surprisingly, in Lasco’s absence, Cal was able to supplement Lasco’s output with a trio of backs that help keep Cal’s offense as balanced as possible.

Bright Spot:

You can automatically pencil in Goff as an instant bright spot on this Cal team. His career at Cal, shall he call it quits after this season, will go down in Golden Bear lore. What was once an eye sore, admittedly so, by Cal players and fans alike, was the defense. Under new defensive coordinator Art Kaufman, California’s defense was much improved, so much so, that it wasn’t considered a liability during games as it has been in seasons past.

Low-Light:

After a sizzling 5-0 start, something happened to the Golden Bears. What happened was that they were matched up with the cream of the crop of the Pac-12 in consecutive weeks (Utah, UCLA, USC, and Oregon). Each of those games resulted in a loss. The worse of those losses was at the hands of the Bruins of UCLA, a 40-24 beat down. Cal clearly needs to find a way to stay competitive against top-tier talent. Otherwise, Cal will continue to have these middle-of-the-road type of seasons. Something that won’t keep coach Sonny Dykes employed for too much longer.

For Cal, this will be the first time they’ve faced a true running team. On the season, Cal’s defense has allowed 203 yards per game. Unfortunately, this plays right into the hands of Air Force. What Cal needs are defensive stops on first and second down to force third and longs. If they are unable to achieve those stops, Cal’s defense will be run ragged and worn out by the fourth quarter.

Prediction:

As a Cal fan, it pains me to say this, but the Air Force team is quite formidable, especially on defense. Because Air Force’s offensive scheme utilizes ball control and time of possession, the Falcon defense will be well-rested throughout the game to give Goff and the Bears fits all day. Falcons by 10, 31-21.

Hawaii Bowl: San Diego State vs. Cincinnati

Question mark: Is San Diego State really any good?

I haven’t seen the Aztecs play.  I’m assuming you haven’t either.  They have a stout defense and they run the ball, but who’ve they played?  There were only two other teams in the Mountain West that finished with more than seven wins.  SDSU didn’t have to play Boise State and beat Air Force by a field goal in the conference championship.  Other than that, the Aztecs used a weak schedule to their advantage, beating up on mediocre conference opponents.  So, how good is San Diego State, really?

Game inside the game: Cincinnati air attack vs. San Diego State pass defense

Cincinnati’s offense ranks third in passing yards per game, which should shock you.  Normally, teams that chuck the ball around a lot do it with one quarterback.   Cincinnati, however, has been splitting time between Gunner Kiel and Hayden Moore all season.  Unfortunately, personal reasons will keep Kiel from playing in the game, or even making the trip.  Hopefully, all that alternating throughout the season will pay off.  Moore will have to step in against a secondary that doesn’t allow much.  SDSU comes in giving up only 176 yards per game through the air.  With their starter out and their opponent shutting down what they do best, the Bearcats have their work cut out for them.

Player to watch: Donnel Pumphrey, running back, San Diego State

Pumphrey is a little guy at 5’9”, 180 pounds, but don’t let his size fool you.  This guy’s the real deal.  Pumphrey has accumulated 4,173 yards and 44 touchdowns in his career, as he wraps up his junior season.  The Aztec offense, which averages 235 yards on the ground, leans on Pumphrey like few other teams lean on their running back.  Since Cincinnati allows 190 yards rushing per game, Pumphrey is poised for a primetime performance.

X-factor: Turnover battle and time of possession

San Diego State leads the FBS with a +19 turnover margin and holds on to the ball for 32 minutes, 30 seconds, on average.  Obviously, winning the turnover battle and controlling the clock are two big parts of the Aztecs’ game.  If the Bearcats can take the ball away and hang on to it, they’ll be halfway to beating the Aztecs at their own game.

Prediction: San Diego State over Cincinnati, 28-20

Cincinnati is good enough to keep this close.  In the end though, everything working against them will outweigh the Bearcats’ solid play.

