Boise State Likely Takes a Step Back in 2017
I didn’t visit a fortune teller or come back from the future, so keep in mind this is merely a prediction. And I’ve been wrong before – sports, college sports in particular is very hard to predict. This isn’t just a gut feeling though, but rather on paper it appears that Boise State will take a step back this upcoming season. Why do I say that?
There will be lots of new faces on this Boise State team, some that were positions held by veterans the past 3 to 4 seasons. Take for example Tanner Vallejo and Ben Weaver, who have been consistent play-makers for the Broncos defense ever since coming to the program in 2013. Losing LBs Vallejo, Weaver, Lee, and Martarano all in one season is a huge loss of leadership, talent, and experience. Both Weaver and Vallejo have been the leaders in tackles for the Broncos for years, and now are looking to earn roster spots on an NFL squad. Replacing them will be LBs Vander Esch and Maeva who bring a little experience to the table as they were broken in last season. WR Thomas Sperbeck and RB Jeremy McNichols, ironically both now on the same Bucaneers Squad, are huge losses on the offensive side of the ball. Sperbeck was 15th in the country in yards/game (97.8) and was 23rd in the country in receptions (80). He is also the Boise State record holder for the most career receiving yards in Boise State history. And not only did Boise State lose their #1 receiving threat but they also lose a RB who had the 5th most yards/game (173) and 2nd most touchdowns in the nation (27). Ouch. Needless to say, there will be some drop off from their production next season even with very talented replacements lined up. I suspect Alexander Mattison will do some pretty great things from what we saw last season. There is room for concern with the other WRs stepping up, as the two new starters (likely Modster and Richardson) combined for 10 catches last season. Sperbeck and Chaz Anderson, the two now graduated, combined for 100 more receptions than that of their successors. Boise State will look to the depth at the Tight End position to help soften the blow of the big losses of Thomas Sperbeck & Anderson.
Surprisingly, BSU wasn’t dead last in scoring last season. In fact they did fairly well considering the circumstances, ending up with 33.8 pts/game which landed them at 38th in FBS. Why would they be last in scoring? Because their average starting field position was around their own 28 (see picture above). That’s good right? 7th to last in FBS. So uh, slightly better than UNLV. I’ll tackle the main reason for why that happened in my next point but it begs the question – can a less experienced team do better? The offense did great despite this lack of decent starting position, and at one point were even perfect scoring in the red zone until the Oregon State game. That statistic later fell though, to a mere 84% scoring % in the red zone by the end of the season. The Broncos better hope for better starting field positions if they want to improve offensively this year, and avoid taking a step back. The defense has a large part to do with starting the offense on better parts of the field, by stopping them short and taking the ball away. Also did you see those Mtn West punters last season? Goodness gracious. 5 of them were in the top 25 in averaging punting yards! (BSU, SJSU, Hawaii, CSU, Nevada)
(photo cred: Broncosports.com)
Getting turnovers was a huge emphasis in the off-season and was even a big focus during parts of last season but it never translated on the field. The defense did a pretty good job at putting themselves in the right position but just couldn’t make the play on the ball. There were many occasions where Moxey, Horton, or James dropped what would have been an intercepted pass. I remember my heart was beating out of my chest in the BYU game when the hail mary pass bounced off a couple different players hands, before failing to be caught and falling to the ground. Overall, the defense’s ability to turn the ball over were pitiful. They were the worst team in FBS in % of defensive snaps with a turnover (0.92). Boise’s defense had 7 interceptions (104th in FBS) and recovered 2 fumbles (126th). They were 40th in passes defended though, so like I stated earlier there were opportunities that were not taken advantage of. The ball just did not bounce or go Boise State’s way. This is the main reason for the poor starting position that the offense had, having to almost always start a drive deep on their side of the field. It’s hard to imagine that they can do much worse in lack of turnovers next season (see below) but a question mark still remains because of the new starters in the secondary.
(Boise State’s defensive turnovers over the past 8 seasons)
(photo cred: europeanmotorcars.net)
A clutch on a manual vehicle is used to allow you to switch into a different gear. In sports, a “clutch player” helps shift a team into a different gear when the game is on the line to ultimately win. If you watched the national championship game, you saw a clutch QB lead his team down the field in the final minutes to win all the marbles. Also in the Superbowl you saw a clutch QB take his team from down 28-3 to win the game in overtime. But that element of Brett Rypien’s career has yet to take shape. He will now be entering his Junior season and hopefully he can improve in that part of his game. In 6 games when Brett Rypien has been given the chance to win or tie the game, he hasn’t come through. Overall, he looked like a better QB this last season and has already established himself as one of the better QBs in recent Boise State history (see graph below). It will forever be a blemish on his record that despite being given multiple opportunities to win the game or run the clock out to win, he is crushed under the pressure. Notably, last year Boise State’s offense could have tied the game late against Air Force, only to come up short on the 1-yard line. And against Wyoming, with ball in hand and a chance to win, Rypien is hit and the ball squirts out into the endzone, giving the Cowboys not only a safety but a win. In the BYU game Brett had a chance to march the offense down the field and seal the win, but just couldn’t pull it off. A similar situation in the Washington State game where a touchdown seals the win, Rypien throws an interception into the endzone. Both BYU and WSU were given breaths of life and a chance to win. In Rypien’s freshman year, there were 2 games where he was given the chance to tie the game late and came up short (New Mexico, Air Force). It will be important to note if Brett can show us that he CAN be a clutch quarterback this next season.
(Year 3 & 4 are projections for where Rypien could perform)
So let’s face it – there will be some struggles for Boise State to overcome this year. They will need lots of new faces to step up and lead the team. All is not lost though. Even though they may take a step back from last year, winning the Mountain West Conference needs to be the goal. They can lose both of their out of conference games vs Washington State and BYU (two of their toughest games) and still have their title goals unblemished. The biggest tests for BSU next season will be slaying the Air Force demon, getting revenge on Wyoming at home, and beating the SDSU Aztecs on their home turf. Let’s hope they can pull it off. Go Broncos!
Also, I would like to take a second to dedicate this post to Mark Rose, a great Boise State fan who recently passed away. I didn’t know Mark personally but as a fellow BSU fan, I wish for thoughts & prayers for the Rose family.