Game Week: The Mountain West Conference’s Bohl-Bowl Edition. After defeating BYU in the most over-hyped rivalry game in college football (can’t stop, won’t stop), Boise State heads to Laramie, Wyoming to face off against the most over-hyped team in college football. Boise State heads into the contest at 7-0 and ranked #13 in the country, but many media talking heads are calling for a Cowboy sized upset.
This week’s Bet on Blue will look at a few narratives that have popped up during the week. After that, we will look at the statistical comparisons between the Broncos and the Cowboys. Then we will predict what will happen in the game, discuss the betting line, and decide if we should Bet on Blue.
TRAP GAME OR NAW?
The phrase “trap game” has been popping up a lot this week. Bronco fans, bloggers, and other media types have suggested that the Wyoming game is a trap game for Boise State. What is a trap game? Is the Wyoming game a trap game for the Broncos? Is a trap game a real phenomenon? Let’s find out:
What is a trap game?
There is no set-in-stone definition of a trap game, but it’s loosely defined by The Harvard Sports Analysis Collective as “the mushy understanding that sometimes good teams lose to bad teams when they have a ‘bigger’ game against a better opponent the following week.”
Another frequent qualifier added to the trap game definition is when a good team is coming off of a tough/emotional/important game, then plays a weak team, and then has another tough/emotional/important game. Think of a trap game as a game against a bad team when it’s sandwiched between two tough games. Does this Wyoming game qualify as a trap game?
Is Boise State Entering a Trap?
No. This game meets none of the requirements of a trap game. Boise State is coming off of an emotional game against BYU, but the Wyoming game is at least as important to the Broncos. Boise State has the stated goal of winning the MWC and Wyoming is about all that stands in-between BSU and the MWC Championship game. It doesn’t get much bigger than that. Wyoming is also the toughest game left on the Boise State schedule (I know, I know, people are scared of Hawaii and Air Force). So no, this isn’t a trap game.
Are Trap Games Even a Thing?
Going back to the fine folks at Harvard; trap games aren’t a thing. Their exhaustive study showed that teams win more in these so-called “trap games” than they normally do against bad opponents. The concept of a trap game exists because big upsets are relatively rare so our minds try to find patterns to explain them. Statistically, trap games aren’t a thing. I wonder if I could get some smart people to disprove the idea of “revenge games.”
The second hot topic swirling amongst Bronco Nation is the USA Today’s release of the list of head coaching salaries in college football. Of particular interest is the fact that Bryan Harsin sits as just the third-highest paid coach in the Mountain West Conference. Harsin’s base salary of $1.3 million is behind the $1.45 million paid to Mike Bobo (Colorado State) and the $1.55 million of Tim DeRuyter (unemployed). Is Harsin underpaid? Maybe.
Sometimes situations determine a salary as much as worth. Boise State lured Harsin away from Arkansas State but the Red Wolves didn’t come away empty-handed. BSU paid a $1.75 million buyout to ASU for the right to have Harsin stalk the sidelines of the hallowed Blue Turf. After getting $750,000 from Washington to buyout Coach Pete’s contract, Boise State still had to make up $1 million somewhere. Some of that deficit was made up in Harsin’s salary.
Harsin has since gained significant ground in the dollar department due to his fantastic coaching record (28-6 at Boise State). Even this year’s salary is misleading. By the end of the year, Harsin will earn more than any MWC coach because of reachable bonuses in his contract. Harsin will make at least $1.6 million this season.
In 2017 Harsin’s base salary will increase to $1.55 million with bonus potential topping out his salary around $1.95 million. That’s if he doesn’t get a raise this offseason (he’ll likely see a pay bump). The $1.95 million figure would make him the third-highest paid Go5 coach after Niumatalolo at Navy ($2 million) and Herman at Houston ($3 million). Herman is likely off to greener pastures so a great 2017 season for the Broncos puts Harsin at the top of the mountain.
WHAT DO THE STATS SAY?
Trap game narratives and a spooked out fan base are one thing, stats are another. Statistics can be scary, of course, but regarding this Boise State vs Wyoming game, they are pure soothing bliss. As you’ll soon see, Wyoming is not a good football team. Wyoming is not a good football team at all.
Last week we compared BSU and BYU using strength of schedule adjusted stats. That was done so BYU fans wouldn’t cry about their “tough” schedule. Well, Bet on Blue fell in love with Football Outsider’s stats so they make a return this week. Besides, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander (what does that even mean?), SOS adjusted stats help BSU this week.
Let’s start with the offensive comparison:
All of these stats have been adjusted for strength of opponent. The stats are put together using either per play statistics or per drive statistics. The number is the team’s ranking among all FBS programs. A blue background represents BSU holding the advantage in that category, the brown shows that Wyoming is better statistically. Some of the categories are self-explanatory (efficiency, touchdowns, turnovers, passing and rushing offense, passing and standard downs) the others are explained below:
Offense First Downs: This ranks teams on how often they avoid a three and out. Wyoming is in the bottom half of the country in getting at least one first down (or a TD) on a drive.
