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Yahoo Sports' Top 25: No. 14 Boise State

Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien has 60 touchdown passes in three seasons. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

Welcome to Yahoo Sports’ 2018 college football preseason top 25. A poll that’s guaranteed to be wrong like every other preseason poll out there. Every day in August we’re going to reveal a new team in our top 25 culminating with the reveal of our No. 1 team on Aug. 25. And yes, it’s a team from the SEC.

Previously: No. 25 South Carolina, No. 24 Utah, No. 23 West Virginia, No. 22 Central Florida, No. 21 Texas, No. 20 USC, No. 19 Florida State, No. 18 Oregon, No. 17 Mississippi State, No. 16 TCU, No. 15 Michigan

No. 14 Boise State

2017 record: 11-3 (7-1)
Returning starters: 6 offense, 10 defense

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Year 4 of Brett Rypien

It doesn’t seem that long ago that Brett Rypien was pressed into action as a true freshman after Ryan Finley went down with a serious ankle injury. Since then, after Finley transferred to NC State, Rypien has played a lot of football for the Broncos — 36 starts to be exact.

Rypien was impressive as a freshman and excellent as a sophomore, but things dropped off early in 2017. He missed some time with a head injury and was splitting time with Kansas transfer Montell Cozart upon his return. That split continued through October and into November before Rypien returned to form down the stretch and led the Broncos to a Mountain West title.

Though prolific receiver Cedrick Wilson has moved on to the NFL, Rypien has two seniors, A.J. Richardson (33 catches) and Sean Modster (32 catches), and sophomores Octavius Evans (15 catches) and CT Thomas (15 catches) to spread the ball to.

The team’s top running back, Alexander Mattison (1,086 yards, 12 TDs; 28 catches for 284 yards), is back as well, and he’ll have an experienced offensive line paving the way.

This offense is going to put up a lot of points, especially with Rypien leading it.

The defense lost its best player, but everybody else returns

Here’s the good news if you’re one of Boise State’s opponents: the Broncos no longer have linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, a first-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys who had 141 tackles last fall.

Here’s the bad news if you’re one of Boise State’s opponents: aside from Vander Esch, the Broncos return their other 10 defensive starters from 2017.

Boise was No. 22 nationally in total defense despite playing a lot of underclassmen. Now the inexperience entering 2017 turns into experience for 2018. The defensive line could be especially ferocious led by Curtis Weaver coming off the edge. As a redshirt freshman, Weaver was tied for fifth in the country with 11 sacks. Two other ends, seniors Jabril Frazier and Durrant Miles, have 26 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks combined for their careers.

The secondary returns two all-Mountain West performers in cornerback Avery Williams and safety Kekoa Nawahine, who led the team with three interceptions and was second with 108 tackles. At linebacker, junior Tyson Maeva (84 tackles) is the standout.

Is Boise State the best Group of Five team in college football?

After Boise State’s consistent excellence under Chris Petersen, the 2015 and 2016 seasons, the second and third under Bryan Harsin, were down years by Boise’s lofty standards. And a 2-2 start last fall made some Boise fans uneasy about the direction of the program under Harsin, but winning nine of 10 down the stretch, including the Mountain West title game and the Las Vegas Bowl over Oregon, should have eased those fears.

Now, in 2018, Harsin should have his best team — a team that is our favorite to represent the Group of Five conferences in a College Football Playoff bowl game. Even over UCF.

Boise has some challenges in the non-conference schedule with trips to Troy and Oklahoma State. The top of the Mountain West is tough, too, especially Fresno State and San Diego State out of the West Division. Boise, the heavy favorite in the Mountain Division, will face both in 2018 on the blue turf of Albertsons Stadium.

But Boise should have its sights set beyond just winning another MWC title. And if the Broncos want to put together a special season where they’re included in the national conversation, there’s not much room for error.

Boise State defensive end Curtis Weaver (99) led the Mountain West in sacks in 2017. (AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger)

Impact player: Curtis Weaver, defensive end

Weaver, a 6-foot-3, 266-pounder out of Long Beach, California, passed up a bunch of Power Five offers to take his talents to Boise State. He redshirted his first year with the program before making a huge impact last fall.

All Weaver did was lead the Mountain West with 11 sacks, proving to be a major disruptor off the edge for Andy Avalos’ defense. In addition to his sack total, Weaver added 13 tackles for loss, an interception and returned a fumble 55 yards for a touchdown against Washington State.

Game to watch: Sept. 15 at Oklahoma State

The Week 1 trip to Troy will be tough, but Week 3’s game against Oklahoma State in Stillwater will be tougher. The Cowboys lost some serious talent, but should still be an explosive team offensively and a big test for Boise State.

On top of that, it’s a chance for a resume builder. If Oklahoma State ends up being one of the better teams in the Big 12, that could have a big impact on Boise’s ranking from CFP committee.

Best-case scenario

The Broncos will probably be favored in all of its MWC games, so an undefeated run through the conference wouldn’t be a surprise. That would put Boise in position to play in a New Year’s Six bowl game, much like UCF a year ago.

Bryan Harsin is entering his fifth season at Boise State. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Worst-case scenario

BSU plays three of its first four games on the road and can’t overlook that Week 1 cross-country trip to Troy. The teams played a close one last fall in Boise with the Broncos prevailing 24-13. Playing at home, the defending Sun Belt champions could get Boise’s season off to a rough start.

From there, it’s hard to see Boise dropping too many conference games, but Fresno State and San Diego State could end up supplanting the Broncos from the top of the conference.

Prediction

We’ll give Boise a loss to Oklahoma State in the non-con and another in the Mountain West regular season — either Fresno or San Diego State — before winning the league crown. That would give the Broncos an 11-2 record entering bowl season.

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