The Boise State football team’s worst offense, strangest season and only missed bowl season in the past two decades came with first-year starting quarterbacks.
So did two undefeated regular seasons, the first win against a ranked team (on the road, no less) and one of the most lopsided bowl wins in college football history.
Perhaps that’s fitting, since there are few things less predictable in college football than what might happen to a team with a giant question mark running the offense.
And that’s exactly where Boise State is right now, waiting to see if sophomore Chase Cord, senior Jaylon Henderson or true freshman Hank Bachmeier emerges as the next face of the program.
The Broncos have entered the season with a first-year starting quarterback six times in the past 18 years. Their record in those seasons is an impressive 61-15 (.803 winning percentage), with three conference titles and two bowl wins.
But a look inside the numbers shows that you can expect less efficiency in the passing game this season. Those quarterbacks combined for 140 touchdown passes — 23.3 per year — and 63 interceptions — 10.5 per year.
The two times the Broncos had a first-year starter in the Mountain West, their quarterback finished 39th in the nation in pass efficiency and the team failed to win an outright conference title. Those were, however, the two years they won a bowl with a new starter.
“Getting out there and not knowing truly how they’re going to perform in a Boise State game, that’s the biggest challenge,” Boise State offensive coordinator Zak Hill said. “You just really don’t know as a coach yet.”
Meanwhile, the Broncos are 136-24 (.850 winning percentage) in seasons with a returning starter at quarterback. Those starting quarterbacks have averaged 29.3 TD passes and 8.6 interceptions per year with an average rating of 159.45 — more than nine points higher than the first-time starters.
Here’s what has happened with first-year starters since the Broncos joined the WAC in 2001. Seasons in which a veteran quarterback was replaced during the season by a new starter because of injury (2002, 2013) were considered seasons with a returning starter.
2001, Ryan Dinwiddie: Dinwiddie might have had the best first season of any starting quarterback in the Broncos’ FBS era. He tossed 29 touchdown passes against 11 interceptions, posted a 164.69 rating and led the Broncos to an 8-4 record that included a win at No. 8 Fresno State. The season opened with a pair of losses against SEC and Pac-10 schools and ended without a bowl berth.
2004, Jared Zabransky: The Broncos rolled through the regular season with an 11-0 record thanks to a fantastic rushing attack and just missed a major upset against Louisville in the Liberty Bowl. Zabransky produced 29 total touchdowns (16 passing, 13 rushing) but also tossed 12 interceptions. His rating: 146.99.
2007, Taylor Tharp: Tharp moved into the job as a senior. He was productive — 30 touchdowns, 256.9 passing yards per game and a rating of 152.85 — but the Broncos fell into double-digit deficits in their three biggest games of the year for a 10-3 record. The season ended with a Hawaii Bowl loss to East Carolina.
2008, Kellen Moore: The Broncos’ offense was inconsistent for the first half of Moore’s first season before clicking in November. Moore finished with a very good but career-low 157.12 rating — 25 touchdowns, 10 interceptions — and engineered an upset win at Oregon. The Broncos rode a dominant defense to a 12-1 record but lost 17-16 to TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl.
2012, Joe Southwick: The worst offense that Chris Petersen produced in 13 years as an offensive coordinator or head coach at Boise State came in 2012, when the Broncos averaged just 30.2 points per game. They scored 20 points or fewer four times but still managed an 11-2 record, a share of the conference title and a MAACO Bowl Las Vegas win thanks to outstanding defense. Southwick’s rating was 141.78 with 19 touchdown passes and seven interceptions.
2015, Ryan Finley/Brett Rypien: Finley began the year as the new starter but Rypien took over, for good, after Finley sustained a broken ankle. They produced one of Boise State’s strangest seasons — a 9-4 record that included back-to-back home losses to New Mexico (a 31-point underdog) and Air Force but also a home win against Petersen’s Washington Huskies and a 55-7 destruction of Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl. Finley had a 117.20 rating but Rypien topped that with a 140.94 mark. They combined for 21 TD passes and 12 interceptions (137.61 rating).