The Boise State football team opens the 2018 season Saturday at Troy — a first look for Bronco Nation at a team expected to contend for a major bowl berth.
Here are the five most intriguing players on the roster — whether veterans who need to step up or youngsters filling larger roles:
1. QB Brett Rypien: The senior is coming off a season in which he posted career lows for completions, attempts, yards and touchdowns while sharing time with graduate transfer Montell Cozart. Rypien is back as the unquestioned leader of the offense, a third-year captain highly respected by his teammates. But after showing such promise as a true freshman in 2015 that he was expected to become one of the school’s all-time greats, he has spent two years fending off adversity. The Broncos have the defense, special teams, offensive line and running back to make this a special season. But they’ll need Rypien and an unproven corps of receivers to create a high-powered passing game to reach that potential. “Whatever happens this year, I’ll be ready for it,” Rypien said.
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2. WR Octavius Evans: Think about where the Broncos would have been last year without Cedrick Wilson (83 catches, 1,511 yards, 7 TDs), who made 18 catches for 369 yards in the Mountain West title game and Las Vegas Bowl victories. That’s a gaping hole, and Evans is the player most likely to fill the majority of it. Yet in those same two games where Wilson starred, Evans was limited to just one catch for 8 yards. The true sophomore has the talent; beginning Saturday, we’ll find out if he’s ready. One positive indication came Saturday at Fan Fest: Evans, who was wearing No. 82 last year and during fall camp, sported jersey No. 1. Coaches are hesitant to hand out that number, the one worn last year by Wilson, who started out wearing No. 80 his first spring in Boise. “(Evans is) just everything a coach loves as a player,” Boise State receivers coach Eric Kiesau said. “The No. 1 thing that makes Octavius different than anybody else is his work ethic. He’s internally driven to do great things with his life.”
3. LB Tony Lashley: Transfers from four-year schools are rare at Boise State. Lashley is even more rare — a transfer from Idaho. But that’s just the beginning with him. Lashley was a two-year starter at Idaho, where he was an All-Sun Belt first-teamer in 2017 and honorable-mention pick in 2016. His 123 tackles last year were the most by a Vandal in a decade. However, transferring into a new program isn’t easy and Lashley didn’t arrive until summer. He’s still learning to fit into the Broncos’ program, so his role could expand as the season progresses. “He’s got a good football IQ, he works extremely hard,” defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said, “and he has been so very humble and hungry, knowing he’s had to come in here and not only learn a defense but learn a culture and how we do things, even before we get on the field. ... I wish it was that easy, where you just plug guys in and they can go — it’s not that easy. He’s done an unbelievable job preparing himself. He’s made a big jump.”
4. STUD Curtis Weaver: The 6-foot-3, 266-pound Weaver was a Freshman All-American in 2017, when he led the Mountain West with 11 sacks. He and senior Jabril Frazier (six sacks) give the Broncos a dynamic pair of edge rushers. Weaver is known for his fun-loving attitude and has fan favorite potential as he, hopefully, gets more media exposure. “He’s only getting to get better,” STUDs coach Spencer Danielson said. “He’s a unique kid, and he has a unique skill set. ... To be the truly dominant player we can see him grow into, there are a few things where he needs to get better. We told him, ‘If you’re on your game, you can be dominant, but if you don’t stay humble and hungry, you’ll be mediocre.’ And it’s a fine line.”
5. TE John Bates: Like the Wilson/Evans situation, Bates is the leading contender to fill a significant portion of the void left by Jake Roh, who led the team with nine touchdown catches last season and was second with 11 total touchdowns. The 6-foot-6, 246-pound Bates eased his way into college football with three catches in 2017. But with Roh gone, another year of experience and increased strength — he was a 215-pound recruit — Bates needs to become the next big-play tight end in the pass game. “We expect John Bates to step up and be an absolute dude,” offensive coordinator Zak Hill said.