BSU Spring FOOTBALL08.JPG

Boise State safety Seyi Oladipo (23) brings down wide receiver CT Thomas (6) during the spring football game at Albertsons Stadium on April 10.

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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 13: Are the Broncos contenders for a spot in the Fiesta Bowl?

While some nationally are doubting the Broncos due to the departure of coach Bryan Harsin, there’s plenty of reasons to believe Boise State should have some immediate success in 2021.

Does that mean finishing as the top Group of 5 team and earning a trip to the Fiesta Bowl? It’s not totally out of the question.

New coach Andy Avalos inherits a roster filled with playmakers on both sides of the ball and a schedule good enough to get them to the top of the Group of 5 pecking order should they win enough games.

Each of the two previous coaches at Boise State – Chris Petersen and Bryan Harsin – led the Broncos to the Fiesta Bowl in year one. So there’s precedent and reason for the Fiesta Bowl to be a realistic goal.

But Boise State is not the leading contender to be the top Group of 5 team heading into the season. That would be Cincinnati, which was the top Group of 5 team a year ago and nearly beat No. 9 Georgia in a 24-21 loss in the Peach Bowl. The Bearcats return a ton of talent and are likely to be ranked in the top 15 when the major polls come out in the next few weeks.

In the Pro Football Focus preseason rankings, five Group of 5 teams were ranked ahead of the Broncos. Cincinnati (12), Coastal Carolina (30), UCF (34), Louisiana (35) and Memphis (36) were all ranked ahead of Boise State (39).

Coastal Carolina had a remarkable 2020 season and beat a ranked and undefeated BYU team in a nationally televised game late in the year. They finished the regular season 11-0 and ranked No. 9 in the polls before falling to No. 23 Liberty in overtime in the Cure Bowl to finish the year.

UCF has a new coach in Gus Malzahn and returns several key pieces. The Knights went 6-4 last year but lost 36-33 vs. No. 7 Cincinnati and 50-49 at Memphis. Win those two and the season looks a lot different.

The Broncos will have plenty of competition to finish atop the Group of 5 rankings and land a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game, which in 2021 is likely to be the Fiesta Bowl. But it’s not crazy to create a path for them to get there.

The season opener against UCF is a must. It’s a great chance on national TV on the opening Thursday night of the season to move ahead of one of other contenders while also making a statement to the rest of the country. A week three home game against Oklahoma State will also be a huge game for the Broncos, as will a home game against Nevada and road games at BYU, Fresno State and San Diego State.

The chances of Boise State going undefeated with its schedule are not great, but they’d be Fiesta Bowl bound if they did. Heck even one loss and winning the Mountain West with a 12-1 record would put them right in the conversation.

It would probably be somewhat of a surprise if Avalos took the Broncos to the Fiesta Bowl in year one, but it wouldn’t be a complete shock. The Broncos have the pieces in place – and we’ve seen this story before.

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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