“The Standard” is not a phrase thrown around lightly. Those that engage with Boise State football understand the meaning behind those two words. Since the Broncos’ move to the FBS in 1996, they have suffered five seasons where they eclipsed five losses, three of those being from 1996 - 1998. Last year is etched into that list and serves as a reminder that “The Standard” is earned, not given. The Bronco faithful were gifted two Fiesta Bowls where they had a new leader at the helm in Chris Petersen and Bryan Harsin. Select fans planted heavy expectations onto the shoulders of Andy Avalos because it had been over 20 years since Boise State had to endure a hard reset.
The ground has seismically shifted over the last two years in regards to conference realignment. Oklahoma and Texas in the SEC along with USC and UCLA in the Big Ten was not something on my bingo card prior to the pandemic. The Big 12 passed on Boise State during their round of expansion, favoring Cincinnati, BYU, UCF and Houston. Even the depleted Pac-12 seems to favor programs outside of Boise, Idaho if it were to expand with G5 members. Not to mention, NIL and the transfer portal have transformed college athletics to where the future of college football is as blurry as someone with an astigmatism (I would know).
This is an uncertain time in both the macro landscape of college football and the micro perspective of Boise State football. Things taken for granted before are beginning to be longed for. Getting a bowl win for the first time since 2017 is one, ignoring the fact that Boise State has only played in one bowl game in the last four years due to various cancellations. Having a 1,000 yard rusher reappear for the first time since George Holani’s freshman season in 2019 would solidify how important running back coach Keith Bhonapha is to “The Stable”.
This season should be ripe for a bounce-back year with returning starters at key positions and some semblance of continuity within the coaching staff. With that being said, let’s dive into the thick of it!
Reasons for optimism: When you have a starting quarterback returning for his senior year, that should provide confidence in his understanding of the playbook and his decision-making. Despite the small minority of fans who clamor for someone other than #19, Hank Bachmeier has gone through the ringer during his career. From playing in the humidity of south Florida to the piles of snow in Wyoming, Bachmeier has seen it all. That experience creates a baseline for his success that can only go up, but he can’t do it by himself.
The infusion of talent on the offensive line in Washington State transfer Cade Beresford cannot be overstated when looking at the Broncos’ struggles last year. A healthy Kekaniokoa Holomalia-Gonzalez and the return of left tackle John Ojukwu is monumental in creating time not only for Bachmeier in the pocket, but for running back George Holani to take advantage of the holes created on the line of scrimmage. During Boise State’s annual fall camp press conference opener, Andy Avalos mentioned redshirt freshman Mason Randolph as someone who has emerged throughout the offseason that will be able to contribute in the trenches as well.
The wide receiver group returns experience from the likes of Stefan Cobbs, Davis Koetter and Billy Bowens. With Khalil Shakir’s departure to the NFL, Cobbs’ name will be called upon much more frequently. The good thing is that he has the tools to minimize the absence of Shakir and provide an over-the-top threat for Bachmeier. Tight ends coach Nate Potter has a plentiful amount of players at the position with returning starter Riley Smith, big man Kurt Rafdal and sturdy Tyneil Hopper. If offensive coordinator Tim Plough can incorporate the tight ends more often, the offense will open up more.
The running back depth chart looked a bit depleted with the departures of Andrew Van Buren, Tequan Tyler and Cyrus Habibi-Likio. However, adding true freshman Ashton Jeanty and Utah State transfer Elelyon Noa helps provide the necessary bodies to keep “The Stable” full and ready. Having Keith Bhonapha lead the group will prove fruitful with his track record on display from a recent stop at Washington and his first stint in Boise.
Reasons for concern: All eyes will be on Tim Plough this season after his unit failed to average 30 points per game despite his goal of not looking at the scoreboard until they reached 50. Hank Bachmeier has noted in interviews with local media that Plough’s offensive system is complex and puts an immense amount of responsibility on the quarterback position. Will Plough make the proper adjustments to have this offense play to its full potential or does kicker Jonah Dalmas make another run at the Lou Groza award?
Last year, a bandaged offensive line didn’t provide the protection needed as Bachmeier still hit the ground more times than you like to see. With that said, most of the starters in the trenches return. While having that familiarity is good, seeing the same names after the 2021 season makes you weary of how stained Bachmeier’s jersey might be.
Losing wide receiver Khalil Shakir hurts tremendously as he was the safety blanket for the offense when they began to sputter. He was one of the best talents to play for Boise State and someone will need to step up to the plate by being the leader of the group. I, like many others, presume that Stefan Cobbs is the safe bet to step into the spotlight, but nagging injuries in previous years have limited his production. Utility man Jake Stetz did everything and then some, filling in nearly everywhere on the offensive line in 2021. His presence will be missed and someone such as Cade Beresford will need to fill that void.
