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2016 Boise State unit preview: Running Backs

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

You may be busy TGIFing, but there are units to be previewed! Today, the OBNUG crew takes a long-ish look at Boise State's vaunted running back corps. It's a unit that finished 2015 ranked 39th in the country in productivity—can they improve upon that non-terrible-but-not-great standing in 2016? Let's have a looky-loo.

Casey

Obvious starter is obvious. McNichols will lead the RB unit for the next two years (hopefully). Demas has one year left and all signs point to him (for the time being) as the second back. Third back I predict is Alexander Mattison. Absolutely no ding on Young or Wolpin as both will see the field. Maybe my expectations for Mattison are a bit lofty, but I think he will be the next "main" back at BSU.

If everything happens as I expect, that will unfortunately only leave him two years to run the show as the feature back. Mahone will redshirt this year, which I like as it saves another solid back for next year on top of whomever we land in the 2017 class. Roper and Shaddox will play some special teams and probably in any blowout games. Honestly, I liked what I saw from Shaddox in the spring game. He runs hard and doesn't shy away from contact.

McNichols is up to 212 lbs. according to broncosports.com, which is right around Doug territory by the time he graduated. Initially, I didn't think he could be an every-down back like Doug or Ajayi, but adding on that kind of bulk going into your junior year is some serious work. Demas is in the Avery mold in that he will be the change of pace back, and after posting a 6.2 ypc last season, I support him in that role 100%. Young is up to 195, which is right around where I think he should be. Wolpin is at 189, Mattison at 206 and Mahone at 209. To say we have some size at RB is an understatement.

Really, whoever ends up playing behind McNichols I think I'll feel comfortable with. It's an embarrassment of riches.

Starters

McNichols, Demas, Mattison

Unreasonable expectation

A 1,500 rusher and a 1k rusher, or close to it. (editor's note: you can't hedge your bets on an unreasonable prediction, Casey...5 points from Gryffindor)

Michael

I have a confession to make. When I first heard that Jeremy McNichols was being installed as the feature back prior to last season, I was skeptical. I mean...I knew that they had created a whole set of plays just for him ('Weapon'--hence the McWeapon moniker), but he was a late addition to his recruiting class, and primarily played wide receiver on the tape that I saw of him, so I wasn't sure he could seamlessly transition to feature back.

I was very pleasantly surprised to be proven a bad predictor

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McNichols exploded for over 1,300 yards last season and 20 rushing TDs. He was also the 4th leading receiver on the team last year and added another 6 scores through the air.

The most insane part of that is that I feel like he was getting exponentially better as the season wore on, and he became more natural as a rusher. This was punctuated by his 83 yard TD run in the Air Force game. He also had an 88 yarder a week later at San Jose.

McNichols's backup is likely to be Devan Demas who, while a bit of a smaller back, is an absolute speed demon and a terrific weapon out of the backfield. Presently on the roster, we also have Cory Young, Ryan Wolpin, Jake Shaddox, and Jake Roper. In addition to them, we have incoming and highly touted freshmen, Alexander Mattison and Robert Mahone. I've heard some great things about Shaddox, but simply based on who is in front of him, I don't see him cracking the rotation a whole lot. Aside from McNichols and Demas, Cory Young is actually a monster and Wolpin's tape (that some-crazy-how didn't merit him more attention) was just one speed rush TD up the middle after another. All four are highly capable backs, with Cory and Jeremy being more built for workhorse usage and Devan and Ryan being more constructed along the lines of 'change of pace' backs...but like crazy, stupid-fast ones.

My opinion may diverge with some of the other writers, as I think that we have enough depth at running back to be able to preserve the redshirt years of Mattison and Mahone. This is by no means a knock on either of them, as Mattison is the highest rated running back we've ever landed out of high school, and Mahone is a dominant, physical runner. I expect them to be the 1-2 punch of the future, but just that--the future. Maybe I'm projecting my hopes a little too much, but I think it's not impossible that both redshirt.

Starters

My starting 3-deep is going to be McNichols, Demas, and Young. I do however think that Wolpin will also receive meaningful snaps and not just special teams and blowout time.

Unreasonable prediction

Not actually that unreasonable, but I think McNichols leads the country in rushing TDs (he was tied for 7th last year, and tied for 1st in all-purpose TDs), and adds another 500 yards to his total from last year. Yeah. Book it.

Drew

The starter here is a gimme...or a layup even...

Layup fail

Okay, gimme...we're sticking with gimme. McNichols had a fantastic sophomore season on The Blue (and elsewhere, obvs)—racking up 1,337 yards and 20 rushing TDs. Equally impressive was that he didn't have his first 100-yard rushing game until October last season, but then hit the century mark in 7 straight games...capping the regular season off with a spectacular 232 all-purpose yard game (192 on the ground) against San José State. That's some mighty fine runnin', and I feel McNichols has plenty left in the tank.

Now, if McNichols can improve upon his 2015 totals remains to be seen. He certainly has the requisite talent, experience, and added girth to get the job done as an every-down back, but I get the feeling the Broncos don't want to HAVE to rely on him as heavily in 2016. Sure, he's going to get a lot of carries, but I think last season he maybe got a few too many and remember, had to sit out the Utah State game with a concussion. Too many concussions can end a career very early, and I think if the Broncos can get the passing game to be all it can be (10 OBNUG points if you got the Army jingle in your head after reading that), maybe we won't have to lean on the run game as much. I don't know...you can break a team's back through the air, but you positively break their spirits by running it down their throats. I think the Broncos can do both this season, but I want McNichols to stay somewhat fresh. That's where the back-ups come in.

I gotta say, as much as I want to see what the impressive true freshman can do, I agree with Michael here—I think we have the numbers to have the luxury of redshirting both Mahone and Mattison. Demas has added some mass and is a very capable runner, Cory Young has also packed on some more muscle and has as good a top-end speed as anyone on the squad, and Ryan Wolpin is very Jarvis Hodge-esque (or Charles Bertoli-esque if you're new around here). That's four very capable backs right there and more than enough to get the job done. If a noobie does get pressed into action, however, safest bets are on Mattison.

Starters

McNichols, Demas, Young (in that order).

Unreasonable prediction

The Broncos run a four-back set against Louisiana-Lafayette wherein they link arms and rumble down the field. It will be like a very fast game of Red Rover.