Boise State is a program that brims with pride and holds a certain prestige as an elite Group of Five member. It is the torch bearer for the Mountain West and an example of the ultimate underdog (shoutout to Oklahoma). Double-digit win seasons are the expectation in the Treasure Valley. The Broncos have had to rely on familiar faces that have donned the blue and orange in order to maintain the blue collar mentality that is preached consistently. It has been relatively smooth sailing this millennium.
That was before the Bronco bandwagon blew a tire last fall, temporarily going out of control with a starting quarterback transferring out and an offensive coordinator being fired.
During the Andy Avalos era, Boise State has suffered nine defeats. The last time the Broncos reached a similar mark was all the way back in 1998 and 1999 when Dirk Koetter came up short eight times in a two-year span.
Despite last season turning into a brief circus, Boise State came out of it better in the end. They reached 10 wins via a bowl win in the Frisco Bowl against North Texas and reached the Mountain West title game. Quarterback Taylen Green showed his raw talent and ability to help right the ship. Running back Ashton Jeanty only got better as the season progressed and looks to be a dominant running back for seasons to come. DJ Schramm played like a madman after biding his time on special teams and trusting the process that the coaches laid out for him.
This offseason has brought change within the staff and in the locker room. Andy Avalos and athletic director Jeramiah Dickey were able to bring Bronco alum Bush Hamdan back to The Blue and insert him as the new offensive coordinator. On the field, Boise State snagged multiple players out of the transfer portal to sure up some key positions.
There is no doubt that when Avalos returned to Boise, he had to tinker with the engine that drives this program. Now, he has replaced a tire or two and nearly 75% of the roster can be attributed to the recruiting under his leadership.
Year three is when a fanbase wants to see results, so let’s dive into this year’s squad.
Reasons for optimism: You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see the potential that this Boise State offense has. Taylen Green returns as the starting quarterback after being used as a fire extinguisher last year and a full offseason of running the first-team offense. Considering Bush Hamdan has been a quarterback coach at multiple spots during his career, his fingerprints should be all over Green’s improved mechanics in the pocket.
The dynamic duo of running backs George Holani and Ashton Jeanty should be a sight to see this season as each brings a different arsenal of skills to the table. I wouldn’t be shocked if Holani is used more in the passing game and Jeanty is relied upon as the wrecking ball back that scraps for short-yardage gains to move the chains.
The offensive line returns a majority of starters and the young guns vying for starting positions have proven that they are up for the task. Mason Randolph has been confirmed to be the starting center while the only position that hasn’t been solidified yet is left tackle. Between the trio of Kage Casey, Ethan Carde and Rick Moore, I expect Casey to win the starting spot, but whoever wins it will have earned it. Cade Beresford, Garrett Curran and Ben Dooley round out the five in the trenches that will look to spearhead a vaunted rushing attack.
Reasons for concern: The wide receiver room has been putting forth a collective effort the last few years, but there hasn’t been “the guy” that opposing defenses scheme for. With the emergence of Eric McAlister and Latrell Caples last year, it appeared that the Broncos would have some nice pieces to work around for this season. Alas, Avalos reported to the media in his fall camp presser that Caples will be sidelined through all of 2023 due to a leg injury. While this isn’t a death knell, it will force someone to step up and exceed expectations if the goal of the offense is to be balanced.
That leads us to the biggest unknown heading into Labor Day weekend, offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan. He has made stops in many places across the United States and has worked with countless offensive gurus who are well respected in the profession. From early reports and interviews conducted with Hamdan, it appears that he will adjust his schemes and game planning towards his players’ strengths and not the other way around.
The floor for this year’s offense is pretty darn high, but the way in which the stable of running backs is used will dictate whether they will be good or great.
Key Stat: 3. That is the number of four-star running backs that are currently on Boise State’s roster. This is a rarity at the G5 level and those in the Twitterverse (or Xverse?) are beginning to liken the trio of George Holani, Ashton Jeanty and Breezy Dubar to 2010’s sizzling group that featured Jeremy Avery, DJ Harper and Doug Martin.
