The last time a Boise State football team went undefeated, the season started with a marquee matchup against Oregon in a nationally televised game at Albertsons Stadium.
That 2009 opener ended with a 19-8 Boise State victory, included a famous sucker punch and ultimately sparked a 14-0 season that culminated in a 17-10 win against TCU in the Fiesta Bowl.
A similar opportunity presents itself in 2019 as the Broncos open against Florida State of the Atlantic Coast Conference at 5 p.m. MT Aug. 31 in Jacksonville, Florida. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
Undefeated seasons are rare in college football, but Boise State already has the blueprint. Here’s what it’ll take to get it done in 2019 — and return to a New Year’s Six game for the first time since the 2014 Fiesta Bowl.
O-line must dominate
The Broncos’ offensive line has stumbled out of the gate the past two seasons, but a slow start in 2019 would be inexcusable.
Redshirt senior center Garrett Larson (6-4, 303), redshirt senior left guard John Molchon (6-5, 318) and redshirt junior left tackle Ezra Cleveland (6-6, 310) started every game last season at their respective positions. Cleveland has 27 consecutive starts at LT and Molchon 24 straight at LG. Redshirt sophomore John Ojukwu (6-6, 300) started the final seven games of 2018 at RT, Larson has 20 career starts between center, RG and LG, and redshirt senior Eric Quevado (6-4, 3-2) has 20 starts at RG between the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Their combined experience and long-term chemistry suggest the Broncos could have one of the best offensive lines in the country this season, which would be a huge plus for true freshman quarterback Hank Bachmeier.
“All five of us are returning and I think he really wants us to help lead the team,” Cleveland said of coach Bryan Harsin.
The Broncos’ O-line ranked No. 9 in the nation last season with a power success rate of 81.8 percent, according to FootballOutsiders.com. If they’re capable of getting those 1 or 2 yards on third or fourth down when it counts, they should be able to apply that ability more consistently, as they also ranked as low as No. 78 with an opportunity rate (percentage of carries that gain at least 4 yards) of 46.9 percent.
The line has allowed a total of 60 sacks the past two seasons, which is 14 more than the Broncos allowed from 2008 through 2012. That number has to get better to give Bachmeier a chance.
“We’re competing for our jobs every single week,” Ojukwu said. “We’ve got to keep on working and getting better as a unit. We can’t stay complacent.”
Elite special teams
Boise State has been hot (2017) and cold (2018) on special teams the last few years. That led to the demotion of longtime special teams coordinator Kent Riddle, who was replaced by a committee of sorts headed by running backs coach Lee Marks.
The Broncos ranked 82nd in special teams efficiency, according to FootballOutsiders.com, last season and lost the Mountain West championship game to Fresno State in overtime after missing a field goal and having a potential game-winning PAT blocked in regulation. They also made just 12-of-20 field goals.
But those disappointing stats were interspersed with standout plays, like two blocked kicks, two touchdown returns and a stuffed fake punt. Mixing up the coordinator duties and the addition of redshirt senior kicker Eric Sachse — a transfer from Trinity College in Connecticut — were the first steps in addressing those issues. The rest must be handled by the players on the field.
“There’s been a lot of competition, and everyone’s just been pushing each other from the top down, just trying to get better and improving from last season,” Boise State redshirt junior kicker/punter Joel Velazquez said. “... Everyone being all in is a big deal. Everyone’s just super focused on coming out and having a good performance on special teams.”
Win against Florida State
The preseason rankings left the Broncos outside the Top 25 in the AP (33rd) and Coaches’ (27th) polls. A victory over Florida State in a nationally televised game would be a springboard into the rankings and a program first over the Seminoles.
“Heisman winners, national championships ... just the tradition and everything that they have. It’s such a historic program,” Boise State safety DeAndre Pierce said. “To be able to go up against something like that is truly great. To be able to have that opportunity, we all just want to make the most of it.”
Boise State is 2-2 against teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference with wins over Virginia Tech (2010) and Virginia (2015) and losses to Boston College (2005) and Virginia (2017). No. 17 UCF was the only team from the Group of Five conferences to appear in the preseason polls, providing a target for the Broncos as they chase a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game.
“I love it. The first game we get to go right out of the gate and show who we are, show how we’re going to attack the season,” Pierce said. “We’ll set the blueprint for how we’re going to be the rest of the season.”
Protect The Blue
The sixth edition of Boise State’s blue turf is unsullied, and the Broncos need to keep it that way.
