The day after the Mountain West announced the football season was going to begin in October, Boise State coach Bryan Harsin praised his team for winning the wait.
“When you have clarity, focus and that purpose of playing in a season, that changes the mindset and gets everybody juiced up,” Harsin told reporters. “I can speak for the players and say it’s time to put the pads on and go out there and tackle someone.”
After indefinitely suspending the fall season in August, the Mountain West announced in late September that games would begin Oct. 24. The Broncos will play an eight-game schedule — seven conference games and a home game against BYU — beginning with Utah State at Albertsons Stadium on opening weekend.
Last season, Boise State went 12-2, completed its first undefeated run through the conference and beat Hawaii to win its second Mountain West championship in three years. The 2019 season ended with a 38-7 loss to Washington in the Las Vegas Bowl.
The spring game was canceled because of COVID-19, and the Broncos haven’t taken the field for a game since that loss in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 21.
Given that it’s been so long since there was actual football to talk about, here’s a quick refresher on the many story lines surrounding Boise State this season.
THE COVID-19 EFFECT
The coronavirus not only altered college football season but also how teams prepare, and it isn’t going away anytime soon.
At Boise State, players, coaches and staff members already have to undergo daily health screenings, and as part of the Mountain West’s return to football, they’re required to be tested three times a week. Results must be recorded before each game.
Practice has taken on a different look as players are wearing some combination of a covering over the face mask on their helmet or a clear visor.
Restrictions on large gatherings have made it difficult to get the whole team together, and as of now, it looks like they’re going to prevent fans from attending games in Albertsons Stadium early in the year.
Ada County is currently in a modified Stage 3 of the Idaho Rebounds plan, which limits gatherings to fewer than 50 people. Albertsons can seat more than 36,000 fans, and in July, Boise State Athletic Director Curt Apsey estimated that capacity would be reduced to about 25 or 30 percent.
BACHMEIER BACK FOR YEAR 2
Quarterback Hank Bachmeier is back to build on his impressive freshman season, and he’s surrounded by experienced playmakers.
Bachmeier went 7-1 as the starter last fall. His lone loss was in the Las Vegas Bowl after having been sidelined since suffering an injury in the Broncos’ win at San Jose State on Nov. 2.
He completed 62.5% of his passes and threw for 1,879 yards and nine touchdowns, and though the team will play fewer games, he has a chance to put up gaudy numbers again with two of last season’s top three wide receivers back.
Junior Khalil Shakir should see plenty of passes come his way after he led the team last season with 63 receptions, was No. 2 with 872 yards and totaled 10 touchdowns: six receiving, three rushing and one passing.
Senior slot receiver CT Thomas is back after catching 41 passes for 522 yards and five touchdowns, and senior Octavius Evans is expected to move into a larger role after showing flashes of his ability to stretch the field the past couple seasons.
Bachmeier also should benefit from having redshirt senior tight end John Bates back on the field, and sophomore running back George Holani should figure more heavily into the passing attack after hauling in three touchdown passes last fall.
Redshirt junior quarterback Chase Cord, who started two games last season, also returns.
RB DEPTH A CONCERN
Holani extended the Broncos’ streak of seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher to 11 straight last fall, finishing with 1,014 yards and seven touchdowns.
He put on about 10 pounds of muscle during his freshman season, and that added bulk should help him carry even more of the load this fall.
The Broncos have taken some hits this offseason when it comes to running back depth. Senior Robert Mahone was indefinitely suspended in August after he was charged with domestic assault, and on Sept. 25, Boise State confirmed he was in the transfer portal.
The team brought in junior college transfer Taequan Tyler from Tyler Junior College, but Harsin announced Sept. 25 that he was out for the season with an Achilles injury.
That leaves junior Andrew Van Buren and redshirt sophomore Danny Smith as options to help lighten Holani’s load. Van Buren posted 265 yards and two touchdowns on 62 carries last season. Smith appeared in three games and carried the ball eight times.
Holani and Bachmeier will work behind a retooled offensive line after the Broncos lost three starters to graduation and left tackle Ezra Cleveland to the NFL Draft.
The lone returning starter, redshirt junior John Ojukwu, has moved from right tackle to left, where Cleveland started for three years.
Uzo Osuji, a graduate transfer from Rice, is competing with Nick Crabtree at right tackle. Jake Stetz, who started four games last fall, is likely to land one of the guard spots, while Garrett Curran, Dallas Holliday and Donte Harrington compete for the other.
Harrington and redshirt sophomore Kekaniokoa Holomalia-Gonzalez are competing to start at center.
The Broncos have equally as daunting a task ahead of them in replacing three veteran defensive linemen and STUD Curtis Weaver, who led the team and the Mountain West last fall with 13.5 sacks.
Senior defensive linemen David Moa, Sonatane Lui and Chase Hatada were lost to graduation.
Redshirt sophomore Demitri Washington is the favorite to replace Weaver, who was drafted in the sixth round by the Miami Dolphins in April and has since signed with the Cleveland Browns (he’s on injured reserve).
Washington appeared in all 14 games last fall and posted 4.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss.
Junior Scale Igiehon (6-2, 293) will lead the way on the interior of the defensive line after he appeared in all 14 games and made two starts last year. He’ll be joined by Homedale native Scott Matlock and junior college transfer Shane Irwin, the favorite to fill Hatada’s roll as a versatile defensive end who is stout against the run and can rush the passer.
The Broncos also added freshman defensive tackle Herbert Gums Jr. (6-1, 282), whose athleticism has already caught the attention of defensive line coach Spencer Danielson, and nose tackle Divine Obichere (6-3, 314), who was a teammate of Irwin’s last fall at Long Beach City College.
TRANSFERS COME AND GO
Transfers are a way of life in college football. The Broncos have lost a few and added their fare share this offseason.
Boise State has added five graduate transfers: Osuji, linebacker Brock Miller (N.C. State), tight end Mason Sikes (Lamar), kicker Johnny Messina (Stetson) and quarterback Jack Sears (USC).
Joining Irwin, Obichere and Tyler as junior college transfers are offensive lineman Riden Leong (Orange Coast College) and defensive back Jonathan Earl (Golden West College).
Transfers have particularly hurt the Broncos in the secondary, where likely starters D’Andre Pierce (Arizona State) and Jordan Happle (Oregon) departed for the Pac-12.
Earl (6-2, 190) came in as a cornerback, but he has the size to move to safety, where the Broncos also lost veteran Kekoa Nawahine to graduation.
Returning starters Tyreque Jones and Kekaula Kaniho — both expecting to see snaps at nickel — may see more time in a traditional safety role, and freshmen Semaj Verner (6-2, 185) and Rodney Robinson may see the field sooner than expected.