Key Stat: Khalil Shakir amassed 1,117 receiving yards last year in his farewell season. The next three on the list, those being Stefan Cobbs, Octavious Evans and Cyrus Habibi-Likio, combined for 1,043 yards receiving. Whether its by committee or someone standing out among the rest, the receiver production needs to be there for this offense to maintain balance.
Wildcard: True freshman running back Ashton Jeanty. With George Holani’s injury history, having Jeanty nail down the number two spot on the depth chart would signify that he is ready to contribute as the second punch within the duo.
Reasons for optimism: You bring back the majority of your leaders and playmakers. The voices of Kekaula Kaniho and Riley Whimpey not being heard on The Blue will be strange at the beginning. Despite this, the defensive line and the secondary look poised to put up even better numbers than last year, which is saying something considering they only allowed 19 points per game.
Bringing back JL Skinner and Tyreque Jones is what this defense needs for it to be elite this year. Both briefly waded into the draft waters, but elected to return to Boise State. Moving Jones to the nickel position will allow him to have more influence on the defense while the emergence of Seyi Oladipo and Kaonohi Kaniho provides plentiful depth. The secondary should be the least worrisome group on the entire Bronco roster.
The defensive line received added support with three notable transfers. Deven Wright, Cortez Hogans Jr. and Borah High School alum George Tarlas will be difference-makers when the first string is rotated out. Demitri Washington appears fully recovered from his torn ACL and having Homedale native Scott Matlock ready to lead the pass rush should be fun to watch this year.
Reasons for concern: It’s been commented on over recent years, but the sheer burst within the linebackers hasn’t been what it once was. Stout and sturdy, Ezekiel Noa has improved over time during his tenure as a Bronco, but having “that guy” to command the middle of the defense is vital. Noa and DJ Schramm will do a fine job, but having a few of the up-and-coming linebackers get some snaps wouldn’t hurt.
The main threat to this defense not playing at a high-level is injuries, which is an obvious statement, but a true one nonetheless. Demitri Washington having to take essentially a full season to work his way back is a cautionary tale that despite being “medically cleared”, many players don’t simply jump back into “football shape”.
Key Stat: Boise State forced 22 turnovers last year with 13 of those being interceptions and nine being fumble recoveries. Inside the top 30 for this category, being aggressive once again and looking for opportunities to flip the game on its head is what this defense needs to strive for.
Wildcard: Redshirt junior weakside linebacker Isaiah Bagnah. After playing on the edge the last few years, Andy Avalos and defensive coordinator Spencer Danielson decided to move Bagnah to the linebacker spot to give him more chances to utilize his large frame, measuring at 6’4” and 225 pounds. If this move works, it will address the concern on lacking athleticism for the group and make each level of the defense potent.
Reasons for optimism: Roll out the red carpet for the Lou Groza semifinalist, junior kicker Jonah Dalmas! The Rocky Mountain alum did everything asked of him last year, hitting over 90% of his field goal attempts and keeping momentum on the side of the Broncos. He excelled, but it would be nice to see him on PATs versus 30-yard chip shots. In regards to Shakir’s departure, that means the returning responsibilities will be handed on to someone else. Stefan Cobbs took one punt return to the house last year, but with his elevated spot on the wide receiver depth chart, we may see a different face.
Reasons for concern: Joel Velazquez graduated from Boise State, leaving an vacancy at the punter position. Anytime you have a new specialist, it can be a bit dicey until you see them in high-pressure situations. Aussie signee James Ferguson-Reynolds looks to be the man to take on the punting duties. Also, career long-snapper Daniel Cantrell has moved on to the pros, giving the opportunity for Mason Hutton or Alec Grant to take over.
Key Stat: The Broncos ranked 36th in kick return defense last year, only allowing 19.03 yards per return. Anything under 25 yards is a solid number, and maintaining a stymy kick return coverage is always a nice bonus.
Wildcard: If I have to say someone, I would give you Latrell Caples. He has the flashes of speed that you look for in your return man and he is the one that I take if Cobbs is off the board.
2022 Boise State Schedule
Sept. 3 - @ OREGON STATE
Sept. 9 - @ NEW MEXICO*
Sept. 17 - vs. TENNESSEE-MARTIN
Sept. 23 - @ UTEP
Sept. 30 - vs. SAN DIEGO STATE*
Oct. 8 - vs. FRESNO STATE*
Oct. 22 - @ AIR FORCE*
Oct. 29 - vs. COLORADO STATE*
Nov. 5 - vs. BYU
Nov. 12 - @ NEVADA*
Nov. 19 - @ WYOMING*
Nov. 25 - vs. UTAH STATE*
* represents conference game
Home games in caps and bold
Thoughts: The schedule lightens up this year with Oregon State instead of Oklahoma State and Tennessee-Martin (FCS) instead of UCF. Opening the season in Corvallis should be a good barometer to see where this team is at and what our expectations should be heading further down the schedule. After meeting the Beavers, Boise State plays three straight games that they will be heavily favored in. If any of those three go haywire...you fill in your own favorite expletive.
