The arrival of the Mountain West Conference media days means only one thing: the start of football season for Boise State is growing ever closer.
Predictions and possibilities are nearly a year-round thing these days, from the release of a far-too-early top 25 in January to the most recent musings of of publications ranging from Sports Illustrated to Phil Steele.
Putting the talk of going to the Big-12 one day is certainly on the minds of many fans, but for the coaches and players of the Boise State program, their focus is no doubt on putting a disappointing 2015 season behind them.
With a few pundits even projecting an undefeated season for the Broncos, we now get to see over the next two days how the coaches and Mountain West media feel things are going to shake out for the 2016 season.
A Prolific Offense
A projected prolific offense for Boise State has been put on a pedestal during the offseason. And with the return of Brett Rypien, Jeremy McNichols and Thomas Sperbeck, these projections are warranted. It is imagined all three will be give preseason honors on the Mountain West first-team selections.
Rypien is coming off a steady freshman season. He was phenomenal at times, shaky on occasion, but mostly lived up to what fans, coaches and teammates hoped he would be.
The sophomore quarterback is coming off a season in which he threw for 3,353 yards with 20 touchdowns and 8 interceptions while completing 63.5% of his passes.
Rypien is also on the preseason list for the Maxwell and Davey O’Brien awards.
Standing next to Rypien in the backfield will be McNichols. The junior is coming off a season in which he totaled 26 touchdowns. He proved to be as versatile as his freshman year promised. As a sophomore, McNichols rushed for 1,337 yards and had 51 receptions despite missing a game.
McNichols is a preseason candidate for the Maxwell Award as well, to go along with the Doak Walker Award for top running back.
The third playmaker on offense, Sperbeck, has some lofty numbers to beat after last season’s record-setting season.
The senior, named to the Biletnikoff watch list for the nation’s top receiver, hauled in 88 passes–tying a Boise State single season record–for 1,412 yards–a record–while crossed the goal line eight times.
These three will carry the load on offense, especially with a lack of experience/depth at some of the key positions. The tight end position, led by John Mackey award candidate Jake Roh, will alleviate some of that pressure. There will also be a lot of focus on the offensive line, with the departures of Rees Odhiambo (third-round draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks) and two-time all first-team Mountain West pick Marcus Henry.
A Young Defense
Replacing key players on defense will also test the young Broncos. Gone are stalwarts Darian Thompson and Donte Deayon (both with the New York Giants) and Kamalei Correa (42nd pick by the Baltimore Ravens). Correa is part of a defensive line that graduated its entire starting front four.
The linebackers, though, will be the strength of this team. Seniors Ben Weaver and Tanner Vallejo will anchor an experienced group. Weaver is a tackling machine with a knack for timely interceptions, while Vallejo will look to rebound from a slightly disappointing 2015 that saw him suspended for Boise State’s bowl win over Northern Illinois.
And of course there is Tyler Rausa leading the special teams. He nailed 25 of his 30 field goal attempts last season, with a long of 51-yards. The senior also connected on 59 of his 61 extra-points.
Overall, early indications have the Broncos marching towards a Mountain West Championship game appearance against the San Diego St. Aztecs.
The defending Mountain West champions return eight starters on defense, plus the man that McNichols will battle for the title of “Best Running Back” in the Mountain West: Donnel Pumphrey.
Pumphrey returns to San Diego State a year after rushing for 1,653 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Of course, the Broncos and Aztecs don’t meet again in the regular season. And Boise State has their own foes to worry about before thinking of the title game.
Boise State will look to avenge losses from last season when they deal with the always steady Utah State (home, 10/1), the continually improving New Mexico (@NM, 10/7), and the stingy Air Force Academy (@AF, 11/25)
It will be interesting to see what the coaches and media feel about the conference over the next few days, but one thing is for certain: September 3rd can’t come soon enough.
Stayed tuned in to Bronco Nation over the next few weeks as the BNN writers break down the team, provide analysis, and take a look at the upcoming season.