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl: Boise State vs. Northern Illinois

San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium is the setting for this year’s San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. This game features the Mountain West representative, Boise State (8-4), against Mid-American Conference runner-up, Northern Illinois (8-5).

Boise State:

This season marked the second season without school coaching legend Chris Peterson at the helm; still an unusual sight. This season, compared to seasons past, underachieved somewhat. With a loss to Air Force Academy 37-30, the Broncos were eliminated from defending their Mountain West Championship; another such event we aren’t accustomed to seeing.

Bright Spot:

Despite Chris Peterson’s emotional return to the confines of Albertsons field, a place where he dominated as head coach of Boise State for seven seasons, the Broncos found a way to spoil Peterson’s return and pull off an improbable victory over his Washington Huskies, 16-13. The production of running back Jeremy McNichols has been a sight to behold. He was the irreplaceable cog in the Boise State engine. McNichols finished the season with 1,244 yards and tied for fourth in the nation with 18 rushing scores.

Low-Light:

For the first time since 1997, Boise state has suffered consecutive home losses this season, an anomaly of sorts. We aren’t used seeing one of the most winningest programs in the last decade experience such occurrences. Not to mention, this is Boise State’s second eight-win season in the last three years, snapping a streak of seven straight double-digit-win seasons (2006-2012).

Northern Illinois Huskies:

The Northern Illinois Huskies’ season was full of promise until the injury bug came a calling. Junior quarterback Drew Hare went down for the remainder of the season (Achilles) during a crucial game against #24 Toledo. With that loss, NIU back-up Ryan Graham stepped in and helped maintain the ship down the home stretch of the season, finishing 2-3, including the eventual loss to Bowling Green in the MAC Championship.

Bright Spot:

Although NIU will be without starter Drew Hare, the Huskies have a couple of high-caliber offensive players lining up come bowl time in First team All-MAC running back Joel Bouagnon (1,269 yards and 18 TD’s) and wide receiver Kenny Golladay (71 rec. 1,122 yards  and 10 TD’s). Even though they were stymied during the MAC championship due to injuries to both quarterbacks and having to play a third, hopefully, Ryan Graham will be back to help ignite an offense that at times, looked dominant.

Low-Light:

The Achilles heel (pun unintended) for this Huskies squad is the lack of experience at the quarterback position. Without that veteran leadership, Boise State will have an easier time keying in on Bouagnon and making either Graham or freshman quarterback Tommy Fiedler beat them through the air.

X-Factor:

The determining factor in this game is exactly what I mentioned above. If Ryan Graham is under center, the Huskies stand a better chance of staying in this contest. If Graham is not under center, or at some point is injured during the game, NIU can kiss this game good bye.

Prediction: 

Both teams have solid running backs. It would be in NIU’s best interest to lean on Bouagnon early and often to keep Boise State’s offense on the sidelines. However, in third and long situations, if NIU is unable to convert due to passing inconsistencies, Boise State will jump on those miscues and run away with the game. Though the Broncos have underachieved to a certain degree, I think they can muster enough umph to pull out another win. Broncos win it, 34-24.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Akron vs. Utah State

The 19th annual Famous Idaho Potato Bowl features the Zips of Akron against the Aggies of Utah State. Akron enters the bowl season with a record of 7-5, representing the Mid-American Conference. Utah State climbs in the ring with a record of 6-6, representing the Mountain West Conference.

Akron Zips:

Coming off of their first winning season in several years, Akron finished third in the Mid-American Conference’s East Division. The Zips were on a tear down the home stretch of the season, winning 4 of their last 5 games. The most decisive and winning-season clinching of those victories was the 20-0 shutout of cross-town rival, Kent State.

Bright Spot:

Defensively, Akron is quite stout. Against the run, Akron gives up only 89 yards per game. The Zips give up a total of 328 yards per game. Defensive stalwart, linebacker Jatavis Brown leads the team and conference in several key statistical categories including: sacks (10.5), tackles for loss (17.5), tackles (108) and forced fumbles (3).