The final weekend of September brings Brady Hoke’s Aztecs to The Blue in a revenge game for the Broncos. San Diego State put a dampener on the end of the 2021 season for Boise State, winning 27-16. Everyone in the Mountain West will have their TVs tuned into this Friday night matchup that could foreshadow a potential Mountain West championship game. Following the Aztecs, Boise State host another rival in Fresno State. Opposite to San Diego State, the Broncos thrashed the Bulldogs 40-14 and maintained control of the Milk Can trophy a year ago.
Boise State gets a bye directly at the halfway point in the season. Not to mention, it comes right before heading to Colorado Springs to take on Air Force. The Broncos took one to the chin against the Falcons last year, losing at home 17-24. The three game stretch of San Diego State, Fresno State, and Air Force will be make-or-break if Boise State wants to vie for a conference title in December.
Colorado State and new head coach Jay Norvell come to Boise the following week. The Broncos have yet to lose to the Rams, leading the all-time series 11-0. While the Rams will be improved at this point in the season, it will take more than one year for Colorado State to become serious contenders. Soon after, Boise State will have its final dance with BYU for the foreseeable future. The Cougars will compete in the Big 12 next season, looking to greener pastures more favorable than independence. The Broncos upset BYU in Provo last year when Kalani Sitake had his team ranked number ten in the nation.
The season wraps up with three doable games. A trip to Reno against a rebuilding Nevada team that lost boatloads of staff and players to Colorado State is prime meat for the Broncos to avenge their loss on Homecoming last year. Boise State will bundle up and head east for a matchup with Wyoming in Laramie during the middle of November. Sounds like a fun time! The Cowboys had starting quarterback Levi Williams transfer to division foe Utah State, wide receiver Isaiah Neyor leave for Texas, and running back Xazavian Valladay head to Arizona State. The season finale is at home against the 2021 Mountain West conference champions, Utah State. Despite a poor start to last year’s campaign, Boise State did beat the Aggies soundly 27-3. That game will be televised on big CBS, not CBSSN.
Best Case Scenario: The Broncos start out 4-0 with a PAC-12 win on their resume. Considering last year, going 2-1 against San Diego State, Fresno State, and Air Force would be a solid outcome. The only game that I see as a coin flip after that is the BYU game. Adding Colorado State, Nevada, Wyoming, and Utah State to the win column, I see the best case scenario being 11-1.
Worst Case Scenario: Boise State stumbles out of the gates and loses to Oregon State, similar to UCF last year. The Broncos regain their footing with three manageable games before facing the daunting stretch of SDSU, Fresno, and Air Force. In an absolute worse case scenario, I can envision Boise State losing all three of those games. This leaves Andy Avalos at 3-4, the same record that he had at this point last year. This leaves a difficult BYU team that got their season derailed last year by Hank Bachmeier and company. The Cougars get the last laugh and leave Albertsons Stadium victorious. Beyond those five losses, the only other game that could get tricky is the finale against Utah State. I don’t even want to imagine what would happen if the Broncos fell at the finish line with a 6-6 record, but the head coaching seat would be getting mighty toasty.
What’s probably going to happen: I wish I had a better gut feeling on this season. However, last season proved that this program is not invincible and the rest of the Mountain West is catching up. The mystique of The Blue was wounded with three losses at home and, for the first time since Boise State joined the Mountain West with divisional formatting, a team from the Mountain Division not located in Idaho won the conference championship. The Broncos aren’t going to hit the lottery and run the table. It will take time for Andy Avalos to curate his version of Boise State football into existence. On that same token, I don’t see Boise State crawling into a bowl game muddied and beaten.
It won’t be a perfect start as I see the Beavers edging out Boise State before they run away with three straight wins. I cannot will myself into thinking that the Broncos will win more than one of the three against the MWC contenders. BYU will be BYU and find a way to antagonize Boise State fans to the nth degree while heading back to Utah as winners. The rest of the way should be wins barring any upsets...even though this is college football we are talking about. This leaves me with a prediction of 8-4.
Better than last year, but not quite there just yet.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the deaths of former Broncos Greg Grimes and Austin Smith. Grimes played on the defensive line for Boise State from 2008-2012 while Smith played defensive back from 2003-2007. Smith was a member of the 2007 Broncos that defeated Oklahoma 43-42 in the Fiesta Bowl.
Both men will be missed.