2015 CFB Preview – Boise State

    Boise State BroncosGo to Team Page BroncosGo to Selection Page           By the way, Washington went 8-6 last season. By Pete Fiutak | @PeteFiutak Chris

    July 1, 2015

    Boise State
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    By the way, Washington went 8-6 last season.

    By Pete Fiutak | @PeteFiutak

    Chris Petersen came up with a brilliant 92-12 run at Boise State before taking over the Huskies, and while he seemed like he was leaving at the right time following an 8-5 season, he missed out on the fun cranking back up.

    That the 2013 season that was such a massive disappointment was just an anomaly, losing two Mountain West games by a total of four points while getting blown out in the big games against the Power 5 teams. The 2014 team he was leaving behind, though, looked like a potential heater.

    Enter Bryan Harsin, who appears early on like the exact right coach taking over at the perfect time.

    Petersen’s era wasn’t stale, but it needed a bit of a kickstart . Petersen was more than ready to see what he could do with a Pac-12 team, while Harsin came in as the young hotshot head man who knew the program and had seemed ready to be the Next Coach Up.

    Dirk Koetter, to Dan Hawkins, to Petersen, to Harsin. It’s only been one season, but the new guy looks like he just might be every bit as good as his predecessors.

    A quarterback at Boise State in the late 1990s and the offensive coordinator ten years later, Harsin came back home and dominated – at least after the opener.

    The Ole Miss blowout in Atlanta might have made it seem like Boise State was slipping, and the Air Force misfire in late September wasn’t right, but all of a sudden, everything started to click.

    The offense started to get more and more comfortable as the season went on, and after the 28-14 loss to the Falcons, Harsin helped turn the Broncos into an unstoppable force.

    Boise State rolled through the rest of its schedule with a nine-game winning streak to close things out, scoring 50 points or more five times with a Mountain West title and a Fiesta Bowl victory over Arizona.

    12-2, conference title, BCS-level bowl win? The transition of power was complete.

    Of course, that’s what’s expected at the program, and now it’s up to Harsin to keep the production year after year.

    The 2015 team has to replace heart-and-soul running back Jay Ajayi and will be starting a new quarterback, but the other nine starters are back on an offense that averaged 40 points a game, and seven starters return from a defense that had its down moments, but was still among the best in the Mountain West.

    It’s never boring to win another conference championship, come up with another double-digit win season, and be in another big bowl game, and that’s what Harsin has to do again this year because that’s what Boise State does.

    And a win over Chris Petersen’s Washington Huskies on the first Friday night of the season wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.

    What You Need To Know About The Offense: The attack that finished ninth in the nation in scoring and was grinding on the ground and efficient through the air welcomes back nine starters – but it’s missing two key ingredients. The quarterback situation might be up in the air up until Washington runs out on the field, and the running back pecking order also needs some tinkering after losing Jay Ajayi. However, the receiving corps is terrific and the line should be the best in the Mountain West. The explosion and big numbers should be there again, but unlike last season, they need to start coming early on.

    What You Need To Know About The Defense: The Broncos couldn’t seem to handle the quirky running games – Nevada, Air Force, San Diego State – but they did a tremendous job against just about everyone else, including Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl. Seven starters return along with a whole bunch of depth to a D that should be even better. The line will camp out in opposing backfields with a strong rotation at each spot, while Kamalei Correa and the linebacking corps should be dominant. The secondary gave up yards, but that’s because teams had to throw to keep up. Safety Darian Thompson and corner Donte Deayon lead a loaded group.

    What to watch for on offense: How does the offense replace Jay Ajayi? Used and used some more, Ajayi handled the ball close to 400 times, and quarterback Grant Hedrick finished second on the team in rushing yards. The leading returning running back – Devan Demas – carried the ball just 25 times for 173 yards and two touchdowns last season, but he’s hardly guaranteed the No. 1 job. Top option Jeremy McNichols is coming off of hernia surgery, and Cory Young and Ryan Wolpin aren’t going to make anyone forget Ajayi. It’s a young and inexperienced group of backs overall, and unlike last season, it’s going to take a rotation to get the job done.

    What to watch for on defense: The run defense is going to be impenetrable. There were problems against the pure ground attack teams last season – losing to Air Force after giving up 287 rushing yards, and struggling against New Mexico after allowing 505 yards and six touchdowns. However, the D found itself against just about everyone else, highlighted by slowing down the Arizona attack in the Fiesta Bowl. The Broncos allowed just three yards per carry or fewer in eight of the 14 games – that’ll be the norm this season. This year, the line is loaded with depth, and all the top linebackers return.

    The team will be far better if … it wins the turnover battle every time out. How did Boise State possibly lose to Air Force? Seven turnovers and a -5 turnover margin. The loss to Ole Miss was a blowout because of four giveaways and a -1 turnover margin. Those were the only two losses on the year, and two of the just three times the Broncos lost the turnover battle. Out of the ten losses over the last four seasons, Boise State was in the plus side in turnover margin just once.