Low-Light:

Offensively, the Zips are very balanced, yet low-churning, yardage wise. Akron averages about 193 yards through the air and 170 yards on the ground. They have some very decisive victories scoring wise throughout the season, but in their defeats, they have suffered just as much.

Utah State Aggies:

The Aggies finished the season on a bit of a tough stretch. Winners of two of their final five games, Utah State is limping into the bowl season having suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of rival BYU, 51-28. This season could be categorized as the season that could have been. Mid-way through the season, senior quarterback, and unquestioned leader of the Aggies, Chuckie Keeton missed several games due to injury. Now, without him, they actually boast a better record (4-2). In his absence, sophomore Kent Myers did more than enough to keep Utah State afloat.

Bright Spot:

As I mentioned earlier, quarterback Kent Myers was a Godsend for the Aggies this season. Without his production, Utah State wouldn’t have been nearly as successful-if at all. Like Akron, Utah state has a very strong and aggressive defense. Giving up only 336 yards per game, they have the ability to keep the games close.

Low-Light:

With an injury to one of their key players, I can say that the biggest hit the Aggies suffered was that of team continuity. Yes, back up Kent Myers did an outstanding job filling for Chuckie Keeton, but who’s to say how the season would have turned out had Keeton not suffered his injury. Of course we can’t play a college football season in a vacuum. Injuries will occur. But, one has to wonder, what if.

X-Factor:

Both teams are quite similar statistically. What it comes down to is offensive play. Both teams have solid defenses, but turnovers will be crucial. The forecast in Boise, Idaho calls for rain so don’t expect either team to sling it around the yard. Solid running, field position, and special teams play will determine the victor in this one.

Prediction:

In just his third game back from injury, I don’t think Chuckie Keeton has enough juice to pull this one out. I see Akron putting the finishing touches on an impressive season. Zips take it, 24-17.

AutoNation Cure Bowl: San Jose State vs. Georgia State

The San Jose State Spartans (5-7, 4-4 in the Mountain West Conference) will meet the Georgia State Panthers (6-6, 5-3 in the Sun Belt Conference) in the inaugural AutoNation Cure Bowl on Saturday, December 19th, at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, FL. Kickoff time is 7 PM EST. It will be televised on the CBS Sports Network. This will be the sixth bowl appearance for the Spartans. The Panthers will be playing in their first bowl game ever. San Jose State has been installed as a 3.5 favorite.

Ron Caragher is 14-22 in his three years as head coach at San Jose State. Trent Miles, the Sun Belt Coach of the Year Award recipient, also just completed his third season as the head man at Georgia State. His record stands at 7-29.

San Jose State

At 5-7, the Spartans garnered this bowl invitation due to their high graduation rate. They scored 975, out of 1,000, on their APR (Academic Progress Rate).

I got a good look at the Spartans, back on October 3rd, as they played Auburn on the Tigers’ homecoming. Their ‘bell cow’ is Tyler Ervin. He carried the ball 27 times for 160 yards and a TD that day. He also returned two kickoffs for 59 yards. He is for real. He toted the rock for 1,469 yards in 2015 and totaled 2,410 all-purpose yards and 15 touchdowns. Ervin was also named to the first-team All-Mountain West team. His biggest games were 330 yards on the ground against Fresno State and 263 against New Mexico.

The Lobos, from Albuquerque, were the victims of a 31-21 defeat at the hands of San Jose State. That was the Spartans most impressive win of the season.

Quarterback Kenny Potter is one to watch, Saturday, as well. He is very accurate, with a 68.5 completion percentage, and he is mobile. He rushed for 346 yards and six TD’s. Potter was named the Outstanding Offensive Player at San Jose State in 2015.

The Outstanding Defensive Player, at San Jose State, went to Cleveland Wallace. Wallace is a defensive back who made three picks and broke up seven passes. He was in on 43 tackles this year.

And, the Spartans have a second-team All-American (Football Writers Association of America) in Michael Carrizosa. Carrizosa averaged 47.7 yards-per-punt and was a Ray Guy Award finalist.

