Is Boise State becoming a basketball school?

Elise Ledesma | The Arbiter

Bronco fans, it’s time to rip off the band-aid: Boise State University may not be a football school anymore. 

Every college has their strong suit, an athletic program that excels above all others.  

Georgia and Alabama are known for their football programs; Duke and University of North Carolina are known for basketball; Stanford is a volleyball school; University of Florida and Louisiana State University are track-and-field schools, and so on and so forth.

After a long line of triumphant wins including two Fiesta Bowls and Mountain West championships, history has given Boise State the label of a football school.

The future, however, is ever changing, and the future of Boise State Athletics looks a little different than it did 90 years ago. Boise State may be turning into a basketball school.

“It’s starting to feel really like a basketball town and a football town,” Boise State men’s basketball guard Max Rice said. “It’s both, its just I think our fans are really awesome right now.”

Basketball is overtaking the stage for Boise State Athletics, and is dominating.

“Back in the day I told myself, ‘Don’t ever complain that we don’t have something. It’s our job to earn it,’” Broncos men’s basketball head coach Leon Rice said. “And football’s got it. Guess what? They’ve earned it … we have to go out and earn everything we get, and we have a team that’s doing that this year.”

The history of Boise State football

Boise State football, originally a junior college team, was founded in 1933 under the leadership of head coach Dusty Kline. Since then, the Broncos have seen their fair share of unforgettable wins. 

From 1933 to 1967, Boise State football played at the junior college level. While under head coach Lyle Smith, and far before the blue turf was dreamt of, the Broncos won the 1958 NJCAA Championship 22-0 against Tyler College. 

One of the least talked about wins in Boise State football history was against Georgia in 2011. 

taylen green
[Photo of freshman quarterback Taylen Green.]
Elise Ledesma | The Arbiter

Boise State went into Southeastern Conference (SEC) country, Athens, Georgia, to overpower the Bulldogs on national television, 35-21. 

Of course, the two Fiesta Bowls cannot go unmentioned when talking about the Boise State football legacy. 

However, one is seemingly more prominent in the minds of Bronco fans: the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. 

The 2007 win against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl stands as the pinnacle of Boise State football history. 

Bronco fans know that the Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma, 43-42, in overtime is the greatest game in Boise State history. In fact, many regard it as one of the greatest games in football history.

The game was a true David and Goliath story. The Broncos came into the game as underdogs that were just lucky to be on the big stage and shocked Oklahoma and much of the football world.

When Ian Johnson ran into the end zone for two points and the victory, everything changed for Boise State, and they became a nationally recognized team.

If history was any indication, the Broncos have been known to win national titles at every level they play at, and many wondered: can they possibly do it again? Most would say it is impossible — which is exactly what the Broncos love to hear.

The 2010 Fiesta Bowl championship win against Texas Christian University (TCU) didn’t have as much flare and meaning as the 2007 Fiesta Bowl win did. 

It was a defensive battle, but in the end, it was solved by a riddler. “The Riddler” as it was called, was a fake punt by the Broncos that set up the go-ahead touchdown.

It was the fourth quarter, and the Broncos had the ball on their own 33. They needed nine yards for a first, and no one expected them to fake a punt. However, that is what head coach Chris Petersen and his crew called.

Punter Kyle Brotzman threw a pass to tight-end Kyle Efaw who rumbled to the TCU 38. It set up a touchdown that was eventually capped off with a two-yard run by Doug Martin that was good for six. Boise State defeated TCU 17-10.

However, as the history of Boise State football seems to be bright and glamorous, nothing of late has proven to be as notorious for this program as its past. 

The Broncos failed to seal the deal in the Mountain West conference game in 2022 and haven’t had any notable wins since the 2010 Fiesta Bowl. 

On the other hand, Boise State Basketball has slowly been on the come up and has steadily been getting better for years. 

Boise State basketball’s secret weapon

Boise State football has the iconic blue turf, but what Boise State football doesn’t have is a stable coaching staff. This is where Boise State basketball takes the win.

