Boise State vs. San Jose State Who Has the Edge at Each Position?
Mountain West football’s championship game will have talent everywhere, but where will the Spartans and Broncos have an advantage?
The smallest edge could make a large difference.
The Mountain West football championship game kicks off on Saturday between the Boise State Broncos and San Jose State Spartans and there’s every expectation that it should be hotly contested.
That’s because, despite what the betting line might tell you, Brent Brennan‘s Spartans are no typical underdog. Boise State and San Jose State both averaged at least 30 points a game on offense, allowed five yards per play on defense, and sport one player of the year winner apiece.
It makes for a game that, on its face, might be too close to call, so we at Mountain West Wire put our heads together and did a deep dive into where each team might find advantages. Spoiler alert, though: There aren’t a lot of big ones on either side.
Both Nick Starkel and Hank Bachmeier have had very good years, but the Spartans have played their quick-passing game to near perfection throughout the fall. Starkel has created a 20-yard pass play on 13.8% of his throws while Bachmeier is at 8.7%, though it is worth noting Bachmeier has been a little better at avoiding turnovers with a 1.7% interception rate.
Part of the difference in our staff’s thinking may have to do with quarterback depth, as well. When Starkel got knocked out against San Diego State, Nick Nash rallied the Spartans to a win and he’s continued to contribute with his legs, as well, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Though Jack Sears is listed as the backup on the title game depth chart, it’s anyone’s guess as to what would actually happen should Bachmeier go down since Sears was MIA in the regular season finale at Wyoming. Advantage: San Jose State
On paper, the advantage is clear. The reality is that though George Holani is the best athlete on either side at this position, how much he actually plays after suffering an injury last Saturday will be one of the game’s biggest X-factors. Bryan Harsin has already he will be good to go, but will Holani be on a snap count?
Andrew Van Buren has been a competent but unexciting replacement in Holani’s stead, though by himself he probably wouldn’t carry the edge over San Jose State’s Tyler Nevens and Kairee Robinson. Nevens, in particular, has been clutch over the last few weeks, but betting on him to average nine yards per carry one more time is asking a lot. Advantage: Boise State (with a caveat)
What makes more of a difference, one clear-cut star or a stable of contributors? Khalil Shakir might be the best player on either side here, but questions about the efficacy of other Broncos pass catchers might explain why our staff was nearly split 50-50 on this one.
CT Thomas didn’t have anywhere near Shakir’s workload, but he and San Jose State’s Bailey Gaither have been the two most explosive receivers in the Mountain West in averaging 18.9 and 17.4 yards per catches, respectively. Thomas is no Tre Walker, though, and the Spartans simply make more consistent use of more options. In the end, players like Isaiah Hamilton and Isaiah Holiness might have made the difference here. Advantage: San Jose State
The split here between our staff is exactly what it was at wide receiver, but there’s no doubt San Jose State has gotten more from its tight ends in the passing game. Derrick Deese Jr. has four touchdowns on just 12 catches while freshmen Dominick Mazotti and Sam Olson have flashed some downfield potential themselves.
Part of this may have to do with some COVID-related mysteries, too. As with Jack Sears, Boise State’s John Bates was out of commission last week and also hasn’t had a catch in the last three games. Riley Smith has been solid in Bates’s place, but he’s also averaged just 8.8 yards per catch. Advantage: San Jose State
Both teams have had remarkable continuity in their offensive lines this season. Boise State’s five starters have missed a total of just two starts, while San Jose State’s Trevor Robbins has proven to be the ultimate flex piece by starting three games at center, two at left guard, and one at right guard.
That the Broncos are seen to have the advantage here probably doesn’t have much to do with a gulf in performance, then, as much as minute differences. The Spartans, for instance, have been much better about keeping the quarterback clean but the Broncos probably have a slight edge in run blocking. Advantage: Boise State