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Washington State season preview: Boise State in Week Two

BOISE STATE is the darkhorse darling of many in the national media given how its offense shapes up headed into 2016. Over on the defensive side of the ball, however, there are more questions than you can shake a stick at. What kind of numbers might Washington State's Luke Falk and the Air Raid put up in the first road test of the season?

Opponent: Boise State

Returning starters: 15 (5 defense, 8 offense, 2 special teams)

Date of matchup: Sept. 10 (ESPN2, 7:15 pm)

Location/venue: Albertsons Stadium, Boise

Star players: QB Brett Rypien, So., RB Jeremy McNichols, Jr., WR Thomas Sperbeck, Sr., LB Ben Weaver, R-Sr., LB Tanner Vallejo, Dr.

Matchup to watch for: WSU offensive line vs. Boise State d-line.
All four starters from last year's Bronco defensive line are gone, and seven d-line seniors overall.  Boise State will also be breaking in a new defensive coordinator, former LBs coach Andy Avalos. He is expected to change some things up and potentially run a 3–4 for the most part.

With BSU expected to sport a high-powered offense, Washington State will need to take advantage up front when they have the ball. Boise State battling to a draw up front would be considered a win here.

Area of weakness that WSU could exploit:
In addition to the d-line, the other main concern for Boise State in 2016 is an inexperienced secondary. Boise State brings back all three starting linebackers but behind them are questions.

Cornerback Jonathan Moxey and safety Chanceller James return but the rest of the defensive backs are unproven.  Luke Falk should consistently have time to throw, and he should have open targets to choose from. An Idaho Press article earlier this month speculated that BSU could play as many as six true freshmen on defense in its two-deeps.

The last time a non conference team came into Boise and beat the Broncs in a regular season game was 2001 (Washington State, 41-20). If Wazzu is to do it again, Falk and the offense likely need a big day with lots of points and passing yards. But WSU can't forget the run game -- Boise State ranked highly in run defense last season but there were times they struggled against the run over an 8-4 regular season.

A quick analysis of the stakes, considering three possible outcomes:
1) WSU wins big. This result would in turn see the national media suddenly talking a lot more about the Cougs. And that's because of the difficulty factor involved, given the BSU offense and the dominance of Boise State at home.   Rypien threw for 3,353 yards and 20 TDs against 8 INT in only 11 games last season, completing 63 percent of his passes. He will be protected by an offensive line that brings back three starters from last year’s group that helped the Broncos average 191 ground yards per game. Running back Jeremy McNichols carried 240 times for 1,337 yards and his 26 overall touchdowns are more than any other returning FBS player who isn't a quarterback. Rypien will have his top two receiving targets back in Thomas Sperbeck (1,412 yards, 8 TD) and Chaz Anderson (578 yards, 3 TD). The Cougar D figures to find out exactly where they're at in this one.

2) WSU wins close. The most likely scenario here would be Washington State's defense gets enough heat on Rypien, who is not mobile and still only a second-year sophomore, limits the damage in the run game and, most of all, dominates in the trenches when WSU has the football.  Starting out 2-0 would almost guarantee the Cougs a spot in the top 25 polls and set up a monster battle drawing lots of national focus in Week Four vs. Oregon at home (assuming WSU takes care of business vs. Idaho in Week 3 and in the opener vs. EWU).

3) Boise State wins. Despite BSU likely to be favored and at home, it would still feel a lot like the Cal loss last season for Cougar fans: tough to swallow. One silver lining would be that it has no impact on the Pac-12 title chase with Washington State still having its full conference slate to look forward to.

NOTABLE NOTES:
* BSU's 2015 season was a great example of how statistics sometimes lie.  Boise State had an top-notch season statistically, but still went just 8-4. They started the season with a win over Washington but suffered losses to BYU, Utah State, New Mexico and Air Force.

* The only two d-line players on the 2016 roster with career starts are defensive tackle Elliot Hoyte, with just one, and defensive end Sam McCaskill with 13 starts two seasons ago. McCaskill appeared in 13 games in 2015.

* Of the 19 d-line players on the roster, 10 are freshmen who have yet to see college game day action.

* The secondary loses safety Darian Thompson and corner Donte Deayon who combined for 36 career interceptions.

* Boise State has dealt with some unwanted publicity this spring and summer, as the school expelled three freshmen football players, at least two of whom were expected to contribute this season. 

* Rising Broncos to watch for: OL Will Adams (Auburn transfer),  DE Gabe Perez, DE Jabril Frazier, DL Austin Silsby

RELATED STORY: WSU vs. Eastern Washington preview


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