There’s a game Thursday night between two of the Group of 5’s flagship programs. Whether it’s Boise State or UCF that’s the leader of the pack depends on your perspective. But it’s pretty easy to compare the big picture, as both schools joined Division I-A in 1996. The Broncos had losing seasons in 1996 and 1997 and have rolled off 23 winning seasons since, the longest streak in the country, and they’ve won 10 or more games in 17 of them. The Knights have 15 winning campaigns over the past 25 years and seven of the 10-win variety. Boise State has earned 20 bowl berths in that time (it would be 21 if it had accepted one last December). UCF has played in 12 bowls. The Knights have bragging rights in this “what have you done for me lately” world, but the Broncos have the legacy.
A SORE SUBJECT REVISITED
This is my first day back, and I’m going straight to the guts of the Boise State-UCF game. Have we talked enough about turnovers the past eight months? Well, no. The Broncos were 107th in the country in turnover margin last season at minus-4. And it could have been worse had the offense not been above average in taking care of the ball—seven turnovers in seven games. The Boise State defense had three, of course: three interceptions and zero fumble recoveries. This stat line favors the Knights. They were fifth in the nation in TO margin at plus-12, grabbing nine picks and recovering 13 fumbles (13 more than the Broncos) in 10 games. In a game like this, turnovers’ll kill you. That’s why the Broncos created the “turnover board,” a centerpiece of practice this year. Will it apply when the popcorn pops?
HISTORIC, IN MY MIND
Here’s my declaration: the game against UCF is Boise State’s biggest ever in a pure Group of 5 matchup. TCU doesn’t count, because the Horned Frogs are Power 5 now. So are Utah and Louisville. The Broncos’ games against Group of 5 foes that compare are Fresno State in 2001, Hawaii in 2007 and Nevada in 2010. The latter two were losses, but the first one versus the Bulldogs was one of the pivotal wins in program history. Neither Boise State nor UCF is ranked, but this time—unlike the others—it’s almost like a made-for-TV event. It’s being hyped that way, and the country is paying attention.
WATCH FOR GABRIEL’S FEET
UCF’s Dillon Gabriel is a lefthanded, 6-foot quarterback who wears No. 11. It’s hard for Bronco Nation not to notice that. Locals wouldn’t trade Kellen Moore for the world, but let’s make it clear that this No. 11 can run. Even with negative sack yardage included, Gabriel has rushed for 247 yards and six touchdowns over the past two seasons. And the Knights know how they want to use him against Boise State. Their offensive coordinator is G.J. Kinne, who had the same job at Hawaii last November when the Broncos beat the Rainbow Warriors by eight points. Kinne has described Gabriel as having an NFL arm with accuracy to match, and he’s also impressed by the junior QB’s ability to throw on the run.
RYPIEN, WEAVER HOPE FOR MORE PRACTICE
Two rather prominent former Boise State stars were waived by NFL teams on Monday. Brett Rypien, the 2018 Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year, was cut by Denver. And Curtis Weaver, the 2019 Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year, was released by Cleveland. Are they practice squad candidates? I would think so. Rypien has served there the past two seasons, and indications are the Broncos are leaning that way again. Weaver’s combination of “great locker room guy,” work ethic and coachability—and untapped talent—would warrant a shot there with the Browns.
MARTINEZ KUDOS GO COAST-TO-COAST
College of Idaho linebacker Dylan Martinez is not only the Frontier Conference Defensive Player of the Week, he has earned national NAIA honors following his performance in the Coyotes’ season-opening 42-14 win at MSU-Northern Saturday. Martinez logged a school record-tying 16 tackles, 2.5 of them for loss, and added a forced fumble and fumble recovery. The junior from Mountain View High joins Cory Brady (2014) and Nate Moore (2015 and 2016) C of I defensive players to earn the national award.
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August 31, 1996, 25 years ago today: Boise State and Idaho make their debuts in Division I-A. The Broncos fell at home to Central Michigan, 42-21, while coach Pokey Allen was away in Vancouver, BC, undergoing alternative cancer treatment. There was no hint of the incredible Boise State run that would begin a few years later. The Vandals, meanwhile, led Wyoming into the fourth quarter before falling 40-38 at Laramie. Ryan Fien broke Ken Hobart’s Idaho single-game passing record in his debut with 543 yards.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)