Behind most every successful athletic program in NCAA history is a successful leader and head coach, from Nick Saban (Alabama football), Mike Krzyzewski (Duke men’s basketball), John Calipari (University of Kentucky men’s basketball), to Kirby Smart (Georgia football) and Geno Auriemma (UCONN women’s basketball).

Boise State football has had a long run of altering head coaches. 

Andy Avalos, the current head coach, signed a $7.75 million contract over the next five years to return to his alma mater.

[Photo of Boise State men’s basketball guard Chibuzo Agbo.]
Elise Ledesma | The Arbiter

Prior to Avalos was head coach Bryan Harsin, who departed from Boise State after a six-year tenure (2014-2020). 

In 2020, Harsin left for greener pastures in Auburn, in which he didn’t even last two full seasons.

Since the departure of Harsin, Boise State football coaching staff has been in a constant state of change. 

Offensive coordinator Tim Plough was fired early into the 2022 season and a new defensive line coach (Erik Chinander) and director of sports performance (Ben Hilgart) were hired. The Broncos also promoted Jabril Frazier to EDGE coach and extended defensive coordinator Spencer Danielson. 

Despite the changes, Avalos earned the Coach of the Year accolade and became the first Bronco football head coach to earn the award since Chris Petersen in 2008 and 2009. 

In his second year as head coach, Avalos led Boise State to an 8-0 conference record and a Mountain Division title.

Leon Rice, however, has built the Boise State men’s basketball program from the ground up, and will continue to do so for the next four years. 

Rice signed a five-year, $5 million contract with Boise State after the successful 2021-2022 season.

“That was my goal when we got here,” Leon Rice said about Boise State basketball becoming a powerhouse. “Just because my neighbor’s furniture (Boise State football) is really nice, doesn’t mean that mine can’t be. We have two great programs.”

In Rice’s 12-year tenure at Boise State, he has led the Broncos to seven NCAA tournament appearances, ten 20-win seasons, and is the winningest coach in Boise State men’s basketball history. 

Rice is undoubtedly at the peak of his coaching career. 

Despite the established track record, the 2021-2022 campaign set the bar of expectations.

Boise State set program bests for total wins (27), conference wins (15) and consecutive wins (14) on its way to winning the Mountain West regular-season title outright and capturing the Mountain West Tournament crown — both firsts for the program. 

Rice was named the Mountain West Coach of the Year for his efforts in 2022. This was his second time claiming the award.

The names behind the game

After last season’s dramatics for Boise State football, it leaves many to wonder about the state of the program. 

Former starting quarterback Hank Bachmeier transferred following a dreadful loss to the University of Texas, El Paso (UTEP). 

A handful of other players left the program during the offseason, and the incoming recruits for Boise State football are not as glamorous as previous years, whereas Leon Rice is welcoming star players onto his roster who are well sought after. 

One of the newest signees, Chris Lockett Jr., is nationally ranked and was pursued by the likes of Baylor, Georgetown and Houston. 

“That’s our mission,” Leon Rice said. “To keep getting guys better.”

Chibuzo Agbo, the current starting guard for the Broncos, who transferred to Boise State from Texas Tech, is a prime example of great talent within the Boise State men’s basketball program.  

Winning character 

Winning character is what every collegiate team and program strives to have. 

Boise State men’s basketball prides themselves on obtaining that characteristic.

“We do the most important thing well,” Leon Rice said. “That is finding a way to win … what a great quality for a team to have, winning character.” 

Boise State basketball currently sits ranked at No. 23 in recent NET rankings, and has proved to be dominant throughout their season with a 20-6 overall record. 

The Broncos knocked down Quad 1 team, Texas Tech, early in the season, and have many valuable wins to show for.

“That’s our program,” Leon Rice said. “We’re going to fight to improve and you know, that’s what we’re built on.”

As the basketball season rolls on and hopes for the Mountain West title loom over the head of the Broncos’ men’s basketball team, the future of Boise State Athletics hangs in the balance. 

The question stands: will Boise State stay a football school, or is basketball ready to take over?

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