The Boise State football team hosts the University of Washington tonight to open the 2015 college football season, with kickoff set for 8:15 in Albertsons Stadium in Boise. It is a game that both sides have greatly anticipated since it was first announced.
The storylines are many--coach Chris Petersen, who helped Boise State continue their successful run that they began in 1999, left two seasons ago for the job in Seattle, and now returns to Boise as a Husky. Petersen, of course, brought many recruits to Boise State that are on the current Bronco roster, so he will be facing many of the players with whom he and his staff had long talks with to try to bring them to Boise. Although Washington did not appear on the Bronco schedule until recently, the two teams worked out a deal where Washington received two home games to one for Boise State. In 2007, Boise State traveled to Seattle and lost 24-10. The two teams met in the postseason at the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl in 2012, when Boise State prevailed, 28-26.
In 2013, the Broncos again traveled to Washington and were thumped 38-6. It would be Petersen's last year in Boise, and with that win, the Huskies jumped ahead in the all-time series, 2-1.
Tonight, Washington makes its first appearance on the Blue Turf of Albertsons Stadium. Petersen is trying to prove that he can achieve the same success at Washington that he could at Boise State. The Boise State players, meanwhile, are out to prove that the success of Boise State has more to do with the players, the fans and the community than who is the head coach.
So after the long buildup, the two teams will settle it on the field. Adding to the intrigue is the mystery surrounding the quarterback decision. Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin announced two weeks ago that sophomore Ryan Finley will start for Boise State. Finley came in for a struggling Grant Hedrick last season in the Air Force game and performed well (12-25 for 161 with 2 touchdowns vs. 1 interception), but did not get much playing time after that.
(Video by Shelby Ransom)
New Bronco offensive coordinator talked about the factors which went into deciding the starting quarterback at Boise State.
(Video by Shelby Ransom)
Bronco wide receiver Chaz Anderson expressed his feelings about Finley in this interview with BroncoCounty.
(Video by Shelby Ransom)
Boise State tight end Jake Roh too has high praise for Finley.
Petersen decided on his starter just days before kickoff, but isn't announcing who it is. Most Husky fans and football fans in general believe it will be true freshman Jake Browning, who put up sensational numbers (1,191-1,708 passses for 16,775 yards and 229 touchdowns) at Folsom High School in Granite Bay, California. The other leading candidate is Jeff Lindquist, who, like Finley, really only has collegiate experience in one game. Linedquist was 10-of-26 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown against Hawai'i last season.
So both teams will start an inexperienced quarterback in a pressure-packed, emotional season opener. The quarterback which performs the best in that environment will give his team a huge edge. And if one or both quarterbacks make mistakes, the respective coaches and teammates will have to step up and make up for those.
Because of the inexperience factor for both teams at quarterback, line play, the rushing attack and defense become even more important than they usually are. The onus is on the offensive lines of both teams to perform at a high level to give their quarterbacks the time necessary to unleash quality throws and make good decisions. For their parts, the running backs must be able to run well, break tackles, move the chains, and move the ball down the field to keep the opposing defenses honest and take pressure off the quarterbacks. And it is important for both defenses to be stiff to generate good field position for their respective offenses.
Given that Petersen and some of his coaches are now at Washington, and Petersen and his staff are trying to build a similar program that Petersen had at Boise State, with similar (but not exact) offensive plays and formations and defensive schemes, there is a high level of familiarity in this game. The Boise State players and the coaches who were on the staff under Petersen but stayed in Boise know Petersen pretty well--his personality, his demeanor, and the way he likes to run his football team. And when Petersen was hired as Boise State's head coach in 2005, he hired Harsin to be his offensive coordinator. Harsin served in that position from 2006-2009, helping the Broncos go 61-5 with two Fiesta Bowl championships. So Petersen is familiar with the kind of offense that Harsin wants to run at Boise State, and he is familiar with his former coaches that stayed at Boise State.
In many ways, then, the situation is somewhat like this: Boise State, Washington--meet mirror.
In its annual football preview for the past two weeks, BroncoCountry has previewed the position groups for Boise State and previewed the Huskies as well. Writers can write about the returning experience, the potential for each player and team, the storylines, etc. Players can talk about what they have been working on in fall camp and the progress they have made. Coaches can evaluate their players and teams and make their decisions on who will start and who will get playing time.
But in just a few hours, none of this will matter. The outcome of the game will rest on which team executes the fundamentals the best--the blocking, the tackling, the passes, the receptions, and taking care of the ball and not turning it over. It has been an eagerly anticipated college football game. And in just hours, we'll know how it turns out.