As a side note, their offensive coordinator is Al Borges, who held the same position at Auburn from 2004-’07. As many of you know, Auburn went 13-0 in ’04 and were led by running backs Carnell “Cadillac” Williams and Ronnie Brown. They were both top five draft picks and quarterback, Jason Campbell, was also selected in round one of the 2005 NFL draft.

Georgia State

The Georgia State Panthers are only in their sixth season as a football team. Bill Curry was their first head coach and helped build the program to its, now, FBS status. They play their home games in the Georgia Dome and hope to  have a stadium of their own in the not-too-distant future.

The Sun Belt Student Athlete of the Year Award went to Georgia State quarterback Nick Arbuckle. The senior, a prolific passer, threw for 4,160 yards and 26 touchdowns. He was sixth in the nation in yards passing per game with a 346.7 average.

Penny Hart, Sun Belt Freshman of the Year Award winner, hauled in 70 passes from Arbuckle. These receptions totaled 1,085 yards. He and fellow Panthers, Robert Davis and Donovan Harden, teamed up to provide the Sun Belt Conference with it’s top three receivers. Davis is a junior and Harden is a senior.

The Panthers defense features senior linebacker Joseph Patterson. Patterson made 106 tackles in 2015 and has 371 career stops.

Tarris Batiste, also a senior, is a safety who has 5 interceptions in his time at Georgia State. He also has 21.5 career tackles-for-loss.

The Sun Belt All-Conference Team features 12 Panther players.

Georgia State got off to a slow start (2-6) but finished as a very hot team. They won their last four games. The Panthers defeated rival Georgia Southern in the last game of the season, 34-7.  That was a most impressive accomplishment. You might remember that Georgia Southern took the Georgia Bulldogs to overtime before losing, 23-17.

My sense is that the Cure Bowl will be a hard-fought, exciting affair which could come down to the wire. I think the underdog, Georgia State, could well pull off the upset. They also get the +3.5 points. That looks very good from here.

Prediction. Georgia State 31, San Jose State 27

The AutoNation Cure Bowl’s presenting sponsor is the Florida Hospital with proceeds going to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. The sponsor will host a Cure Village where fans can opt to receive mammogram screenings.

Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Arizona and New Mexico Battle for Relevancy

The Pac-12 had 10 teams qualify for a bowl game in 2015 and one of those teams is 2014 South division winner Arizona. For any normal fan of Arizona, this is not what was supposed to happen in 2015, but you can’t control certain things in football like injuries. The Wildcats did JUST enough to qualify for the Gildan New Mexico Bowl game against the hometown New Mexico Lobos.

What can we expect in this early bowl game? We can expect plenty of fireworks in terms of offense from both of these teams. Most of the cogs in the offenses for both teams should be back in action.

Arizona has been bit by the injury bug all season and for them to have their dynamic quarterback, Anu Solomon, back from head injury will be a major plus for them. He obviously gives the Wildcats that run/throw combination that causes a ton of stress on opposing defenses. Like Solomon, Samajie Grant is also coming back from a head injury and will end up giving Arizona that ability to throw the ball deep, across the middle, or any other route because he has the ability to line up anywhere and cause problems.

On paper, Arizona is the better team, but New Mexico is a veteran team.  11 of their top 13 tacklers are juniors or seniors, four out of their five offensive lineman are juniors or seniors and the top two receivers and running backs are also upper-classmen. With all this experience, they have a young quarterback in Lamar Jordan who is ONLY a sophomore.

However, with all these juniors and seniors on the team for New Mexico, they still struggle to a great degree with their offense and defense. The running game is ranked 93rd and the passing game is ranked 112th in the country. In anybody’s book that is flat out bad and that might be putting it mildly for the Lobos. However, when you look inside the numbers you find that they can make plays on offense. They are 22nd in number of plays over 30 yards, of which they have 34, and they rank 11th in the country in plays of at least 50 yards. They have 13 of those.