Wildcard: With Caples out this year, the hype around freshman Prince Strachan is only going to be elevated. He is long at 6’5” and showed out in the spring game with his lengthy strides and ability to track the ball in coverage. Dubar would not have been included on this list if he had not injured his hamstring during a track event this spring. He appears to be healthy and is participating in fall camp, so all signs point towards him being 100% for the opener against Washington. However, soft tissue injuries can be reaggravated in the blink of an eye.
Reasons for optimism: Having DJ Schramm back in the fold after leading the team in tackles by a wide margin last year is a great asset to have. His leadership and ability to stifle gaps in the running game is a major plus considering the youth that is behind him in Jake Ripp and Dishawn Misa.
On the front lines, the Broncos brought in Iowa State transfer Howard Brown, Boston College transfer Kivon Wright, Northern Arizona transfer Sheldon Newton and Utah transfer Tyler Wegis. The latter two are expected to make the biggest impact and both are getting major reps with the ones. Boise State has Ahmed Hassanein back, but he has moved from defensive tackle to defensive end according to the latest BSU roster update. Out of Germany, freshman Max Stege has maximized his short time in Boise and looks the part of an impact EDGE rusher.
In the secondary, Boise State has Markel Reed coming back from injury and Jaylen Clark, a player who has shown blips of great play in one-on-one situations. Rodney Robinson began to look more comfortable towards the end of last year and Alexander Teubner is a high-energy guy that flies around the field when given the chance. The Broncos will look to rely on transfers to fill the need for depth in the third level. The opener against Washington will be the toughest aerial attack that Avalos and company will face all season.
Not exactly the best way to ease in a new group of safeties and corners.
Reasons for concern: When you have JL Skinner and Tyreque Jones exit the scene, there should be major skepticism about who will step up and to what extent they can bandage the hole left. That’s not to say that the backups to Skinner and Jones last year couldn’t have filled in and done a fine job. But taking on the deep threats of your opponent’s best speedsters each week is no easy task.
Defensive coordinator Spencer Danielson and Avalos have raved about JUCO transfer A’Marion McCoy after the spring game and during the beginning days of fall camp. As for the nickel spot, Danielson noted that Wisconsin transfer Titus Toler will open camp as the starter over Seyi Oladipo. While the transfer portal allows a program to bring in talent, it doesn’t make me feel overly optimistic that both in-house guys look to be on the outside looking in.
Key Stat: 15. Boise State intercepted opposing offenses 15 times last year, sharing the lead in the Mountain West with UNLV. Considering Skinner and Jones accounting for a third of those interceptions a year ago, a new leader will need to step up in the secondary if the Broncos look to replicate those numbers.
Wildcard: The defensive front for Spencer Danielson has been good in past years, but not great. Idaho native Scott Matlock is off to the NFL, making waves with the Los Angeles Chargers (alongside BSU great Kellen Moore). This leaves a void that someone needs to attempt to fill, and I suspect either Ahmed Hassenein or Mike Callahan will be up to the task. Also, keep an eye on linebacker Andrew Simpson, a guy who made some great plays during the home stretch last year.
Reasons for optimism: When you have a Lou Groza award finalist returning for another year, there should be an immense amount of confidence in the kicking game. Jonah Dalmas has already solidified himself as one of the best place kickers in Boise State history, thanks in part to Bronco offenses stalling in the red zone. Regardless, Dalmas brings his lunch pail every Saturday and gets the job done nearly every time.
Reasons for concern: Aussie punter James Ferguson-Reynolds has ventured through some ups and downs during his career. One punt will be boomed for 60 yards and go out of bounds inside the 20. The very next, it’s shanked of his foot and tumbles 25 yards past the line of scrimmage. The role of the punter is to not put the defense in any precarious position with limited rest. Consistency will be the name of the game for the punting unit and Ferguson-Reynolds. I should note that he has been placed on the Ray Guy award watchlist and appears to be gaining some traction nationally.
