Time for the final pick of the year.
As is always the case with bowl games, it feels like we’ve spent a lot of time hashing over all of the various aspects of this game, so a complete repeat of everything doesn’t seem necessary.
But no doubt, how this season is remembered is going to depend a lot on what happens against Boise State. At 8-5, the season can be considered another step in the right direction — if maybe smaller than some hoped — and with some momentum into next year, when it may be more realistic to expect a really big jump. UW has only five seniors (Boise State has 13).
But lose today, and coupled with the surprising loss to WSU, this season will feel like treading water while adding to the pressure to make next season truly a breakthrough.
As was the case with the Apple Cup, we did a position-by-position breakdown for the paper that will run in tomorrow’s editions. I’ll print some of that below rather than repeating a lot of the same info.
First, though, a couple of other thoughts:
— What’s always somewhat of an issue when looking at Boise State’s numbers is its conference and schedule. By one measure, the Sagarin Ratings, Boise State played the 101st toughest schedule this year while UW was 19th. That could definitely come into play today, though Boise State has also seemed to earn the benefit of the doubt in that regard with how it has played against BCS teams the last few years.
— A team’s motivation is often a key consideration in a bowl game, as we saw in 2010 with the Holiday Bowl. But I don’t think that’s an issue here even though this is Boise State’s third straight Vegas Bowl. People around the Boise State program say everyone realized this was something of a rebuilding year and there isn’t real disappointment in not having gone to the BCS, and the team feels comfortable here. I don’t think there’s any reason to question UW’s motivation, either.
— An obvious subplot is the fact that the two teams will play again to open next season. There’s been some thought that bothers Boise State a little, in part because it has to play one on a neutral field and then the other on the road — I’ve never heard any thought it bothered UW in any way. Regardless, I’m not sure that matters at all in this game. I think the teams will coach and play it the way they would any other bowl game.
Now for the reviews of each team by position:
Offensive line –- Huskies had injury issues here throughout the season but have started the same five for the last five game, which has helped solidify things. Still, the line is far from where it needs to be. Boise State has a veteran line (three seniors, two juniors in the starting lineup) led by junior center Matt Paradis, an All-Mountain West Conference first team pick. Boise State’s strength is its pass blocking as the Broncos allowed just nine sacks.Edge: Boise State.
Receivers – Each team has had to rely on a couple of players for the bulk of its production. UW may have more star power, though, in tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and receiver Kasen Williams. Boise State is led by steady sophomore Matt Miller (60 catches, 679 yards) and Prosser grad Kirby Moore (36-368). Edge: UW
Quarterbacks – Keith Price didn’t have the season of a year ago. But statistically it may be better than many realize as he completed 61.8 percent of passes for 18 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. Junior Joe Southwick is in his first year starting for Boise State and improved markedly as the year went on and is also a solid runner. Edge: UW
Running backs –- Bishop Sankey emerged to have a standout season for UW with 1,234 yards and 15 touchdowns. Sixth-year senior D.J. Harper leads Boise State with 1,065 yards and also scored 15 TDs. The Broncos may have more depth, though, also getting 541 yards out of 222-pound Jay Ajayi. Edge: Boise State.
Defensive line – Washington became a much better run-defense team this year and that was led by the line, including rapidly improving sophomore end/tackle Andrew Hudson. The pass rush, though, has to get better and that could be a real key in this game. Boise State had 34 sacks this year (UW has 26) led by standout sophomore end Demarcus Lawrence with nine. Fellow end Sam Ukwuachu added 4.5. Edge: Boise State.
Linebackers – Washington’s young LBs improved rapidly this year spearheaded by the move of freshmen Travis Feeney and Shaq Thompson from safety. Along with MLB John Timu, the group combined to force 10 turnovers this season. Boise State is led by weakside linebacker J.C. Percy, a first-team All-MWC pick voted defensive MVP by his teammates and the first Boise State player with 100 tackles since 2006.Edge: UW
Secondary –- Hard to beat Boise State’s stats here as the Broncos allowed just three passing touchdowns this season, fewest in the nation, led by cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins, each fifth-year seniors. UW also improved markedly in pass defense this year led by All-Pac-12 corner Desmond Trufant, though it struggled in the last game against WSU. Boise State gets slight edge for consistency. Edge: Boise State.
Special teams – Boise State has been surprisingly average in special teams this year — usually a Broncos’ strength. PK Michael Frisina hasn’t made a field goal longer than 30 yards and Boise State essentially lost the San Diego State game due to a kickoff return for a TD and a blocked punt. UW has also been spotty in this area but gets a slight edge in overall consistency. Edge: UW
This obviously has been a different type of year for Boise State, led by a dominating defense with the offense rebuilding. That has made the Broncos a little more vulnerable when they make some mistakes, as happened against SDSU. UW, though, also was far from a complete team this season, and similar to Boise State in a lot of ways with a vastly improved defense and an offense that took a step back.
Turnovers and special teams will loom large tomorrow, and I think UW also has to run the ball pretty well to get the win. Boise State gave up some yards on the ground at times, such as 213 to Michigan State, 227 to Nevada and 164 to San Diego State. UW has to get somewhere in that area, I think, to have a chance.
Ultimately, I think it will be a relatively low-scoring game, and while I think the Huskies have every chance in the world to win the game, I’m going to go with the more experienced and battle-tested bowl team. Call it Boise State 21, Washington 17.