BOISE — Arguably the biggest unknown on the Boise State roster entering Thursday’s season opener vs. No. 18 Ole Miss at the Georgia Dome is the offensive line, where the Broncos will debut three new starters and put the two returning starters in new spots.
Offensive line coach Scott Huff thinks he has a pretty good idea about how his group will perform. But then again, Boise State has a pretty stiff challenge awaiting them.
“Something of this magnitude, the first game of the year in that environment down there in Atlanta, I mean that was awesome when we went down there a few years ago,” Huff said. “And then the SEC, that’s a whole different animal.
“We have a great challenge. There’s some great players in that front seven for them. It’s an awesome opportunity for us. We’ll see how it goes.”
Redshirt juniors Marcus Henry and Rees Odhiambo return as starters, but Henry has moved from right guard to center and Odhiambo has made the shift from right tackle to left tackle.
A trio of redshirt sophomores are expected to join them in the starting lineup in Travis Averill (left guard), Mario Yakoo (right guard) and Steven Baggett (right tackle). Yakoo and redshirt freshman Archie Lewis were listed as co-starters on the most recent depth chart, and both are likely to see time.
The 6-foot-4, 310-pound Odhiambo started all eight games he played in last season but missed five games due to a nagging ankle sprain. He sat out all of spring because of “something different,” but was deemed 100 percent to start the summer and participated in summer workouts prior to fall camp.
Odhiambo takes over a left tackle spot at Boise State that has seen the last four full-time starters all get selected in the NFL Draft. Charles Leno Jr was a seventh-round selection by the Chicago Bears in May.
Henry, who started 12 games for the Broncos at right guard last season, takes over at center for Matt Paradis, a sixth-round pick by the Denver Broncos.
Boise State is trying to replace two offensive linemen selected in the same NFL Draft for the first time since 1974.
While it may be little, the other projected starters have a little bit of playing experience. Averill, Yakoo and Baggett each started at least one game last season due to injuries to Odhiambo and Henry.
“I feel like we’re looking great,” Baggett said Monday. “We’ve been playing for a long time together now all through fall camp and it’s coming together pretty well. I like it. I think we’re doing good.
“There’s pressure on us for sure. That’s why we want to go out there and answer it, come to the call, and do the best we can.”
The Boise State offensive line gave up 26 sacks last season — the most since allowing 28 in 2004. And they return a group that has only 26 combined starts, which ties for the seventh-fewest in the country.
The Broncos will have their hands full with a talented Ole Miss defensive line that features star Robert Nkemdiche, a former No. 1 national recruit that has moved from end to tackle.
But after four weeks of drills and practicing against themselves, the new-look offensive line is ready to see what they have.
“It’s going to be a good test and that’s what we want, to go against good guys,” Baggett said. “It’s a challenge. First game, everybody’s first game is a challenge, going against a good opponent is a challenge. We’re just excited to get out there and finally play our first game.”
MILLER, BELL NAMED CAPTAINS: Boise State coach Bryan Harsin announced on his radio show Monday night that a player vote resulted in senior wide receiver Matt Miller and senior nickel Corey Bell being named season-long captains.
Coaches will decide on two single-game captains to join them each week.
Running back Jay Ajayi and kicker Dan Goodale were the two selections for the Ole Miss opener on Thursday.
Also, Harsin announced that senior linebacker Blake Renaud will lead the team onto the field with the Hammer.