The Broncos will be wearing the uniform combination the program has made famous in three previous Fiesta Bowl appearances. The players will also be featuring throwback helmets similar to the 2006 version worn by the team that took down Oklahoma in that historic contest.
It's homecoming week for Boise State, and as part of the festivities the school will honor the 10-year anniversary of the program's win over the Sooners. Several former Boise State players will be in attendance as the school honors that team on The Blue Saturday night.
This 2016 version of the Broncos will be facing an improved Rams team that defeated Utah State last week 31-24 in Fort Collins. The Rams actually trailed by 14 points at the half, but scored 21 unanswered points in route to victory. The win was costly however, as they lost their starting quarterback to a season-ending ACL injury.
True freshman quarterback Collin Hill looked impressive in his four starts this season, and he will certainly be missed. However, don't expect a big drop-off at QB now that he is lost for the year. Hill will be replaced by former starter Nick Stevens who actually finished the 2015 season as a second team All-Mountain West Conference selection.
Stevens started all 13 games last year as a sophomore, and finished with 2,679 yards passing and 21 touchdowns which was tops in the Mountain West. This season he has a decent wide receiving corps to throw to, but junior Michael Gallup is starting to emerge as this offenses key target through the air. He had 140 yards receiving and a touchdown against Utah State, and leads the team with 26 catches and 394 yards thus far.
At running back the Rams have a good tandem in junior Dalyn Dawkins and sophomore Izzy Matthews. The duo combined for 198 yards and two touchdowns versus Utah State. Dawkins finished the game as the leading rusher with 125 yards, and averaged 8.9 yards-per-carry. Matthews had 73 yards, and two scores on the night. They will give Boise State a real challenge, and it will be another significant test for this Broncos defense.
The CSU offense is doing its job this season when reaching the red zone. The Rams have scored on 20-of-21 trips down close, and 15 of those have been touchdowns. That's good enough for eighth in the FBS.
On defense the Rams have been challenged this season after losing eight starters from 2015. They have had some issues with tackling, but that was improved last week. Overall they have allowed over 422 yards, and 28.7 points per game.
Senior linebacker Kevin Davis earned the MWC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against the Aggies. He had seven tackles in the game, an interception, and a fumble recovery. He leads the team with 58 tackles. Junior defensive back Jake Schlager and sophomore linebacker Josh Watson are tied for second with 46 tackles each. Junior defensive linemen Darnell Thompson and Jakob Buys are tied with Davis for sacks this season as each have three, and the team has 17 overall. The CSU defense finished last week's game with seven tackles for loss, and four sacks.
The secondary for Colorado State is led by sophomore free safety Braylin Scott who leads the team with three interceptions. This group has struggled at times in 2016, but stepped up in the second half against Utah State, and looked much more aggressive in the process.
This will be the sixth season in a row that CSU and BSU face off as conference foes. Boise State has won all five previous contests by a combined score of 225-91. Last season it was a 41-10 win for the Broncos in Hughes Stadium.
When asked this week about if his team was intimidated going to Boise to play on The Blue Rams Head Coach Mike Bobo responded, “If we're intimidated we better not go.” He went on to say, “We better go to work this week, and expect to -you know- prepare, and to go up there with the expectation to play well. I don't ever want to say that we are intimidated by anybody. We're going to respect them, and they are very good, and they could hit us in the mouth and it could get ugly, but we're not intimidated.”
Bobo will make his frist trip to Boise this week as a head coach, and he knows he has a big challenge awaiting him. He noted that BSU quarterback Brett Rypien is a great player, and that he has some excellent targets. Of running back Jeremy McNichols Bobo said, “The running back can do everything, he can run, he can catch, he can protect, he probably can throw.”
Bobo was then asked the proverbial “Blue Turf” question. He admitted that he didn't enjoy watching film of the blue turf because it was difficult to watch, and to identify player numbers. He called it a, “a pain in the you-know-what.” He also said he had talked to other coaches who told him it's not an issue when you're there playing a game. He went on to say, “that's about the only thing wrong with them, their blue turf.”
