Albertsons Stadium in Boise, with its signature blue field, before the Mountain West championship game between Hawaii and Boise State. The Broncos have won two of the last three Mountain West title. (Brian Losness/USA Today)

Football

Our 12th annual Top 25 countdown: Boise State enjoying its perch atop the Mountain West

Posted July 1st, 2020

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The 2020 college football season is two months away. Right? As it approaches with question marks, our 12th annual countdown series of our preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff, breaks down who we think are the top teams in the country. Last year’s eventual College Football Playoff semifinalists ranked first, fourth, fifth and sixth in our 2019 poll.

Our No. 25 team: Boise State

Boise State, which has won two of the last three Mountain West championships, has the tools to make another conference run in 2020. The Broncos will be tested early — there are challenging matchups in back-to-back weeks against Air Force and Florida State in September — but the MWC title should come down to the Nov. 21 game at Wyoming. The offense remains strong at the skill positions, but the season could rest on the shoulders of a defense that lost several key players from last season.
Boise State wasn’t ranked in our preseason poll last year.

About the Broncos

2019: 12-2, 8-0 in the Mountain West; lost to Washington 38-7 in the Las Vegas Bowl

Coach: Bryan Harsin (71-22 overall, 64-17 in seven years at Boise State)

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Returning starters: 5 offense, 7 defense

Shoes to fill: The most glaring holes are on the offensive line, where there’s only one returning starter — tackle John Ojukwu — from a group that allowed 27 sacks last year. It won’t be easy replacing guards John Molchon and Eric Quevedo, center Garrett Larson and tackle Ezra Cleveland (2nd round, Vikings). The Bronocos lost WRs John Hightower (51-943-8) and Akilian Butler (28-216-2), too; Hightower went in the fifth round to the Eagles. There are question marks on defense as well, as linemen Sonatane Lui, Chase Hatada, David Moa and edge rusher Curtis Weaver (5th round, Dolphins) departed.

 

Catching up

It’s been a turbulent few months. Beginning in May, football coaches were required to take furloughs as the university dealt with funding shortfalls due to the coronavirus pandemic. Harsin has said the furloughs have been staggered and that graduate assistants were “elevated” to help fill in for furloughed coaches. … players had to sign a consent form explaining COVID-19 risks while on campus for offseason strength and conditioning; on June 22, the team suspended voluntary workouts after a rash of positive tests led the school to temporarily close all on-campus facilities. … Harsin signed 20 players in the 2020 recruiting class that ranked 63rd nationally. No four-stars, and two of the top three signees were Texans.
Boise State wide receiver CT Thomas, left, celebrates a 36-yard touchdown catch with quarterback Hank Bachmeier during their 2019 game against Air Force. Both standouts return for the Broncos this season. (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman)

Returning leaders

Passing: Hank Bachmeier (led team), 137-219-1,879 yards, 9 TDs, 6 INTs

Rushing: George Holani (1st), 192-1,014-7; Robert Mahone (2nd), 89-425-6

Receiving: Khalil Shakir (2nd), 63-872-6, CT Thomas (3rd), 41-522-5

Tackles: LB Riley Whimpey (1st), 83; LB Benton Wickersham (3rd), 63

Sacks: LB Demitri Washington (4th), 4.5; NG Kekaula Kaniho (5th), 3

Interceptions: Several with 1

 

Returning all-conference

Offense: RB George Holani (freshman of the year; 2nd team); TE John Bates (hon. mention); WR Khalil Shakir (hon. mention)

Defense: NG Kekaula Kaniho (1st team); LB Riley Whimpey (2nd); CB Jalen Walker (2nd); CB Avery Williams (hon. mention)

Special teams: CB Avery Williams (special teams player of the year)

 

FYI

Bach for more: The good news in Boise is the return of QB Hank Bachmeier, who is coming off a successful freshman season (236 ypg, 9 TDs, 6 INTs). His chief running mate, RB George Holani (1,045 yards, 7 TDs) gives the Broncos run-pass balance. Holani extended BSU’s streak of having a 1,000-yard rusher to 11 seasons. The Broncos believe they have budding stars in slot receiver CT Thomas and wide receiver Octavius Evans.

Home-grown Harsin: Born and raised in Boise, Harsin graduated from Capital High School. At Boise State, he was a quarterback from 1996-99. He was a graduate assistant in 2001 and was an assistant for nine years for the Broncos before moving to Texas to become offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2011-12.

Eyes on Cobbs: Harsin has said that the next breakout star at Boise State might be sophomore Stefan Cobbs, a Texan who starred at Keller Fossil Ridge. He gave a glimpse of his potential last season with three catches for 57 yards and a touchdown, but he was a diamond in high school, earning district MVP honors as a senior when he caught 67 passes for 1,332 yards and 22 TDs. All told, Boise State has seven players from Texas, including sophomore linebacker Brandon Hawkins from Georgetown.

 

2019 national stat rankings

Where Boise State ranked nationally in various statistical categories last season — and how the Broncos ranked in 2018.

Scoring: 19th (2018 — 20th)

Scoring defense: 31st (30th)

Total offense: T-48th (21st)

Total defense: 33rd (39th)

Passing: 38th (18th)

Pass defense: 77th (70th)

Rushing: 59th (66th)

Rush defense: 15th (20th)

Red zone offense: 44th (69th)

Red zone defense: 51st (49th)

Turnover margin: T-61st (10th)

Time of possession: 37th (10th)

 

Our top 25 — so far

No. 25 Boise State

 

Coming tomorrow

Our No. 24 team. Want a hint?

Here’s two: It’s the first Big 12 team on our poll, and its head coach is a two-time Big 12 coach of the year.

 

Our top 25 — by conferences

1 school:

Mountain West — No. 25 Boise State

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