Much of the attention surrounding Group of 5 teams this season focused on Houston and Western Michigan, but Boise State kept on being what it has been for much of the last decade -- an offensive juggernaut with a stud quarterback-running back combo.
Sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien ended the season with the seventh-best passer efficiency rating in FBS. His 3,341 passing yards and 23 touchdowns are a credit to him, but also were complemented by the production of junior running back Jeremy McNichols, who ended the regular season with 1,663 rushing yards (fifth-best in FBS) and 23 rushing touchdowns (third-best in FBS).
Any QB-RB duo putting up those kinds of numbers would be staggering, but not in Boise, where former coach Chris Petersen built an highly productive offense that current coach Bryan Harsin has improved on.
Boise State and Auburn are the only FBS schools that have had a 1,000-yard rusher every season from 2009 to 2016. In six of those seasons, the Broncos have added a 3,000-yard passer. Those six seasons in which Boise State finished with 3,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher are the most of any FBS school since 2009.
On top of that, the Broncos are one of just three FBS programs since 2009 to score at least 240 touchdowns passing and rushing. The other two? Baylor and Oregon.
It began with Kellen Moore's partnership with Jeremy Avery and then Doug Martin, followed by Grant Hedrick and Jay Ajayi, and continues with the Rypien-McNichols combo this season.
“I think our system does a really good job,” Rypien said. “And our coaches do a really good job of putting us in a position to make plays and obviously we have a really balanced offense.”
Though Boise State isn’t often put in the national conversation alongside teams like Auburn, Baylor or Oregon, the Broncos' offensive production over the past decade has earned them a spot there.
“A lot of it has to do with the guys that were playing those positions and the guys that are coaching those positions,” Harsin said. “We’ve been fortunate. We’ve had some really good players at quarterback and running back. ... Future players see that. And then the coaches that have been coaching those positions, they’ve done a good job.”
McNichols and Rypien are about 500 yards shy of the most productive single season QB-RB duo for the Broncos in the last eight seasons (and if they were to break that record, they’d do it with one fewer game). Five hundred yards in one game for those two would be a lot, but if it were to come in any game, one could expect it would be against a team that fields a high-powered and high-scoring offense like Baylor.
In four of the final six games this season the Bears’ defense gave up at least 500 yards, and with a duo like Rypien and McNichols and a staff that has gone 6-1 in the last seven bowl games, the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl likely will see some offensive fireworks.
“For whatever reason we’ve been able to bring in good players into the program that make the offense go,” offensive coordinator Scott Huff said. “I do think we do a pretty good job on offense in terms of game planning. ... We’re able to get creative and ultimately put our guys in the best possible situation.”
And if this game shows off the coaches’ creativity and the production of a historically impressive QB-RB team, a big performance in early 2017 might be what draws the eyes of future quarterbacks and running backs who might suit up for the Broncos and keep the juggernaut going.