Bronco Beat

Can Boise State go unbeaten at home again? Tough offenses coming this fall

With spring practices done across the nation, the college football offseason rears its ugly head. But, the downtime gives fans more of an idea what to expect this fall.

We take stock of where Boise State’s opponents stand coming off spring ball today and Wednesday, starting with the Broncos’ home games.

A fun mix of offenses will test the Broncos next season — from a pair of option-based attacks and high-scoring, underrated Troy to Virginia, which will be the first ACC team in Boise during the regular season.

Saturday, Sept. 2: vs. Troy (ESPN networks)

Last season: 10-3

Key returners: QB Brandon Silvers, Sr. (3,180 passing yards, 23 TDs, 12 INTs); RB Jordan Chunn, Sr. (1,288 rushing yards, 16 TDs); WR Emanuel Thompson, Sr. (80 catches, 820 yards, 6 TDs); CB Blace Brown, Jr. (six INTs for 88 yards)

Spring recap: Silvers was held out of spring ball with a hand injury, allowing the Trojans’ backup quarterbacks to get a shot to guide the offense. In addition to Chunn, the offense (33.7 points per game in 2016) could be more explosive with the addition of Memphis transfer Jamarius Henderson, who peeled off a 51-yard run in the spring game. Coach Neal Brown said he hopes to find a more consistent run game this season and “we’ve got to defend the pass better.”

Opponents averaged 246 passing yards per game against the Trojans. Though they did intercept 22 passes, the Trojans lost their top four linebackers. The team also has to replace stalwart offensive lineman Antonio Garcia, a third-round NFL Draft pick by the Patriots.

“We don’t ease into our schedule this year — we open on the blue turf at Boise State,” Brown said. “That’s going to be a huge challenge, but also a huge opportunity for our program.”

ESPN Football Power Index: Boise State has a 75.8 percent chance of winning.

Thursday, Sept. 14: vs. New Mexico, (6 p.m. ESPN)

Last season: 9-4

Key returners: RB Tyrone Owens, Jr. (1,097 yards, 7 TDs, 8 ypc); RB Richard McQuarley, Sr. (656 yards, 18 TDs); QB Lamar Jordan, Sr. (739 yards rushing, 681 passing); DL Garrett Hughes, Sr. (6.5 sacks)

Spring recap: The Lobos lost the lightning-quick Teriyon Gipson, but should still be one of the nation’s best rushing teams with a tandem like Owens and McQuarley. But this spring was interesting in that — gasp — the Lobos threw a lot. Coach Bob Davie said he is most interested in seeing how the Lobos can block and how they can defend the pass. New Mexico gave up 24 passing touchdowns and had eight interceptions last season.

“Sometimes you go into the season totally naive, because a few years ago we didn’t have many receivers out there,” Davie told the Albuquerque Journal. “Then, it’s like, ‘Oh my God, what happened,’ when you get into the season. It’s kind of flipped now that our DBs have to cover really good receivers.

“I think the same thing with (the offensive line). ... We’re still thin because of injuries up front, but I think our defensive line is pretty sudden and pretty athletic.”

ESPN FPI: Boise State has an 85.6 percent chance of winning.

Friday, Sept. 22: vs. Virginia (6 p.m., ESPN or ESPN2)

Last season: 2-10

Key returners: QB Kurt Benkert, Sr. (2,552 passing yards, 21 TDs, 11 INTs); HB Olamide Zaccheaus, Jr. (584 receiving yards, 7 TDs); S Quin Blanding, Sr. (120 tackles, 2 INTs); LB Micah Kiser, Sr. (134 tackles, six sacks, five forced fumbles)

Spring recap: After a tough transition year in coach Bronco Mendenhall’s first season, the Cavaliers are confident they’re on the right path. Benkert, an East Carolina transfer, was inconsistent, but had some impressive moments. Blanding and Kiser are two of the ACC’s top defensive players. Virginia was 99th in the nation in scoring defense (33.8 ppg), so that must be improved, and it likely will under the defensive-minded Mendenhall. The roster has seen a fair amount of turnover as the former BYU coach institutes his schemes, but with some reliable vets, improvement should be noticeable this season.

