Avalos led impressive Boise State turnaround last year. Is another 10-win season coming?

Editor’s note: This is the sixth installment of a series exploring the top 10 questions surrounding the Boise State football team this season. Articles will run every week in July and will be accompanied by a video online featuring Idaho Statesman reporter Ron Counts and Boise State super-fan Jacob Bleymaier. The videos will also appear on his Bronco Bleymaier YouTube channel.
Boise State linebacker DJ Schramm cracked the starting lineup as a fifth-year senior last season and led the Broncos with 107 tackles.
He had more memorable moments than he can count, but he has no problem pinpointing the one that will stick with him.
“My proudest moment so far at Boise State is that San Diego State game,” Schramm told the Idaho Statesman at Mountain West media days in Las Vegas. “We went down 13-0 at half and people really weren’t giving us a shot, but we’re in the locker room at halftime and it was like, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. We’re doing this for the guys in this locker room.”
The Broncos were 2-2 after a loss to UTEP, offensive coordinator Tim Plough had been fired and former college of NFL head coach Dirk Koetter had taken over the offense. The Broncos also had just lost four-year starting quarterback Hank Bachmeier to the transfer portal in the middle of the season.
On top of it all, they were entering a daunting stretch of games that included the Aztecs, Fresno State and Air Force in consecutive weeks.
They had to beat San Diego State to turn things around. And they did. Running back George Holani and quarterback Taylen Green both rushed for more than 100 yards, and Boise State erased that halftime deficit to win 35-13.
The Broncos parlayed that win into an impressive run that culminated in their second appearance in the Mountain West championship game in three years, a win in the Frisco Bowl and a 10-4 record. The question this season is, can they get back to 10 wins despite a tough nonconference schedule?
Boise State coach Andy Avalos said he thinks so, as long as everyone in the program takes the lessons they learned last season to heart.
“You could write a book on the opportunities we had to learn last year,” Avalos said Thursday at media days. “We had to make some tough decisions, but to make them and see guys thrive is what it’s all about.”
The Broncos open this season with a daunting stretch that includes back-to-back games against Washington and UCF. The Huskies are one of the favorites to win the Pac-12 this season and will start the year as a Top 25 team. The Knights, under the direction of offensive guru Gus Malzahn, are going to be extra motivated to win and show that they were invited to join the Big 12 for a reason.
There’s a real possibility that Boise State opens the season 0-2. It would be the first time that has happened since the Broncos lost to Georgia and Oregon State in 2005.
Avalos isn’t concerned, though. He said the Broncos have many things on their side after overcoming last season’s obstacles.
“The fortunate thing is we’ve got a lot of guys coming back that got a lot of playing experience,” Avalos said. “They experienced going through those situations and seeing how we had to adjust and make tough choices, but also what it takes week in and week out to be where we want to be.”
Where the Broncos want to be at the end of the season is celebrating a Mountain West championship. Whether or not they get there, some of the most experienced coaches in the conference said seasons that are riddled with adversity are more valuable for a young coach than seasons where everything goes right.
“Andy did a phenomenal job navigating last season,” said Wyoming coach Craig Bohl, who has led the Cowboys since 2014. “He made decisions that weren’t easy and they maximized their ability instead of putting their heads down. That’s a credit to Andy.”
Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford engineered a pretty impressive turnaround of his own last season. The Bulldogs opened the year 1-4 after losses to Oregon State, USC, UConn and Boise State, but they turned it around, beat the Broncos in the Mountain West title game and ended the season 10-4.
“It’s much more special to overcome that type of adversity, which was pretty significant at the time because it felt like the world was caving in on us,” Tedford said Thursday. “That was one of the more special years that I’ve been a part of.”
Boise State Athletic Director Jeramiah Dickey can’t say enough about the job Avalos and his staff did last year.
“This day and age of college athletics requires bold leadership, not just on my side but our coach’s as well,” Dickey said Thursday. “At the end of the day, you redefine your goals and move on, and I’m really proud how the team stepped up and stayed united.”
Predicting the Broncos’ record
The Broncos have won at least 10 games six times since 2014. They might need to win the Mountain West championship game or a bowl game — or both — to get there this season because of that nonconference schedule and a few league games that could go either way.
Boise State most likely is going to have to win a road game at Memphis on Sept. 30 to reach double-digit victories, and the Broncos also have a tough stretch late in the season that includes a home game against Wyoming (Oct. 28) and a road trip to Fresno State (Nov. 4). Both have a chance to be tight games.
Wyoming has what is probably the best defensive front seven in the Mountain West. It’s led by linebacker Easton Gibbs, who was voted preseason defensive player of the year by conference media members on Wednesday. He led the conference with 121 tackles last season.
The Cowboys also have three of the best defensive linemen in the league: tackles Cody Godbout and Jordan Bertagnole, and end DeVonne Harris. Harris led the team with eight sacks last season, while Bertagnole finished fourth on the team with 5.5.
Fresno State has to replace plenty of starters, including quarterback Jake Haener, but former UCF quarterback Mikey Keene is expected to take over. Tedford said Thursday that he’s more athletic than Haener and already has great command of the offense.
The Bulldogs also have two of the top Mountain West defenders in linebacker Levelle Bailey, who led the team with 87 tackles last season, and cornerback Cam Lockridge, who snagged five interceptions.
Boise State also could be tested in the regular season finale at home against Air Force, which was picked to finish second by conference media members on Wednesday. The Broncos are 7-4 all-time against the Falcons.
Air Force has to replace the conference’s leading rusher (Brad Roberts) and starting quarterback Haaziq Daniels, but they’ve reloaded. Coach Troy Calhoun said Thursday at media days that quarterback Jensen Jones is a bigger, stronger version of Daniels. He also predicted that fullback John Lee Eldridge III will end the season as the conference’s leading rusher.
Prediction: Boise State drops its first two games, against Washington and UCF, but scores a big win at Memphis. The Broncos end up losing to Wyoming, Fresno State or Air Force and finish the regular season 9-3. They then face the Falcons in the championship game, which could go either way, before moving on to a bowl. Another 10-4 record is on the way.

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