Success Rate: This shows how often a play is successful. A successful play gains 50% of the yards needed for a first down or touchdown on first down, 70% on second down, and 100% on third and fourth down. BSU is mediocre at “staying on schedule” and Wyoming is awful.
Explosiveness: This stat, called IsoPPP, isolates a team’s successful plays and measures how successful (or explosive) the plays were. When Boise State is successful they are as explosive as any team in the country. The defensive version of this stat for Wyoming would have me shaking in my boots as a Cowboy fan.
Now the defense:
The stats here measure the same things but apply to the defenses ability to stop an offense. Once again, there is but one lonely stat that Wyoming can claim superiority in against the Broncos. Boise State’s defensive stats match the eye test, they are dominant in almost every aspect of the game (curse you turnover drought). Wyoming’s defense is as putrid as their color scheme. Remember a few paragraphs ago when we talked about shaking boots? Wyoming gives up big plays more often than all but 12 FBS teams and BSU is seventh best at dialing them up. Even better is that Wyoming is 83rd against the pass and BSU chucks it better than all but six FBS teams. That’s your ballgame.
The overall picture shows that BSU should destroy Wyoming. The one problem? Takeaways and giveaways. Wyoming is 19th in the country at forcing turnovers and BSU is usually a willing participant in that department. On offense, Wyoming is just above average at protecting the football, but Boise State is (gasp) 125th out of 128 FBS teams at garnering takeaways. Ugh. Bet on Blue has called for the turnover drought to end two weeks in a row, let’s try guaranteeing that BSU will force zero turnovers this week. Maybe that will work?
WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
This game will not be close. Wyoming is outmanned on offense and defense (don’t talk about special teams, please). The Broncos were publically challenged by Coach Harsin this week and will answer that call. This game will be much more New Mexico than Colorado State. Here’s how it will go down:
In an unusual change from most coach’s press conferences, Craig Bohl talked strategy in his weekly sit-down with the media. Bohl stated that Wyoming likes to switch from a Tampa-2 defense to a Quarters defense depending on the flow of the game. This gives a lot of clues about how the Broncos will attack.
If Wyoming plays much Tampa-2 they’re dead. Boise State will run and throw the ball (primarily in the middle of the field) at will. If Wyoming plays more Quarters then BSU will have to game plan to get easy yards. Quarters defense is an alignment more than a specific style. Tampa-2 is just Tampa-2 whereas there are numerous options for a defense in a Quarters formation.
The way Bohl described his Quarters defense was that Wyoming rolls their corners/safeties and gets a lot of bodies in the box to stop the run. Another advantage of the defensive style is that quick hitting lateral passes are easy to defend. Wyoming will try to mitigate their disadvantage of being slower to the edges through their defensive game plan. The problem is that misdirection will kill them, and you can scheme matchup problems through offensive alignments.
I’d expect to see more trips formations than normal from Boise State on Saturday to force a cornerback into man coverage on a lone receiver on one side of the field (get Ced into your fantasy lineup, folks). This defensive style also leads to corners and safeties being responsible for a lot of tackling and BSU’s WRs are amazing pass blockers that will disrupt Wyoming’s plans.
Brian Hill is a problem. He is an explosive back who is also a workhorse. Hill averages 5.8 yards per carry and has 10 touchdowns on the year. Wyoming QB Josh Allen is also an effective runner. Allen has five rushing touchdowns through seven games this season. Luckily, BSU is great at stopping the run. Like seventh in the nation good. Wyoming has one receiving threat in Tanner Gentry (38 catches, 612 yards, 5 TD), but that won’t cut it against the Broncos. The Bronco defense will dominate this one.
Call it 44-20 Broncos.
Boise State opened as a 13 point favorite. After some movement, it is settling at -13.5 or -14. The OVER/UNDER is around 63.5 meaning the betting markets see a 39-25 Boise State win. There are a few Boise State trends worth mentioning to you betting folks out there.
- Boise State is 5-0 against the spread in their last five on the road
- The total has gone over in six of Boise State’s last seven road games
- Boise State is 4-2 against the spread in their last six versus Wyoming
- Boise State is 4-1 against the spread in their last five trips to Laramie
SHOULD WE BET ON BLUE?
Yes, finally! This is the week to Bet on Blue, rejoice! The decision is easy. BSU dominates the record, the betting trends, and the stats. On top of that, a 13 point spread allows for a little of that margin for error that the Broncos have been using up this season. Boise State will remain undefeated on Saturday and this week they’ll cover the spread in the process. Go Broncos!