After a ... less than resounding win over FCS William & Mary, the Hoos welcome non-Power Five power (yea that's a thing) Boise State. The Broncos are without the QB who started the season with the starters, but have gotten off to a 2-1 start. Drew Roberts of Boise State blog One Bronco Nation Under God gives us the lowdown on what to expect.
STL: There's the old adage in coaching that you don't want to be the guy who replaces The Guy. No question Chris Petersen was The Guy at Boise State, but Bryan Harsin had a head-turning debut season (12-2 with a Fiesta Bowl win). What's the early read on the Harsin era, and what's your best guess at the trajectory for BSU over the next five years?
OBNUG: As much as people thought things would fall apart after Pete's departure, you can never underestimate the impact of a dude that really, really wants to be here. Harsin just "gets" the Boise State way of doing things and as a former player is totally bought in to the Bronco mystique (H/T: Rocky Long). As great as Petersen was for the program, it was clear his passion had started to wane a bit and while it's not out of the realm of possibility that the same fate could befall Harsin, he's definitely in that "coaching my alma mater" honeymoon phase at this point and the excitement around the program is on the upswing.
Harsin has also assembled a dynamite staff of up-and-coming coaches (also mostly alums) and has been recruiting some top talent to Boise. As good as Petersen was with developing talent, Harsin has been equally good winning some pretty big recruits in his short time here. All this has given rise to the notion that the next five years for the Broncos could be just as special as the last 5 (save 2013, we don't like to talk about 2013).
STL: The Broncos will be without starting QB Ryan Finley, who broke a bone in his ankle against Idaho State. There's a battle to replace him between Thomas Stuart and Brett Rypien. Which one do you think gives BSU the better chance to win? What do each of them bring to Harsin's offense?
OBNUG: That's the million dollar question right now. I think there's a strong contingent of Bronco fans that are all in on Rypien at this point with very little empirical evidence that he'll do well other than a quarter and a half of play against an FCS opponent and fleeting glimpses at scrimmages. Truth is, Bronco fans have been rather spoiled in the QB department for the better part of a decade and after Finley's slow start were already hoping for a change before Finley got hurt (perhaps forgetting that Grant Hedrick had a slow start last season before going crazy the rest of the year), and it was clear to see that the QB that they were hoping to see was the 4-star true frosh who'd broken Kellen Moore's Washington state records in high school.
Coaches had Rypien "running with the twos" a lot in Fall Camp, but since Finley's experience won out in the end it looked clear that the only way they'd burn his redshirt was in the event of a long-term injury and that's just what happened on Friday night. Stuart is a playmaker and the better runner of the two, but is a bit more sack prone than Rypien, who goes through his progressions quicker. I don't know if either will flourish on the road in their first career start, but my gut says that the offense will run a tad smoother with Rypien under center.
STL: Who are the most important players to watch who return from last season?
OBNUG: I think #1 on the list has to be junior STUD DE Kamalei Correa (STUD is a DE/LB hybrid distinction, not an assessment of his skill—although he is one). He led the MWC in sacks last season and is an extremely disruptive force on the edge. Boise State also returns two All-MWC players in the secondary—Donte Deayon and Darian Thompson. That duo combined for 13 INTs last year and will make things tough for WRs up and down the schedule. Back on offense, I'm sure the Broncos are happy to have Fiesta Bowl MVP WR Thomas Sperbeck back as well as All-MWC center Marcus Henry.
STL: Which newcomers are you most excited about?
OBNUG: Coming off a redshirt, I think most Broncos should be pretty excited about the upside of freshman DE Jabril Frazier (especially because most expect Correa to declare for the draft with another good season). Frazier chose the Broncos over USC and has really filled out his lanky frame during his redshirt year. I think he could be very good sooner than later. In the secondary, the Broncos landed a real stud with CB Tyler Horton. Horton chose the Broncos and withstood late recruiting charges from Miami and Florida to join the squad. He looked good enough in the fall scrimmage to potentially start opposite Deayon, but thus far has been backing up Jonathan Moxey and playing in a reserve role.
STL: What are the biggest strength and the biggest weakness of the 2015 Broncos?
OBNUG: The biggest strength has to be the defensive line, where the Broncos are so deep they listed a 3-deep depth chart instead of the usual 2. The Broncos have SEVEN seniors on the defensive line and should have enough fresh legs and experience to wear out opposing offensive lines. The biggest weakness is hard to pinpoint, but if I had to guess it would be lack of experienced depth in the secondary. The starters there are solid, but if injuries mount, the Broncos will be calling up true freshmen and that can be a dicey proposition.
STL: What does this team need to do to count this season as a success?
OBNUG: The hype machine can sometimes be a bit overwhelming in Boise because the Broncos have had such ridiculous levels of success in the last 10 years. In the Kellen Moore era, anything less than a perfect season was considered a huge disappointment, but people came back to earth a bit after an 8-5 outing in 2013 so were (rightly) over the moon about backing into a NY6 bowl last season—and winning. This year, because of the number or returners, expectations are again high but not "playoff high".
I think winning another outright MWC title would be the absolute baseline for many to consider this year a success. Losing two to three games is definitely feasible, but depending on who the losses are to, Bronco Nation will rebound. The Broncos already dropped one of those "maybe" games—the last second loss to BYU, and fans have been pretty salty about that one, but if the team responds to adversity like they did last season, all will be forgiven.