PAC 12 Championship Football

Oregon running back Cyrus Habibi-Likio (33) breaks a tackle by Utah linebacker Francis Bernard (13) during the Pac-12 Conference championship game Dec. 6, 2019.

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The Idaho Press is counting down the 25 biggest questions facing the Boise State football team during the 2021 season. Next up is No 11: How much will Cyrus Habibi-Likio help in the running game?

Boise State was so thin at running back a year ago that just one scholarship running back dressed for most games and walk-ons were getting carries in key situations.

The Broncos addressed the issue this offseason in a big way with the addition of Oregon transfer running back Cyrus Habibi-Likio.

The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Habibi-Likio had Boise State on his final list before signing with the Ducks out of high school. He went on to score 21 touchdowns in three years at Oregon, but was used mostly in short-yardage situations and transferred to try and find a bigger role.

Boise State returns George Holani, who rushed for 1,000-yards as a true freshman in 2019, but missed most of last season due to injury. If he’s healthy he’ll be the No. 1 back — but Habibi-Likio is an intriguing secondary option.

Holani’s injury and the preseason transfer of Robert Mahone forced Boise State into a tough spot last season. Andrew Van Buren was the only scholarship running back to dress for most games and walk-ons Tyler Crowe and Obi Gee were the only two running backs available.

The result was Boise State finishing dead last in the Mountain West and No. 115 of 127 FBS teams in rushing yardage at just 107.14 yards per game.

Van Buren has potential but has yet to live it up to it. If Habibi-Likio is as good as advertised, he’s likely to surpass Van Buren on the depth chart and get the bulk of the carries behind Holani.

Habibi-Likio said this spring he’s eager to show he can do more than get carries in short-yardage situations. He has hopes of an NFL career and expects Boise State to give him a better chance than Oregon to show off his overall skillset. He talked about forming a ‘one-two punch’ with Holani — seemingly expecting to play a lot and be involved plenty.

He didn’t arrive on campus until June and Boise State’s new coaching staff won’t see him take a carry in practice until the first day of fall camp. It’s too early to say just how much he’ll contribute and how many of Holani’s carries he’ll steal from him.

But Boise State coach Andy Avalos came from Oregon and knows Habibi-Likio well. And if he felt he was good enough to bring over as a transfer, it’s fair to expect he’s good enough to see the field regularly with the Broncos.

The running game was non-existent a year ago. With Holani healthy and Habibi-Likio in the fold, things could — and frankly should — look a lot different this fall.

B.J. Rains has covered Boise State athletics for the Idaho Press since 2013 and is a three-time winner of the NSMA Idaho Sportswriter of the Year Award. He appears on KTIK 93.1 FM The Ticket every Friday at 4 p.m. for the Blue Turf Sports report.

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