    The schedule: The season-opener against Chris Petersen and Washington will be the big statement moment. Considering the Huskies might need a little time to reload, it’s the perfect chance for an upset.
    – The BYU and Virginia games are winnable, but they’re both on the road. If the Broncos beat Washington, the spotlight will be on and the expectations will be there to win those two other big non-conference games.
    – Hawaii and at UNLV and San Jose State from the West? No Nevada? No San Diego State? No Fresno State? Merry Christmas.
    – The midseason stretch could be the killer with three road games in four weeks, going to Colorado State and Utah State in back-to-back weeks, and finishing up the run with the date in Vegas.
    – WATCH OUT FOR … Air Force. The absolute last thing any team want to deal with very, very late in the season is a team that cut blocks and bangs up legs to get the offense going. After facing New Mexico and Air Force in back-to-back weeks, Boise State’s secondary might face a total of ten passes in two games.

    Best offensive player: Senior C Marcus Henry. The replacements in the backfield have to become the stars, and there will be a few key parts that rise up and shine, but Henry is the all-star leader of a fantastic front five that should make life far easier for everyone else. Jay Ajayi pounded away for more than his share of yards on his own, but the line certainly helped the cause. This was and is Henry’s line.

    Best defensive player: Junior LB Kamalei Corra. The line is going to make things happen for a fantastic defensive front, and it’ll clean plenty of plays up for the linebacking corps. Corra will do his part as a disruptive force on the strong side. The all-star pass rusher camped out in opposing backfields all season long, coming up with a Mountain West-leading 12 sacks. He won’t have to do it all by himself, but with so many good players around him, he’ll get plenty of chances to turn it loose.

    Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Ryan Finley. He’s possibly the main man for the offense for the next few years if all the legal issues are solved and there’s no concern going forward. If for whatever reason he’s not the guy, could star recruit Brett Rypien – son of Mark Rypien – be good enough to take over right away? Could JUCO transfer Thomas Stuart be a more versatile option? The quarterback situation – along with the running back pecking order – are going to be in question throughout fall camp. All of the other pieces are in place.

    The season will be a success if … the Broncos win the Mountain West title and get the Group of Five’s automatic big bowl bid again. Even if they beat Washington, BYU and Virginia before rolling through the Mountain West on the way to a 13-0 season, it would still take something special from the college football gods to get into the playoff. The Broncos can’t control that, but they can control being the highest-ranked non-Power 5 team in the standings again.

    Key game: Sept. 4 vs. Washington. The road games at Colorado State and Utah State are vital for the Mountain West season, and hosting Air Force should be big, but the Broncos need to start out with a bang. Last year they kept screwing up on their way to a blowout loss to Ole Miss in the opener, and from then on they were mostly ignored by the rest of the world up until they won the Fiesta Bowl. Beating Chris Petersen on the blue turf would get the 2015 season rolling.

    2014 Fun Stats:
    – Penalties: Boise State 92 for 801 yards – Opponents 76 for 622 yards
    – Touchdowns Scored: Boise State 73 – Opponents 46
    – Sacks: Boise State 47 for 275 yards – Opponents 28 for 197 yards

    Players You Need To Know

    1. LB Kamalei Corra, Jr.
    After seeing a little bit of time as a freshman, the 6-3, 247-pounder stepped up as a big-time performer on the strongside and a great special teamer with excellent quickness and smarts to go along with his intriguing size. While he was great against the run with 59 tackles, he took over as a pass rusher with a whopping 12 sacks and 19 tackles for loss, blowing up UConn and BYU with two sacks, and hitting Wyoming with three sacks. Despite being keyed on, he ripped up Arizona for two sacks and ten tackles, saving his best performance for the biggest game of the year. He’s steady, can do big things in pass coverage, and has the quickness and closing ability to be in the mix for Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year honors.

    2. S Darian Thompson, Sr.
    The First Team All-Mountain West star finished second on the team with 71 tackles with seven picks and five tackles for loss. At 6-2 and 208 pounds, he has excellent size and phenomenal ball-hawking skills, coming up with two against Nevada and starting out with an interception in each of his first two games after picking off four in 2012. A great hitter with the right frame for a strong safety – he hit San Diego State and Arizona for ten tackles each – he has next-level potential if he can come up with one more big year.

    3. CB Donte Deayon, Sr.
    The veteran corner is a wispy-thin 5-9 and 152 pounds, but he can ball. Great on punt returns, he took one back for a score against Wyoming. Great at coming up with house calls, he picked off six passes and took two back for touchdowns with a 50-yard pick six against UConn and with a key play for a score against Arizona. While he’ll tackle – making 46 on the year with a season-high eight against Fresno State – his job is to lock down on No. 1 targets. Very smart and very quick, he has the physical tools to go along with the instincts to always get around the ball.

