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BYU at Boise State
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Not long ago everyone was looking forward to annual battles between BYU and Boise State as the Broncos were tabbed to join the Mountain West. That finally occurred last season but the Cougars opted to move to independent status. The Broncos are now again on their way out, heading to the Big East but these successful programs come together for an intriguing Thursday night ESPN match-up this week, starting a series that is scheduled to play each of the next 11 seasons.

Matchup: BYU Cougars at Boise State Broncos
Venue: Bronco Stadium, Boise, Idaho (Blue AstroPlay)
Date: Thursday, September 20, 2012
Time/TV: 9:00 PM ET – ESPN
Line: Boise State -7½, Over/Under 49.5
Last Meeting: 2004, Boise State (-22) 28-27 at Boise

Among teams that are currently outside of the realm of the six automatic-qualifier conferences it is hard to find teams that have been more successful in recent years than BYU and Boise State. BYU has an illustrious history and won the national championship in 1984, while also seeing several NFL greats go through the program over the years. Boise State’s history is much more recent as they did not move to the Division I-A level until 1996 but an empire has been built on the blue turf with incredible results in recent years, including finishing with one or zero losses in eight of the last 10 seasons. Both teams enter this game sitting with a loss already so a somewhat disappointing season will already be clinched for the loser.

Bronco Mendenhall is now in his eighth season as the head coach at BYU with his roots coming at New Mexico under current San Diego State Head Coach Rocky Long. He is a great offensive mind and his teams have averaged over 32 points per game over the last seven years. After a very slow start last season with the Cougars losing two of the first three games and scoring just 40 points, he made some scheme changes and switched quarterbacks. The Cougars cruised the rest of the season, only losing in a tight game with TCU to finish 10-3 after winning the Armed Forces Bowl. This season opened with a dominant win over Washington State in a hyped opening game that featured the return of Mike Leach to the sidelines. BYU disposed of Weber State in week 2 but last week lost at nearby rival Utah, burned by turnovers early and missing two late kicks with a chance to tie the game in a wild finish. It will be difficult to bounce back from such an emotional game on a short week, playing on the road again.

Other offers have come his way but Boise State head coach Chris Peterson seems content to stay in Boise and add to his remarkable 75-7 career record. Moving to the Big East next season will create some challenging situations but it will also bring a bit more exposure and opportunity to the program. Boise State has one of the most unique home fields in college football with the bright blue turf and the home record under Peterson is amazing at 38-1, the lone loss coming by one-point last season against TCU. Boise State has opened the season with a marquee national game each of the last four years including this season. The previous three years the Broncos escaped with wins over ranked teams, beating Oregon, Virginia Tech, and Georgia. This season Boise State had a great opportunity to steal a win at Michigan State but they came up just short. The Broncos were severely out-gained in that match-up and it might be tough for this team the rest of the way playing with the goal of being undefeated and moving into a BCS bowl position out the window.

Riley Nelson is not the conventional BYU quarterback as he lacks the arm strength of the some of the past BYU greats and he rushed for nearly 400 yards last season. Nelson was far more successful than top recruit Jake Heaps as the Cougars played much better after he took over last season. Nelson struggled last week as the Utah defense did a great job bottling up the run and it forced Nelson into some bad throws. The offense was sloppy as a whole in that game with three first half fumbles that were recovered but in the 3rd quarter a fumble was recovered by Utah and returned for a 47-yard touchdown, a turning point in a game that was 10-7 before that play. The key for the Cougars will be getting some success on the ground behind junior running back Michael Alisa, which can open up the passing game for Nelson.

Boise State is also a team that needs to be able to run the ball to have success. Senior running back D.J. Harper is one of the few returning stars from last year’s team and he had a tough time in the opener against Michigan State before finding great success last week against Miami, Ohio. The passing game opened up behind junior Joe Southwick who looked much more comfortable as he attempts to replace Boise State legend Kellen Moore. This is very inexperienced Boise State team as a whole but the offensive line did return three starters and most of the receiving corps has at least some experience.

