BOISE — The notion of going 1-0 every week is a cliche football coaches have been using for years, but Boise State defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding said that mindset may be more important than ever this fall.
“There are so many unexpected changes that have come, and we can’t control those things,” Schmedding said. “So, if you’re not in that mindset, then you’re going to wear yourself out thinking about things you have no control over.”
After Boise State lost the spring game and, for a time, the season to COVID-19, the Mountain West announced Sept. 24 that the season would begin on Oct. 24. But games are anything but a guarantee this year, especially with the conference requiring players, coaches and athletic trainers to be tested for the virus three times a week.
The Broncos spent the first few days of camp not knowing who they were going to face in the season opener. That changed Oct. 1 with the release of their eight-game schedule, which includes a home game against nonconference rival BYU.
Here’s a breakdown of Boise State’s 2020 opponents, with times and TV for most games (all times Mountain). The Mountain West enters a new TV deal this year with Fox Sports and CBS Sports.
When: Oct. 24 (5 p.m., FS1)
Where: Alberstons Stadium
Not only do the Aggies have to replace an NFL-caliber quarterback in Jordan Love and top wide receiver Saosi Mariner, but potential starting quarterback Henry Colombi was lost to the transfer portal.
In comes Utah transfer Jason Shelley, though, who didn’t see many snaps last season. He saw extended playing time in 2018 because of injuries and threw for 860 yards and three touchdowns. His top competition for the starting job is freshman Cooper Legas.
Last season: Boise State 56, Utah State 21
Starters lost: QB Jordan Love, RB Gerald Bright, WR Saosi Mariner
Key returning starters: RB Jaylen Warren, OL Karter Shaw, OL Alfred Edwards, S Troy Lefeged Jr., S Shaq Bond
Matchup to watch: Warren vs. Boise State’s veteran linebackers.
Playing behind Bright last season, Warren averaged 5.1 yards a carry while racking up 569 yards and five touchdowns. He now moves to the top of the depth chart, and he’s going to be expected to carry the load.
Linebacker may be Boise State’s deepest unit on the team. Seniors Riley Whimpey and Benton Wickersham have played a ton of snaps, and redshirt junior Ezekial Noa was the team’s leading tackler last season when he was lost for the year to a knee injury. The Broncos also added N.C. State transfer Brock Miller, who started 11 games for the Wolfpack last season.
When: Oct. 31 (4 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
Where: Falcon Stadium in U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado
As usual, Air Force racked up plenty of yards on the ground last season, ranking No. 2 in the nation with 298.5 yards a game. Running back Kaden Remsberg posted 1,050 yards and eight touchdowns, and quarterback Donald Hammond III added 13 rushing touchdowns, but he’s gone.
Air Force announced in July that Hammond was no longer a cadet in good standing. The violation that led to his drop in status wasn’t specified.
The Falcons opened the 2020 season on Oct. 3 and rolled to a 40-7 win over Navy. Sophomore Haaziq Daniels made his first career start at quarterback, and Air Force racked up 369 rushing yards behind 118 from Timothy Jackson.
Last season: Boise State 30, Air Force 19
Key starters lost: QB Donald Hammond Jr., OL Scott Hattock, C Connor Vikupitz, DB Jeremy Fejedelem, DB Grant Thiel
Starters returning: RB Kaden Remsberg, LB Demonte Meeks, RB Timothy Jackson, OL Paker Ferguson, OL Nolan Laufenberg
Matchup to watch: Boise State QB Hank Bachmeier vs. a rebuilt secondary.
Bachmeier is back for his sophomore season after going 7-1 as the starter and competing 62.5% of his passes last fall. He has a plethora of experienced targets around him, including wide receivers Khalil Shakir and CT Thomas and tight end John Bates.
Air Force has to replace three starters in the secondary, including Jeremy Fejedelem, who was third on the team with 76 tackles and second with two interceptions.
When: Nov. 6 (7:45 p.m., FS1)
Where: Albertsons Stadium
The only nonconference game on Boise State’s schedule is going to be a big one. BYU is already 4-0 and ranked No. 14 in the AP Top 25. The Cougars were challenged by UTSA on Saturday, but they managed a 27-20 win behind three touchdowns from quarterback Zach Wilson and a defense that allowed just 72 rushing yards.
BYU’s biggest challenge this season may be replacing star tight end Matt Bushman, who was lost to an offseason injury, but Gunner Romney and Dax Milne have looked more than capable so far. Milne leads the team with 24 catches for 366 yards and a touchdown and Romney is No. 2 with 20 catches for 453 yards and two scores.
