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BOISE STATE @ OKLAHOMA STATE PREVIEW
If there is a game on the Boise State schedule that could determine the Broncos’ College Football Playoff/New Year’s Six future, it is this Saturday. Head coach Bryan Harsin and his Broncos head to Stillwater, Oklahoma, where they will face the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Both teams enter Saturday’s contest 2-0 and the matchup is sure to be the biggest challenge either team has faced thus far in the young 2018 season.
The Broncos head into Saturday on the heels of a record-setting performance last week. Quarterback Brett Rypien led a Boise State offense that put up 818 yards of total offense in a 62-7 win over Connecticut. Rypien, a four-year starter, threw for 362 yards and three touchdowns playing just a little over a half. With his performance, Rypien tied Broncos legend Kellen Moore with his 16th 300-yard-plus passing game.
Rypien is not the only weapon in a Boise State offense that can light up the scoreboard. Running back Alexander Mattison has rushed for 171 yards and three touchdowns thus far this season and he would likely have more had he not been on the bench in the Broncos two blowouts to start the season. Wide receiver Sean Modster leads the team with 13 receptions for 241 yards and two touchdowns, but the big surprise in the Broncos offense is junior college transfer, John Hightower.
The Hinds CC transfer erupted in the win over Connecticut for 174 total yards. Hightower caught five passes for 119 yards, including a 67-yard touchdown. He also carried the ball once scoring on a 55-yard run. The 6-2, 185-pound Hightower is just another of the many weapons that offensive coordinator Zak Hill has at his disposal.
With 56 points in their season-opening win over Troy, the Broncos are averaging 59 points per game. That is a number that might seem out of reach against a Big 12 defense like Oklahoma State, but the Cowboys give up points by the bunches. Oklahoma State gave up so many points in 2017 that they fired their defensive coordinator. Jim Knowles was hired away from Duke to try and fix what has been a porous Cowboys defense.
Oklahoma State has improved from a year ago but has not been tested. The Cowboys have given up 15 points per game and just 237 yards per game. These are solid numbers, but they come against FCS Missouri State and the Sun Belt’s South Alabama, a program that has only been in existence since 2009 and a member of the FBS since 2012. Knowles’ defense, which features seven returning starters from 2017, will get its first taste of a powerful FBS offense in facing the Broncos on Saturday.
Where the Cowboys have always been strong under head coach Mike Gundy is on offense. The Cowboys Air Raid offense has propelled the program to three straight 10-win seasons. Gundy is 116-53 in his 14th season with the program. He has had just one losing season, his first, during his tenure. The offense is how Oklahoma State wins games and this year will likely be no different.
Heading into 2018, the Cowboys had to replace Mason Rudolph at quarterback and James Washington at wide receiver. Gundy and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich have plenty of skill position talent, but finding a quarterback has been the biggest challenge. Thus far, senior Taylor Cornelius has been the guy running the OSU offense. He has completed 49-of-74 passes for 723 yards and six touchdowns, five of which came in the season opener. He has thrown three interceptions and after the Cowboys’ win over Missouri State Gundy called Cornelius average.
The Cowboys are loaded in the running game. All-Big 12 RB Justice Hill, a 1,000-yard back a year ago, has rushed for 154 yards on 19 carries, an average of 8.1 yards per carry, and three touchdowns. His backup, L.D. Brown, is averaging 12.4 yards per carry and has a 77-yard touchdown run to his credit. Tylan Wallace, a 6-0, 185-pound sophomore, has done his best to replace Washington. Wallace has 14 catches for 214 yards and two touchdowns this season.
The difference on Saturday could very well be the Boise State defense. It’s an experienced unit that returned 10 starters from a year ago and added a veteran linebacker in graduate transfer Tony Lashley. An All-Sun Belt performer at Idaho a year ago, Lashley transferred to Boise State after the Vandals dropped from the FBS to the FCS. Lashley is not your ordinary college linebacker. At 23 years of age, Lashley is married and has five kids. What he also has is four tackles, one tackle for loss, and an interception.
Senior DE Durrant Miles has two sacks and leads a Broncos defense that was much-improved in 2017. Boise State ranked in the Top 40 in most defensive statistical categories and forced 26 turnovers a year ago. If defensive coordinator Andy Avalos can get his unit to force a few turnovers against Oklahoma State, the Broncos could pull off a huge win.
A second-consecutive Mountain West Conference championship, an unbeaten season, and a win over Power 5 Oklahoma State would be exactly what Harsin and the Broncos would need to be considered for the College Football Playoff. At the very least, a New Year’s Six bowl game would be in the cards. For Harsin and the Broncos, they will take it one step at a time and it starts with Saturday in Stillwater.
I will do a weekly update of the Massey Composite Rankings between the AAC & MWC. Moreover in this link, there is annual AAC vs MWC rankings going back to 2016. I plan to go back to 2014 when the CFP era began.
Simply click the link every Monday and it will be updated, however, keep checking back during the week because ranking change as more polls get aggregated.