The clock has not yet struck midnight on 2016, yet the gears are already in motion for the Boise State Broncos in 2017.
More likely than not, the players and staff returning in 2017 will spend the offseason with a bitter taste in their mouth. They can look back fondly on a 10-3 season, but will do so knowing they left a few wins on the table.
The most recent loss, the 31-12 Cactus Bowl defeat to Baylor, highlighted the issues plaguing the team all season. Failure to capitalize. Taking care of the ball. A lack of defensive depth (missing four starters for the bowl game). And, at times, that classic Boise State swagger.
A lack of execution in the bowl game, along with simply getting outplayed, will hopefully be the fuel for the returning players and staff for the next nine months.
Has this become the new norm for Boise State? Two seasons without a Mountain West title so it’s time to abandon ship?
Was there questionable game planning? Maybe. Was this a season in which coaches had trouble adjusting? From the couch, you could say that. Keep in mind, though, two new coordinators were leading this team. Over the years, the team has been blessed with great offensive and defensive minds. Maybe, just maybe, there’s more of a learning curve with this group of coaches. A curve that will see them make a giant leap forward in 2017.
For the first time under head coach Bryan Harsin, it looks like the team will go into the next season with an entire coaching staff intact. Coaching staff continuity is partly how Boise State attained it’s prominence in the first place. Players will always be revolving in a door of one to four years. Continuity starts at the top.
Rebuild. Reorganize. Relaunch.
Boise State will be looking to replace at least 22 players from this year’s squad (18 seniors, one NFL bound running back, two transfers and one player no longer with the program).
Reloading–or the next man up mentality–with talented kids has been a key to Boise State’s success over the years. That will be just as important in 2017, when the Broncos will have to replace over 3,500 yards of total offense accumulated by stalwarts Thomas Sperbeck and Jeremy McNichols in 2016.
Sperbeck finished his career with 224 receptions, 3,601 yards and 20 touchdowns.
McNichols ran for over 1,700 yards this season, scoring 27 total touchdowns in the process.
Alexander Mattison, who will be a sophomore, and Robert Mahone, who used a redshirt this season, will more than likely be at the top of the running back depth chart. Mattison ran for 328 yards, averaging 4.9 yards per carry and scoring four touchdowns.
Wide receiver Cedrick Wilson burst onto the scene in 2016, hauling in 55 receptions and averaging over 20 yards per catch. He will be the go to guy with Sperbeck leaving. Chaz Anderson is also graduating, leaving quite a hole at receiver.
Sean Modster and Akilian Butler both showed flashes this season and true freshman Bubba Ogbebor played but didn’t record any stats. 2017 might be a year in which tight ends–as seen against Baylor, with Jake Roh catching six passes–are incorporated back in the offense.
The offensive line will also be replacing the likes of Mario Yakoo, Steven Baggett, and Travis Averill.
Brett Rypien will be a junior and, while he continues to improve, will need to take the reins of next year’s team. He cut down on mistakes this season, but needs to take his execution and consistency to the next level. Rypien threw for 3,646 yards this season with 24 touchdowns.
A young defense will have chance to rise up
The secondary and linebackers will be hit the hardest heading into 2017. The good news? Injuries this season forced a lot of the young talent onto the field, providing them valuable experience for next season.
Gone from the secondary will be names like seniors Chanceller James, Jonathan Moxey and Raymond Ford, along with the recently dismissed Dylan Sumner-Gardner.
Tyler Horton saw plenty of action this season and will only be a junior next season. Freshman safety Evan Tyler was playing well through three games before an injury ended his season. Cameron Hartsfield and DeAndre Pierce, along with players like Reid Harrison-Ducros, are ready for the limelight.
A senior laden bunch, the linebackers might be hit the hardest, but they were also a unit that saw plenty of reserves play due to injuries. Gone will be Ben Weaver, Tanner Vallejo, and Darren Lee. A (hopefully) fully recovered Joe Martarano will be the leader of the group, with Leighton Vander Esch and Blake Whitlock seeing a fair amount of field time this season.
The defensive line loses Sam McCaskill and Elliot Hoyte, but brings back top players like David Moa and Jabril Frazier. A handful of freshman and sophomores also were part of the rotation in 2016.
A kicker and punter will also be new faces next season, as both Tyler Rausa and Sean Wale graduate.
Any defeat can be humbling. The Boise State Broncos of 2016 found that out three times. Expectations were high this season–and the team might have fallen short of them–but a ten-win season is nothing to hang your head about. End of the world? No. Disappointing? Yes. But that’s to be expected when a team and fan base has high standards.
For a senior class that accumulated 39 wins, the loss to Baylor is a memory they will unfortunately have to live with.
For the rest of the team? They have approximately nine months to stew, to work with the bitter taste in their mouth, and to improve. Come next September against Troy, we’ll find out how much the end of the 2016 season motivated them to improve.
Until then, it’ll be time to get back to work and to find out what bleeding blue truly means.