Ezra Cleveland (76) of the Boise State Broncos runs on the field before the start of the Las Vegas Bowl against the Oregon Ducks at Sam Boyd Stadium on December 16, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Boise State won 38-28. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

Football

Our 10th annual Top 25 countdown: For No. 18-ranked Broncos, the sky is the limit in Boise

A quarterback with experience? Check. Running game? Check. Favorable schedule? Check. Boise State's sitting pretty in the Mountain West.

Posted July 11th, 2018

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Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s eventual CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 5, 8 and 14 on our 2017 list.

Our Top 25 — so far:

No. 25: Texas is building — but are we there yet, are we there yet?

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No. 24: LSU has a tough schedule, questions at key spots

No. 23: Oregon welcomes a new coach — again and again and again

No. 22: Central Florida is out to go unbeaten (ahem, again)

No. 21: There’s a new coach, offense and direction for Florida State

No. 20: Their big names gone, USC is reloading … or is that rebuilding?

No. 19: For West Virginia, when there’s a Will there’s a way

Today’s team: No. 18 Boise State

The Broncos’ best-case scenario: The Broncos survive a scary non-conference schedule.

Their worst-case scenario: Quarterback Brett Rypien, a fourth-year starter, takes a step back in production after the Broncos lost their two most dependable pass catchers.

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Inside the Broncos

Coach: Bryan Harsin (fifth year, 42-12; 49-17 overall at Arkansas State and Boise State)

2017: 11-3, 7-1 in the Mountain West (beat Oregon 38-28 in the Las Vegas Bowl)

Returning starters: 7 offense, 10 defense

Goodbye: LB Leighton Vander Esch (1st, Cowboys); WR Cedrick Wilson Jr. (6th, Cowboys)

Spring cleaning: The offense will have some huge shoes to fill in the pass-catching department with the loss of wideout Wilson and tight end Jake Roh. Running back Ryan Wolpin is gone. The offensive line will be missing center Mason Hampton. The coaching staff lost defensive line coach Steve Caldwell to Arkansas and cornerbacks coach Ashley Ambrose to Colorado. They are replaced by Chad Kauha’aha’a and Jeff Popovich, respectively.

Quaterback Brett Rypien (4) of the Boise State Broncos looks to hand off the ball against the Oregon Ducks in the Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium on December 16, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Boise State won 38-28. Rypien is the country’s leading active career passer with 9,876 yards. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

Returning leaders

PASSING: Brett Rypien, 218-348-2,877, 16/6 (1st)

RUSHING: Alex Mattison, 212-1,086-12 (1st); Robert Mahone, 35-115-1 (4th)

RECEIVING: A.J. Richardson, 33-494-2 (3rd); Sean Modster, 32-335-3 (4th)

TACKLES: S Kekoa Nawahine, 108 (2nd); MLB Tyson Maeva, 84 (3rd); S DeAndre Pierce, 83 (4th)

SACKS: DL Curtis Weaver, 11 (1st); DL Jabril Frazier, 6 (2nd)

INTERCEPTIONS: S Kekoa Nawahine, 3 (T-1st); CB Avery Williams, 2 (T-3rd); CB Tyler Horton, 2 (T-3rd)

Returning All-Mountain West players (7)

Offense: QB Brett Rypien (2nd team)

Defense: DL Curtis Weaver (1st); DB Tyler Horton (1st); DT David Moa (2nd); DL Jabril Frazier (2nd); DB Kekoa Nawahine (2nd)

Special teams: CB Avery Williams (2nd, RET)

FYI

Receivers have cleats to fill: Wilson graduated after totaling more than 1,500 receiving yards and seven touchdowns last season. Also gone is tight end Roh, who caught 39 balls and nine touchdowns last season. If anything, it’s always a comfort to have experience behind center. QB Brett Rypien comes from good stock. He’s the nephew of Mark Rypien, who led the Washington Redskins to one of their three Super Bowl titles. Head coach Bryan Harsin, a former offensive coordinator at Texas, can concentrate on developing some receivers since he has experience behind center. Look for seniors A.J. Richardson, who averaged 18.1 yards per catch over the final seven games, and Akilian Butler, back from a torn ACL, to step up.