“Our team is going to look significantly different in the fall with 30 new players joining us before you count new walk-ons,” Mendenhall said. “So what you saw this spring most likely is going to happen again in fall. We’re going to play lots and lots and lots of football. There is risk of injury, but we need to play.”

ESPN FPI: Boise State has a 73.1 percent chance of winning.

Saturday, Oct. 21: vs. Wyoming (ESPN networks)

Last season: 8-6

Key returners: QB Josh Allen, Sr. (3,203 passing yards, 28 TDs, 15 INTs, 523 rushing yards); S Andrew Wingard, Jr. (131 tackles, 7.5 TFL, two INTs); LB Logan Wilson, So. (94 tackles, three sacks, three INTs)

Spring recap: In Allen, the Cowboys have the potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, so the other major losses on offense are not as painful. However, losing running back Brian Hill, tight end Jacob Hollister, wide receiver Tanner Gentry and center Chase Roullier hurts. Sophomore Milo Hall came out of spring as the No. 1 back. Allen will need to improve his 56 percent completion percentage to give the Cowboys a shot at repeating as Mountain Division champs. The Cowboys gave up 34.1 points per game last season, and will need to drop if the offense isn’t as prolific. Though some key linebackers graduated, the defense was deep in the spring on the line and in the backfield, plus conference freshman of the year Wilson returns.

“Taking another step forward as a football program is our focus entering this spring,” coach Craig Bohl said. “Last year, we were competitive within our conference, but we need to continue to take steps to improve. There are certain areas of our football team that we feel pretty good about. Obviously, the quarterback position is more entrenched than it has been, and the safety and cornerback spots return a lot of experienced players.”

ESPN FPI: Boise State has a 76.9 percent chance of winning.

Saturday, Nov. 4: vs. Nevada (ESPN networks)

Last season: 5-7

Key returners: QB Ty Gangi, Jr. (1,301 passing yards, 8 TDs, 6 INTs, 217 rushing yards); RB James Butler, Sr. (1,336 rushing yards, 12 TDs); WR Wyatt Demps, Sr. (53 catches, 686 yards, 9 TDs); DE Malik Reed, Jr. (59 tackles, five sacks, three forced fumbles)

Spring recap: If nothing else, the Wolf Pack will be entertaining. First-year coach Jay Norvell will implement an Air Raid system at a place that has routinely churned out 1,200-yard running backs and has finished no better than 92nd in passing the past three years. Gangi and Alabama transfer David Cornwell are competing for the starting job going into the summer. They’ll have a great running back in Butler and a 6-4 target in Demps that should help. Nevada was horrific in stopping the run (297.6 yards per game, 32 TDs) and the linebacker corps lost the team’s top tacklers, but have some talent.

“We want to spread the field and make people defend the field,” Norvell said. “We want to be fast. We want to go no-huddle. We want to run the ball physically, but we always want to be able to throw the football. We want a quarterback who can throw the ball and be accurate. We want to give our perimeter players a chance to make plays.”

ESPN FPI: Boise State has an 86.2 percent chance of winning.

Saturday, Nov. 18: vs. Air Force (ESPN networks)

Last season: 10-3

Key returners: QB Arion Worthman, So. (674 rushing yards, 6 TDs, 546 passing yards, 4 TDs, 2 INTs); RB Tim McVey, Sr. (708 rushing yards, 10 TDs, 8.5 ypc, kickoff return TD); LB Grant Ross, Sr. (67 tackles, 5.5 TFL)

Spring recap: The Falcons lost, well, a ton, among them top rusher Jacobi Owens, receiver Jalen Robinette, safety Weston Steelhammer and defensive end Ryan Watson. Ten of the 11 starters on defense against Boise State in November were seniors. But woe be the person who underestimates coach Troy Calhoun. The Falcons have an electric presence in Worthman (Air Force was 6-0 in the regular season when he played), and McVey is a home-run hitter out of the backfield.

“I definitely don’t think we’re taking a step back,” senior defensive lineman Santo Coppola said to The (Colorado Springs) Gazette. “We have to move forward. We’re remodeling. We’re trying to upgrade. ... We’re never going to be the same team as a year before. We lose a lot of good guys, but I think we have good guys stepping in, too.”

ESPN FPI: Boise State has an 84.3 percent chance of winning.