Previewing the season: Boise State

We are inching closer to the football season, with a mere 44 days until kickoff on the blue turf. Over the next month, we'll take a look at Oregon's opponent, get to know the other teams players, and look at some of the early matchups. During these previews, I'll be using a lot of statistics, including some advanced metrics such as 'S&P+.' For a full run down of all of these statistics and their meanings, read this primer by Rock M Nation's Bill Connelly. All statistics are courtesy of Bill Connelly and cfbstats.com.

Today's we'll take a gander at the Boise St. Broncos.

Boise State's Passing Offense:

If you've spent even two seconds over at OBNUG, or were around for last year's bet, you know the player that makes Bronco fans swoon: Kellen Moore. The now redshirt sophomore had a superb freshman campaign, posting a 157.44 QB rating, a 69.4% completion percentage, and a 2.5:1 touchdown to interception ratio. He ranked 11th nationally in rating, 9th nationally in yards per completion, and 4th nationally in completion percentage. Needless to say, he was a beast. He came into one of the most hostile environments in college football in his first road start, and torched a supposedly great (though Walter Thurmond-less) secondary.

However, as good as Moore was on game by game basis, he was even better on a play by play basis.

The two best ways to measure this performance are with success rate (SR) and points per play (PPP). Success rate is a great measure of consistency while points per play measure explosiveness. And Moore and BSU were excellent in both. In close game situations (defined approximately as a 3 possession game during the first half and 2 possession during the second), Boise State was ranked 3rd in the country in SR+, while ranking 9th in PPP+. The plus is rather important as that denotes that the statistics have been normalized for strength of schedule, which is very important for a non-BCS team like Boise State.

No matter how you cut it, Kellen Moore is a very good QB, and if he can cut his interceptions a bit, he will be one of the best QBs in the nation in the pocket.

No doubt Kellen Moore was aided last year by two experienced WR's in Jeremy Childs and Vinny Perretta, and both must be replaced. The main returning WR is Austin Pettis (49 receptions last season), who will likely be able to fill Childs' consistency , while Titus Young or Tyler Shoemaker will look to replace Perretta's explosiveness. Also returning will be starting TE Kyle Efaw, who was pressed into service last year due to injuries, and caught 17 balls on the season.

Overall, I expect the Boise State passing game to produce at the same rate it did last year. They have a few question marks on the line, including left tackle, and their receiving corp is largely untested, but with Moore at the helm, don't expect a drop-off. At the same time, there is little reason to think that the unit as a whole will improve in any significant way from last year performance, as in my mind, it was quite close to it's performance ceiling last year.

Boise State's Rushing Offense:

Going into last season, you would not have expected the Boise State passing game to carry the load, but that is what it was forced to do. The Boise State rushing attack was a surprising disappointment. Ian Johnson failed to hit the 1000 yard mark, after achieving that in 2 straight seasons, while his backup Jeremy Avery saw his numbers dip as well. From 2007 to 2008, looking at a combination of success rate and PPP (S&P+), Boise State fell from 33rd nationally to 60th nationally. On top of this, their success rate in close games in 2008 came in at a pathetic 90th nationally.

And honestly, I don't see much reason why this will improve. Boise State is returning 3 starting offensive linemen and 2 solid backs, though all are undersized. None of the starters on the line look to top 290 (though all by center Thomas Byrd are 6-4 or taller). That means it should be an athletic group, matched with undersized but athletic running backs. I'm sure the Boise State coaching staff will make adjustments to give their backs a chance to succeed, and they could have a real home run capability, but I don't see their consistency improving. And against good teams, this will be a huge problem. If Boise State jumps to a lead against Oregon, I they will struggle to run the clock out, just as they did last season.

Boise State Passing Defense:

The BSU passing defense will likely be the strength of the team. Returning potential All-American DB Kyle Wilson, DB Brandyn Thompson , and safeties Jeron Johnson and George Iloka, there are no question marks. This secondary posted the 15th ranked S&P+ passing defense in the nation. They were solid across the board, not withstanding a 4th quarter collapse against Oregon, where they apparently forgot how to keep their receivers in front of them.

I expect similar result from the unit this year. However, I supposed as an Oregon fan, I'm jaded against secondaries. On top of this, I feel that offenses hold the advantages in college football today, and if you give a competent QB time, he will be able to throw against the defense. There are few secondaries that can truly shut down a team. Boise States secondary is very good, but it not an elite shut down secondary.

Boise State Rushing Defense:

If there is a weakness on Boise State, it looks to be the front 7. With just 2 returning starters, there are question marks abounding. The D-line will be anchored by returning starer Ryan Winterswyk and the highly touted Byron Hout, who is the second highest rated player on BSU after Kellen Moore. The other returning starter is middle linebacker Derrell Acrey. While all other players have game experience, they are largely untested.

What is also interesting, is that though Boise State was a top 10 rushing defense last year, they were ranked 46th in the nation in defensive Line Yards, which attempts to measure how much of a rushing gain can be attributed to the line play. So while Boise State did a great job stopping gains, almost all of those allowed gains can be attributed to the defensive line play. With two new defensive tackles, it is likely that this weakness will continue. And with the large loss of experience in the linebacking corp, there is no guarantee that unit will make the plays it did last year.

Special Teams:

P/K Kyle Brotzman will be returning, and Boise State will be solid as always on special teams. Kyle Wilson is a very dangerous return man, and BSU will have the ability to make big plays in this area at any time. Watch out.

Conclusion:

Boise State is a very good football team, that is incredibly well coached. They could take a step back on defense this year due to rushing defense, which is not a good sign considering they gave up 275 yards rushing to TCU in their bowl game. If they can't get a consistent running game, it could be very difficult for them to close out good teams. But you can't count them out, especially with Kellen Moore throwing the ball.

Coming soon: Looking at the matchups and predictions.

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