Key Stat: 67. A career field goal record held by Bronco great Kyle Brotzman, Dalmas is only 12 field goals away from breaking the mark. Another fellow Bronco alum, Tyler Rausa, will be on hand to witness Dalmas’ attempt to make history after he was hired to be a special teams assistant this offseason.
Wildcard: With Latrell Caples being out of the fold for 2023, it will be interesting to see if Kaden Dudley gets more run at both punt and kick returner. He showed some maneuverability and quick bursts of acceleration last year when given the opportunity. Stefan Cobbs has fielded returning duties from time to time, but with the uncertainty in the wide receiver room, it may be prudent to keep him on the offensive side of the ball. Austin Bolt has shown out during fall camp and while he may not get a ton of reps at returner, he could be a nice change of pace with his electric speed.
2023 Boise State Schedule
Date - Opponent
Sept. 2 - @ Washington
Sept. 9 - UCF
Sept. 16 - NORTH DAKOTA
Sept. 22 - @ San Diego State*
Sept. 30 - @ Memphis
Oct. 7 - SAN JOSE STATE*
Oct. 14 - @ Colorado State*
Oct. 21 - BYE
Oct. 28 - WYOMING*
Nov. 4 - @ Fresno State*
Nov. 11 - NEW MEXICO*
Nov. 18 - @ Utah State*
Nov. 24 - AIR FORCE*
* Denotes conference game
Home games in caps and bold
Thoughts: This is the toughest non-conference slate that Boise State has had in a long time, if ever. Opening up against a likely top-ten team on the road is a low-risk, high-reward situation in my mind. If Boise is outmatched, then the pundits and Vegas were right. On the other hand, if Boise were to pull off the stunner, then let the hype floodgates open. Moving to week two, it doesn’t get much easier as newly-inducted Big 12 member UCF will make the trip to The Blue. The Knights clipped the Broncos in Orlando two seasons ago, but there are new stakes in play with Gus Malzahn’s squad being a Power Five member and Boise State looking to revitalize its marquee brand.
Andy Avalos get a well-deserved break with a buy game against North Dakota in week three before going on back-to-back road trips against San Diego State and AAC member Memphis. The Tigers were not scheduled to play Boise State for another few years, but the acceptance of BYU into the Big 12 left an opening in the schedule for Jeramiah Dickey. The completion of the Memphis game will give Bronco fans a solid understanding of where this team is and what expectations should be for the rest of the season. A record of 4-1 or better and Avalos will be sitting pretty with conference play in full swing. 3-2 will leave fans with mixed feelings and a slight level of uneasiness. Anything 2-3 or worse and the social media boards will be aflame with hot takes and questioning of the coaching staff.
Boise State’s conference slate is a bit different than last year’s in the sense that there is no three-game gauntlet that will define the season. Tough tests are followed by games that the Broncos should be expected to win somewhat comfortably. San Diego State, Wyoming and Air Force are the biggest challenges while San Jose State could be a sneaky opponent with QB Chevan Cordeiro still at the helm.
This is not a schedule that is conducive to a slow start and Boise State maintaining momentum for the remainder of the season. A Mountain West championship appearance should be the expectation, but it is certainly no gimme. It should also be pointed out that this is the first year that the Mountain West will operate in a division-less format, so don’t be surprised if Boise State and Air Force have a rematch come December 2nd.
Best Case Scenario: The Broncos lose to Washington in a one-possession game, showcasing that they are legit and a lead contender to be the Group of Five representative. They then go on to get revenge against UCF on The Blue, exciting the home crowd via the enlarged video board and new LED lights in place to enhance the fan experience. Boise State rides the wave of momentum, finishing non-conference play 3-1 before sweeping the entire Mountain West. If the Broncos could do it last year considering the turmoil within the program and the amount of talent they faced, then a repeat is certainly on the table. This would leave Boise State at 11-1 and vying for not only a Mountain West championship, but a chance to return to the G5’s biggest stage, the New Year’s Six bowls.
This year, the rotation places the top G5 team in...the Fiesta Bowl.
Worst Case Scenario: Boise State is bludgeoned by Washington’s aerial attack and loses by three-plus possessions on national TV. Unable to regroup quick enough, UCF takes advantage of the situation and claims a win on The Blue, a sight too common for Boise State fans during the Andy Avalos era.
