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Boise State football: High expectations, cautious optimism

There’s a lot of newness in Boise State football in 2021, starting with coach Andy Avalos. Some think that makes the Broncos vulnerable. Others disagree.
Credit: David Zalubowski/AP Photo
Boise State running back George Holani carries in an NCAA game Saturday Oct. 31 2020, at Air Force Academy, Colo. Boise State beat Air Force 49-30.

BOISE, Idaho — Wednesday, June 30, 2021.

Sure, the college football preseason magazines are rolling out. But you won’t find a much meatier Boise State preview than the one Tuesday from Chris Vannini of TheAthletic.com, who’s been running a series previewing Power 5 and top Group of 5 teams. Vannini goes for the gusto right off the top: “The standard (Andy) Avalos inherits couldn’t be any higher. This is a program that expects to play in New Year’s Six games…but it hasn’t reached a New Year’s Six bowl since 2014. The Broncos want to be a top-15 team, not just a top-25 team.” Count Vannini as a believer, though. “The 2021 team should be in contention. This could be the best Boise State team in a few years. There are just a couple of roster questions, but above all of that is whether the team can stay healthy and handle a daunting schedule.”

CHANGING PERCEPTIONS

This was rather eye-opening: “’I remember playing Boise and telling myself during warmups that we were going to win the game. I felt it,” one opposing coach who faced Boise State last year told Vannini. “I never felt that way playing a Boise State team. I talked to one of their coaches later, and he said they knew they would lose in the pregame. They didn’t lay down or anything, but you just felt it.” Well, there were only two teams that beat the Broncos last season: BYU and San Jose State. Who said that? But, Vannini writes, “The return of Avalos could provide some juice, a boost to a program that needs an extra kick. ‘I have a lot of respect for Coach Avalos’ journey,’ that assistant coach said. ‘I don’t see them falling off.’”

OFFENSIVE FOCUS

Bronco Nation should like his analysis of the offense, which is hoping the battle between Hank Bachmeier and Jack Sears pays dividends. “New offensive coordinator Tim Plough wants big plays,” writes Vannini. “He believes he has the players to do it at Boise State, but it’ll start at quarterback. ‘The No. 1 thing we focus on is being explosive,’ Plough said. ‘We want to hunt explosive plays, but as we’re doing that, we’re looking for precision. The biggest thing I try to get across to the guys is you can’t win games by taking 10- to 12-play drives. You have to get explosive plays.’” If offense wins fans, well, Plough is playing the right cards here.

FINAL ASSESSMENT

Boise State may be coming off a lackluster 2020 season, but injuries and COVID-19 threw it well off-kilter. It’s hard to draw any conclusions from it. Vannini is in that camp and wraps up his Broncos preview this way: “Avalos couldn’t take over a better situation as a first-year head coach. If a quarterback stands out and the cornerbacks find their footing, Boise State has all the pieces for a big run. The Broncos made their name in the late 2000s by stepping up to any and all challenges, and there are plenty in 2021. After two decades of dominance, there’s no reason to think that will change.

STAFF FIELDS ANOTHER POSITIVE PHONE CALL

Boise State now has eight commitments for the 2022 recruiting class with a verbal from Jayden Virgin of Mt. Carmel High in San Diego. Virgin unofficially visited the campus last Saturday and didn’t need much time to make a decision. “I’m so excited right now I can’t even describe it,” Virgin told Greg Biggins of 247 Sports. “It’s a huge stress relief, not just for me but parents.” Virgin, a 6-3, 220-pound three-star prospect who played two ways in high school, told 247 he was offered as an outside linebacker. “He has a college body right now, moves well and is a natural athlete,” writes Biggins. “Once he learns the position, Virgin is a player we think has the potential to be not just a multi-year starter but an all-conference level player for the Broncos.”

YES, SCHWARBER IS A FORMER HAWK

There are those who don’t consider Kyle Schwarber a bonafide former Boise Hawk, since he played only five games for the club in 2014. It was supposed to be a lot more, though. He was the No. 4 overall pick in the MLB Draft and got a lot of publicity when he landed in Boise. But after Schwarber opened the season by going 12-for-20 with four home runs and 10 RBIs, the Chicago Cubs couldn’t help but move him up. So today we salute this former Hawk and current Washington Nationals slugger for matching Albert Belle in 1995 for the most home runs over a 10-game period since at least 1901. Schwarber hit his 12th in the past 10 games Tuesday night in a 4-3 win over Tampa Bay and now has 25 for the season. It came off another former Hawk, the Rays’ Rich Hill.

MYRON FINKBEINER

I was saddened to hear of the passing last Sunday of Myron Finkbeiner, founder of the old World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame in Boise, at the age of 88. Finkbeiner followed his dream and established the Hall in 1994 to honor elite athletes who give back. The early years were great, with inductees including Arthur Ashe, Rafer Johnson, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Roberto Clemente, Julius Erving, Bonnie Blair, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, David Robinson, Tony Gwynn, and Mary Lou Retton. The final WSHHF class was inducted in 2009.

The Hall had a nice space for a time on Broad Street in BoDo. Its last home was at the Allen Noble Gallery at Albertsons Stadium. When former Boise State athletic director Gene Bleymaier took the AD job at San Jose State, the treasure trove of memorabilia was packed up and transferred to SJSU. It remains stored in the Santa Clara Valley today—hopefully to be returned to Boise someday. Myron Finkbeiner: a man whose heart was always in the right place.

THIS DAY IN SPORTS…June 30, 1998:

On a historic final day of June, all three sluggers pursuing Roger Maris’ 1961 single-season home run record blast round-trippers. As it turned out, only one of the players was legit. The Cardinals’ Mark McGwire hit his 37th homer, the most ever hit before July and equaling the 1969 record of Oakland’s Reggie Jackson for most homers by the All-Star break. The Cubs’ Sammy Sosa recorded his 33rd homer and his record 20th for one month. And in the Kingdome, Ken Griffey Jr. belted his American League-leading 33rd home run for the Mariners.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)

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