In the lead-up to the upcoming college football season, Sports Unbiassed is taking a look at the top 20 teams with a chance to win the Access Bowl bid in 2015. You can find the full list of the Top 20, links to other team previews, and read more about the methodology behind the rankings here.
Boise State Broncos
2014 Record: 12-2 (7-1 in MWC)
Head Coach: Bryan Harsin (.667)
Returning Starters: 17/24 (8 OFF/8 DEF/1 SP)
5-Year Recruiting Ranking Composite: 69th
FIVE POSSIBLE STATEMENT GAMES
- Sept. 4 v. Washington
- Sept. 12 @ BYU
- Sept. 25 @ Virginia
- Oct. 10 @ Colorado State
- Oct. 16 @ Utah State
WHAT YOU REMEMBER/SHOULD REMEMBER ABOUT THE BRONCOS
So the Broncos prevailed last year to claim the first-ever Access Bowl slot, and then followed it up with a resounding victory over Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl in the team’s 13th straight bowl appearance. Five years earlier, while still a part of the WAC, they squared off in the all-BCS Buster Fiesta Bowl against TCU that set both teams up as contenders the following season. But even with two subsequent victories in Glendale, the defining memory that still prevails for Boise State is perhaps the defining moment for all Cinderellas in college football history:
That play capped what had already been a sustained run of dominance and catalyzed it to germinate into so much more. The Broncos have become the poster child for what a small, unheralded school can do to flip the script on the blueblood elements of the sport. No school has won more since the turn of the century; the Broncos have finished 11 of the 14 seasons since 2001 with 10 or more tallies in the win column. The standard bearer for mid-major excellence, Boise State once again remains the team to beat in the race for the Access Bowl.
THE KEY REASON FOR HOPE FOR THE BRONCOS IN 2015
After two straight years of rebuilding, the Broncos return eight starters on both sides of the ball. They have to replace quarterback Grant Hedrick and tailback Jay Ajayi, who were responsible for over two-thirds of the team’s offensive yardage last season, but whoever wins the competition to replace Hedrick will have a seasoned offensive line and a full compliment of experienced receivers to ease the transition into the starting role. Bryan Harsin helped ease Kellen Moore into his legendary career at Boise State during his time as offensive coordinator, and the head coach should have no problem getting a quarterback up to speed in time for the new season. More importantly, the defense should keep that new QB and his supporting cast from having to keep up in shootouts, as eight starters return from last year’s lockdown unit.
2015 also offers several statement opportunities. A home game against Washington and former head coach Chris Petersen can buy the Broncos some what-have-you-done-for-me-now credibility with the CFP selection committee. A trip to Provo to face BYU is a sort of elimination game between two teams that fancy themselves capable of going on a run and forcing their way into an even bigger discussion than just a major bowl appearance. And another trip at the end of September to Charlottesville could end in another victory over an ACC school. That resume, on top of a Mountain West slate that gets more challenging by the season, is hard to top.
WHAT COULD COST THE BRONCOS THE ACCESS BOWL SLOT
They say that if you have two quarterbacks, you have none. And while Ohio State put the lie to that myth last season, it holds water more often than not. Ryan Finley was supposed to be the starter after spring practices, but since fall practices resumed Tommy Stuart, Alex Ogle, and Brett Rypien have all muddled the waters at times. That uncertainty is the biggest pothole that could derail an otherwise experienced team that has the potential to go undefeated and tip the College Football Playoff’s hand about how it really values mid-major teams.
The other risk is a rather simple one. An ambitious non-conference schedule has three potential defeats, which would be a tall ladder to climb against another Group of Five champion that finished the year undefeated or with a single loss. Boise State earned the benefit of the doubt last year with two losses over a Marshall team whose schedule was significantly weaker, but would the Broncos get the same benefit of the doubt if that one-loss team was a Northern Illinois or UCF, other teams with their own history of success on the big stage?
OFFERING A POTENTIAL OUTCOME FOR 2015
Boise State gets a test right off the bat with Washington coming to play on the Smurf Turf on Friday night. The offense will take time to gel, but the defense should allow the Broncos to win by the same sort of 19-to-8-style score that won against Oregon six years ago. There is little time to recuperate, with the trip to Provo coming on the following weekend. Taysom Hill will test the defense, and that game will be a total toss-up. FCS Idaho State will not cause nearly as many problems, and frankly neither should Virginia. 3-1 is possible, but a perfect record heading into October is just as likely.
The home game against Hawaii to start October will provide the offense time to fully round into form against Mountain West competition. As they head to Fort Collins to take on Colorado State, the Broncos will be 5-0 and ready to double down on a statement for the selection committee. They could very well double the score on the Rams, though Harsin is likely to take the foot off the throttle in the second half in order to preserve something in the tank for the follow-up six days later against Utah State in Logan. The defense will have to keep Chuckie Keeton in check, but another game similar to the Washington opener should allow Boise to remain undefeated going into wind-down games against Wyoming and UNLV. As October flips over into November, the Broncos will be 9-0 and in the top 15 of the CFP top 25 rankings.
That ranking should push up closer in the top 10, at the very least, as the last month of the regular season plays out and teams in the Power Five conferences batter one another. As long as Boise State is the team staying undefeated, the committee will be forced to take them seriously as a recidivist giant-killer in the discussion for the full-bore playoff depending on how far each of the major leagues cannibalize one another. Neither New Mexico, Air Force, nor San Jose State will be able to pull off the type of upset that Colin Kaepernick-led Nevada managed back in 2010 and the Broncos will host the Mountain West championship game against San Diego State. The game should end in a rout, and the 13-0 Broncos will be justifiably upset as the only undefeated team in the country when they are passed over for several two-loss teams in the playoff. They’ll take out the frustrations in yet another Fiesta Bowl, and another undefeated season will be left with a hollow feeling as the power brokers choke out a chance at truly providing an avenue for strong mid-majors to state a case as the nation’s best.
PREDICTED RECORD: 14-0 (8-0 in MWC)