A non-Power 5 conference team is guaranteed a spot in a New Year's Six bowl game. Could one non-Power 5 conference team actually reach the College Football Playoff? Boise State appears capable. The Broncos have a wins total of 10 on the NCAA football odds at 5Dimes.
The highest-ranked team in the final College Football Playoff Top 25 outside the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC and Notre Dame gets a New Year's Six spot. It looked like that might be Conference USA club Marshall late last season. The Thundering Herd entered their regular season finale at 11-0 and had been pretty much destroying everyone, although they had a very weak schedule. But Marshall was stunned 67-66 in overtime at home by Western Kentucky in one of the most entertaining games of 2014. That essentially killed Marshall's chances and allowed the Broncos into the New Year's Six. They finished No. 20 in the final College Football Playoff rankings, the only non-Power 5 team in there.
Boise State lost twice last regular season, 35-13 to open the season against No. 18 Ole Miss, and 28-14 at Air Force. The Broncos secured a spot in the Mountain West Championship Game by closing the regular season with a 50-19 rout of Utah State. Then Boise beat Fresno 28-14 to claim the Mountain West title. No. 10 Arizona was favored in the Fiesta Bowl, but Boise pulled the upset 38-30. Star running back Jay Ajayi had three touchdowns and rushed for 134 yards. Quarterback Grant Hedrick completed his first 14 passes and finished with 304 yards and a touchdown.
Those two are the biggest holes to fill on the 2015 squad. Ajayi should have gotten more Heisman love as he was a monster, rushing 347 times for 1,823 yards and 28 touchdowns. He's now trying to stick with the Miami Dolphins. Hedrick completed 70.8 percent of his passes for 23 touchdowns with 14 picks. Those two guys accounted for 89.1 percent of the team’s yards and 92.4 percent of the offensive touchdowns.
Overall, 16 starters are back, eight on each side of the ball. The club also has a new offensive coordinator. Mike Sanford left for Notre Dame and tight ends coach Eliah Drinkwitz was promoted to replace Sanford.
Hedrick's Replacement Is...
Earlier this week, head coach Bryan Harsin announced that Ryan Finley would be the team's starting quarterback. He beat out redshirt sophomore Tommy Stuart, redshirt freshman Alex Ogle and true freshman Brett Rypien. Last year as a redshirt freshman, Finley completed 12-for-27 for 161 yards, two touchdowns and one pick. Rypien likely will be his backup. All five offensive line starters return.
There's obviously no replacing Ajayi, the best back in school history, but Boise will likely lean on a committee, led by Jeremy McNichols and brothers Cory and Kelsey Young, the latter a transfer from Stanford. Leading receiver Thomas Sperbeck (51 catches, 877 yards, three TDs) is back. The defense was one of the best in the country last year and returns key guys such as end Kamalei Correa, who had 12 sacks last year, tackle Elliot Hoyte, linebackers Gabe Perez and Tanner Vallejo, and safety Darian Thompson.
Obviously it will be tough for Boise State to make the College Football Playoff with that weak Mountain West schedule. But give the Broncos credit as they have three solid non-conference games: Sept. 4 vs. Washington, Sept. 12 at BYU (that could be huge for a New Year's Six bowl) and Sept. 25 at Virginia. Of course Washington's coach is Chris Petersen, the former long-time coach at Boise State.
Prior to his senior season at Paradise Valley High in Phoenix in 2012, Finley committed to Boise State under Petersen. The Broncos are 10.5-point favorites against Washington, +3 at BYU and -7.5 at Virginia. Get through those and running the table is very doable. The toughest in-conference games should be at Colorado State (Oct. 10) and at Utah State (Oct. 16). Then probably San Diego State in the MWC title game.
College Football Free Picks: Boise State is a -280 favorite to win the Mountain West title and -495 favorite to claim the Mountain Division at 5Dimes. It is +2000 to make the four-team playoff and -140 college football odds to play in a New Year's Six bowl. The only way Boise State gets to the playoff is if it does finish 13-0 and there are at least a couple of Power-5 champions with two losses. Not impossible but not likely. I'll go 'over' the 10 wins, however, and say the Broncos win the Mountain West and return to a major bowl game.