The college football season has arrived in Alabama, and the Troy Trojans are set to defend their turf against the visiting Boise State Broncos on Saturday.
Troy will officially unveil its brand new north endzone facility, and Head Coach Neal Brown will reveal a new offense led by less familiar faces.
This game is the second of a home-and-home with the Group of Five power programs.
In last year’s contest, Boise State won 24-13 in the first-ever matchup between the two teams and Troy’s third-ever trip to the state of Idaho.
Troy’s defense was stifling in the first match, holding Bronco quarterback Bret Rypien to just 160 passing yards and an interception.
Boise State Head Coach Bryan Harsin turned to graduate transfer Montell Cozart, who clinched the win with a late touchdown drive.
This year, Rypien leads the charge himself with an experienced backfield and a group of talented wideouts to work with.
Rypien, a fourth-year starter, has seen his numbers regress in each of his three prior seasons. Last year, he averaged just 221.3 passing yards per game.
This is largely due to an early-season injury and a three-game rough patch in October. In those three games, Rypien threw for only 321 yards and two touchdowns.
Back-to-back 41-14 victories against Utah State and Nevada, in which Rypien’s numbers were strikingly similar, put him into a groove that he never fell out of.
Rypien averaged 290.7 yards per game in the final seven contests and had a touchdown to interception ratio of 14:3.
The arm of Rypien was not the make-or-break point for Boise State last year, though.
Rypien was inconsistent in multiple ways in 2017 and throughout his career. Regardless, the Broncos are 28-9 in games he has played in.
In the final two games of 2017, Rypien completed 54.4 percent of his passes and threw two touchdowns against two picks.
Yet, Boise State won both games against opponents who had a combined record of 17-10 last year.
Junior running back Alexander Mattison was a key reason for the Broncos success last season when Rypien was either off his game or settled in as a game manager.
Mattison helped control the game in a win against San Diego State and took over against Colorado State, amassing 242 rushing yards in a 59-52 victory.
He logged over 1,000 yards in his first year as a starter and figures to improve on those numbers as he’s now the primary horse in the stable.
The offensive line Mattison ran behind last year was a duct tape job, as it dealt with attrition and injuries across the board.
The result was 28 sacks allowed and the lowest Boise State rushing output in 20 years.
The Broncos lost a pair of all-conference players up front but did return five players with starting experience.
On the outside, star receiver Cedrick Wilson and his 2,640 career receiving yards are gone. Along with him is tight end Jake Roh.
Senior AJ Richardson is a potential break out player after hauling in 33 catches last season. Another senior, Sean Modster, was right behind him with 32 receptions.
The duo give Rypien a pair of safety valves and potentially much more. However, the Broncos have several underclassmen who flashed big play ability last year.
Players like CT Thomas and Octavius Evans will be stepping up while junior college transfer John Hightower is fitting in well during camp.
The Boise State offense is a fairly complete unit with a premier Group of Five quarterback behind center. The defense has already had success against the Broncos.
Troy’s front seven did its job in baptizing the Boise State offensive line in fire last year, registering 12 tackles for loss in the game.
While the Broncos’ line is more experienced this time around, the Trojan front could be equally as terrorizing as last year’s despite the graduation of its top three players.
A total of 20 tackles for loss is returning to the line led by juniors Marcus Webb and Antoine Barker.
Senior bandit Hunter Reese was an edge-rusher wrapped in a nightmare last season and returns looking to improve upon a 14 tackles for loss campaign, ending with a first team all-conference selection.
Joining Reese in the linebacker group is 2017 leading tackler Tron Folsom at the will spot. He’s got an experienced backup in AJ Smiley, as well as the versatile Justin Whisenhunt.
Replacing Sam Lebbie at the linebacker is redshirt freshman Carlton Martial. The former walk-on, who received his scholarship last week, has received more praise from coaches during spring and fall than any other player on the defensive side of the ball and appears primed for a strong season.
Troy’s front seven dominated this game last year and the same could happen with minimal personnel losses on either side.
The Broncos found little success in going airborne, as well, last year, and Rypien will once more face some familiar foes.
Blace Brown and his 11 career picks is back after scoring the Trojans’ only touchdown in last season’s contest on a pick-six.
Marcus Jones has moved to the outside corner while Terrance Dunlap steps into the main corner rotation at nickel.
While the Boise State offense versus the Troy defense could be akin to a pair of heavyweight boxers in a 12-round fight, the game may just be decided when the Trojans have the football.
Brown made the announcement at Monday’s press conference that junior quarterback Kaleb Barker will take the first snap of the season while redshirt sophomore Sawyer Smith will play at some point.
Not only will the quarterback position be new, but the Trojans are going running back by committee following the graduations of Jordan Chunn and Josh Anderson.
BJ Smith, Jamarius Henderson and Jabir Frye are expected to be the backs carrying the load this season and the three have a combined 1,072 rushing career rushing yards.
The entire backfield will have the comfort of playing behind an offensive line who returns 72 starts and multiple all-conference players.
The O-line will be tested on Saturday, though, against a defensive line and stud linebacker that feature three all-Mountain West players.
Stud linebacker Curtis Weaver recorded 11 sacks in 2017, and linebacker Tyson Maeva had 84 stops.
The Bronco secondary will also be a stout unit, but will have its hands full covering a six-deep wide receiver group.
Corner Tyler Horton is the leader of the group after having 11 pass breakups and two picks last year and will be tasked with covering Deondre Douglas and Damion Willis.
The Trojans also have Louisville transfer Traveon Samuel paired with Sidney Davis in the slot, while Tray Eafford and Luke Whittemore could be in for breakout seasons.
Brown knows this a big game, but says it isn’t “going to make or break us.”
However, he does note the national importance of this contest.
“This is a game that has national relevance,” Brown said on Monday. “This is a game that can be used as a measuring stick for this program.
“If Boise is where we want to be at, then we eventually have to start beating those level teams.”
The game will kick off at 5:00 pm at Veterans Memorial Stadium and will be nationally broadcasted on ESPNEWS.