Last season: BYU 28, Boise State 25
Key starters lost: TE Matt Bushman (injury), WR Micah Simon, WR Talon Shumway, WR Aleva Hifo, DB Austin Lee
Key returning starters: QB Zach Wilson, DT Khyiris Tonga, LB Kavika Fanua, LB Chaz Ah You, LT Brady Christensen, C James Empey
Matchup to watch: BYU O-line vs. Boise State D-line.
The Cougars and Broncos head into the game with fronts that are on the opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of experience. BYU returns all five starters on the offensive line, which opened holes to a tune of 159 rushing yards a game last season and has allowed just two sacks this season.
On the defensive line, Boise State has to replace veterans David Moa, Sonatane Lui and Chase Hatada and STUD Curtis Weaver, who led the Mountain West with 13.5 sacks last season. Scale Igiehon, Scott Matlock and JUCO transfer Shane Irwin are the favorites to fill the open spots on the interior, while redshirt sophomore Demitri Washington steps in for Weaver.
When: Nov. 12 (6 p.m., FS1)
Where: Albertsons Stadium
The Steve Addazio era is here at Colorado State, and if history repeats itself, the Rams are going to run the ball. Addazio’s teams at Boston College ran it more than 550 times in each of the past four seasons. He had a pretty talented back to lean on in AJ Dillon, but the Rams have a runner that fits his mold in 230-pound senior Marcus McElroy.
Addazio does have a decision to make at quarterback. Nebraska transfer Patrick O’Brien threw for 2,803 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, but he’s getting some competition from Temple transfer Todd Centeio, who is more mobile, which complements Addazio’s scheme.
Last season: Boise State 31, Colorado State 24
Key starters lost: RB Marvin Kinsey, LT TJ Storment (transfer to TCU), G Nouredin Nouili (transfer to Nebraska)
Key returning starters: WR Warren Jackson, TE Trey McBride, QB Patrick O’Brien, RB Marcus McElroy, RB Jaylen Thomas, WR Dante Wright, S Logan Stewart
Matchup to watch: Rams’ passing attack vs. Boise State’s secondary.
Colorado State boasts two of the Mountain West’s top pass catchers in wide receiver Warren Jackson and tight end Trey McBride, who originally announced he was transferring but opted to rejoin the team last month.
Jackson ranked No. 2 in the conference last fall with 111.9 receiving yards a game and finished the season with 77 catches for 1,119 yards and eight touchdowns. Boise State’s top cornerback, Jalen Walker, will likely draw that assignment. McBride caught 45 passes for 560 yards and four touchdowns last fall. If the Broncos have to dedicate a defensive back to cover him, safeties JL Skinner and Tyreque Jones have the size to do so.
When: Nov. 21 (9 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
Where: Aloha Stadium in Honolulu
Hawaii has a new head coach in Todd Graham, who won’t completely move away from the run-and-shoot offense, but he plans to commit more to the running game and increase the defensive playbook — both of which served him well during coaching stints at Rice, Tulsa and Arizona State.
The biggest challenge for the Rainbow Warriors right now is simply getting on the field. Practice was suspended Sept. 30 after four players tested positive for COVID-19 and resumed on Oct. 4. On Saturday, Hawaii held its first live scrimmage of fall camp.
Last season: Boise State 59, Hawaii 37 (regular season); Boise State 31, Hawaii 10 (Mountain West championship)
Key starters lost: QB Cole McDonald, WR Jojo Ward, WR Cedric Byrd II, WR Jason-Matthew Sharsh
Key returning starters: WR Jared Smart, QB Chevan Cordeiro, S Khoury Bethley, CB Cortez Davis, LT Ilm Manning, RB Miles Reed
Matchup to watch: Khalil Shakir vs Cortez Davis
Shakir is a safe bet to be Boise State’s top receiver this fall, and after breaking up 13 passes in 15 games last year, Davis looks like Hawaii’s top cornerback. Shakir led Boise State last season with 63 receptions and was second on the team with 872 yards. He also totaled 10 touchdowns: six receiving, three rushing and one passing.
Davis racked up 53 tackles and finished with one interception. He was part of a defense that snagged 14 interceptions last fall, and he’ll have plenty of help again this year as part of a secondary that returns three starters and sophomore Kai Kaneshiro, who came off the bench and tied for the team lead with three interceptions.
San Jose State
When: Nov. 28 (Time/TV TBA)
Where: Albertsons Stadium
San Jose State led the Mountain West and ranked No. 4 in the country last season with 338 passing yards a game, but veteran quarterback Josh Love is gone and head coach Brent Brennan has yet to name his replacement.