On defense BYU was dominant against Washington State, allowing just six points. BYU has allowed just 43 points in three games and last week Utah only had 245 yards despite beating the Cougars. BYU returned seven starters from a team that allowed just 20.4 points per game last season and allowed only 313 yards per game on the season. The top five leading tacklers from last season are playing for BYU this year but it will be tough to match the numbers of the 2011 season as this year the schedule is much more difficult.

Boise State returned just two starters from last season on defense and it showed in the opening loss at Michigan State as the Broncos allowed 461 yards including 213 rushing yards. The Boise State defense did create four turnovers however and that allowed the game to stay close late. Last week against Miami Boise State allowed just 227 yards and adjustments were made against the run as the Broncos held the Redhawks to just 49 rushing yards, averaging just 2.1 yards per carry.

The experience edge for BYU should allow the Cougars to compete in this game in this very tough environment but last week BYU did not look like a veteran team as many critical mistakes dug a hole that was too deep to climb back from. Boise State is not the same team of past years but with the schedule ahead another one-loss season is more than possible, with this being one of the biggest hurdles on that quest. On the field turnovers and the ability to run the ball should decide the game but the emotional state of both squads has to be questioned as well. BYU is coming off a wild rivalry game and now facing another road game on a short week while Boise State is playing with much lower stakes than in past seasons with a very young an unproven group of players.

Line Movement: Initial offerings priced this game with Boise State as a -7 favorite, some outlets requiring additional juice at -120. The line moved to -7.5 universally by Wednesday morning. The total opened at 48 and has slowly climbed over the relatively key numbers of 48 and 49. Boise State is priced around -300 (Bet $300 to win $100) on the money-line.

Last Meeting: In 2004 Boise State opened the year 3-0 coming off a 13-1 2003 season with the lone loss coming at Oregon State. Hosting BYU as -22 favorites Boise State managed to win with a late field goal, coming back from a late 27-16 deficit. In that season BYU opened the year with a 20-17 win over Notre Dame but then was blown out in back-to-back games losing at Stanford 37-10 and then hosting #1 USC and losing 42-10. BYU out-gained Boise State 415-399 in the game and won the turnover battle 2-0. Neither team rushed the ball well in the game and while a lot has changed with these teams, running the ball will likely be the key to this year’s match-up as well.

Series History: Provo is less than 400 miles from Boise but these teams have met just twice with Boise State winning 50-12 at home in 2003 and sneaking away with a 28-27 win at BYU in 2004. This is the first meeting of a 12-year agreement to play annually.

BYU Historical Trends: Since Bronco Mendenhall took over BYU is 24-15 S/U in road games, going 7-6-1 ATS as an underdog. BYU is 8-4-1 ATS overall as an underdog of 7 or more since 2005 including cashing in each of the last four instances. Since 1980 BYU is 30-21-3 as a road underdog and 52-40-4 as an underdog in any venue. BYU has been an undervalued team in recent years in part due to often losing games early in the season, as BYU has gone 24-15 ATS the last three seasons combined. Under Mendenhall BYU is 14-8 S/U coming off a S/U loss but just 11-10 ATS in those games.

Boise State Historical Trends: Boise State is an amazing 45-26-2 ATS at home since 1999 and almost all of those games came playing as a favorite. Overall under Chris Peterson Boise State is 45-29-3 ATS but just 17-16-2 ATS at home. Value has caught up to Boise State on the blue turf as Boise State is just 4-11 ATS as a home favorite since late 2009. This game will feature the lowest home favorite spread for Boise State since opening the 2009 season against Oregon however. Since 2000 Boise State has only four times not been favored by more than seven points, going 3-0 ATS in the games as slight favorites and losing S/U and ATS in the lone instance as an underdog (Washington State in 2001).

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