There’s a giant map of the United States in the lobby of the Boise State football facility that highlights the opponents on the Broncos’ future schedules.
Of all the schools on that board, perhaps none is as attention-grabbing as Florida State — the powerhouse program with three national championships and a host of teams that contended for titles.
On Saturday, the Broncos finally get to play the Seminoles in Tallahassee (10 a.m. MT, ESPNews) in a game that was scheduled six years ago.
“These are the big games we ask for in life,” Boise State junior STUD end Curtis Weaver said. “... Big crowd yelling, doing their little chants, that’s the things we live for in life when you’re a young boy watching college football.”
Here are three keys to the game and three score predictions:
1. Bachmeier’s poise: There aren’t many more daunting tasks to give a true freshman quarterback in his first college game than to play at Florida State. Forget last year’s 5-7 record — the Seminoles’ program has some elite talent, and they’ll be eager to rattle Boise State’s Hank Bachmeier.
He’ll need help from the Broncos’ veteran offensive line — all five starters return — and a deep group of playmaking wide receivers. But the supporting cast can’t prevent the shock that’s likely to occur when Bachmeier gets his first feel for the speed of the college game, or the mistakes that likely will occur when he underestimates the speed and range of the Florida State defenders.
The Seminoles didn’t play defense at their usual level last year — the anemic offense didn’t help — but they are loaded with experience, including star defensive lineman Marvin Wilson. Last season was just the second time in the past eight years they finished outside the top 25 in total defense (80th).
“They’re a really fast team,” senior left guard John Molchon said. “They’re super aggressive.”
2. Florida State’s tempo: Florida State’s new offensive coordinator, Kendal Briles, runs a lightning-quick spread offense that has averaged 41.8 points per game over the past four seasons at Baylor, FAU and Houston. The Broncos are well aware of his attack, which blistered them for 515 yards when Baylor beat Boise State 31-12 in the 2016 Cactus Bowl.
The Broncos had the benefit of practicing against tempo the entire offseason this time, but they still can’t simulate what’s coming.
“You almost have to over-exhaust yourself,” Boise State senior defensive end Chase Hatada said of the preparation. “... The biggest challenge is when you’re tired. You’ve gotta be able to line up and do your assignment and play with great technique as if you weren’t tired, as if it were the very first play out there.”
The Seminoles will try to create chaos against a Boise State defense that has questionable depth in the secondary and on the defensive line. The Broncos also enter the game with three new defensive coaches, including coordinator Jeff Schmedding.
“You’re going to have to rotate (players),” Schmedding said. “A big part of what these guys do, you see a lot of games are close, and then it’s a freakin’ boat race in the fourth quarter, and we don’t want that to happen. So that’s been a big emphasis in fall camp, too — building that dependable depth.”
3. Red-zone efficiency: Florida State likely will outgain Boise State in this game with its fast-paced offense. To win, the Broncos must take advantage of the scoring opportunities they’re able to create against the Seminoles and, on the other side of the ball, force field-goal attempts and turnovers at least a few times when Florida State reaches scoring territory.
Last year, Florida State had one of the nation’s worst red-zone offenses. And the biggest question mark for the Seminoles remains the offensive line — a group that struggled mightily last year and could start a Northern Illinois transfer and a true freshman on the right side this year.
Boise State is now a 6 1/2-point underdog in Las Vegas with an over/under of 54 total points. The Broncos were 8-5 against the spread last season and have covered in their past five games as underdogs (4-1 straight up). This is the fourth time under Harsin that the Broncos have been an underdog of at least 5 1/2 points — they beat Oregon in the 2017 Las Vegas Bowl, lost at Washington State in overtime in 2017 and got crushed by Ole Miss in the 2014 season opener in Atlanta.
Florida State was 4-8 ATS last season.
My pick (9-4 straight up, 5-8 ATS last year): Maybe it’s the Florida State brand, but it seems like a mighty stretch for Boise State to waltz into Tallahassee and win with a true freshman quarterback, an unproven running back (Robert Mahone), two key defensive players who are still rebuilding from leg injuries (David Moa, Riley Whimpey), suspect pass coverage and overhauled special teams. Plus, the Broncos certainly looked overmatched in the portion of the First Responder Bowl that was played in December against ACC foe Boston College, and they’re 1-4 in their past five games against Power Five programs, with three losses by 19-plus points. Sure, Florida State has question marks, too. Maybe more. But there’s a lot of talent in that locker room. Florida State 34, Boise State 19
Florida State perspective, from Tashan Reed of The Athletic (opponent view was 10-3, 6-7): “Despite its apparent advantage on paper, this is no easy matchup for Florida State. ... While the Broncos are 1-4 in their last five games against Power Five opponents and are starting a freshman quarterback in Hank Bachmeier, they’re not going to back down from the Seminoles. FSU’s offensive line remains a question mark and Boise State features two top-end pass rushers in David Moa and Curtis Weaver. If they can get into the backfield on a consistent basis, it could be a long afternoon for James Blackman. The Broncos also have a slew of weapons at receiver that can make plays if the ‘Noles’ secondary isn’t up to par. Factoring in the mental mistakes and sloppiness that come with a season opener, I see this being a close one well into the second half. Ultimately, however, Florida State rallies behind the home crowd, its talent takes over and it edges out Boise State.” Florida State 27, Boise State 23
Betting expert Lee Sterling of Paramount Sports, who appears weekly on KTIK (8-5, 6-7): “I think (the Seminoles) are going to be an improved team. You wanted to face them last year. Willie Taggart just did not figure it out last year. He went with the wrong quarterback. ... I just think it’s too much for Boise in the first game.” Florida State 30, Boise State 16
Chadd Cripe is the Idaho Statesman’s assistant editor and sports columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @chaddcripe on Twitter.