It cannot be underestimated how one win, one crazy comeback, altered the landscape around Boise State’s football program, in a literal and figurative sense, and around the entire university.
The Broncos’ 2006 team that capped off the season with a 43-42 win in overtime over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl will be honored at Saturday’s game against Colorado State (8:15 p.m., ESPN2), and for some, it will be quite a sight.
“Exciting certainly, from that point forward, about Boise State on a national stage,” said Boise State coach Bryan Harsin, the 2006 team’s offensive coordinator.
Harsin said the parades that followed, getting the keys to the city, and seeing the program spoken about in every corner took some adjustment. But it quickly turned to what was next, and how to build on the success.
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“The hype changed ... figuring out what has Boise State been about for a long time and starting to realize this program has had success for a while. And that’s just carried over,” he said.
In the immediate aftermath, change was immense.
The $36 million Stueckle Sky Center was able to begin construction the next month. Student applications went up nearly 10 percent the next year. Total enrollment went up 18 percent between the first Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, 2007, and the third Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 31, 2014. Donors to the university increased by 131 percent in that span, all according to Boise State.
Since that win, a total of $70 million worth of athletics-related facilities have been constructed, including the Sky Center to the $22 million Bleymaier Football Center (completed in 2013) and the DeChevrieux grass practice field (completed in 2014). There also has been $200 million put into student-center facilities, according to Boise State.
Defensive coordinator Andy Avalos finished his playing career at Boise State in 2004 and returned in 2012 as an assistant coach.
“I tell you what, the expectations are definitely a lot higher because of that one game,” Avalos said. “That’s just kind of where we’ve gone not only as a program, but as a university, as a city. ... That’s just kind of the culture around here. There’s high expectations on this campus. We’ve got to keep pushing forward.”
SPERBECK IN SLOT A STRENGTH
With 2,958 career receiving yards, senior wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck needs 106 yards to pass Titus Young’s school record of 3,063 yards, set between 2007-10.
This season, Sperbeck has 33 receptions for 629 yards and five touchdowns. His 125.8 yards per game ranks him No. 6 in the Football Bowl Subdivision. That puts him on pace to break his own school record of 1,412 yards that he set last season (108.6 ypg).
The addition of junior receiver Cedrick Wilson and Shane Williams-Rhodes’ graduation have allowed Sperbeck to play closer to the offensive line in the slot when the Broncos use three-receiver sets. He said that has enabled him to face more linebackers, nickel backs and safeties.
“That’s usually your point guard, they get in the teeth of the defense a little bit,” Boise State receivers coach Junior Adams said. “He understands the weak spots in defenses.”
O-LINE OFF TO STRONG START
Last season, Boise State allowed 31 sacks (one every 17 pass attempts), the most since 1999. In five games so far, the Broncos have allowed four sacks, or one every 41 attempts.
The Broncos have used a new starting combination the past two games with senior guard Steven Baggett moving inside to center as junior Mason Hampton deals with an injury. They moved right tackle Mario Yakoo to guard and put redshirt freshman John Molchon into a starting role at right tackle.
Harsin said Thursday, “Steven’s done a great job,” and Hampton is back practicing. He said the line is in a rhythm and doesn’t want to disrupt that, though he thinks Baggett and Hampton will both play at some point.
“It really comes down to the film room, studying teams more intensely, being ready for what’s going to come on the field,” Baggett said. “... We’re pleased with going out there and doing our job. When you see Brett (Rypien) get hit in the backfield or something, that’s not right.”
A SHIFT IN HANDLING PUNTS
Special teams coordinator Kent Riddle said the logic of letting punts go when they get inside the 10 is now outdated.
“When that (idea) was set, 90 percent of the games were on AstroTurf,” Riddle said. “... Punters are good at killing the ball in front of everybody. They’re hanging it higher, so guys are standing there. But most of the guys are using the Aussie punt, so it bounces back or sideways.”
