Boise State is once again the favorite to win the Mountain West, and coach Bryan Harsin’s team will push to be the top Group of 5 team at the end of the 2020 season. The Broncos have question marks along the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, but as usual, this program doesn’t lack for talent. Quarterback Hank Bachmeier is poised for a big season, and the defense should still rank near the top of the Mountain West. An early showdown against Florida State could be huge for positioning as the top Group of 5 team late in the year. However, Harsin’s squad also has to navigate road trips to Wyoming and Air Force in Mountain West play.
Previewing Boise State’s Offense for 2020
Boise State started three quarterbacks for the first time since 1993 because of a spate of injuries. When healthy, true freshman Hank Bachmeier lived up to his elite recruit status. Before his first injury, he had nine TDs to three INTs in his first 176 attempts, but he had no TDs and three INTs on 43 attempts in his last two starts.
Bachmeier will be aided by a deep receiving corps led by junior Khalil Shakir, a breakout star in the making after a team-best 63 catches and nine total TDs last season. Seniors CT Thomas and Octavius Evans provide a reliable slot presence and a strong frame, respectively. The top three running backs return, including sophomore George Holani, who extended Boise State’s streak of 1,000-yard rushers to 11 straight seasons with a 1,014-yard true freshman campaign.
Perhaps the biggest question for new OC Eric Kiesau is the offensive line, which struggled mightily at times and must replace four starters, including All-MW regulars Ezra Cleveland and John Molchon. Junior John Ojukwu flips from right tackle to left tackle to fill Cleveland’s spot, a position that has churned out a number of NFL players in the last 15 years.
Previewing Boise State’s Defense for 2020
Gone is the Mountain West’s all-time sack leader, Curtis Weaver, who had 34 in three seasons, but his STUD end spot has depth. Sophomore Demitri Washington is the likely replacement, and he finished strong with four sacks in the last five games, a span in which Weaver had one.
The Broncos were one of the best third-down defenses in the country the first half of the season (27.2 percent), but faded, allowing 49.1 percent the rest of the way. The Broncos have two starting senior corners, plus an exciting youngster in sophomore Markel Reed, but must replace both safeties. Senior nickel Kekaula Kaniho is the team’s best havoc creator.
Middle linebacker Ezekiel Noa suffered a torn ACL on Sept. 20, and it tested an already thin linebacker group that managed just one interception and one forced fumble the rest of the way. Grad transfer Brock Miller was a starter at NC State and will add needed experience.
Boise State loses all three starters on a defensive line that helped it finish 15th in rush defense (112.7 ypg). No one outside of junior nose tackle Scale Igiehon returns with more than two career tackles. Two transfers — Shane Irwin and Jackson Cravens — will get a chance to start beside the sturdy Igiehon.
Previewing Boise State’s Specialists for 2020
Special teams were solid in 2019, paced by outstanding punt returner Avery Williams, who ran two back for TDs. Joel Velazquez was inconsistent punting but improved later in the year. Stetson transfer Jonny Messina (34-of-45 on field goals for his career) enters the placekicking mix this fall.
Replacing all but one starter on the offensive and defensive lines is a major issue, but Boise State doesn’t rebuild; it reloads. A healthy Bachmeier, surrounded by weapons, should keep the Broncos’ offense potent.
The Broncos have built solid depth at most positions and should make it 18 of the last 22 seasons with at least 10 wins. With seven home games (including Florida State and BYU), that should only help. Boise State will again be a Mountain West favorite and be in the New Year’s Six mix right up until the end.
National Ranking: 23
(Top photo by John Kelly, courtesy of Boise State Athletics)