Boise State and Oklahoma State is the sort of college football matchup that would be great for a bowl game, or even on a video game. But pitting those two types of programs in a nonconference game is not typical.
Truth is, many Power Five conference schools would love to play someone like Boise State — but not many are keen on having to play the Broncos in Boise. But Oklahoma State agreed in 2013 to a series that would be played in 2018 in Stillwater and 2021 in Boise.
“I think it’s a great matchup,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “They’re not listed as a Power Five conference school, but they’re good enough to not only be that, but they’re a consistent Top 25 team. ... They’ve got big-time talent, they’ve got NFL players.”
Five years ago, Boise State’s athletic department, along with then-coach Chris Petersen, made an effort to find Power Five programs willing to play home-and-home series. The Broncos had played or agreed to games in 2009, 2010 and 2014 at neutral sites against ACC and SEC teams, but even those were well within driving distance for those schools — and across the country from Boise.
“We felt we’d played a lot on neutral fields, so we wanted to seek out those types of schools to come to Boise, find quality programs that would get fans excited and our coaches wanted,” former Boise State athletic director Mark Coyle said. “There’s a reputation that Boise State is tough, and it’s hard to win against them at home, so we were thankful for schools like Oklahoma State that would accept that.”
Coyle, now at Minnesota, along with current AD Curt Apsey, then his top deputy, arranged the series with then-Oklahoma State senior associate AD Dave Martin. Martin said the Cowboys wanted a series against a traditionally strong opponent, saw Boise State had openings for the times they wanted on a scheduling database, and Gundy was eager to do it when told. Martin said scheduling can be a pain, but this one went “very smoothly.”
“Over the last 10 years, we’ve reached out to many Power Five schools,” Apsey said. “It’s always interesting asking a coach about some game five to 10 years away, but I think both schools saw programs that would be very good when we were going to play these games, and that’s certainly the case.”
In the first months of 2013, Boise State signed future series with Power Five teams Oklahoma State, Virginia (2015, ’17) and Florida State (2019, ‘20). Those aren’t the typical, regional series with Pac-12 schools, which Apsey said are important for Boise State, but adding unique opponents on a home-and-home basis also is important to get fans energized.
Oklahoma State’s contract calls for a $1 million penalty if either team backs out before the completion. Florida State’s is also a $1 million penalty if a team backs out, or $2 million if it’s within 12 months of a scheduled game. It is a $2 million penalty for the Michigan State-BSU series set for 2022-’23, as was the case when Washington and Boise State played in 2013 and 2015, the latter when Chris Petersen returned to Boise with the Huskies.
“There’s always a way out of a contract, but it will be costly,” Apsey said. “There’s a reason that’s written into the contracts. I remember the big question was if Washington would play here, and of course they did. ... So far, we haven’t received any inclination someone is looking to back out of the games here in Boise.”
Schools may be warming a bit more to scheduling a home-and-home with Boise State, perhaps as the College Football Playoff committee considers schedule strength. Saturday’s game is the Broncos’ first against a Big 12 team in the regular season.
“It kind of shows how our scheduling has changed ... that’s kind of the part of how our program’s developed over time,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “It’s not common ... some of those things, that’s what makes it fun for Boise State and Oklahoma State to play each other.”
WILLIAMS TOUGHS IT OUT
Sophomore cornerback Avery Williams is an important part of the Broncos’ defense and special teams, where he scored twice on punt returns last season.
So when he exited the Troy game Sept. 1 in the fourth quarter with an elbow injury, it looked like a potentially major loss.
“We were all terrified for him, we’ve seen how hard he’s worked since he’s been here,” junior safety DeAndre Pierce said. “... We saw his bone not where it’s supposed to be at. So he came to the sideline, we were freaking out like, ‘Man, he just broke his bone, he’s going to be out for eight weeks or however long.’”
But it turns out the injury was a dislocation, not a fracture. Williams did not return punts last Saturday against UConn, but he did start at cornerback. Sporting a brace on his right elbow, he hauled in a first-quarter interception.
Missing last Tuesday’s practice, he spent part of it coaching up the returners, but vowed not to miss more time, saying, “I just had a will to get back.” The interception made it well worth it.
“It was pretty rewarding, with the pain I went through,” Williams said.
QB RYPIEN STEPS UP DEEP
When Boise State senior quarterback Brett Rypien was asked in March about his areas of focus during the offseason, he quickly said “deep ball accuracy.”
Thus far, that has been one of his strengths after inconsistencies in that department last season. On throws of more than 20 yards, he’s 6-of-9 for 266 yards with four touchdowns.
“He’s worked hard at it. ... The experiences I’ve had with him, he works extremely hard, knows where his deficiencies are at,” Boise State offensive coordinator Zak Hill said. “Over the offseason, it was just throwing and throwing and throwing, trying to find that touch and putting more air on it.”
Rypien has seven touchdown passes, a number he did not meet until Nov. 4 last season. He’s thrown one interception in his last nine regular-season games.
“I think he’s a considerably different player than he was last year. … He’s come a long way,” Gundy said.
BRONCOS PREPPING FOR TEMPO
Oklahoma State utilizes its no-huddle offense as well as anyone, having run 178 plays in its two games. The Cowboys’ 77.5 plays per game last season ranked fourth in the FBS.
Pierce said the Broncos spent a few spring practices starting to get acclimated with the up-tempo offense, and one or two in the fall. Among the ways they’ve worked on it is having the No. 1 offense run a play, then immediately lining up the No. 2 offense.
“As soon as one offense is (done), the next one’s already lined up,” Pierce said.
The Cowboys will try to wear down the Broncos, getting the ball in space to create one-on-one chances. That’s perhaps the largest focus.
“That’s probably going to be the biggest challenge this week, open-field tackling, so that’s something we’ll get a lot of practice on,” Pierce said.