There was a time — 35 straight games from 2006 to 2011, to be exact — that winning on The Blue was automatic. Boise State still owns the best home winning percentage in the country since 2000, compiling a record of 113-9 (92.6 percent) at Albertsons Stadium.
But five of those losses have come since 2015 — including two last season — and seven since the Broncos joined the Mountain West. This year’s home slate is comprised of Marshall (Sept. 6), Portland State (Sept. 14), Air Force (Sept. 20), Hawaii (Oct. 12), Wyoming (Nov. 9) and New Mexico (Nov. 16).
“We don’t lose on The Blue. That’s not something that we do,” Pierce said. “Especially with this new one coming in, that’s about the last thing that we can do ever. That’s not even in our minds.”
Stellar play at QB
The Broncos’ 2009 squad was guided by recent Boise State Hall of Fame inductee Kellen Moore, who is now the offensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys. Moore’s 2009 season finished with an efficiency rating of 161.65 as he completed 277-of-431 passes for 3,536 yards and 39 touchdowns with three interceptions.
Could Bachmeier rival the legendary Moore?
He has the resume — but Moore was an experienced redshirt sophomore for that 2009 season.
At 6-foot-1 and 202 pounds, the true freshman Bachmeier is possibly the most highly touted recruit in Boise State history. He was ranked a four-star recruit by 247Sports.com and produced mind-blowing stats over four years at Murrieta (Calif.) Valley High. Bachmeier’s numbers included 13,150 passing yards and 2,190 rushing yards. He had 156 touchdown passes to 30 interceptions and rushed for 32 more scores.
Bachmeier was named the starter Saturday after the Fall Fan Fest event.
“Hank earned it,” Harsin said. “It wasn’t given to him. ... He made throws, he completed passes, he did things in the pocket and he made decisions out there that we want to see. And whether a freshman, senior, doesn’t matter, those are the things that we’re looking for at that position.”
Boise State’s 2019 schedule
Saturday, Aug. 31: vs. Florida State in Jacksonville, 5 p.m. (ESPN)
Friday, Sept. 6: vs. Marshall, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
Saturday, Sept. 14: vs. Portland State, 8:15 p.m. (ESPN2)
Friday, Sept. 20: vs. Air Force, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
Saturday, Oct. 5: at UNLV, 8:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
Saturday, Oct. 12: vs. Hawaii, TBA (ESPN Networks)
Saturday, Oct. 19: at BYU, TBA
Saturday, Nov. 2: at San Jose State, 8:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
Saturday, Nov. 9: vs. Wyoming, TBA (ESPN Networks)
Saturday, Nov 16: vs. New Mexico, TBA (ESPN Networks)
Saturday, Nov. 23: at Utah State, 8:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
Friday, Nov. 29: at Colorado State, 1:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
Note: All times Mountain
Offense: The Broncos return all five starting offensive linemen, a tight end with nine starts (John Bates) and six wide receivers who started games last season (CT Thomas 6, John Hightower 4, Akilian Butler 3, Khalil Shakir 1, Octavius Evans 1, Billy Bowens 1). The top returning rusher is running back Andrew Van Buren (163 yards), the top receiver is Thomas (41 catches, 535 yards, three TDs) and the top scorer is Hightower (504 yards receiving, 163 yards rushing, eight TDs).
Defense: The defense returns players with extensive starting experience at eight positions and some experience at all 11. That includes tackles leader Kekoa Nawahine at safety (71 tackles), sacks leader Curtis Weaver at STUD end (9.5), interceptions leader Kekaula Kaniho at nickel (three) and forced fumbles leader Avery Williams at cornerback (three). Plus, they get safety DeAndre Pierce and defensive tackle David Moa back from injury.
Special teams: Williams, Hightower and Shakir were the most active kick returners last season, and Joel Velazquez remains the kickoff specialist. Long snapper Daniel Cantrell is back, too.
Offense: Four-year starting quarterback Brett Rypien (3,705 yards, 30 TDs) and two-time 1,000-yard running back Alexander Mattison (1,415 rushing yards, 17 TDs) leave gaping holes. Receivers Sean Modster (68 catches) and A.J. Richardson (54) caught 16 of the team’s 31 touchdown passes.
Defense: Three of the top six tacklers have departed — middle linebacker Tyson Maeva (61 tackles, eight for loss), STUD end Jabril Frazier (50 tackles) and cornerback Tyler Horton (four fumble recoveries).
Special teams: Kicker Haden Hoggarth (12-for-20 on field goals) and punter Quinn Skillin (39.0-yard average) will be replaced by Eric Sachse and Velazquez.