The Broncos rank No. 31 in Athlon's Top 130 for 2021
Boise State’s Andy Avalos is stepping into one of the best first-year situations for a college football coach in 2021. The Broncos return 16 starters from a team that went 5-2 in the abbreviated ’20 season. Boise State has two capable quarterbacks in Jack Sears and Hank Bachmeier, and senior Khalil Shakir leads a talented group of receivers. Avalos’ background is on defense, which is good news for a unit that took a step back last season. Boise State has all of the pieces in place to finish in the top 25. However, the non-conference schedule – at UCF, Oklahoma State and at BYU – is not going to be easy.
Previewing Boise State's Offense for 2021
Boise State faded down the stretch with 37 total points in its last two games and will have a third offensive coordinator in as many years in 2021. The Broncos still finished No. 1 in scoring in the Mountain West with 33.9 points per game, and with a lot of talent back, they should be in that position once again.
Junior quarterback Hank Bachmeier has been solid but not spectacular in his 13 starts (133.6 pass efficiency rating) and should face some strong competition from Jack Sears, a USC transfer who completed 23-of-27 passes in the three games he played last season, his first in Boise.
The Broncos return four starters on the offensive line. The unit failed to create much room for the running game, which had its worst season since 1993 with 107.1 yards per game and 3.3 yards per carry. The return of George Holani — a 1,000-yard rusher in 2019 — is a big plus after injuries limited him to just 19 carries in 2020. Oregon transfer Cyrus Habibi-Likio should provide a powerful complement and reduce Holani's wear and tear.
The receiving corps is stacked with talent, led by one of the nation's best in senior Khalil Shakir, whose 52 catches last season were more than the next three Broncos receivers combined.
Previewing Boise State's Defense for 2021
The Broncos had only two interceptions last season, and they lose both starting cornerbacks. There is optimism that new head coach Andy Avalos can help bring back the attacking style he implemented as Boise State's defensive coordinator from 2016-18. On the line, a lot of talent and experience returns, including senior defensive end Shane Irwin, who had a team-high six sacks after transferring from the junior college ranks. Junior defensive tackle Scott Matlock is poised for a big year after posting 4.5 tackles for a loss and two blocked kicks in 2020.
Edge rusher Demitri Washington played in just two games, but he worked behind some of the school's best early in his career and is a fine breakout candidate. The linebacker corps has good tacklers, including senior Riley Whimpey (7.5 TFLs in 2020), but the group has to create more chaos.
Junior Markel Reed is likely to fill one of the open cornerback spots. Senior nickel Kekaula Kaniho is a playmaking machine. Starting safeties JL Skinner and Tyreque Jones are veterans, but there is almost no experienced depth behind them.
Previewing Boise State's Specialists for 2021
Perhaps the Broncos' biggest loss is cornerback/returner Avery Williams, who had nine career return TDs and blocked five kicks. Shakir should factor in the return game. Walk-on placekicker Jonah Dalmas was a pleasant surprise, making 7-of-8 field goals. Punter Joel Velazquez has been inconsistent at best, but he was better in the second half of last season.
Avalos is a first-time head coach, but 16 returning starters should help him adjust. The offense has the weapons but needs to play to its potential. The defense must force more turnovers — they had no fumble recoveries and were 10th in the MW in turnover margin. Boise State has a difficult schedule, but with so many key players back, it should be favored to appear in a fifth consecutive MW championship game. Avalos may continue a trend: His two predecessors, Bryan Harsin and Chris Petersen, played in New Year's Six bowls in their first seasons at the helm.
National Ranking: 31
Podcast: Top 25 Breakdown and Predictions
(Khalil Shakir photo by Daniel Saline, courtesy of broncosports.com)