Game: Boise State Broncos at UCF Knights
Time: 7:00 PM ET
Spread: Broncos +5.5, Knights -5.5
Two of the best Group of 5 football programs meet tonight to begin their 2021 campaigns. Interestingly, both programs will begin the new season with a new head coach. Bryan Harsin left Boise State last year to take over at Auburn, which had fired Gus Malzahn. Malzahn then took the head job at UCF after Josh Heupel left to become Tennessee’s head coach. Andy Avalos, a Boise State alum and former Oregon defensive coordinator takes over for the Broncos.
Avalos will have eight returning starters on both sides of the ball. The offense will be led by third-year QB Hank Bachmaier, who has only started 13 games in two seasons due to injury. If he stays healthy, he can excel in what should be an exciting Broncos offense to watch.
Avalos hired Tim Plough, formerly of FCS UC-Davis. For the past three seasons, UC-Davis led FCS in passing yards and they operated at one of the fastest paces in the nation. Plough’s offense gets plays off in roughly 23 seconds. That frenetic pace should help the Broncos improve not only in the passing game, but in the running game too. Last year, Boise State averaged just 3.3 yards per carry. RB George Holani missed most of last season with a knee injury, but he rushed for 1,019 yards in 2019.
Malzahn inherits one of the more dynamic quarterbacks in the country in Dillon Gabriel. The junior threw for 32 touchdowns last year and averaged 8.6 yards per attempt. Like the new Boise offense, UCF runs at a blistering pace. Under Heupel last year, they were first in seconds per play. In 2020, the UCF offense averaged 568.1 yards and 42.2 points per game. Those numbers ranked second and eighth in the country, respectively.
The difference tonight could come down to defense. Boise State has been one of the best in the Mountain West and with Avalos taking over, they should continue that defensive success. UCF, on the other hand, does return six starters, but the Knights had some issues on defense last season. They ranked near the bottom of FBS in a number of metrics including Defensive Success Rate and Points Per Opportunity. UCF also loses both safeties, including Thorpe Award finalist Richie Grant, to graduation.
Both programs have had tremendous success over the past several years. Boise State is 16-4 straight up in its last 20 games. UCF is 12-5 in its last 17, but is 18-2 in its last 20 home games. Playing at home will give the Knights an advantage not just because it’s their home turf. The weather conditions in central Florida are a bit different this time of year than Boise, Idaho.
At kickoff, the temperature will be in the mid-80s with over 70 percent humidity. Scattered thunderstorms are in the forecast and the hot, muggy conditions will favor UCF which has been practicing in them for weeks. The Broncos may have some difficulty later in the game. Remember, both teams play up-tempo offenses.
The up-tempo offenses could lead to some pretty tired defenses. The total for this game opened at 72.5 but has dipped to 68. Tired defenses give up points. In UCF’s last five home games in September – when it’s the hottest – the Over has hit all five times. The Over has also cashed in five of Boise’s last seven games.