Boise State's title chances bleak as it visits Hawaii
Boise State faces an uphill battle in terms of having a chance to land the coveted Cotton Bowl bid that will go to the best team from a non-power conference.
You see, a team can't be in position to qualify for a New Year's Six bowl berth without winning its division.
That means the No. 22 Broncos (8-1, 4-1 Mountain West) need some help to reach their bowl aspirations as they enter Saturday's road game at Hawaii (7 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network).
Boise State is facing this predicament because it lost to Wyoming on Oct. 29 and that result gave the Cowboys the upper hand in terms of winning the Mountain Division of the Mountain West.
Basically, Boise State needs to win its final three regular-season games and hope Wyoming (7-2, 5-0) loses twice.
Even if the Cowboys collapse and allow the Broncos to overtake them, Boise State still would have to beat Pacific Division champion San Diego State (8-1, 5-0) in the Mountain West title game.
Coach Bryan Harsin is aware of the situation but has decided to simplify it.
“We have to stay focused on what we can control,” said Harsin, “and focused on that we're going to try and go play our best each and every week.”
Based on past results, Harsin's approach should hold up well when the Broncos tussle with the Rainbow Warriors (4-6, 3-3).
Boise State has won the past five meetings in the series by an average of 38 points. The Broncos have averaged 45.4 points during the stretch.
Hawaii also was manhandled last Saturday by San Diego State. The Rainbow Warriors recorded only 215 yards while losing 55-0.
“I told them this one hurts,” Hawaii coach Nick Rolovich said of the beat down. “I told them we didn't execute to our ability.”
Rolovich is well aware another substandard effort could lead to another blowout in the series with the Broncos.
The Rainbow Warriors allow an average of 38.2 points per game and will be hard-pressed to slow a high-octane Boise State offense led by running back Jeremy McNichols.
The junior ranks fourth in the nation with 1,216 rushing yards and leads the nation with 20 touchdowns, one ahead of Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, the Heisman Trophy favorite.
McNichols has scored 16 touchdowns on the ground and added four receiving scores. He has scored at least one touchdown in 21 consecutive contests.
“When we get close, or when we get the ball, I just smell blood in the water,” McNichols said in a press conference. “I just want to get to the end zone as many times as I can.”
McNichols has 14 career 100-yard games and his big-play ability has helped the offense average 34.8 points and 486.1 yards per game.
Sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien has passed for 2,578 yards and should surpass his true freshman output of 3,353 yards. Rypien has thrown 18 touchdowns passes against just six interceptions.
Senior receiver Brian Sperbeck became the fifth player in Boise State history to top 200 receptions during last week's 45-31 victory over San Jose State but had a rare quiet game with only two catches for 19 yards.
Sperbeck, who has 201 career catches, has 57 receptions for 909 yards and seven touchdowns this season. Junior Cedrick Wilson has emerged as top-flight wideout with 37 catches for 686 yards and a conference-leading eight touchdowns.
One concern is the amount of points the Broncos are allowing. The defense has give up 30 or more points in each of the past two games and an average of 26.4 over the past five contests.
“Defensively, I think there is still a lot we can improve on,” senior weak-side linebacker Ben Weaver said. “No matter if you win or lose, there is a standard there — the pursuit of perfection.”
Weaver has been all over the field with 31 tackles over the past two games, including 15 against San Jose State. He has a team-best 87 tackles and could reach the century mark with a strong outing against Hawaii.
The Broncos have just four interceptions this season and have recorded just one sack over the past two games.
Hawaii sophomore quarterback Dru Brown been picked off just six times but three came in the loss to San Diego State. He has passed for 1,551 yards and nine touchdowns with senior Marcus Kemp rating as his favorite target with 55 receptions for 910 yards and six touchdowns.
Sophomore middle linebacker Jahlani Tavai (team-best 91 tackles) and senior cornerback Jalen Rogers (team-high three interceptions) have been the Rainbow Warriors' top defenders.