‘Goal is still in front of us.’ Boise State tries to stay in Mountain West title race

Boise State defensive tackle Michael Callahan said last week that some crazy stuff had to happen for the Broncos to have a real shot at playing for the Mountain West championship this year.

As news of losses by Fresno State and Air Force began to trickle through the Broncos’ locker room last Saturday after their 42-14 win over New Mexico, Boise State’s players realized it might not be such a crazy notion after all.

“We know our goal is still in front of us, but we’re not looking too far ahead,” Callahan said. “This team has done a great job of developing competitive maturity as the season has gone on and just focusing on the task at hand.”

First of all, Boise State (5-5, 4-2 Mountain West) needs to win at Utah State (5 p.m., CBS Sports Network) on Saturday and in next week’s regular season finale at home against Air Force (8-2, 5-1 MW). A win on Saturday also will make the Broncos bowl-eligible for the 26th year in a row.

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To make the championship game, Boise State needs Fresno State (8-2, 4-2 MW) to lose one of its two remaining games against San Diego State and New Mexico, or needs UNLV (8-2, 5-1 MW) to lose both of its remaining games against Air Force and San Jose State.

Either way, it looks like Boise State would be on the road if it did make the title game. Fresno State has wins over Boise State and UNLV, so it would host if the Bulldogs and Broncos both win out and the Rebels lose at least one game. If either UNLV or Air Force wins out, one of them will host.

Because of tiebreakers, Boise State could host the championship game if the Broncos and Air Force are the only teams to finish with 6-2 conference records.

No matter what happens, the Broncos are focused on finishing what has been a tumultuous season on a high note, defensive coordinator and interim head coach Spencer Danielson said.

“Grown men finish what they start,” Danielson said. “I know this team is going to finish this thing the right way, especially for the seniors, because their legacy isn’t done being written.”

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A trying season for Broncos

Nothing has gone to script at Boise State this year.

Injuries began to mount right from the beginning. Last year’s leading receiver, Latrell Caples, has missed the whole season with a knee injury he suffered over the summer. Last season’s leading rusher, George Holani, missed six games with a lower-body injury, and last year’s leading tackler, linebacker DJ Schramm, has missed four games with a multitude of injures.

The Broncos got some good news on the injury front this week. This year’s leading rusher, Ashton Jeanty, returned to practice and is expected to play on Saturday evening, Danielson said.

Jeanty leads the team with 921 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground, and he’s No. 2 on the team in receptions (30), receiving yards (396) and receiving touchdowns (4). His 15 total touchdowns are tied for No. 4 in the country.

“We’re going to be smart with how we use him, but he’s a huge part of what we do,” Danielson said Friday.

Schramm said Tuesday that he also expects to play. He exited last week’s win over New Mexico early and didn’t return.

Injuries haven’t been the Broncos’ only issue. The locker room clearly has been a bit chaotic, too. Following a loss at Fresno State two weeks ago, leading receiver Eric McAlister informed the team he was going to sit out the rest of the season and transfer when the portal opens on Dec. 4.

A week later, Andy Avalos was fired the day after the 42-14 win over the Lobos, after almost three seasons as the head coach at his alma mater. Danielson will coach his first game in Logan, Utah, and he’ll do so from the sideline, instead of his usual perch in the press box.

After Avalos was fired, McAlister apparently showed interest in returning, but that’s not going to happen, Danielson said Friday. He also said the rest of the players on the team were involved in the decision.

“I love E-Mac, and I say that from the bottom of my heart,” Danielson said. “For me and our staff, it’s about our players and working through the best process for our team and the best thing for E-Mac going forward.”

Matchup at Utah State

Wide receivers Prince Strachan and Austin Bolt filled in nicely for McAlister against New Mexico. They combined for five catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns. Bolt scored on a 42-yard pass and Strachan hauled in a 74-yard touchdown.

They will catch passes from 6-foot-6 redshirt sophomore quarterback Taylen Green on Saturday. He lost his starting job to redshirt freshman Maddux Madsen last week, but Madsen suffered a knee injury late in the first half. He’ll miss the rest of the season and is scheduled to have surgery on Tuesday, Danielson said.

Green saw his snap count dwindle and he hasn’t attempted more than eight passes in the Broncos’ past five games, but Danielson said Friday that he’s confident last season’s Mountain West Freshman of the Year is ready.

“You’re talking about a guy that is a competitor,” Danielson said. “Maybe there’s some things this season that haven’t gone the way he wanted them to, but you’re talking about a guy who loves his teammates, competes every day and has had a phenomenal week of practice.”

Boise State has scored at least 30 points in eight straight games, and the Broncos will face a Utah State defense that’s giving up an average of 400 yards of offense and 32 points a game this year.

The Aggies’ offense is another story. It’s averaging 448.3 yards a game, which ranks No. 22 in the country, and 35.5 points a game, No. 19 in the nation.

Utah State (5-5, 3-3 MW) has two running backs with more than 500 rushing yards. Rahsul Faison leads the team with 581 and Davon Booth has chipped in with 566. The Aggies have three receivers with more than 500 yards: Jalen Royals (821 yards, 11 TD), Terrell Vaughn (776 yards, 10 TD) and Micah Davis (580 yards, 6 TD).

The offense is led by senior quarterback Cooper Legas, who has thrown for 1,687 yards, 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He’s completing 64.6% of his passes.

“They’re really explosive on offense,” Schramm said. “I see a lot of people see their wide splits and think they’re just throwing the ball all over the field, but they do a good job running the ball, too. They have great backs, their quarterback can make all the throws and they have talented receivers on the outside.”


Danielson wouldn’t go into specifics about how he’ll be used, but freshman quarterback CJ Tiller could see some playing time the next couple of weeks. Tiller hasn’t appeared in a game this season. He can play in four while still preserving his redshirt year.

Danielson said linebacker Marco Notarainni is expected to miss the rest of the regular season with an injury, but he could return if the Broncos play in a bowl game. The redshirt sophomore, who leads the Broncos with 53 tackles, has missed the past two games.


When: 5 p.m. Saturday

Where: Maverik Stadium (25,513)

TV: CBS Sports Network (Rich Waltz, Aaron Taylor, Brandon Baylor)

Radio: KBOI 670 AM/93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)

Records: Boise State 5-5, 4-2 MW; Utah State 5-5, 3-3 MW

Series: Boise State leads the all-time series 22-5, and the Broncos have won seven straight games against the Aggies.

Vegas line: Boise State by 3 points

Weather: 48 degrees at kickoff, 4% chance of rain, 3 mph wind