Offense, defense, special teams.
It always gets mentioned last, and sometimes special teams are the plays that have fans going to the refrigerator or hitting the concession stands. But trust us, the kicking game will be something to watch Saturday.
Boise State and Troy boast two of the best return units in college football, and those could provide the edge when both kick off their seasons (pardon the pun).
It was evident when they played last season. Boise State’s Avery Williams had an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown to put the Broncos on the board in the first quarter. The Broncos had an average field position start of 9 yards better than the Trojans.
“Boise dominated us last year in special teams. Boise was really good across the board statistically last year and they out-executed and out-efforted us in special teams,” Troy coach Neal Brown said. “Huge emphasis this week on coverage for us. ... I just want to play sound football on special teams and be in position where we could win the field position battle.”
The Broncos’ special teams units were a major factor in an 11-3 season and a Mountain West championship. They return just about everyone, minus punt snapper Brock Barr. Williams and all three kicking specialists are back.
Troy? Pretty much everyone is back, too.
“The only guy they’re really replacing is their holder,” Boise State special teams coordinator Kent Riddle said. “We’re fortunate we’ve got most of ours back. ... It’ll be good to have experience.”
Last season, Troy finished No. 2 in the Football Bowl Subdivision in kickoff return average (27.7 yards per return), while Boise State was 12th (24.8).
The Trojans boast a vast array of return options on kickoffs — three different players on the roster have returned them for touchdowns. Louisville transfer Traveon Samuel and Jabir Daughtry-Frye have one apiece. Marcus Jones had three kickoff returns for scores last season as a true freshman, which already ties him for the most in a career at Troy.
“He’s electric ... that dude can fly,” Riddle said of Jones.
Brown called Jones “our best all-around football player,” as he also had a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown. That’s the sort of approach Boise State often takes on special teams, and one that could be apparent Saturday.
The Broncos used record-breaking wide receiver Cedrick Wilson as a kickoff returner last season, along with Williams. They currently have Williams, sophomore running back Robert Mahone and junior running back Alexander Mattison on the depth chart.
Yes, Mattison — the expected workhorse back who rushed for 1,086 yards last season and has yet to return a kickoff at Boise State.
“He’s one of our best guys with the ball in his hands, and it’s another way to get the ball in his hands,” Riddle said.
Brown noted that Boise State kickoff specialist Joel Velazquez “kicks it out of the end zone a high percentage of times,” which could limit return opportunities. The Broncos were No. 21 nationally with a 63.1 percentage of touchbacks last season, and the Trojans were tied for 87th at 32.4 percent.
TROY TIDBITS: Brown is 25-13 in three seasons at Troy, 21-5 the past two. ... Troy was No. 24 nationally in total defense in 2017, Boise State was No. 22. ... Mattison’s 49-yard touchdown in last season’s opener was tied for the longest play allowed by Troy all year. ... The Trojans announced junior Kaleb Barker as the starting quarterback Monday. He has thrown 17 career passes, one a touchdown last season. He also has rushed 30 times for 282 yards and three touchdowns. ... Troy is 42-18 at home since 2007. ... Nine returning players on offense and six on defense made at least six starts last season, though the departures on offense are notable (top passer and rusher).
No. 22 BOISE STATE AT TROY
When: 4 p.m. MT Saturday
Where: Veterans Memorial Stadium (30,000, ProGrass), Troy, Ala.
TV: ESPNews (Dave Lamont, Ray Bentley); CableOne ch. 135, DirecTV ch. 207, Dish Network ch. 142
Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
2017 Records: BSU 11-3 (beat Oregon in Las Vegas Bowl); Troy 11-2 (beat North Texas in New Orleans Bowl)
Series: Boise State 1-0 (Broncos beat Trojans 24-13 on Sept. 2, 2017 in Boise)
Vegas line: Boise State by 10 1/2
Weather forecast: Mid-80s, scattered rain