The Lobos can make big plays, they just need to stop somebody on defense to give their offense a chance. With as many big plays as New Mexico can make on offense, they give up just as many big plays on defense. The Lobos have to get the Wildcats in third and long and then get off the field. If this happens, then New Mexico stands a chance, but that is a big IF.

Arizona has the better talent as I mentioned earlier, but being in a lower-tier bowl can be a motivational issue for the more talented team. The Wildcats can’t just show up and go through the motions because they will be embarrassed by a lower-tier team in New Mexico. Arizona has to get on the Lobos early, often, and make this game an afterthought for the home team.

These lower end bowl games are something that causes people to look for caffeine to keep their eyes open and I am no different. Games like this, I could care less about. Do I want the Pac-12 team to win, yes, of course I do. Does that mean I need to really care about a bowl game in New Mexico? No, it does not.
In the end, Arizona wins this game going away and then we can let the Gildan New Mexico Bowl game drift from our memories for another year.

Rebuilding or Reloading? Boise State Broncos Edition

Three games are in the books for the 2014 Boise State Broncos’ season. With a record of 2-1 the Broncos have offered a mixed bag of successes and failures. A poor showing against the 18th ranked Ole Miss Rebels in the first game of the season has acted as an umbrella overshadowing the positives from the two most recent Broncos games, versus Colorado State and at Connecticut. If it weren’t for a complete meltdown against the Rebels on national television, the mood surrounding the Broncos may be a bit more favorable. So where do the Broncos really stack up this season and what should we expect moving forward? Let’s dive a bit more deeply into the three games already played.
Broncos versus Ole Miss Runnin’ Rebels
The Broncos lost their season opener to Ole Miss 36-13. It was a chance for Boise State to make a splash on the national stage in the first game of its 2014 college football season. With a new coach and new offensive and defensive game plans, early struggles were expected. The offense experienced the brunt of these struggles, particularly in the first half of the game. While credit is partially due to a tough defense in Ole Miss, the signal caller of the Broncos didn’t do much to help matters. Making poor decisions throughout including three first half interceptions, many questions were raised to test whether Grant Hedrick is the best candidate for the Broncos under center in 2014. The bright spot of the offense was their bona fide running back Jay Ajayi. Powerful, explosive, and versatile, Ajayi was the star for the Broncos against Ole Miss. He looked very good running inside, outside, and catching passes out of the backfield. He was the lone bright spot in an otherwise poor showing. Grade – D.
hedrick-to-throw
As for the Boise State defense, it was solid for much of the game. The Broncos stuffed the Rebels’ running game and forced the Ole Miss passing game to try and move the ball. This worked well early on as the Broncos intercepted quarterback Bo Wallace three times in the first half. It was clear by the fourth quarter that the Broncos were gassed against the talented SEC team, and Wallace and standout wide receiver Laquon Treadwell were able to finally get it going, contributing to four 4th quarter touchdowns. Grade – B-.
 Broncos versus Colorado State Rams
The Broncos won their 2014 home opener against the Colorado State Rams 37-24. It was a much better showing for Boise State on the whole, but there were still some glaring negatives fans took from the game. While Hedrick’s stats looked good in the box score, he still made poor fundamental choices. His lone interception was a ball thrown into double coverage and in the red zone, taking away possible points from the Broncos at the time. He continued to throw the ball without his feet set and on the run. Each time he left the pocket and let the ball go without set feet, a collective cloud of anxiety could be felt throughout Albertson’s Stadium. The star on offense yet again was Jay Ajayi, who ran for over 200 yards, receiving for over 60, and scoring three touchdowns. However, it was concerning for fans to see first year head coach Bryan Harsin ride Ajayi like a Clydesdale among ponies especially when the Broncos roster other quality running backs like Jack Fields and Devan Dumas, who each had only 2 carries during the game. Even throughout the latter stages of the game when the Broncos had all but won, Ajayi was still fed the ball and took a few unnecessary hits to the lower body. Ever seen the movie “Friday Night Lights” when James “Boobie” Miles is given additional carries when a game is essentially over? You don’t give your best offensive player garbage time carries, it can only ends poorly with little (if anything) to gain. Grade – B-.
The run defense was extremely solid against Colorado State, limiting the Rams to 28 total rushing yards. The Broncos fortified the iron curtain erected during the game at Ole Miss, forcing the Rams to pass the ball on early downs. This played right into the Rams’ hands however, and allowed CSU quarterback Garrett Grayson to throw for over 400 yards and three touchdowns. Needless to say, the Broncos’ passing defense took a sharp step backwards in the home opener and nearly fell down the stairs in doing so. Leaving receivers wide open and the quarterback ample time to throw is not a recipe for success as a pass defense, and the Broncos continued to be exposed when it came to defending the pass. Grade – C.
Broncos versus Connecticut Huskies
Making the trip across the country to play the UConn Huskies, the Broncos defense stole the show in this one and was just what Broncos’ fans ordered. Returning a fumble recovery and interception for touchdowns in the game the Broncos offense didn’t have to worry much about scoring points. In addition, the defense held the Huskies under 300 yards of total offense and looked much-improved overall. The Boise State run defense was bullish (48 total yards) and played as fans were accustomed to seeing in the first two games of the season. A good showing was desperately needed for the Bronco pass defense and the call was more than answered in this one. Regularly pressuring UConn quarterback Chandler Whitmer and collecting eight sacks on the day, the Broncos limited the Huskies to a pedestrian 242 passing yards.  Grade – A.
Boise State UConn interception
Seeing Grant Hedrick with a “0” in the interceptions column of the stat sheet is rare and a sight for sore eyes for Boise State fans. Hedrick started off the game slowly and the Broncos were forced to punt on their first four possessions of the game. The running game could not get much going either and Jay Ajayi was contained well by the UConn defense (39 yards on 18 carries). Coach Harsin continued to lean on Ajayi without adhering to UConn basing their defensive strategy around stopping him, and gave all other Boise State running backs a total of one carry in the game. It was a passable showing for the offense with still much left to be desired. Grade – B-.
Miscellaneous thoughts from an unsettled fan
I talked to one of the Broncos’ diehard fans and he had some great critiques of the Broncos so far. Carl Swantek has paid close attention to the Boise State Broncos for decades. He’s got major concerns about Coach Harsin’s decision-making, both personnel-wise and in play-calling. Here are his thoughts, unfiltered and with a fine-toothed comb.