Boise State comes into this game riding high after a dominant win versus New Mexico last week in Albuquerque. Quarterback Brett Rypien is coming off his best game of the season against the Lobos finishing with 391 yards passing and five touchdowns. Wide receiver Cedrick Wilson had a career night with three touchdowns on nine catches and 167 yards, and Thomas Sperbeck had another stellar performance with nine catches for 198 yards to lead the team. Although Jeremy McNichols had just 54 yards rushing, he did have two scores.
The CSU defense has struggled some this season shutting down the running game. They have allowed just under 186 yards per game. The Broncos offensive line is probably the best in the MWC, and one of the most experienced and dominant in college football this season. They have done a great job controlling the line of scrimmage, and giving McNichols lanes to run.
When Boise State faced Utah State the line was challenged all night by a defense determined to rush the passer, and to seal up the ground game. However, pass protection in the face of that was solid. The Aggies defense is more aggressive, and ranks higher in nearly every category than do the Rams. It will be a real challenge for the CSU defense to get to the quarterback, and if they rush too much they will be susceptible to the passing attack of Boise State in a big way just as New Mexico was last week.
On defense for Boise State they will face a more traditional pro-style offense Saturday. Senior linebacker Ben Weaver said on Wednesday that the team is excited to face this kind of team. “The old traditional type of offense, which is a lot of fun for linebackers and D-lineman, and really the whole defense to play against 'cause you're doing a lot of run stopping.” He said. “It's different than -you know- what we usually play against now a days, but it will be fun,” he added.
In a testimony to how big that win over Oklahoma was in the first Boise State Fiesta Bowl, Weaver acknowledged that at the time he was actually a Sooners fan, and at the end of that night he admitted he had to, “hate Boise State.” But, after seeing the capabilities of the Broncos in that game, and experiencing the recruiting process with BSU his perspective changed. Weaver said he liked the “underdog” role of the Broncos, and said his whole family now “loves it here.”
Boise State Head Coach Bryan Harsin addressed the media Tuesday, and he talked about the Rams and what his team will face Saturday. “This football team is improved from last season, they're tougher, they play physical, they play four quarters, it showed up against Utah State, and certainly seen improvements from throughout the year watching them from game one to where they are right now,” Harsin stated. He went on to mention that the Rams are very balanced on offense, and doing well getting to the quarterback on defense recently.
On special teams Boise State looked better last week, but still need to step up when it comes to punt returns. Coach Harsin noted that his team is trying to be aggressive in this area, and that blocking needs to improve for the punt returns to improve for the Broncos. For CSU they have a punter that can help the Rams win the field position game. He has the ability to pin teams back, and to drive the ball with distance when his team has its back against the wall.
Both of these offenses pride themselves on a balanced approach. However, the Broncos have an advantage when it comes to the quarterback position with Brett Rypien. They also have the upper hand when it comes to wide receivers. At running back the two players the Rams feature in the run game will rival the ground game led by Jeremy McNichols, but the offensive line advantage goes to BSU hands down.
On the defensive side of the ball Boise State has been impressive this season. While the Rams have gotten better each game, they have struggled at times with tackling. With players like Wilson, Sperbeck, and McNichols, who have the ability to avoid and break tackles, the Rams will need to do much better to slow down the Broncos. When in man-to-man coverage the Rams will face a serious challenge, and if they aren't able to get to Rypien it could mean disaster as Sperbeck and Wilson will no doubt get their yards all game long.
You can expect a big game from the BSU passing game, and don't be surprised if McNichols and true freshman Alexander Mattison have a very good night as well. The Broncos come into this game as much as a 31-point favorite. However, at home BSU has struggled at times covering those kind of spreads.
While it should be a dominant win for Boise State it may not be by the kind of margin experts are predicting. However, in the end it will be too much Boise State offense, and not enough Colorado State defense that is the story line. The Broncos defense will do a good job shutting down the Rams offense, and it should be a dominant performance by BSU on homecoming.
Score Prediction: Boise State 50, Colorado State 24