They say it can be lonely at the top, but the Boise State football team has seen no lack of visitors trying to knock the Broncos off their perch.
As dominant as the Broncos were in the old Western Athletic Conference, the competition in that league was fairly weak compared to the upgraded Mountain West. The MW still struggles at times (13-22 vs. nonconference FBS opponents this season), but the league isn’t so easy anymore on a week-to-week basis for the Broncos.
“It’s good football. They’re getting better recruits. The coaching, it’s much more competitive,” said co-offensive coordinator Scott Huff, who played for the Broncos from 1998-2002. “Fresno State was such a fun game because there was actually fans at the stadium. I won’t name the other schools ... some of the away trips, there were maybe 500 or 5,000 people. It felt like a high school game.”
Boise State has lost 14 conference games since 2000, half coming since 2013. In the past eight games against the Mountain Division, the Broncos are 4-4. All losses came to different teams (Wyoming, Air Force, New Mexico, Utah State).
Boise State is in danger of missing out on the Mountain West championship game for the third time in four seasons if the current standings hold.
“It’s like all the conferences, there’s nobody head and shoulders above everybody else, except maybe Alabama,” Boise State defensive line coach Steve Caldwell said. “... Boise State has been so good, you’re going to get everybody’s best shot. The first time you don’t bring your ‘A’ game, (you lose). There’s just not that much difference.”
New Mexico coach Bob Davie said part of his recruiting pitch is that the Lobos get to face Boise State every season. After Wyoming’s win over the Broncos on Saturday, the Cowboys have picked up four commitments from 2017 recruits.
Caldwell said part of the reason he believes the talent level has increased is an expanded recruiting footprint, saying, “It’s not longer just regional kids. I think it’s changed the whole league.”
Wyoming has reached into the Midwest, with eight players from Missouri, Illinois and Minnesota; and Colorado State has 10 players from Georgia and Florida, and seven committed for next season.
“Everybody is good in this conference,” Boise State sophomore receiver Sean Modster said.
Though Boise State still could be considered the Mountain West’s most talented team, the extra edge teams bring when facing the Broncos helps negate that edge. Winning by 50 points is a thing of the past, which might not please some fans. But it’s definitely a sign of an improved conference.
In facilities alone, some in the Broncos’ division have plunked down serious money. Utah State’s Maverik Stadium received a $36 million renovation that was completed before this season, and a $6.4 million weight room was completed in 2013. Colorado State’s $172 million on-campus stadium opens next year. Wyoming’s $44 million High Altitude Performance Center broke ground a few hours before kicking off against Boise State.
OFFENSE SHORT ON SHORT FIELDS
For the most part, the BSU defense has been solid when it has been put in tough situations this season. The offense has had mixed results.
A lack of turnovers created, some special teams miscues, and even a strong crop of Mountain West punters has made the offense’s road to the end zone more difficult than usual. In Saturday’s loss at Wyoming, the Broncos’ average starting field position was their own 16-yard line. The best they managed was their own 29 in 13 possessions, five starting at or inside the 10.
“We were backed up more than they were. You at least want to move the ball and give (punter) Sean (Wale) a chance to back them up. ... We’ve had more scoring drives this year from a further distance, which is a good thing, but we don’t want to do that,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said.
In no game has the average starting field position been better than the 28, and 17 drives have started at or inside the Broncos’ own 10, not including the Washington State game when the Broncos had three drives begin at their own 12.
D-LINE DEPTH STILL AN ‘ISSUE’
Boise State senior defensive end Sam McCaskill should be out on the field plenty, considering his excellent production this season, with 10.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. But the man is due for a breather: he’s played in all 160 snaps on defense the last two games, plus the extra-point and field goal block units.
“We’re still trying to create that depth we were worried about,” Caldwell said. “It is an issue. I’ve never had to do that before.”
One spot that had some depth was STUD, but with junior Gabe Perez out for the season, it prompted some shifting. Sophomore Durrant Miles moved from backing up McCaskill at end to backup sophomore Jabril Frazier at STUD. Junior Austin Silsby and freshman Chase Hatada, who have played tackle this season, have worked at end.
Boise State is 14-1 at home on Fridays, the loss coming in the last one Nov. 20, 2015, against Air Force. ... On Monday, the team hosted kids from St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital for trick-or-treating and a tour of the team’s facilities and the blue turf. Harsin dressed as Caldwell, while senior safety Chanceller James and senior offensive lineman Mario Yakoo went as Batman and Robin, respectively. ... Boise State’s last three games were decided by five, one and two points. The last time it had three straight one-possession games was 1997. ... Friday’s game is a blackout, as the team will break out its all-black uniforms, and fans are asked to wear black.
San Jose State at No. 24 Boise State
- When: 8:15 p.m. Friday
- Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387)
- TV: ESPN2 (Dave Lamont, Ray Bentley)
- Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
- Records: Boise State 7-1, 3-1; San Jose State 3-6, 2-3 Mountain West
- Series: Boise State leads 12-0 (won last season 40-23 in San Jose)
- Vegas line: Boise State by 29
- Kickoff weather: 50s, with light winds