  1. I am not sure how Charles Bertoli plays in practice, but during games in the past he has played outstanding – a powerful runner that would be a great complement to Ajayi’s abilities.  Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford and Coach Harsin need to go back and look at game tapes when he played.
  2. Bryan Harsin is on the path to mediocrity, calling plays just like every other team and how the Broncos did it the last two years (which went downhill for the Broncos).  Where is the creativity?  By creativity I don’t mean trick plays, I mean being creative and unpredictable on every play possible.  Where is the ball distribution?  Not only does Hedrick not spread the ball out, the offensive plays always give the ball to Ajayi to run.  Sure makes it easy on the defense.  I love Ajayi, but he would be a lot more productive and be kept healthier if he only got the ball half the time and other running backs had a chance. 
  3. Quarterback – there is no doubt that for both college and NFL teams the teams tend to go the way of their quarterback.  BSU has had a lot of very good quarterbacks, most notably Kellen Moore.  However, there was Zabransky, Dinwiddie, Hendricks, and others before him.  When you look at these other quarterbacks they did vary a bit in raw talent, but what they all had was the “it factor”!   Hedrick does NOT have the “it factor”.  Fans appreciate his effort, his work ethic, and his desire to succeed, but he doesn’t have it when he gets to the red zone or when the game is on the line.  Harsin had a chance to go with one of the younger quarterbacks that have potential and may well have the “it” factor, but we won’t know because we don’t get to see and of them. 
  4. One last question, why isn’t 4-star recruit Dylan Sumner-Gardner playing more?  Seems like he should have been red-shirted if he wasn’t going to start this year.  What message is this sending to potential four and five star recruit candidates?  If he is not as good as he was ranked, then we can understand, but we don’t know because he’s had a lack of playing time from day one.   