Riddle said the school looked at a study that said 75 to 80 percent of punts inside the 10 don’t go out of the end zone for a touchback, so fielding it at the 5 still allows the offense to run close to normal, instead of having the quarterback and running backs at risk for a safety.
Sophomore receiver Akilian Butler fair caught punts at the 4-, 8-, 5- and 6-yard lines in the first four games. Those were not mistakes, but he has mishandled two in the last two games and was replaced by junior receiver Cedrick Wilson in the second half at New Mexico. Wilson had a 17-yard return, and Riddle said he likely will stick with Wilson, though Butler will still see some time on punt returns.
PREPPING FOR WET WEATHER
Saturday night’s game could produce cold temperatures, wind and some rain, an unusual occurrence at Albertsons Stadium.
Rainfall trickled down during Thursday’s practice, but the Broncos were ready earlier in the week when it was dry, too. It won’t change much of what the Broncos do, though Harsin said if it rains heavily, receivers will likely ditch their gloves.
“We do wet-ball drills. We work on it just for ball security because it does get more slick when it’s wet,” Harsin said.
BOISE HIGH LINEMAN COMMITS
The Broncos got a big local commitment Thursday night from Boise High offensive lineman John Ojukwu (6-foot-6, 285 pounds).
Ojukwu also had offers from Hawaii and Portland State, according to his Twitter account. He is the third in-state commit to join the Broncos’ 2017 class, along with Madison High defensive lineman Zeke Birch and Highland defensive lineman Aisa Kelemete.
Boise State reported approximately 4,500 tickets still remained Thursday afternoon for Saturday’s game. ... Athletic Director Curt Apsey wrote a letter to fans Wednesday that addressed late kickoffs, noting the TV bonus money as key to the program’s growth. “I also know more late kickoffs are in our future, and when that is the case, our team needs you in the stadium,” Apsey wrote. ... The Broncos are still the only team in the nation not to trail in a game. The only other time they did not trail in the first five games was 2009, when they fell behind 6:35 into the sixth game. ... The team’s internal players of the game were Rypien (offense), senior linebacker Tanner Vallejo (defense), Yakoo (offensive line), freshman defensive tackle Sonatane Lui (defensive line) and freshman running back Alexander Mattison (special teams).
Colorado State at No. 15 Boise State
- When: 8:15 p.m. MT Saturday
- Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387, FieldTurf)
- TV: ESPN2 (Mark Neely, Ray Bentley, Cole Cubelic)
- Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
- Records: Boise State 5-0, 2-0 Mountain West; Colorado State 3-3, 1-1
- Kickoff weather: High 50s, with wind and rain
- Vegas line: Boise State is favored by 28 1/2 points
- Series: Boise State leads 5-0 (won last season 41-10 in Fort Collins)
- Tickets: Boise State AD Curt Apsey said about 4,500 remain as of Thursday.
Boise State recruiting: Class of 2017 commits
▪ OT Mike Young, 6-6, 335, Queen Creek (Ariz.) HS
▪ QB Chase Cord, 6-3, 185, Sunrise Mountain High (Peoria, Ariz.)
▪ S Mike Young, 6-0, 205, Dodge City CC (Raytown, Mo.)
▪ LB Breydon Boyd, 6-4, 215, Katy (Texas) HS
▪ OL Isiah Moore, 6-5, 315, Mesa CC (Tiffin, Ohio)
▪ DE Aisa Kelemete, 6-4, 225, Highland HS
▪ DL Zeke Birch, 6-5, 270, Madison HS
▪ DB Marques Evans, 6-1, 180, Newbury Park (Calif.) HS
▪ CB Jermani Brown, 5-11, 175, Midlothian (Va.) HS
▪ DB Tyreque Jones, 6-3, 190, San Gorgonio High (San Bernardino, Calif.)
▪ DB Quentin Brown, 6-2, 190, Conroe (Texas) HS
▪ OL John Ojukwu, 6-6, 285, Boise HS