Game Week: BYU & the Return of the Revenge Tour Edition. The Boise State Broncos had five teams on their 2016 schedule that beat them the last time they played them. Three down, two to go. After avenging losses to New Mexico, Utah State, and Oregon State (yes, peegate happened) the Broncos look to stay blemish free on the Revenge Tour when they face BYU Thursday night on The Blue.
Like the Broncos, Bet on Blue is on a short week. Let’s make this short and sweet, shall we? This week’s Bet on Blue will decide if BYU is a rival, look at the statistical matchup between the two teams, predict how Thursday’s game will go down, and decide if we should Bet on Blue.
IS BYU A RIVAL?
People are calling Thursday night’s matchup a rivalry game. Does Boise State have a rival in Brigham Young University? The short answer is no, BYU is not Boise State’s rival. Let’s break it down, though:
- Rivalries, like good whiskey, develop their flavor over time. Boise State has played BYU a grand total of six times. Six. That’s not rivalry material. If you insist on calling this a rivalry game, at least acknowledge it’s the Canadian Mist of rivalry games (that’s a disgusting whiskey for any BYU fans that stumbled upon this article).
- It can’t be a rivalry if a decent segment of the fan base likes both teams. There are quite a few Broncos fans in the Treasure Valley that root for BYU when they aren’t playing BSU (and vice versa). There are zero Utah & BYU, Oklahoma & Texas, or Alabama & Auburn fans out there.
- It’s not a rivalry just because a lot of Boise State fans are Mormon. I don’t even get the logic of this one. If religion builds rivalries than Gonzaga basketball is rivals with every team they play in-conference. This relationship can create a rivalry between family members (like alumnus from different schools getting married always does), but it doesn’t create a true rivalry.
- It’s not a rivalry just because the series is competitive. Rivalries need more than that. When these teams play nothing is on the line. There’s only the vaguest of regional proximity, there’s no conference ramifications, there’s no long storied history of the teams playing, there’s nothing. Maybe it will turn into a rivalry someday, but for now, BYU is just another team with a losing record to BSU (2-4) that can’t win on The Blue.
Boise State doesn’t have a rival. Idaho isn’t on the schedule (good riddance), and every other Mountain West team is always awful (looking at almost all of you), not in BSU’s division (San Diego State), or already has two big rivals (Air Force Academy). Boise State’s rival is the talking heads, the system, and the Man. BYU is not a rival. Need more proof? Go ask BYU.
WHAT DO THE STATS SAY?
Compiling the stats and rankings for a football game is easy. The NCAA has a nice site that’s easy to use and offers almost every stat you could want at the click of a mouse. This week, anticipating self-righteous BYU fans whining “it isn’t a fair comparison because of our superior schedule” (we’ll get to that), Bet on Blue dug up stats on Football Outsiders that adjusts for strength of schedule. Sorry BYU, the adjusted stats don’t make this any easier to take. The problem with the stats is that they aren’t all self-explanatory.
Let’s start with the offensive comparison:
All of these stats have been adjusted for strength of opponent (so no crying BYU). 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. 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. BSU and BYU are both in the top third in the nation in this category.
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. BYU is good at “staying on schedule.” Boise State is average.
Explosiveness: This stat, called IsoPPP is hard to explain. The stat isolates a team’s successful plays and measures how successful (or explosive) the plays were. In practice, it shows that BYU consistently gets the required yardage to be labeled a successful play, but they don’t have a ton of big plays. You can expect a lot of long frustrating drives. Alternatively, based on this stat and our eyeballs, the Broncos are boom or bust. It’s an explosive play, or it’s nothing.
The overall picture shows that BSU has the more efficient and explosive offense, scores more points, and turns the ball over less. BYU tends to slowly work the ball down the field and wear out a defense. BYU has the advantage in the run game, BSU holds the advantage through the air.
Now let’s turn to the defense:
These stats have the same definitions but apply to the defense. Again, BSU holds the advantage in most areas. The biggest advantage for BSU is that BYU has big trouble defending the pass even when they know the pass is coming. Couple that with BSU’s sixth-ranked passing offense and BYU has a big problem on their hands. Both defenses have trouble getting off of the field at times, but BSU has been much more efficient on defense than the Cougars. The eyesore for Boise State fans is the near dead last defensive turnover number. Bet on Blue predicted the end of that drought last week, but no such luck. Does the trend reverse itself on Thursday?
WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
The narrative coming into this game as told by Bronco Nation (including this writer) is this is a scary game. We tell the tale of BYU playing a gauntlet of a schedule and standing up to it so well. We bemoan the fact that BSU can’t play a complete game and that BYU is great at making a comeback. A deep dive into the statistics and circumstances of the two teams tells a different story.
BYU scheduled well. They have played six P5 teams already. They also caught a lot of teams on down years. BYU scored the least points of anyone all year on Arizona and UCLA and the second least points on Utah. They also gave up more points to Toledo than any team this season, including a terrible Fresno State team. The Cougars get no credit for beating an awful Michigan State team, and Mississippi State is not a powerhouse either. Give BYU credit for hanging tough in Morgantown, but that’s about it.
BYU has a tendency to start slow. BSU is all over the place. This week BSU will start hot on offense and build a cushion on the slow-starting Cougars. BYU can’t handle the two-headed monster of Sperbeck and Wilson and BSU will make plays down the field early and often.
McNichols will do McNichols things (though I wouldn’t expect big numbers on the ground in this one), and the Bronco offense will score 34 points. As always, expect Chaz Anderson to catch a deep ball or two (no, I won’t stop, don’t @ me).
On defense, BSU will sell out to defend the efficient BYU run game and force 10th year senior Taysom Hill to beat them with his arm (SPOILER ALERT: He can’t). Hill has nine touchdown passes on the year and eight interceptions. If BSU doesn’t get an interception Thursday night, they may never get one.
The Cougars will be plucky and annoying. There will be infuriating third down conversions to wide open receivers, segments of the game where Jamaal Williams runs all over the Broncos, and there will even be a comeback scare. Alas, the comeback will fall short as BYU can only muster 24 points.
Don’t worry about the short rest, don’t worry about the “scary” BYU schedule, don’t worry about old man Taysom Hill, don’t worry about playing God’s team, don’t worry about Hail Mary’s or fluke special teams debacles. BYU can’t defend against the pass, and BSU passes the ball well, that’ll be the difference in this one.
Boise State opened as an 11 point favorite against BYU in the preseason “Games of the Year” early betting lines. The line opened at -9 this week and moved quickly to Boise State -7. Some see this as a reason for panic, but the reason gamblers are taking BYU is because Boise State has been awful at covering on The Blue. The Broncos are 0-5 against the spread at home, and BYU is 5-1 against the spread on the road. With those trends the market will correct itself. The over/under sits at 57.5 meaning the betting markets predict a 32-25 Boise State win.
SHOULD WE BET ON BLUE?
Another home game, another week of recommending Bronco Nation keep their money in their wallets and purses. If you follow on Twitter (@ddenato04) you know Bet on Blue has a little something on the game, but that’s not an endorsement. On the other hand, going with the trends here seems scary too. It looks like people are taking notice that BSU hasn’t been covering at home and that the scores have gone under. This game doesn’t seem like the typical overblown Boise State line. Stay away from this one altogether.
Once again we can’t Bet on Blue, but we can all celebrate on Thursday night as the Broncos improve to 7-0 by beating the hated (but not a rival) Cougars of Provo!