Most years, if you asked, I would tell you that the most important football game in any season for FSU would be against Florida. A win in this intrastate rivalry for either program can make an average season good, a good season great and a great season epic.
That will not be the case in 2019 for the Seminole football program. The most important game in 2019 will be when FSU lines up against Boise State in Jacksonville on Aug. 31.
Because the FSU team and its fans desperately need to put 2018 behind them, which they can do in Jacksonville with a win over a very good Boise State program. While it won’t cure the hangover from 2018 it would be an important first step for Willie Taggart and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, whose offense will be on display for all to see.
A win could encourage fans to take a second look at filling seats in Doak Campbell Stadium this season, which would be a shot in the arm to helping FSU balance its athletic budget.
Look, I could spend four or five paragraphs rehashing the Seminoles offensive and defensive sins of 2018, but our readers have lived it once already. So let’s just jump right into 2019 and what makes Boise State an intriguing measuring stick for Willie Taggart’s team.
Boise State has established itself as one of the most consistent programs west of the Mississippi over the last 15 years and the class of the Mountain West Conference (and prior to that the Western Athletic Conference). The Broncos have finished in the AP Top 25 in 12 of the last 17 seasons. And they have not just been getting by: Boise has registered double-digit wins in 14 of the past 17 seasons.
Last year Boise finished 10-3 and 23rd in the AP. They had 11 wins in 2017 and 10 wins in 2016.
Bottom line, Boise is good and will be quite a challenge for an FSU team that will need to be a much-improved football team if they hope to start the season 1-0. A win would give the 2019 Seminoles a ton of confidence, which will be key when facing a schedule with nine teams that went to a bowl last year.
Boise State on Offense
The good news for Seminoles fans is that while Boise State returns six starters on offense from a year ago it doesn’t return quarterback Brett Rypien, a four-year starter who threw for a Mountain West record 13,578 yards for the Broncos. The Boise State offense was more dependent on the run last season even though it had the most storied passer in MWC history under center. The Broncos ran the ball 57 percent of the time last season and totaled over 2,100 yards on the ground.
That’s really good news for defensive coordinator Harlan Barnett, whose defense struggled mightily against the pass last year (120th in the FBS).
While head coach Bryan Harsin must also replace his starting running back and receiving corps from a year ago, they do return all five of their starting offensive linemen. This same offensive line paved the way for a rushing attack that averaged 167 yards per game last year, which will be a good test for an FSU defense that was ranked 90th against the run. The Broncos’ offensive line is huge and experienced, averaging 6-foot-5 and 311 pounds, with a combined 110 starts between the front five. Both senior left guard John Molchon (6-5, 322 pounds) and junior left tackle Ezra Cleveland (6-6, 311 pounds) are the most talented and seasoned of the group having earned first-team All-MWC honors in 2018 and a combined 56 starts between the pair.
While Rypien threw for over 3,700 yards behind this line last year, they did allow 32 sacks (85th nationally). More good news for the Seminoles. Although FSU must replace its top pass rusher, Brian Burns, the Seminoles will likely be the most athletic front seven Boise has faced the last two years. Last season the FSU defense totaled 28 sacks (50th nationally).
The Broncos offense should give the Seminole defense a good idea of their strengths and weaknesses right off the bat. FSU reportedly will transition from a 4-3 defense to a more multiple defense scheme with more 3-4 defensive principles built into the system.
The most experienced quarterback on the Boise roster is sophomore Chase Cord. And I am pushing the envelope on the word experienced. As a freshman Cord (6-2, 206 pounds), a three-star recruit coming out of high school, saw action in just four games and completed six of nine passes on the season. Listed as the starter by both Athlon and Street and Smith preseason magazines, Cord is considered an athletic quarterback who missed the second half of the season after tearing an ACL.
Hank Bachmeier (6-1, 200 pounds), a true freshman, is also expected to compete for the job in fall camp. Bachmeier, who was a four-star recruit coming out of high school in California, enrolled early and participated in spring practice earlier this year and will be a little bit more familiar with the Broncos’ offense with 15 practices under his belt.
