By Mike Prater – December 23, 2023:
Let’s have a hard, honest conversation about Boise State football.
The chaotic cloud that hovered above the 2023 season has faded away, though the memories never will. It was an unforgettable ride, for many reasons, positive and negative, painful and exhilarating.
Today, as the Broncos move forward into a new era, the long-term health and stability of this program seems fragile, even tenuous. It’s mostly just a feeling, to be honest, an uneasy feeling that rarely lingers over one of the most consistent and successful programs in college football history.
Too many questions. Too many unknowns. Too many concerns.
There was too much change during a six-loss season. Maybe not enough change after the season.
The locker room appears to be united once again. The fan base has never been more divided.
Through generations of national championships and Fiesta Bowl victories, Boise State football has always been a steady, dependable strength in our community.
Honest question: Bronco Nation, how you feeling right now?
Honest answer: You should be concerned.
Here are mine …
-NEW STANDARD: Playing for one of 12 spots in the new CFP national tournament – and the money that comes with it – is the new standard at Boise State. Athletic director Jeramiah Dickey made that clear during the process of replacing fired coach Andy Avalos with new coach Spencer Danielson.
Boise State must play to a Top 25 level in 2024, and/or be the best Group of Five program in the nation. Going into the offseason, the Broncos resemble neither.
-COACHING: Danielson is a fresh hire, but certainly not a consensus, slam dunk hire. Two months ago, he was questioned for being in charge of a soft and inconsistent defense that gave up too many explosive plays and 25 points a game.
Danielson, no doubt, can lead young men. It’s his calling in life. Leading an entire football team through an entire season will be the challenge of his lifetime.
If Danielson loses early with a brutal opening schedule, there will be quick angst.
His personality is inspiring, yet not for everyone. Danielson constantly talks about Jesus. Love. Crying. He’s the new modern man who will be praised if he wins. And quickly scrutinized if he loses.
-ASSISTANT COACHES: Eighty percent of the 2023 crew is returning in 2024. Is that good when the team lost 43 percent of its games?
New position coaches at safety and linebacker will provide new perspectives, but keep a close eye on Warren. His two units – pass coverage and special teams play, beyond kicker and punter – were inconsistent in 2023. He was announced as the cornerbacks coach for 2024, but there was no mention of special teams.
-SALARIES: Maybe it’s just me, but it bugs me that Danielson is making $1.1 million a year – only league bottom-dwellers Nevada and Hawaii pay their coaches less.
The office of the Boise State football coach deserves more respect.
Last season, Avalos and his 10 assistants made a combined $4.06 million. This season, Danielson and his assistants will make less than that, though one final hire has not been announced.
It’s a trend going in the wrong direction.
-QUARTERBACK: CJ Tiller, who struggled in his first start against UCLA in the LA Bowl, is QB1 as he begins his second season. Right now, he’ll be the only scholarship QB in spring camp. Maddux Madsen should be ready for fall camp after offseason knee surgery.
Danielson said Boise State is looking at transfer portal QBs, if they’re the “right fit.’’
Quarterback, obviously, is the most important position on the roster. At Boise State, it might be the thinnest and least experienced position. Not a good way to start the season.
-ROSTER: Like the coaching staff, there has been limited roster change after the six-loss season. Roster retention is critical, but keeping the right players is more important. Players made too many mistakes, and not enough big plays in 2023. The Broncos produced no defensive or special teams touchdowns for the first time since 1984, based on Boise State research.
If scheme and execution issues continue, it won’t be due to the lack of experience. There are three coaches on this staff with defensive coordinator experience at the FBS level. The secondary will feature nine players with starting experience (a combined 293 career games and 118 starts).
On paper, defense should be a strength of this team.
Can’t wait to see it.
-SPEED: Boise State didn’t flash a lot of speed in 2023, especially at wide receiver and in the secondary. Coaches knew that, made it a Signing Day priority, and added nine new players with track and field on their resume, including four with elite speed (two running backs, one wide receiver and a cornerback).
Lack of speed was a big concern a week ago.
Adding speed to the roster is the first major win of this offseason.
-DALMAS, DON’T GO: Jonah Dalmas is the best kicker in school history, by far, and the one security blanket that we all need in our lives. He has one more year of eligibility, but his return is considered a longshot.
Dalmas is spending time with family and privately going through the thought process. He has NFL potential – accuracy and length – but those jobs are limited. Dalmas is married and may/may not want to dive into the rat race of chasing NFL jobs.
Memo to one of my all-time favorite players: Open invite to come back for one more season. Your loss, and leadership, would be a massive hit to this program.
-NFL DRAFT: Looming in the spring is the NFL Draft, where at least one Boise State player has landed every year since 2009. That streak could be in jeopardy. It’s another sign that Boise State isn’t the Boise State of old.
Running back George Holani is giving the draft a shot, as will others.
Long-term, a healthy Ashton Jeanty is a lock for the 2025 draft. Beyond that, find me a legitimate NFL prospect on this roster.
-SCHEDULE: Boise State’s season opener is at Georgia Southern on Aug. 31, followed by a game at Oregon on Sept. 7. The schedule also includes a trip to Hawaii and home games against Oregon State, Washington State and San Diego State.
Boise State struggled against nonconference opponents in 2023 (1-4, including the bowl loss to UCLA). The 2024 schedule is more difficult – possibly the most difficult in school history.
‘Tis the holiday season, and we’re all trying to be positive, but these concerns paint a skeptical picture for the future of Boise State football. It would be nice if most of them go away and the Broncos launch a championship run in 2024.
Timing couldn’t be more critical. The next two seasons will define the future of the program. The offseason into that window starts now.
Lots of concerns.
Mike Prater is the Bronco Nation News columnist who co-hosts Idaho Sports Talk (KTIK 95.3 FM on Monday-Friday from 3-6 p.m.) and the Boise State football postgame show (KBOI 670 AM). He is on Twitter @MikeFPrater and can be reached at [email protected]