The danger of being a two-touchdown favorite

If David Moa and Jabril Frazier are unable to play up front on defense tomorrow, it’ll affect Boise State’s ability to stop San Diego State, which likes to pound-pound-pound on the ground. And, by osmosis, it’ll affect the Broncos’ quest to put a program of discouragement on Aztecs quarterback Ryan Agnew, who’s making only his second start. On the other side of the ball, if SDSU is able to stop the run like three of Boise State’s other four opponents have this season and are able to sell out versus Brett Rypien, thus keeping the score down, the Aztecs have a shot. That’s what happened in that excruciating 21-19 home loss to the Aztecs, 16-point underdogs, in 2012. Colin Lockett opened the game with a 100-yard kickoff return, and backup QB Adam Dingwell, despite throwing for only 105 yards, managed the offense to victory.

Here comes San Diego State coach Rocky Long and his funky defensive schemes, with all the motion and disguises. Boise State will have to have its collective chinstrap buckled as the Broncos-Aztecs showdown unfolds on the blue turf. For two decades—at New Mexico and then at SDSU—Long has been flying with his unconventional 3-3-5 alignment. You never know where the pressure’s coming from, and Long tweaks it week-to-week. “With a bye week, I’m sure they’ve got some new wrinkles in there we’ll have to be prepared for,” said the Broncos’ Bryan Harsin. The Aztecs are hurtin’ on offense, but they’re a lot healthier on defense. This game is about Boise State scoring points, if it can.

For the Aztecs, it starts with stopping the run, and they’re doing that this season, allowing less than 65 yards per game on the ground to rank second in the nation. Despite a 31-14 victory over the Aztecs last fall at the stadium formerly known as Qualcomm, the Broncos managed only 311 yards versus that SDSU defense. What’s interesting, though: Boise State rushed for 186 yards in that game, 128 of them from Alexander Mattison, and averaged 5½ yards per carry. That was still a couple weeks before Brett Rypien finally caught fire. Rypien threw for just 72 yards that night. What this season tells us, however, is that a Bronco victory over the Aztecs tomorrow would employ a different formula than 2017—Boise State would play to its strength, which now is the pass.

Boise State sacrifices exposure this week for the sake of pure goodwill as it plays its first October afternoon game since before it was called Albertsons Stadium. The Broncos have become accustomed to being a late-night placeholder on an East Coast TV programming grid. Maybe if this game had an 8:15 start, it would end up on ESPN2. But nobody’s complaining about ESPNU. Beyond that, it’s going to be 50 degrees warmer tomorrow than the last time Boise State and San Diego State met on the blue turf in the infamous nine-degree game in 2014. Oh, and it’s also going to be almost 40 degrees cooler than Boise State’s last day game, the opener versus Troy last year. As the turnstiles turn for this one, we take note that the biggest crowd for an afternoon game in Boise State history is 36,012 in that last October day game in 2012.

The New Year’s Six bowl berth that goes to the Group of 5 is Central Florida’s to lose now. The 12th-ranked Knights have the nation’s longest winning streak—17 games—and are coming off a 45-14 rout of Pittsburgh, the only Power 5 school on their schedule after the North Carolina game was wiped out by Hurricane Florence. compiles a Group of 5 top 10 every week. Boise State is No. 2 behind you-know-who, while Hawaii is No. 6, San Diego State No. 7 and Fresno State No. 10. Sneaking in at No. 9 is Cincinnati, who blew out UConn 49-7 last week. “Their best opponents are in the second half of the season,” notes Chris Vannini of The Athletic. Watch out of the Bearcats—and, dare I say, Fresno State?

One of the intriguing matchups in the Mountain West this week is Wyoming at Hawaii. If Brett Rypien could carve up the Cowboys’ proud defense on the Pokes’ home field the way he did last Saturday, what will the Rainbow Warriors’ Cole McDonald do tomorrow night in Aloha Stadium? McDonald leads the nation with 2,100 passing yards and 24 touchdown throws. There’s also intrigue tonight, as Utah State visits BYU on ESPN2. The Aggies are coming off a bye week as they seek their second straight win over the Cougars. USU is scoring lots of points this season, while BYU—upset of Wisconsin and all—is having trouble finding the scoreboard. How about Utah State at 51.5 points per game, and the Cougars at 21.4?

Holt Arena in Pocatello has not seen a sellout in 34 years—since a 26-23 Boise State victory over Idaho in 1984. That long, unenviable run could be broken tomorrow when Idaho and ISU meet in their first Big Sky clash of the Vandals’ new era. Idaho State has not so much as topped the 10,000 mark in Holt in 12 years, but that is a layup tomorrow after the Bengals drew 9,129 for their 56-42 win over Northern Arizona last week. The arena’s capacity is listed as 11,700. The record was set in the last game of the regular season in 1980, with a throng of 13,895 cramming into the building for the Broncos’ 22-13 win that clinched the Big Sky title. ISU’s 3-1 start is the Bengals’ best in 13 years, and the 2-0 start in Big Sky play is the best in 23 years. The Vandals should treat this like a rivalry, even if they don’t feel like it’s back yet.

College of Idaho may be 0-5, but the Coyotes are worth the price of admission with quarterback Darius-James Peterson. Talk about a classic dual threat. The junior quarterback goes into tomorrow’s game against Carroll College at Simplot Stadium with 2,141 career rushing yards and 35 touchdowns. Peterson needs 188 yards of total offense tomorrow to break Teejay Gordon’s C of I career record. The Yotes lost a heartbreaker to Rocky Mountain 42-41 two weeks ago, but DJP’s 179 yards on the ground that day were the most by an NAIA quarterback this season. He also rushed for four touchdowns and earned NAIA National Offensive Player of the Week honors.

As the first official week of Boise State preseason hoops practice rolls on, the spotlight is on junior guard Alex Hobbs, who is set to go from Mountain West Sixth Man of the Year to the Bronco starting five. Hobbs has a knack for putting up a lot of points in a short amount of time through his slashing style and patented floaters. Hobbs, as coaches surely do, sees a much wider role for himself this season. “I think you’ll see my game open up,” he said on KTIK’s Idaho SportsTalk. “There’ll be a lot more opportunities to be a playmaker.” Hobbs played 25 minutes per game as a sophomore, averaging 8.7 points and shooting 49 percent from the field.

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October 5, 1968, 50 years ago today: Boise State’s first-ever football matchup with an NCAA school, as the Broncos take on Big Sky power Weber State in Ogden. The Wildcats, led by legendary coach Sark Arslanian, won in a 44-3 rout in Boise State’s third game as a four-year school. Weber State would get the best of the Broncos the following three seasons as well, but Boise State broke through during Arslanian’s final season in 1972 at Bronco Stadium with a 49-16 romp, the first of 12 straight victories over the Wildcats.

(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.)