The game against FSU will also serve as a homecoming for Boise State backup quarterback Riley Smith, 6-4 and 217 pounds, who played at Bartram Trail High School just south of Jacksonville. Smith was a three-star recruit in high school despite sharing snaps at the prep level with former Under Armour HS All-American and current Auburn backup quarterback Joey Gatewood.
Boise State must replace running back Alex Mattison, who accounted for almost 68 percent of the Broncos’ rushing yards in 2018. Mattison decided to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft pool after rushing for over 1,400 yards last year and scored 17 touchdowns (he was a third-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings). Andrew Van Buren and Robert Mahone are the most experienced returners at the position. The 6-foot Van Buren, who is a 220-pound sophomore, rushed for 163 yards on 34 carries last year while Mahone, a 5-10 and 216-pound redshirt junior, rushed for 128 yards on 32 carries in 2018.
Boise is deep at receiver returning four of its top seven pass-catchers from a year ago, including senior John Hightower (6-2 and 180 pounds) and junior CT Thomas (5-8 and 180 pounds), who combined for over 70 receptions, 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns last year. Hightower is the deep threat having averaged a team-leading 16.3 yards per reception last year while catching 31 passes for 504 yards. He also led the team in kickoff return attempts and yardage last season, averaging 20. 1 yards on 10 opportunities. Thomas wasn’t far behind, totaling 535 yards on 41 catches. Senior Akilian Butler, 5-10 and 187 pounds, also returns after catching 25 passes a season ago.
Boise State on Defense
The Broncos will have a veteran defense in 2019 that returns eight starters, all of whom are juniors or seniors and features nine players who started at least nine games in their career. Boise State’s base defense is a 3-3-5 alignment, which features a nickel back that is a hybrid outside linebacker/safety position. It has been reported however, just like the FSU, the Broncos may be transitioning to more of a true 3-4 scheme under their new defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding who is in his first season in Boise. The defense was stingy in 2018 allowing an average of 22 points (30th nationally) and 355 yards in total defense (39th nationally). They are also opportunistic having recovered 17 fumbles which was first in the nation.
FSU’s offensive line and rushing attack will be tested from the opening whistle in Jacksonville. The Broncos were tough against the run last season allowing just 122 yards per game, which ranked 3rd in the MWC and 20th in the nation. Their front seven is led by 6-3 and 264-pound defensive end/outside linebacker Curtis Weaver. The redshirt junior was a first-team All-MWC performer as both a redshirt freshman and redshirt sophomore. Weaver is a playmaker who gets to the quarterback often. He already has 20.5 sacks, which ranks 6th in Boise State history with two full seasons to play.
The interior of the defensive line is led by redshirt senior David Moa. Going into the 2018 season Moa, 6-3 and 305 pounds, was listed on the preseason watch list for the Bednarik Award, Outland Trophy and Bronco Nagurski Trophy but only played in one game last season due to injuries. He was second-team All-MWC as a redshirt junior in 2017 when he recorded 21 tackles, two sacks and 3.5 tackles for a loss.
The Broncos return one of their two starting inside linebackers from a year ago in junior Ryan Whimpey, who is anything but his last name. Whimpey, 6-1 and 231 pounds, was third on the team in tackles a season ago totaling 55 total stops including 26 solo tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks.
There is good news however for James Blackman and the rest of the Seminole quarterbacks as it relates to the passing game. If there is one area of the defense that is suspect, it would be Boise State’s secondary. The Broncos ranked 70th in the nation against the pass, giving up 233 yards per game. They also struggled to produce turnovers in the passing game, intercepting just seven passes (101st nationally).
