Football. Blue turf. Statue of Liberty play.
When you think of Boise State, those are just a few of the things that likely come to mind. That’s because the Broncos have been one of the most dominant teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision for the past decade, a run that includes posting a 50-3 record between 2008 and 2011 (the first time in FBS history that a team won 50 games in a four-year span).
There’s no disputing Boise State’s football accolades, and if you were to label Boise State a “football school,” you probably wouldn’t be met with much criticism.
But in the words of the great Bob Dylan, “the times, they are a-changin’,” and Boise State isn’t just a football school anymore.
When I submitted my preseason picks to Today’s U, I included the Broncos in my Top 25, placing them at No. 23 — one spot below Purdue, and a spot above Rhode Island. I also picked them to win the Mountain West Conference this season — not San Diego State.
Think I’m crazy? I’m not alone. Lindy’s college basketball preview ranked the Broncos No. 22 in its preseason Top 25.
So what’s the reason for Boise State’s rise?
While all eyes have been on the Bronco football team, head coach Leon Rice has been busy building a yearly MWC contender on the basketball court.
Last season, the Broncos earned a share of the MWC regular-season championship with SDSU, and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament — its second appearance in three years.
The Broncos then lost in the First Four to the Dayton Flyers, prematurely ending an otherwise very successful season.
This season, the Broncos return plenty of talent and experience, and set their sights on bigger goals — including winning the MWC outright, and advancing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.
And guess what? It could — should — happen.
The Broncos lose last season’s MW Player of the Year Derrick Marks to graduation, but return high-scoring forward Anthony Drmic from a medical hardship and a talented supporting cast led by last season’s MW Newcomer of the Year, James Webb III.
Drmic is an elite scorer, leading the Broncos in scoring in each of his first three seasons. He was leading the Broncos in scoring through seven games last season before sustaining a season-ending ankle injury. After receiving a medical hardship waiver, Drmic is back this season and poised to break Boise State’s all-time scoring record, needing just 417 points.
In Drmic’s absence, Webb had a breakout season in his first season as a Bronco. The high-energy forward averaged 11.2 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, shot 41 percent from deep and provided nightly highlight-reel dunks with his athleticism. For his efforts, Webb was named to the MWC all-conference second-team and all-defensive team.
With Webb in the frontcourt and Drmic on the wing, the Broncos have a formidable 1-2 punch that is more than capable of leading the Broncos to another MWC title.
However, the talented duo won’t have to do it all alone — they will have help in the form of a deep, experienced backcourt.
The Broncos feature two four-star recruits — yes, the basketball team can get top-tier recruits, too — in sophomore Chandler Hutchison and freshman Paris Austin who will likely factor into the rotation, as well as veteran point guards Montigo Alford and Mikey Thompson. Boston College graduate transfer Lonnie Jackson will also be in the mix, giving the Broncos plenty of backcourt options.
The only question mark for the Broncos entering the season is frontcourt depth. Veteran Nick Duncan, a three-point shooting center who typically guards the other team’s best post player, will join Webb in the starting lineup, but there’s not much depth after that.
Sophomore David Wacker (6’10”) and redshirt freshman Zach Haney (6’11”) provide Boise State with some size, but are inexperienced and untested. Because of that, the health of Webb and Duncan will be key for Boise State’s success this season.
Boise State will start its non-conference schedule with plenty of chances for resume-building wins — the Broncos play Arizona and Oregon, and will face a strong field at the Woodon Legacy.
Don’t be surprised if the Broncos knock off some Top 25 teams early on and climb in the rankings, setting up late-season showdowns with SDSU that will determine NCAA Tournament seeding.
Boise State may be known for its football team that plays on blue turf, but Leon Rice and the basketball team are slowly starting to turn heads in the college basketball scene.
However, if the Broncos want to earn more national attention, they’ll have to continue winning and take the next step as a program — winning an NCAA Tournament game.
If that happens, expect more to start taking notice.