Sophomore Nick Nash saw limited snaps last fall, but he finished No. 2 on the team with 255 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns on the ground. He’s competing with graduate transfer Nick Starkel, who joined the team in January after having already transferred from Arkansas and Texas A&M.
Whoever does get the job will join forces with one of the Mountain West’s top receivers in Tre Walker, who racked up 79 catches for 1,161 yards last season.
Last season: Boise State 52, San Jose State 42
Key starters lost: QB Josh Love, LB Ethan Aquayo, LB Jesse Osuna, DT Sailosi Latu, CB Brandon Ezell
Key returning starters: QB Nick Nash, WR Tre Walker, WR Isaiah Hamilton, LT Jack Snyder, S Jay Lenard, LB Kyle Harmon, LB Rico Tolefree
Matchup to watch: George Holani vs San Jose State’s defensive front.
Holani extended Boise State’s streak of seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher to 11 straight last fall, and he’s going to see even more carries this season with Robert Mahone hitting the transfer portal and junior college transfer Taequan Tyler out for the year with an Achilles injury.
Last season, San Jose State gave up 232 rushing yards a game, which ranked last in the Mountain West, and the Spartans have to replace leading tackler Ethan Aquayo. With only eight games to do it, Holani is going to need some big performances to crack 1,000 yards again, and San Jose State looks primed to give up plenty of yards on the ground.
When: Dec. 4 (7:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
Where: Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas
Former Oregon offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo takes over as UNLV’s head coach, and his first task is to name a starting quarterback.
Armani Rogers transferred and Max Gilliam held the job in 2018, but he backed up sophomore Kenyon Oblad last fall as he racked up 2,081 passing yards and 18 touchdowns.
Further complicating matters, TCU transfer Justin Rogers was granted immediate eligibility in August. A former four-star recruit, he threw just one pass in two years at TCU. Rogers is the most mobile of UNLV’s quarterbacks, which may make him the favorite in Arroyo’s scheme.
Last meeting: Boise State 42, UNLV 25 on Nov. 18, 2016
Key starters lost: DB Evan Austrie, LB Javin White, DB Jericho Flowers
Key returning starters: RB Charles Williams, WR Randal Grimes, WR Steve Jenkins, TE Noah Bean, TE Giovanni Fauolo, S Greg Francis, CB Aaron Lewis
Matchup to watch: Boise State O-line vs UNLV pass rushers.
Boise State’s rebuilt offensive line will have plenty of time to jell before the Broncos’ trip to Las Vegas, and if history repeats itself, the big men up front should have no problem protecting quarterback Hank Bachmeier.
UNLV managed just 12 sacks last season, which ranked last in the Mountain West. No player on the team had more than two, and if Bachmeier has time to stand in the pocket, he’ll pick a defense apart. Redshirt junior John Ojukwu will protect Bachmeier’s blind side after starting at right tackle last season, and graduate transfer Uzo Usoji is his likely replacement.
When: Dec. 12 (4 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
Where: War Memorial Stadium in Laramie, Wyoming
Wyoming wasn’t exactly an offensive powerhouse last season. The Cowboys ranked No. 106 in the country in total offense with 350.9 yards a game, and their passing offense ranked No. 11 in the Mountain West at 136.2 yards a game.
The Cowboys plan to split snaps between quarterbacks Sean Chambers and Levi Williams this fall, and they’ll lean on a running game highlighted by one of the conference’s top running backs in Xazavian Valladay, who led the Mountain West last season with 1,265 yards.
Last season: Boise State 20, Wyoming 17 (OT)
Key starters lost: LB Logan Wilson, WR Austin Conway, WR Raghib Ismail Jr., S Alijah Halliburton, LB Maluia Cassh
Key returning starters: QB Sean Chambers, QB Levi Williams, RB Xazavian Valladay, RB Titus Swen, C Keegan Cryder
Matchup to watch: Wyoming rushing attack vs Boise State front seven.
Wyoming is sure to give Valladay plenty of carries this season, and if it’s not him running the ball, it will be Chambers, who posted 567 yards and 10 touchdowns last fall. He may be calling his own number even more this season given that his top returning receiver, Ayden Eberhardt, caught just eight passes a year ago. Speedy running back Titus Swen and Louisville transfer Trey Smith should see some carries, too.
Boise State’s new starters on the defensive line should be well adjusted to life in the trenches by the regular-season finale, but it is going to be December in Wyoming, which means it’s going to be cold. The Cowboys are going to want to pound the rock, and the Broncos’ defensive front has to be ready to slow them down.
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