Boise State has won at least 10 games in four out of the last five seasons under coach Bryan Harsin. Another double-digit win total and a push for a spot in a New Year's Six bowl is certainly within reach in 2019, especially if the Broncos quickly find replacements for quarterback Brett Rypien and running back Alexander Mattison. The unquestioned strength of Harsin's 2019 squad is a defense that returns eight starters, including All-America candidate Curtis Weaver.
Previewing Boise State's Offense for 2019
No question mark is bigger for the Broncos than who will replace four-year starting quarterback Brett Rypien, who departed as the Mountain West’s all-time leading passer with 13,578 yards. Five scholarship quarterbacks with a combined 10 career pass attempts were on hand for spring drills. Coach Bryan Harsin doesn’t plan on naming a starter until mid-August. Dual-threat sophomore Chase Cord (eight carries, 109 yards in 2018) has the most experience, though he tore his ACL in October. True freshman Hank Bachmeier enrolled early and is one of the most highly touted recruits ever to sign with Boise State.
The new QB will have a deep receiving corps. Khalil Shakir looks primed for a major role after serving as a versatile weapon as a freshman, and John Hightower could be one of the nation’s most dangerous big-play threats. He had eight TDs on 39 offensive touches in 2018, six of them on plays of more than 40 yards.
The Broncos also must replace top rusher Alexander Mattison, who left early for the NFL after a sublime finish to his junior season (914 yards in the last six games). A by-committee approach seems likely, possibly ending Boise State’s nation-leading run of 10 straight seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher.
A huge benefit for the offense is the return of all five starting offensive linemen. The last two seasons, the unit has struggled early, but after a solid 2018 finish, it should be a strength of the team.
Previewing Boise State's Defense for 2019
Defensive coordinator Andy Avalos’ departure for Oregon will hurt, but a ton of returning veteran experience will help three new defensive coaches get acclimated. Nine defensive players have at least nine starts under their belts.
The interior will be among the most experienced anywhere as tackles Sonatane Lui and David Moa have a combined 46 career starts. Moa, a sixth-year senior who had 8.5 sacks in 2016, will be a welcome re-addition after missing most of last season.
Junior Curtis Weaver, who mans the hybrid Stud position, already has 20.5 career sacks, tied for sixth in school history. The Broncos are shifting to more of a true 3-4 defense this season to further utilize Weaver and his fellow outside linebackers. On the inside, the staff loves sophomore Ezekiel Noa, who had 29 of his 36 tackles in the last four games.
Boise State must replace three-year starting cornerback Tyler Horton. However, the rest of the backfield spots are full of stalwarts, including senior safety Kekoa Nawahine, junior safety DeAndre Pierce and junior nickel Kekaula Kaniho, with 59 starts among the three.
Previewing Boise State's Specialists for 2019
More often than not, the Broncos’ special teams were horrific, from two blocked punts in one loss (Oklahoma State) to a blocked extra point giving way to an overtime loss in the Mountain West Championship Game. With new coordinators, there has been a renewed focus on improvement, and even with the kicker and punter gone, it probably can’t get worse.
If the new quarterback can serve as a merely adequate replacement for Rypien, the Broncos should once again be in conference title contention. However, with so many questions on offense, there could be some growing pains. Though some road games are tough, Boise State has enough talent, led by strength on the lines, for a 21st straight year of eight wins or more.
National Ranking: 29
(Top photo courtesy of broncosports.com)