Boise State coach Andy Avalos loves that linebacker spot. It’s a natural for a guy who was a two-time first-team All-WAC pick at that position 20 years ago. Of all the concerns on the untested Broncos defense going into the 2023 season, linebacker is not one of them. Avalos develops that position. No better example than D.J. Schramm last year. Schramm had toiled in the shadows (mainly on special teams) for four years before becoming the surprise of the 2022 team, earning second-team All-Mountain West honors. He’s now a super-senior, and he’s a first-team preseason all-conference selection this year.
But what about the other side? Well, Avalos clearly has his duo at the ‘backer spot this season. After last Saturday’s scrimmage, he said he “really liked the way the linebackers communicated—D.J. (Schramm) and Drew (Simpson) really did a nice job with the first team, making sure we were lined up and were situated.” Which accentuates what defensive coordinator Spencer Danielson said out loud at the outset of fall camp: Andrew Simpson has the chance to be the real deal at linebacker for the Broncos. Simpson’s breakout game came at Nevada last November, and he racked up 21 tackles the rest of the season, including 10 in the home finale against Utah State.
WHO’S THAT GUY AT WIDE RECEIVER?
Jordan Kaye of Bronco Nation News posts his own Boise State depth chart every chance he gets, based on what he sees at practice. The one he put up Tuesday had this nugget: while George Holani was first-team running back, Ashton Jeanty was one of the first-team wide receivers. That doesn’t mean Jeanty has changed positions, but it does point out how important it is for offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan to get Jeanty in space. When he talks about having Holani and Jeanty “in the same backfield,” that’s one of the things he means. And Holani could line up in strange places, too. Let’s revisit their receiving stats from last season. Holani made 24 catches for 151 yards and three touchdowns—Jeanty had 14 grabs for 155 yards without a TD. Six of those receptions came in the opener at Oregon State.
GO DEEP, YOUNG MAN
KTVB’s Jay Tust and his Tustats. Man. This was a good one. The average “depth of target” for Boise State wide receiver Eric McAlister last season was 24.7 yards. That was No. 1 in the FBS among receivers with at least 15 targets. Those who still wonder about Taylen Green’s ability to throw deep can start here, because (to expand on Tustats) McAlister’s first career catch last year didn’t come until the Air Force game, Green’s third game as the Broncos’ starter. McAlister averaged 23.6 yards per reception, all of it in conjunction with Green.
I had been waiting for that. Here’s what I wrote last year in fall camp: “One play really stood out to me—a nice 40-yard touchdown catch in drills by redshirt freshman receiver Eric McAlister, who was well-covered on the play.” Famous last words: “Don’t sleep on guys like McAlister. There’s a catch McAlister made in practice Tuesday that has gone viral. He runs a deep route and is covered like a blanket by Jaylen Clark, one of Boise State’s best corners. McAlister reaches with both hands around Clark’s back, makes the catch, and pulls it around Clark to secure it before both fall to the turf. Amazing.
GREEN THE ‘FREAK’
The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman has released his annual College Football Freaks List—the 100 players with mind-blowing athleticism—and Boise State’s Taylen Green is No. 88. Feldman lines it out: “The Broncos got cranked up last year after he took over as their starting quarterback in Week 5. Green threw for more than 2,000 yards, completing 61 percent of his passes, and was responsible for 24 touchdowns (14 passing, 10 rushing). He then went on to earn Frisco Bowl Offensive MVP honors. He’s 6-6, 230 pounds, but can also hit almost 23 MPH on the GPS. In high school, Green was a 43-foot-5-inch triple jumper.”
COMMITMENT LIST UP TO 13
Gatlin Bair of Burley is by far and away the top recruit in Idaho, and he has famously committed to Boise State. Well, did you know Martin Connington of Mountain View is the fifth-ranked kicker in the country? Connington has also committed to the Broncos. The timing would be right for a continuation of the local lock on the kicking job (following current star Jonah Dalmas). Connington was 16-of-21 last season with a long of 56 yards. Boise State’s school record for longest field goal? Roberto “Feet of Stone” Moran holds it with…56 yards against UC Davis in 1985. (The Broncos needed it to beat Aggies quarterback Chris Petersen.) The Broncos also picked up their third wide receiver recruit in a week when Tyrone Jackson from Archbishop Riordan High School in San Francisco committed last Friday.
THE HUSKIES ARE WHAT WE THOUGHT THEY’D BE
For the second time ever, Boise State will be opening the season against an AP top 10 team. The AP Preseason Poll was unveiled Monday, and Washington is No. 10 going into the game at Husky Stadium September 2. The Broncos were actually the third-leading vote-getters among the Group of 5, ranked 31st if you count down that far. Boise State’s other top 10 foe in an opener was Virginia Tech in Washington, D.C., in 2010. The 10th-ranked Hokies fell to the third-ranked Broncos 33-30 before 83,000 fans in ESPN prime time. No other Mountain West team received a vote—not even defending champion Fresno State. Tulane is No. 24, and UTSA is fourth in line among others receiving votes, although the Roadrunners have 64 points and Boise State (two spots behind) has only 17.
PAC-4 NEWS CYCLE SLOWS DOWN
News on the Pac-4 and the Mountain West and such will be sporadic now as we enter the “guessing and grasping” phase of this seismic story. Longtime Bay Area columnist Dieter Kurtenbach of the San Jose Mercury News has an opinion worth sharing, though. Kurtenbach thinks Stanford has the wherewithal to go independent in football and perhaps join the West Coast Conference in other sports (and there are many). But, he says, “For Cal, this might ultimately be a reality dose of iodine — necessary but hurts like hell at the start. The Golden Bears athletic department has struggled to keep up with Power 5 spending for years. Dropping down to the Mountain West would radically reshape Cal sports, massively cutting operating budgets and entire programs, but after years of being overextended, a cull might be the right move.”
GETTING CLOSE FOR THE VANDALS
Fall camp continues for Idaho, whose season opener at Lamar is just two weeks from Thursday night. The expectations are there, as the Vandals are picked eighth in the STATS Preseason FCS Top 25. And that’s because of last season’s turnaround and the honors it produced. Idaho is operating with the reigning Jerry Rice Award winner as the best freshman in the FCS last year, quarterback Gevani McCoy, and the Preseason Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year, wide receiver Hayden Hatten. Both are on the watch list for the Walter Payton Award that goes to the top offensive player in the FCS. Two Vandals quarterbacks have won that award: John Friesz in 1989 and Doug Nussmeier in 1993.
HAWKS ON A TILT-A-WHIRL
The annual Western Idaho Fair road trip began last night for the Boise Hawks. This one features 11 games over 12 days, starting Tuesday night in Missoula against the dreaded Paddleheads. Despite a 15-hit attack and home runs from Trevor Minder and Anthony Walters, the Paddleheads won the opener 13-7. The Hawks will need big-time some help to make the Pioneer League Playoffs for the second time in three years. After a solid 28-20 first-half, the Hawks are 10-15 and in last place in the second half South Division standings.
This Day In Sports…brought to you by BBSI BOISE…payroll, process and prosperity for your business.
August 16, 2018, five years ago today: The New York Mets become the first team in modern major league history to allow at least 24 runs and score 24 in the same season as they rout Philadelphia 24-4 at Citizens Bank Park. The Mets had scored 16 runs the day before, making them the first team to combine for 40 runs over two games in 65 years. Interestingly enough, it was the first game of a doubleheader. The Phillies won the nightcap 4-2. It was just 16 days earlier that the Mets had suffered their worst loss ever, a 25-4 pummeling at the hands of Washington.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)