Outlook is sunny, small chance of clouds: The Broncos are listed in the preseason top 20 of most major publications and websites and have a fighting chance, if they start better than they did last season — 2-2 before going 9-1 over their last 10 including a Las Vegas Bowl win over Oregon — to become the first school outside of a Power Five conference to earn one of those four coveted playoff slots. The non-conference schedule isn’t too friendly, however with the opener at Troy and a tough road contest at Oklahoma State, which is transitioning from the losses of offensive stars Mason Rudolph and James Washington.

Mattison matters: Rypien, the FBS active leader in passing yards with 9,876, got some nice headlines, but he didn’t do it alone. Running back Alexander Mattison rushed for at least 110 yards in four games, including a career high 242 yards with three touchdowns in a 59-52 overtime thriller over Colorado State. The rushing total was the third most in program history. Add to that, the team’s 2017 offensive MVP finished strong; after averaging 4.6 yards per carry in the first six games, he averaged 5.7 in the final seven.

2017 national rankings

Scoring: 36th (32.5 ppg) — right above No. 37 UCLA, right behind No. 35 USC

Points allowed: 38th (22.9 ppg) — right above No. 39 Utah, right behind No. 37 Boston College

Passing: 37th (262.6 ypg) — right above No. 38 Houston, right behind No. 36 Ohio State

Rushing: 90th (143.5 ypg) — right above No. 91 Middle Tennessee, right behind No. 89 North Carolina

Total off.: 57th (406.1 ypg) — right above No. 58 Washington, right behind No. 56 Texas A&M

Total def.: 22nd (332.6 ypg) — right above No. 23 Wyoming, right behind No. 21 Duke

Head coach Bryan Harsin of the Boise State Broncos cheers from the sideline moments before the his team defeated the Oregon Ducks in the Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium on December 16, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Boise State won 38-28. Harsin is 42-12 in his four years at Boise State. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

The schedule

DATEOPPONENTLAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)
Sept. 1 (5, ESPNEWS)at TroyW, 24-13
Sept. 8 (9:15 p.m.)Connecticut
Sept. 15 (2:30 p.m.)at Oklahoma State
Sept. 29 (6 p.m.)at Wyoming*W, 24-14
Oct. 6San Diego State*W, 31-14
Oct. 13 (9:30 p.m.)at Nevada*W, 41-14
Oct. 19 (8, ESPN2)Colorado State*W, 59-52 (OT)
Oct. 27 (6 p.m.)at Air Force*W, 44-19
Nov. 3BYUW, 24-7
Nov. 9 (9:15, ESPN2)Fresno State*L, 28-17
Nov. 16 (8 p.m.)at New Mexico*W, 28-14
Nov. 24Utah State*W, 41-14
* Mountain West game

Note: Boise State beat Fresno State in the MWC championship game, 17-14

The key game: Sept. 28, at Wyoming

The last 5 years

YEARW-L (CONF.)RANKINGSBOWL, RESULT
20134-8 (2-7)20th / —No bowl
201412-1 (8-1)— / 6thChick-fil-A, W
201511-2 (7-2)2nd / 7thAlamo, W
20166-7 (4-5)13th / —Liberty, L
201711-3 (7-2)— / 9thAlamo, W
Total44-21 (28-17 Big 12)3-1 in bowls

Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final rankings.

Our Top 25, by conferences

2 schools:

Big 12 — No. 19 West Virginia, No. 25 Texas

Pac-12 — No. 20 USC, No. 23 Oregon

1 school:

Mountain West — No. 18 Boise State

ACC — No. 21 Florida State

AAC — No. 22 Central Florida

SEC — No. 24 LSU

Coming tomorrow: Our No. 17 team

Want a hint?

This school’s colors are maroon and white.

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