0-2. No bueno.
Despite a brief moment to take a breath against North Dakota, the Broncos have to eek out a win against one of San Diego State or Memphis. The other game of the two is a disappointing, season-resetting loss.
2-3 heading into MWC play.
The Broncos take care of the teams they are supposed to beat handily, but the defense of Wyoming stifles Taylen Green and company. Troy Calhoun and Air Force come to town in the season finale looking to spoil senior day and accomplish said feat. Boise State ends the season 7-5 and with two to three losses in conference play, shutting them out of a conference championship appearance for only the second time since 2017.
A trip to the Arizona Bowl or the Hawaii Bowl awaits Boise State as Andy Avalos’ seat begins to get warmer.
What’s probably going to happen: Boise State doesn’t pull off the upset of Washington on ABC, but there are positives to take away from the result. Despite the Broncos’ best efforts to shift the tide, UCF slides by with a tight win and the aura of a Power Five program that expects to win. However, the Broncos respond with a five-game win streak heading into the bye week.
An extra week of prep helps offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan prepare for the Pokes’ stimy defense as Boise State manages to come out on top. Three more wins come Boise’s way and hopes of repping the G5 and being a Fiesta Bowl Cinderella are rekindled.
Soon after, Air Force nabs the Broncos in the regular season finale, dissolving any hopes that Boise State had of reaching the big time once again. With divisions gone way of the dodo and a 9-3 record, the Broncos do manage to reach the MWC title game in a rematch with the Falcons. Hungry to avenge their loss on senior day, Avalos and crew win in Colorado Springs, clinching them a spot in the LA Bowl against a middling PAC-12 team (or whatever remnants there are of the conference).
While fans will be happy with another conference title under their belt, the allure of returning to the top of the G5 will have to wait another year. Reaching ten wins via a bowl game victory isn’t exactly the formula normally used, but it will have to suffice.
Final takeaway: Current odds have the over/under for Boise State being around 8.5 wins. I can understand why as the Broncos haven’t had that “it” moment in quite some time to make you think they’re back. The Washington opener will not be indicative of how this season goes. However, the welcoming of UCF will give us a huge clue as to whether this team can make any noise on the national stage. This team needs one more year of seasoning before they hit the big time in 2024 with the expanded playoff and a potentially new conference (whatever that configuration may be). The future is extremely bright with Taylen Green, Ashton Jeanty, Breezy Dubar and a commitment from top-40 composite WR Gatlin Bair.
His commitment this past Saturday may be a sign of things to come.
Boise State opens the 2023 campaign on Saturday, September 2nd, against the Washington Huskies in Seattle.
*In case you want some conference realignment ranting, please keep reading.
A quick soap box moment for me.
Conference realignment has become the dominant headline in August and I have no qualms recognizing that I have spent WAY too much time scrolling the timelines of “X” to see which way the wind is blowing. It was fun and exciting to imagine new matchups and different scenarios when it was all hypothetical. Now, an entire POWER FIVE conference is on the verge of collapse and its fellow conferences are swooping in for the carcass that is left rotting in the desert.
College football and its leaders worked hard to expand the playoff early, yet no one was willing to preserve the sanctity of rivalries, fan relationships and tradition. Washington State and Oregon State appear to be left holding the bag, Stanford and Cal-Berkeley will stick to their academic guns, all while Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, Oregon and Washington will get on the last life boats out.
It didn’t HAVE to be this way.
Yes, G5 members wanted access to the college football playoff.
But with the way things are going, it’s as if the leaders of the sport gave the G5 a nice balloon just like the other conferences.
And then moments later... *POP*!
Not everyone has to be a big-time juggernaut Big Ten or SEC team.
There is room for the Washington State’s, the Tulane’s, the Akron’s, the Troy’s.
And yes, the Boise State’s.
All I can say to the teams and fans similar to the ones mentioned above is that you keep the heartbeat of college football, in its truest form, alive.
No matter what the TV execs say...