The Boise State secondary is experienced, however, returning four of five starters, with a combined 67 starts between the five starters, including the nickel back. The leader of the back end of the Broncos’ defense is safety Kekoa Nawahine. The 6-2 and 208-pound senior was named to the Jim Thorpe Watch List prior to the 2018 season in which he totaled a team-leading 71 tackles on way to earning honorable mention All-MWC honors.
Avery Williams, 5-9 and 193 pounds, is the Broncos most experienced and productive cornerback. The junior had 33 tackles, two interceptions and a team-leading nine passes broken-up in 2018. He also led the team with three forced fumbles. Williams was also Boise State’s primary punt returner last season averaging seven yards per return on 18 chances.
Boise State Kickers
The Broncos lost both their starting field goal kicker and punter from the 2018 season. Joel Velazquez, 6-2 and 227 pounds, is projected to fill both of those roles this season after being used as the primary kicker on kickoffs last year. The junior handled 62 kickoffs last season with 38 resulting in touchbacks. He averaged just 35 yards on his only two attempts when punting and did not attempt a field goal in 2018.
The Osceola talked to one Mountain West Conference assistant coach about Boise State. Here are his thoughts on the Broncos:
On Boise State as an overall program:
“The first thing is that they recruit the personnel that fits what they do offensively and defensively. Everyone does, but they don’t get caught up so much in the recruiting rankings although as they have won over the years their personnel has gotten better. But they have done a good job of sticking to what their plans is. They have also done a great job of coaching and developing their players. That’s really what they have been able to do and is a big part of what makes them successful year-in and year-out.”
On Boise State’s offense:
“The biggest thing is that they will get into several personnel groupings. They may get into “11” (one running back, one tight end, three receivers), “12” (one back, two tight ends) or 13-personnel (one back, three tight ends, one receiver) and give you multiple formations out of each personnel grouping. They may have 12-personnel in the game but line up in a formation you usually see with 11-personnel. The other thing they do is shifting and motion and they are looking to see if they might be able to get the defense where they are a gap short on a run or gap scheme or try to get the matchup they want in the passing game. They do a great job of lining up in a lot of different formations and with shifts and motion they can get you on your heels a little bit. And then they do a great job of execution.”
“The key to their offense is their versatility with the different personnel groupings and getting into different formations that don’t always tie into what the personnel grouping is. They are a spread offense, but they do run downhill. You wouldn’t consider them a power, downhill team but they will get you on that, but the offense is based out of a spread set. There is the catch, when you say spread you think 10 (one running back, no tight end, four receivers) or 11 personnel but that may not be what they line up in, they may have three tight ends in the game and still line up in a spread set. They just want to see how you are going to match up and then they will find that mismatch. That is what they are looking for. They are going to keep you on your heels as far as what the defense is going to see.”
“They do a great job of scheming. The quarterback is not going to run the ball. It is going to be zone and they are going to run gap schemes off of it. Most of their offense is set up to have the ability to run the ball and them come back with play-action and boot-leg action. They also do a great job in the screen game. And then they will take their shots downfield if they get the right matchup. They do a great job of blocking the stretch play a number of different ways to get the ball out on the perimeter and then come back with play-action. They will have talented guys but not any more talented than FSU sees in the ACC week-in and week-out.”
On the Boise State defense:
“They have had some really good defensive players that have transitioned from being non-Power 5 players in college to the NFL especially on defense. Their talent level is good. They know what they have, and they know what they want to do. They are more sound in their thought process than just being a pressure defense. They are going to have ways to bring pressure and get after folks and disrupt the line of scrimmage but do that while being sound defensively. They are good enough now that the defense can win a ballgame even when the offense isn’t playing at a high level.”
Most years this would be a game that might be considered a tune-up, a challenging tune-up for sure, but a tune-up nonetheless for the Seminoles before heading into conference play. Most years this would be a game that Boise State would use as a measuring stick to see how it measured up to one of the more storied football programs in recent college football history. But, like it or not, this is not most years for FSU football. I don’t think the importance of winning this game can be overstated if the 2019 version of FSU football is going to do something this season.