Where do we go from here?
Through 25% of the season, the Broncos are clearly behind the pace in terms of fans’ expectations for the 2014 season. Inconsistent play on both sides of the ball are inherent with teams that have undergone as much change as the Broncos have seen over the past year, and we are all hoping for those wrinkles to be ironed out before the Broncos take on Air Force come September 27th. We expect to see a flawless game against Louisiana Lafayette this upcoming Saturday, giving the team and its fans confidence heading into a definitive four-game stretch (at Air Force, at Nevada, home against Fresno State, home against BYU) that will go a long way in deciding how the Broncos will be remembered in 2014. Three things to look for in the short term are how Hedrick progresses and develops as a winner and not just as a passer, if the pass defense can settle down and become more consistent, and if Coach Harsin’s game plan continues to be ultra-conservative or if he starts calling plays like he did as Boise State offensive coordinator from 2006-2010. While there remain questions for the Broncos on both sides of the ball and in certain coaching moves, there are many reasons to be optimistic as a Boise State fan. Buckle up, it should be one heck of a ride. Go Broncos!
Boise State Broncos cheer

The Climb Wyoming Faces

CraigBohl

WHEN STARTING AT 7200 FEET HOW HARD WILL IT BE TO CLIMB UP?

This 2014 Wyoming Football season is about to start and there are many questions. One of which is, what is the ceiling of a football team that has a mostly new coaching staff in place? While the acquisition of Coach Bohl is a definite move in the right direction, with his recent history of success, what can we the fans of Poke football truly expect in the season to come?
With a new coaching staff in place comes the installment of new offensive and defensive schemes. To think that these installments are going to come seamlessly would be naïve. On both sides of the ball the Cowboys under Coach Bohl’s tutelage will be taking a more pro-style approach. This will come with a learning curve that must be weathered. In addition to learning new systems the Cowboys must also get the right personnel for the positions. Unlike in the NFL there is no waiver wire to address any roster shortcomings, so if the answer is not currently on the roster, only time and recruiting can fix that.
The new defensive scheme will be a pro-style Tampa-2 defense that will but a lot on the linebacker corps collective plate. The change from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense is a schematic change that has proven in years past to be one that is difficult to accomplish in just one year. One interesting note to look forward to be that Coach Bohl’s previous 2 teams led in defensive scoring.
On the opposite side of the ball a NFL-style West-Coast offense with a power running scheme is being installed. The most challenging phase of the installment will be getting the offensive line up to snuff. What is noteworthy with this change is that although the previous regime did not use or highlight tight end, the Cowboys will going forward, and in order to do so they must find the right player.
In addition to the installation of new schemes on both sides of the ball, a new single caller must take over the reins of this offense from the now CFL bound Brett Smith. As any coach will tell you a capable QB is detrimental for any successful team. This change alone at the helm of the offense may have been enough to put in doubt the ability of the Cowboys to dare I say contend this year.
While considering the implementation of pro style schemes on both sides of the trenches, an addition of a TE position, the change of QB, changing from a 3-4 to a 4-3, the realigning of the offensive line and new coaches and practice styles coming in, I cannot see a reasonable fan talking themselves into believing this year will be a guaranteed success. Now, I do not mean to damper anyone’s excitement with the new Cowboys but it is important that we must temper expectations until all changes are able to be accomplished.
In conclusion I would like state that I do believe that we the fan base of the Cowpokes can believe in a heightened enjoyment and pride for our team in the future, just not the near future. I truly do believe that the coaching staff is on the road to “building something special” to put on display at Jonah Field. The combination of philosophies of playing tougher and finishing games paired with recruitment and schematic scheme changes will prove to be the winning formula.
Feel free to join in the conversation in the comments section or even suggestions for future articles. Over the next few weeks I do intend to get a little more in depth with personnel on the offensive and defensive sides and what will be asked of them and who to watch out for to be big contributors.