TROY, Ala. (AP) — Boise State has ripped off 10-win seasons with regularity, and Troy has done it two years in a row.
The two standout programs from outside the power conferences open Saturday at newly renovated Veteran Memorial Stadium, with both trying to make an early statement. And if a program is trying to establish itself as one of the best from the Group of Five conferences, facing one that’s already well arrived has some extra significance.
“Boise is where we are striving to be,” said Troy coach Neal Brown, who has won 21 games the past two seasons. “They are annually a top Group of Five program and that is what we are trying to do at Troy.”
Both teams won 11 games last season, an FBS record for the Trojans and the 15th time the Broncos have reached double digits since moving up to FBS in 1996 (behind only Ohio State’s 17).
Boise State is favored to win its division in the Mountain West Conference and trying to make a New Year’s Six bowl as the top conference champion from outside the Power Five. And perhaps enter the playoff conversation in the process.
First things first.
“I’m more curious to see if we really believe in our process and how we do it or if we’re just trying to jump in the game and get that W as fast as we can so we can celebrate and think about all the good things that can happen,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “I don’t think we have that team.
“I think our team is about the competition, but I don’t know that yet until we actually go out there and get ourselves into this week and go play.”
Last season, the Trojans upset then-No. 25 LSU in Baton Rouge.
Here are some things to know about the Boise State-Troy game:
QB COMPARISON: Boise State’s Brett Rypien is the active FBS leader in career passing yards with 9,876. Troy’s Kaleb Barker is making his starting debut as successor to four-year starter Brandon Silvers after winning the job in preseason camp.
HAPPY RETURNS: Both teams have dangerous return men who also play cornerback. Boise State’s Avery Williams returned a pair of punts for touchdowns last season as a redshirt freshman, including an 81-yarder in the opening win over the Trojans. It was his first college punt return. Troy’s Marcus Jones scored three times on kickoff returns and once on a 100-yard interception return in his freshman season.
SUN BELT SUCCESS: The Broncos are 7-0 against teams from the Sun Belt Conference, including road wins over Idaho (2001 and 2003) and Louisiana (2016). Harsin won a share of the Sun Belt title with Arkansas State in 2013, beating the Trojans 41-34 on a late touchdown.
RUSH, RUSH: Boise State may have one of the best pass rushing groups in the country with defensive ends Curtis Weaver, Durant Miles and Jabril Frazier. The trio combined for 19 of Boise State’s 34 sacks last season, including 11 from Weaver as a freshman.
TACKLING MACHINE: Replacing linebacker Leighton Vander Esch is one of the few questions on the Broncos’ experienced defense. Vander Esch was the Mountain West defensive player of the year after recording 141 tackles and became a first-round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys. Riley Whimpey, a sophomore, gets the first shot at stepping in for Vander Esch at linebacker.
AP Sports Writer Tim Booth contributed to this report.