The Boise State football team sustained its first loss of the season in its most recent game, Oct. 19 at BYU.
But the No. 21 Broncos (6-1 overall, 3-0 Mountain West) still enter November as the only team with an undefeated record in Mountain West play. They’re being chased in the Mountain Division by 4-1 Air Force, 3-1 Wyoming and 3-1 Utah State.
As the push for a conference title begins in earnest Saturday night at San Jose State (4-4, 1-3), here are some questions the Broncos face in returning from a loss and a week off. The game begins at 8:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.
1. Who will play quarterback? Sophomore Chase Cord struggled far more than expected in his first start against BYU, subbing for injured true freshman Hank Bachmeier. If Bachmeier has fully healed from his hip pointer sustained against Hawaii, he’ll be back in the starting lineup.
Bachmeier, in fact, will be playing a bit of a game within a game the rest of the season. The College Football Playoff committee considers “key injuries” in ranking teams, so if Bachmeier plays exceptionally well the Broncos’ loss to BYU might be treated differently than a loss by others. This isn’t a factor if SMU goes undefeated, but it could be if there’s debate between a one-loss American champion and a one-loss Boise State for the New Year’s Six bowl berth.
2. Secondary woes? The Broncos have allowed 808 passing yards over the past three games — hinting at some trouble on the back end of the defense. They also have allowed eight touchdown passes against two interceptions during that time.
As a result, the Broncos’ pass-efficiency defense has dropped to 45th nationally — and they’ll face San Jose State quarterback Josh Love, who is 53rd in the nation in pass efficiency with 15 touchdowns and just three picks.
3. Run adjustments: The Broncos’ rushing attack has been a disappointment most of the season. Most notably, they failed to run the ball effectively in the BYU loss with 40 carries for 174 yards (4.35 yard per carry) against one of the nation’s worst run defenses.
Coaches have had two bye weeks in a five-week span to address this deficiency. Improvement needs to show up against San Jose State, which ranks 89th in yards per carry allowed (4.58) and has surrendered 17 rushing touchdowns. Next up is a key division game against Wyoming, which ranks eighth in yards per carry allowed (2.8) and will provide a stiff test in that area.
Boise State is a 17-point favorite in Las Vegas with an over/under of 59.5 total points. The Broncos are 20-10 against the spread in their past 30 games.
San Jose State is 9-4-1 ATS in its past 14 games and has wins this season as a 9.5-point underdog at Army and 20-point underdog at Arkansas.
My pick (5-2 straight up, 3-4 ATS): The Broncos’ inconsistency finally bit them at BYU, where the offense was non-existent for much of the 28-25 loss and the defense was undisciplined against trick plays. A week off might help, but not enough to erase what has been a season-long trend. Boise State should control the game but I don’t expect a blowout. Boise State 34, San Jose State 20
Betting expert Lee Sterling of Paramount Sports, who appears weekly on KTIK (4-2, 3-3): “(Quarterback) Josh Love ... this year he’s been off-the-charts good. They’re giving him enough time. ... They sit back and they sling the ball.” Boise State 34, San Jose State 24
Chadd Cripe is the Idaho Statesman’s assistant editor and sports columnist. Contact him at email@example.com and follow @chaddcripe on Twitter.