    4. C Marcus Henry, Sr.
    One of the Mountain West’s best blockers and the nation’s best centers, at 6-3 and 286 pounds he has great size and can hit. Smart, he’s a two-time Academic All-Mountain West performer and the leader of a group that did a fantastic job of paving the way for Jay Ajayi and was decent in pass protection. A two-year starter, he’s tough as nails and is the perfect quarterback up front. This is his line, and in a lot of ways his offense.

    5. LB Tanner Vallejo, Jr.
    While he’s not huge for a middle linebacker, the 6-1, 228-pounder earned Second Team All-Mountain West honors after leading the team with 99 tackles, including 13 in the Mountain West title game against Fresno State and 14 against Arizona in the bowl. He only came up with two takeaways, but he made them both count, taking a fumble 31 yards for a score against Connecticut and coming up with a huge 63-yard pick six against Fresno State. A pure tackler who doesn’t miss, he’s in line for a massive year once again as the star of the linebacking corps.

    6. OT Rees Odhiambo, Sr.
    The big blaster of a left tackle, he earned Second Team All-Mountain West honors with a good year, starting nine times and looking like more and more of a rock to work around. At 6-4 and 310 pounds, he has the size to go along with the toughness, shining as a defensive star – and an offensive tackle – in high school and growing more and more into a top all-around blocker. Smart, he also earned Academic All-Mountain West honors over the last two years.

    7. WR Shane Williams-Rhodes, Sr.
    While he’s a wispy 5-6 and 158 pounds, but he can absolutely fly. However, he only averaged 8.6 yards per catch as he led the team with 68 catches for 585 yards and seven touchdowns. Also a punt returner – he took a bit of a step back after averaging 14.6 yards per try in 2012 – and an occasional runner, he can do a little bit of everything with the ball in his hands. Now he has to come back roaring after missing the last two games with an ankle injury, but when he’s right, he’s the main man for the passing game, starting out the year with 14 catches against Ole Miss for 53 yards and good for four catches or more in every game but a two-grab day against Wyoming – he caught a touchdown pass, though.

    8. TE Jake Roh, Soph.
    The 6-3, 228-pounder came up with a great freshman season, catching 35 passes for 408 yards and two scores. An honorable mention All-Mountain West performer, the sky is the limit with great hands, good athleticism and the potential to be a dangerous target who can keep things moving. While he didn’t come up with too many big plays – averaging under 12 yards per catch – he was a steady producer throughout the season, good for around three catches per game. He has the talent to do far more.

    9. QB Ryan Finley, Soph.
    Is he ready to take over the offense? Is he going to be able to get back from his off-the-field problems after being charged with underage possession of alcohol? Almost everything else appears to be in place for a huge season, but the Broncos need steady quarterback play. The 6-4, 190-pound Finley saw a little time as a redshirt freshman, throwing for 161 yards and two scores with a pick – all against Air Force – and now he’ll get his shot to take over. He can move and should end up with positive rushing yards, but he’s not necessarily a runner – he’s more of a midrange passer who can spread the ball around. Very smart and with a live, accurate arm, he has the tools, but now he needs the experience.

    10. RB Devan Demas, Jr.
    There’s no taking over and replacing what Jay Ajayi brought to the offense, but until Jeremy McNichols gets back from a hernia problem, Demas and Jack Fields will combine forces to try to pick up the slack. Fields only got 11 carries for 31 yards, while Demas finished fourth on the team with 173 rushing yards and two scores. At 5-8 and 174 pounds, Demas isn’t a big back, but he’s really, really quick who can be used as a receiver as well as a runner. He’s not going to be a workhorse, but he has to try to add a little bit of pop whenever he gets his chances – he has the speed and flash to do it.

    Head Coach: Bryan Harsin
    2nd year: 12-2
    3rd year overall: 19-7
    Sept. 4 Washington
    Sept. 12 at BYU
    Sept. 18 Idaho State
    Sept. 25 at Virginia
    Oct. 3 Hawaii
    Oct. 10 at Colorado State
    Oct. 17 at Utah State
    Oct. 24 Wyoming
    Oct. 31 at UNLV
    Nov. 7 OPEN DATE
    Nov. 14 New Mexico
    Nov. 21 Air Force
    Nov. 28 at San Jose State
    Ten Best Boise State Players
    1. LB Kamalei Corra, Jr.
    2. S Darian Thompson, Sr.
    3. CB Donte Deayon, Sr.
    4. C Marcus Henry, Sr.
    5. LB Tanner Vallejo, Jr.
    6. OT Rees Odhiambo, Sr.
    7. WR Shane Williams-Rhodes, Sr.
    8. TE Jake Roh, Soph.
    9. QB Ryan Finley, Soph.
    10. RB Devan Demas, Jr.


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