UTAH STATE HOPING FOR HEALTH
Utah State’s biggest stars were on hand Wednesday at the Mountain West football media days, and neither was on the field for eight of the Aggies’ 10 wins last season.
Senior linebacker Kyler Fackrell and senior quarterback Chuckie Keeton suffered season-ending knee injuries last year, Fackrell’s in the season opener and Keeton’s in the third game. Both are back on a suddenly experienced team.
“The younger guys are the ones that got more experience, so this year they’re even more prepared and we have even more guys ready to contribute,” Fackrell said.
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Fackrell, who had 82 tackles (13 for loss) and five sacks in 2013, was selected the Preseason Defensive Player of the Year on Tuesday. Keeton, in his sixth season, was the quarterback on the preseason all-conference team. It was his third time attending the league’s annual media summit, and the second with plenty of questions about his knee, which also cut short his 2013 campaign.
“It would be worse if no one asked, so I guess it means I’m still a little relevant,” Keeton said.
Their return is a key reason the Aggies were selected behind Boise State in the Mountain Division in the preseason poll, and they get the Broncos at Maverik Stadium in Logan on Oct. 16.
“It’s the only team we haven’t beaten, we’re 0-2,” third-year coach Matt Wells said. “I like to remind our players of that fairly often. To me, the road to the Mountain West championship goes through Boise, it will always go through Boise until someone knocks them off that throne.”
Wells said the Aggies were brought closer by a June 26 car accident involving four of his team’s defensive linemen. Senior John Taylor will be ready for fall camp, while junior Edmund Faimalo and freshman Adewale Adeoye are “progressing.” Senior Travis Seefeldt had the most serious injuries and is unlikely to play this season, though the team may seek a sixth year for him.
“I’m really close with a lot of those guys,” Fackrell said. “It was a shock. We’re so grateful they are going to heal up. The whole team came to the hospital, brought them food. We all kind of had a new perspective, that we focus on football so much, but it isn’t everything.”
GET YOUR POPCORN READY
Among the stacks of notes, CDs and team guides this week at Mountain West media days were a few bags of microwave popcorn.
On the bags was the smiling face of Colorado State junior wide receiver Rashard Higgins, nicknamed “Hollywood,” which he picked up as a grade-schooler. On the bag, it says “Hollywood performances are best enjoyed with popcorn.”
It’s fitting for the 6-foot-2, 188-pound Higgins, who had 96 catches for 1,750 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. He is a preseason Sporting News All-American and was the media’s pick for conference Preseason Offensive Player of the Year.
“I know if you’re able to play at a high level, the attention will come, and I’ve adapted to it,” Higgins said. “I think it’s pretty cool.”
Promotions like the popcorn aren’t always embraced by coaches, but Colorado State first-year coach Mike Bobo liked the idea. He noted when he was at Georgia, attention was coming to the program regardless, but in Fort Collins, Colo., it’s not as easy.
“I think it’s great. ... He is a team guy, but he’s going to bring exposure to our football team, to our conference, and I think that’s a good thing,” Bobo said.
Bobo grew up in Georgia, played for Georgia and spent 16 seasons in various coaching capacities for the Bulldogs. Colorado State wouldn’t seem to be a geographic fit, but having the sort of player like Higgins and coming off a 10-win season, it was a job he had to pursue.
“Whether I moved three hours from Athens, it didn’t really matter, it had to be a great place to raise a family, and second, there’s a lot of success, a lot of positive momentum at Colorado State —two straight bowl games, building a new stadium — I feel the program is on the verge of doing something special, and I wanted to be a part of that,” Bobo said.
GEE, SOME THANK YOU, COACH
During warmups before his Wyoming Cowboys hosted Boise State on Nov. 23, coach Craig Bohl said “there was a look in the eye of that football team that they were on a mission.”
But before the Broncos’ 63-14 shellacking, Bohl had a nicer moment when he saw Boise State coach Bryan Harsin at Starbucks the morning of the game. He even bought Harsin’s coffee.
“Isn’t that bad? You pay for the coffee and get your butt whipped by (49) points,” Bohl said. “I tell you what, it was a good thing I’m a seasoned veteran because it was a rough night. I was like ‘I bought the guy a coffee!’ ”
TESTING THE WATERS
Boise State senior safety Darian Thompson requested an NFL Draft grade after last season. The response: stay in school.
Thompson ranks second among active FBS players with 14 career interceptions.
“If I would have gotten a second-round grade, that’s not saying I would have went,” he said. “I wanted to be knowledgeable about the situation. It wasn’t disappointing. I was just wondering. ... I’m excited to get my degree. I’m excited to be back.”
FROM FIESTA TO PEACH?
If Boise State reaches a New Year’s Six bowl game this year, the Broncos likely will land in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 31 in Atlanta.
The College Football Playoff has openings for the Group of Five conferences’ automatic qualifier in the Peach or Fiesta (Jan. 1 in Glendale, Ariz.).
But the selection committee has been asked to avoid repeat visits to bowls by teams or conferences. Boise State won the Fiesta Bowl for the third time last year.
“All things being equal, we wouldn’t put Boise State back in the Fiesta Bowl,” CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock said Wednesday in Vegas.
The six-game CFP features semifinals Dec. 31 in the Orange and Cotton bowls. The Sugar (Big 12 vs. SEC) and Rose (Big Ten vs. Pac-12) have conference contracts. That leaves the Fiesta and Peach to handle the Group of Five qualifier (highest-ranked champion), possibly the ACC champion (if that team doesn’t make the semifinals) and at-large teams.
Boise State is considered one of the top Group of Five candidates for a New Year’s Six bowl again this year. Hancock said it’s “absolutely possible” for a Mountain West team to reach the semifinals, although some coaches have expressed skepticism.
Harsin says the Broncos could get to the final four with an undefeated record.
“If you’re not in it, something really special has happened for the other four that are,” he said. “There’s a lot of good teams out there, so that might be the case. That’s the whole goal, right — to win all your games and put yourself in that situation? Why wouldn’t it be? I think every team — I don’t give a crap what conference you’re from — every team that wins every game should believe they have a chance to play for it all.”
Said Thompson: “We can only control what we can control. If we win all of our games and they still don’t pick us, then what can we do? We have the potential to do so, the drive to do so. ... Actually getting the chance would be great.”
Also of note: Hancock said the selection committee will stick to its policy of only announcing a top 25 and not identifying the highest-ranked Group of Five team if it’s not ranked.
BOISE STATEQUICK HITS
Safety Chanceller James has impressed coaches and teammates with his quick recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He will play safety and nickel in fall camp. ... Linebacker Joe Martarano extended his stay in the Chicago Cubs’ organization this summer when he was promoted to the Northwest League. Harsin approved. “You need to do that,” Harsin told him. Martarano has returned to the Broncos. ... Defensive linemen Tyler Horn and Sam McCaskill, who have started at tackle but are listed as ends on the depth chart, will play both positions. ... No uniform changes or surprises are planned this year, Harsin said. ... Senior left tackle Rees Odhiambo missed nearly all of spring ball because of class conflicts. ... The Mountain West still hopes to land another bowl berth with the upstart Arizona Bowl but the Tucson-based game hasn’t been finalized. Without it, the conference might only get five bowl berths this year.