The Boise State Broncos and UCF Knights have been two of the best Group of Five programs in college football for the past decade and a half. Boise State famously won multiple Fiesta Bowls and climbed to the top tier of college football over a decade ago under former coach Chris Petersen, while UCF also won big bowl games several years ago — first under former coach George O’Leary, then Scott Frost. These programs are elites in the second tier of college football, and this game will shape the early race for the Group of Five championship and a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Boise State Broncos @ UCF Knights
Date: Thursday, Sept. 2, 7 p.m. ET
Location: Bounce House, Orlando, FL
CFB Odds: UCF -5.5
Boise State Broncos
The offense for Boise State has been held back in recent years by one specific weakness: Pass protection. Bronco quarterbacks have been knocked around and have not been able to settle into a clean, comfortable pocket. Quarterback Hank Bachmeier in particular has had an injury-ravaged career with the Broncos. He is talented but has not been able to stay healthy. Boise State has a solid defense, but the offense has lagged behind and not been able to give the passing game the best possible chance to succeed.
The man tasked with improving the Broncos — who did not win the Mountain West Conference championship last year and therefore failed to meet annual expectations — is first-year head coach Andy Avalos. He replaces Bryan Harsin, who is now the head coach at Auburn. Avalos was the defensive coordinator at Oregon, so his expertise is not on offense. However, head coaches — unlike coordinators — are responsible for the whole program, not just one side of the ball. Avalos needs to get the pass protection part of the equation fixed at Boise State. If BSU can solve that problem against UCF, it has a legitimate chance to win. If it can solve that problem this season, the Broncos can win the Mountain West.
Whereas Boise State’s biggest problem is pass protection, UCF’s biggest problem is its defense, especially in the secondary. UCF did not have a problem scoring last season, and the Knights did not find it difficult to gain leads in games. They led in nearly every game but they allowed double-digit leads to slip away against two chief AAC rivals: Memphis and Cincinnati. UCF lost a 21-point lead against Memphis and an 11-point lead against Cincinnati, falling apart in the fourth quarter and wasting the production of a high-powered offense led by quarterback Dillon Gabriel. The Memphis loss was especially brutal. UCF led 35-14 and somehow lost 50-49 despite the fact that Gabriel threw for 601 yards.
Like Boise State, UCF has a first-year head coach. Interestingly, Boise State’s former coach is now Auburn’s coach. Bryan Harsin replaced Gus Malzahn, leading to Boise State hiring Andy Avalos as its new coach. UCF picked up Malzahn after Auburn fired him. Malzahn should enable UCF to score tons of points but defense is the big concern. UCF probably wins, but it will be close. Take the points for the online sports betting spread.